Electric vs Charcoal Smoker: Which One’s Right for You?


People have been cooking food on grills for more than 500,000 years and the practice began soon after the harnessing of fire. Of course, back then, grills and smokers mainly consisted of rocks and twigs. Today, we have many high-tech grills and smokers to choose from. In particular, there is a lot of debate about the electric vs charcoal smoker.

While both types of smokers are good choices, is one necessarily better than the other? Which one should you spend your money on and which one will produce the best-tasting food?

Keep reading and learn more about the pros and cons of both charcoal and electric smokers.  

The Quality of the Smoked Food

Smoking food is somewhat of an art form. You need to ensure that the food you cook gets just enough smoke and not too much. You also need to make sure that you smoke the food for a certain period of time.

If the food ends up getting too much smoke, it won’t taste good. If the food isn’t exposed to enough smoke, it won’t have the smoky flavor that you were hoping to achieve. The temperature inside the smoker is also important for heating the food and for delivering the right amount of smoke. 

Of course, both electric and charcoal smokers can accomplish this, but does one do a better job than the other? The first thing you should know is that one of the pros of charcoal smokers is that they produce the best flavor. This is because of the charcoal that’s involved. 

Charcoal naturally is full of smokey aromas that contribute to the flavor of the food. An electric smoker simply cannot compete with this since it doesn’t use anything as aromatic as charcoal. Suppose you cook a piece of chicken using a charcoal smoker. 

The heat and smoke of the charcoal smoker will not only improve the flavor of the chicken but will also give it some crispy and delectable skin. The only downside of a charcoal smoker is that it is a bit harder to control than an electric smoker. After all, an electric smoker has more control options compared to a charcoal smoker. 

The Details

This is one of the many pros of electric smokers. If the smoker is getting too hot or too cold, you only need to make some small adjustments, and the smoker will return to the necessary temperature in no time. An electric smoker is also easier to deal with, especially for beginners. 

It is also very good at maintaining a single temperature, unlike charcoal smokers, which tend to fluctuate. But again, the electric smoker won’t be able to provide you with the same quality of food. An electric smoker will never be able to give you a crispy, seared piece of meat in the same way a charcoal smoker can. 

An electric smoker also won’t be able to imbue a piece of food with the same savory, smoky flavor a charcoal smoker can. However, this may actually be a good thing, depending on your flavor preferences. If you don’t like smoky flavors all that much, then an electric smoker might be just the gadget you need. 

How the Smokers React to Different Weather Conditions

What many people don’t think about is how a smoker reacts to different weather conditions. For example, if it rains or if the weather happens to drop, your smoker may not be able to maintain its internal temperature. This, of course, would ruin whatever food you’re trying to smoke. 

However, electric and charcoal smokers are affected by the weather differently. A smoker’s ability to retain heat will also depend on the quality of the smoker. If you buy a very cheap smoker, you can’t expect it to retain heat very well.

On the other hand, if you spend money on a more expensive and better-insulated smoker, it will do a much better job at keeping in the heat.

The main problem with electric smokers is that they tend not to have a very wide temperature range. For that reason, if the weather happens to take a turn for the worse, your electric smoker might have a hard time maintaining its internal temperature. 

Once the smoker’s temperature starts to drop, you will find that it will be quite difficult to get it to increase again as long as the weather stays in bad shape. Another reason is that electric smokers tend to be on the small side, making them more prone to losing their internal heat.

The main good thing about electric smokers is that they don’t require air vents to function as charcoal smokers do. 

For that reason, you don’t need to worry about any gusts of wind flowing into your electric smoker. As long as the smoker has a source of electricity, the flames inside should continue to burn, although they may not be able to get very hot if it happens to be very cold outside. But what about charcoal smokers?

What You Need to Know

Because charcoal smokers need air vents to feed their flames, you will need to protect these smokers from the wind, especially on windy or stormy days. However, as long as a gust of wind doesn’t blow the flames out, your charcoal smokers should be in great shape, even if it decides to rain. 

This is not to mention that charcoal smokers tend to be larger and are often better at retaining heat. Also, it is impossible to use most electric smokers out in the rain. This is because the rain could easily get into the electrical system of the smoker and ruin the entire thing for good.

Of course, this is the last thing you want to deal with when you’re just trying to smoke some delicious food. It is the same story with snow. Electric smokers are far more vulnerable to the elements than charcoal ones, so you’ll have to protect them if the weather turns for the worse. 

Space, Maintenance, and Pricing

Regarding available space for smoking food, charcoal, and electric smokers can be quite similar in size. However, in general, electric smokers are a bit smaller. This is not necessarily a bad thing. 

If you’re not in the habit of smoking large amounts of food at once, then the smaller size of an electric smoker won’t matter that much. However, if you tend to make a lot of food on a smoker, it is best to have a charcoal smoker. That way, you won’t feel cramped when smoking your food.

But what about maintenance? Maintaining an electric grill is quite easy. This is because electric grills don’t produce nearly as much smoke as charcoal grills. For that reason, the inside of the grill should remain relatively clean even if you use the smoker quite often.

The main problem is that moisture may accumulate inside the electric smoker if you’re not careful. However, as long as you wipe down the inside of the grill after using it, the smoker should remain in great shape. There is usually no need to use harsh cleaning products on such a smoker unless you don’t take care of it for a very long time. 

What to Know

Charcoal smokers do require a bit more maintenance. This is because they produce more smoke than electric smokers. Because of this, the inside of the grill will get coated in soot and smoke stains. 

If you want to keep your smoker in good shape, you’ll need to be very careful about wiping all the dirt and debris out of the smoker after you’re done using it. It is especially important to clean the smoker’s chimney. If you don’t, the smoke will eventually cause buildup in the chimney, and it will be hard for the smoke to escape. 

As for the price, electric smokers are usually much more expensive compared to charcoal smokers. This is because they are more high-tech and come with more control options for the temperature and the amount of smoke involved. On the other hand, charcoal smokers are best for those on a tight budget. 

What Are the Flow Types of Electric and Charcoal Smokers

There are a few basic smoke flow or smoker layouts. With electric smokers, it almost always will be a vertical smoker, also known as a cabinet smoker.

In a vertical smoker, there is a heat source such as a burning element in the bottom of the smoker where you fill a pan with wood chips. The wood chips smolder provides delightful smoke and heat to your food.

Typically, there is a vent located near the top of the smoke to allow the smoke to slowly escape from the smoker and prevent bitter food. Once you have added enough smoke, you can run your electric smoker without woodchips.

Review of the Masterbuilt 140B Electric Smoker

Charcoal smokers have two main types, vertical and offset, but they come in many variations.

First is a vertical smoke like the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker. These smokers work like electric cabinet smokers but typically do not have a large door like their electric counterparts.

With most of these smokers, you must load them full of charcoal, start a small fire at the bottom, assemble the smoker, and then add the food. These smokers are also called bullet smokers because of their rounded shape.

Offset smokers have a main cooking chamber called the body and a firebox to the side that is slightly lower than the body. Once a fire is lit, the smoke flows from the firebox through the body to the smoke stack.

The look and feel of a traditional offset smoker are similar to a grill. There are many modifications to the basic design, which include vertical cabinets and digital-style smokers that are easy to use and provide great results.

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The Electric vs Charcoal Smoker

There is a lot of debate about the electric vs charcoal smoker, but one is not necessarily better than the other; each has its pros and cons.

For example, an electric smoker is expensive and not able to maintain heat very well in poor weather conditions, but it is very convenient to use and has many control options. On the other hand, charcoal smokers require more maintenance but are more affordable and improve the quality of the food.

Also, One type of smoker might be great for a brisket, while another smoker is perfect for smoked salmon.

To learn more about the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, click here.