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Over the years, many people have questioned the difference between an electric smoker vs pellet smoker. Even though the electric smoker might be more well-known, pellet smokers have been around long enough now that there are a lot more choices BBQ enthusiasts can choose from.
Both of these smoker grills are a great investment for anyone looking to up their grill game and end up with much more flavorful and tasty BBQ food. But how do they compare?
You might be wondering whether these types of smokers can be interchanged or how comparable they are.
We have written this article to look at both smokers and how the two compare to each other to work out which one might be best for you. Let’s dive right in.
Electric Smoker vs Pellet Smokers – What’s the Difference
The short answer is that electric smokers use an electric heating element, combined with a small amount of wood chips to cook your BBQ low and slow.
On the other hand, pellet smokers smolder wood pellets – then fan the heat and smoke throughout the cooking chamber to cook your food. Pellet smokers tend to be able to smoke low and slow and grill at higher temperatures.
That’s it in a nutshell! Read on for more information on how electric and pellet smokers stack up to one another!
Electric Smokers – Overview
An electric smoker is a machine that slowly cooks your meat and vegetables using an electric heating element, not all that dissimilar to the heating element you’d find in an oven.
The smoke flavor comes from a compartment that heats and smolders wood chips – from there the smoke is funneled into the cooking chamber to flavor your BBQ.
The technology today has improved since its invention and you can now do so much more than just smoke using electricity.
Electric models have temperature ranges installed and you can use the digital controller on it to set your food’s cooking temperature. The heat source comes from a hot electric heating rod.
Compared to similar charcoal smokers, gas grills, or propane smokers, electric smokers are usually a lot easier to use and cleaner to operate.
A high-quality electric smoker only needs a small amount of wood chips to properly flavor a smoked brisket, or something similar.
Benefits of Electric Smokers
The most popular benefit of owning an electric smoker is that you never have to tend to it while it cooks.
Unlike traditional smokers, where you have to give it constant supervision to ensure the temperature is not raised too high, all you have to do with an electric smoker is set the timer and leave it to cook.
The longer you leave the food to smoke, the better tasting the food will be and there is no supervision required! All you need to do is monitor your food’s internal temperature and take it out when it’s done.
Most electric smokers have an electric unit along with a digital panel with precise temperature control.
Another great thing is that electric smokers are generally the least expensive type of smoker available. So if you are trying to save money, electric smokers can be bought on a budget.
Disadvantages of Electric Smokers
Since electricity is running through the smoker, it can cause a hazard if the device ever breaks down or malfunctions.
Moreover, as the temperature is pre-programmed and unregulated, you are sometimes stuck with the one temperature that the programmable electric smoker offers.
This means you can’t adjust the temperature for colder climates or cold to low and slow smoking for much stronger flavors in your food.
On a similar note, many electric smokers are not ideal for super cold climates, as they don’t insulate quite as well as some other smoker types.
Pellet Smokers – Overview
Pellet smokers are smokers that use compressed woodchucks or pellets to heat and smoke food. It works just like an electric smoker, however, it can be modified a lot more.
Some pellet smokers have a firepot installed and this is used to ignite and warm the pellets. Usually, this firepot is already built-in and you do not have to install it yourself.
Pellet smokers are similar to electric smokers in the sense that they need a power connection to operate. Electronics are used to drive all of the functions of a pellet smoker.
Benefits of Pellet Smokers
The advantage of using this type of smoker is that, unlike an electric smoker, you have complete control of the temperature of your cooker.
Unlike traditional smokers, pellet smokers are much more flexible when it comes to changing temperatures during the cooking process.
Moreover, since there is a constant heat source being used, you have a much less chance of your food burning or drying out completely.
Most pellet smokers have digital control panels and these make it a great choice to enable you to maintain a low and steady temperature for hours on end. The low temperature of the device means you can cook the food to your liking.
Pellet smokers cook super evenly because they effectively function like a convection oven. A fan blows the heat from the firepot at the bottom to spiral around the cooking chamber.
Because of this, you don’t need to use a water pan in a pellet smoker, whereas you might need to in other smokers (including electric).
Disadvantages of Pellet Smokers
Pellet smokers are a lot more expensive than most traditional smokers and are not as budget-friendly as electric smokers.
Furthermore, pellet smokers are now well-known for producing high-temperature steaks or meat you might normally cook on a grill.
Pellet smokers also tend to be a little bit high maintenance from a cleaning standpoint. They’re great and easy to use during the cook.
But they need to be cleaned often, otherwise, they can break down. Realistically, you’ll probably need to vacuum ash out of the cooking chamber about every 5 cooks.
Electric vs Pellet Smokers – Differences
As we have mentioned, the main difference is that an electric smoker uses electricity as a heating source, whereas a pellet smoker burns right through wood pellets that contain different flavors.
Electric smokers utilize a wood tray to burn wood chips and pump smoke into the cooker.
Another difference between the smokers is that an electric smoker produces heat and smoke that rises through the smoker, whereas a pellet smoker produces lots of smoke and heat that flow through the cooker convection style.
Pellet and electric smokers also differ in size. Most pellet smokers are similarly sized to a large freestanding grill that would go in your backyard. Electric smokers on the other hand tend to be more compact.
Pros And Cons of Each
There are both pros and cons to electric and pellet smokers and if we look at these alongside each other, it could help you figure out which type might be best for your situation.
Compared to the pellet smoker, the electric smoker is slightly more difficult to use as you have to keep an eye on the moisture levels inside by opening the door.
This consequently lets heat escape and prolongs overall cooking time. Moreover, you have to be patient and wait for the smoker to heat up before cooking. A pellet smoker on the other hand tends to heat up faster.
Pellet smokers can also come at a higher ongoing cost since they go through wood pellets somewhat quickly. Electric smokers go through wood chips much slower, generally speaking.
How Does Each Type Work?
The basic principle behind both types of smokers is that they are used to slow cook the food by placing it far away from the high heat and allowing the smoke to be passed over your meat to cook and flavor.
This concept is the same for both smokers yet electric smokers require you to add wood chips now and then so your food becomes as smoky and as rich in flavor as barbecued food should taste.
Pellet smokers however have a special mechanism that allows you to connect a hopper of wood pellets and allow them to burn with the flame from the heating element underneath.
Pellet smokers work by allowing the heat and smoke to cook the food, which makes your job a lot easier.
If at the end of the cooking process, you are not convinced your meat is cooked enough, you should use a meat probe and this allows you to check the temperature and ensure it is completely cooked.
Which Should I Choose?
If you are still unsure about which smoker to choose, think about how you are going to be using the cooker.
If you use your smoker to cook food multiple times a week or every day, we suggest you go for the electric smoker as you will be able to prepare food much quicker, whilst also checking up on how the food is coming along.
It’s budget-friendly as you will not be buying new pellets every day. However, if using the smoker is a once-in-a-while treat, opt for a pellet smoker as they work well without requiring much attention from the chef and provide you with slightly better flavor.
Before purchasing any type of smoker, you need to ask yourself what you will be using it for. Both electric and pellet smokers are designed to be used outside in your yard or on your patio.
It doesn’t matter where you live. It can be a small space like an apartment or a house. Just as long as you have a small outdoor space where you can install a BBQ grill, you can use both styles of smokers.
If you ever find yourself in a state park or another shared public location where grills are banned, you can always carry portable versions for all your smoking needs.
We hope after reading this article you now know the difference between a pellet and an electric smoker.
Based on what you are using the smoker for, your decision should be easy on which one you might purchase.
One thing they both promise is high-quality tasty barbecue food to enjoy on the weekend and in your yard with family and friends. Happy grilling!