Pellet Smoker vs Electric Smoker: What’s Better?

The rise in popularity of pellet smokers and electric smokers continues to skyrocket, with many barbecue enthusiasts turning to the popular smokers in favor of charcoal or offset units. 

Pellet and electric smokers provide the perfect cooking device if you value convenience and ease of use over everything else, as both smokers can be used with great efficiency by barbecuers of all experience levels. 

This guide will take an in-depth look at some of the key strengths and weaknesses of pellet smokers and electric smokers, including all the information you need to know about their cooking style, how they work, their running costs, and much more. 

We’ll also look to answer some of the frequently asked questions related to the two popular smokers. 

What Exactly Is A Pellet Smoker? 

Pellet smokers are a relatively new addition to the market. Also known as pellet grills, these devices operate by being plugged into a power outlet and then an auger motor transfers small hardwood pellets from the hopper (storage container) into the bottom of the cooking chamber. 

Once in the cooking chamber, the 100% hardwood pellets are ignited through a process of combustion. This occurs as air is let in by intake fans to produce a small fire that provides the barbecue with heat and disperses smoke – subsequently smoking and grilling the food inside.  

Due to the fact that pellet smokers are automated by electricity, using one is a hands-off experience. As is the case with using an oven, the temperature of a pellet smoker is maintained by setting a digital panel or dial. 

The auger motor then provides a feed of pellets, with the speed of supply dependent on how much fuel is required to maintain the temperature. 

In other words, for low temperatures a smaller amount of pellets will be needed, whereas for hotter temperatures and grilling, you’ll need considerably more hardwood pellets. 

Pellet Smoker Or Pellet Grill?

As mentioned previously, both names can be used for this device. All pellet smokers are highly effective at providing the low and slow temperatures required for smoking, so you shouldn’t experience any problems trying to smoke on a unit.  

However, if you want to grill on one of these pellet barbecues, it’s essential that you find a unit that’s able to reach a temperature of around 450℉ to 650℉. This ensures that it’ll get hot enough for efficient grilling and searing. 

Pros Of Pellet Smokers 

There are a number of reasons why pellet smokers are so popular. Perhaps the most valuable quality they provide is the fact that they’re the only type of barbecue on the market which can provide you with 100% wood smoked meats without any of the hassle of learning how to use a more complex offset smoker. 

Listed below are some of the other notable pros of using a pellet smoker.

  • Real, wood-fired flavor
  • Straightforward to use 
  • Some can also be used for grilling
  • Set and forget forget smoking
  • Effective in cooler climates when well insulated
  • Fuel-efficient 

Cons Of Pellet Smokers 

While there are a few fair pros of using a pellet smoker, it’s equally important to consider some of the cons. Listed below are the most important cons to keep in mind. 

  • Requires electric hookup to run
  • Holds less food than other types of smoker
  • Unable to produce a strong smokey flavor like offset smokers
  • More expensive than electric smokers

What Exactly Is An Electric Smoker? 

An electric smoker is a set and forget barbecue, much like a pellet smoker. However, electric smokers rely on an electric element such as an oven to provide heat to cook the food, rather than a natural wood fire. 

The heating element in electric smokers usually sits at the bottom of the unit. Above this is a water pan to keep the meat moist, as well as a wood chip pan which releases smoke throughout the entire cooking chamber when heated to give the meat a light woody flavor. 

As electric smokers are powered by electricity, they’re also able to self-regulate the temperature, meaning that all you need to do is place your meat in the cooking chamber, set the digital controller or dial, and then wait until it’s time for dinner. 

What Type Of Flavor Is Produced? 

While electric smokers are incredibly easy to use, this does come at a bit of a cost. Since the heat source used to cook the meat is electric rather than a natural fire, the smoke profile and flavor of the meat cooked in one of these units isn’t quite as good as what you’d get in a pellet smoker. 

If you live in an apartment or condo where you’re not allowed wood, charcoal, or gas, don’t worry too much as the meat smoked on an electric smoker is still delicious. It’s just worth keeping in mind that the depth of flavor may not be quite as complex as cooking with wood, gas, or pellet fires. 

Pros Of Electric Smokers

Electric smokers are incredibly popular across the world and with good reason. They come with a long list of impressive pros, with some of the main ones listed below. 

  • Straightforward to use
  • Inexpensive compared to other types of smoker
  • Set and forget smoking
  • Suitable for apartments where real fires aren’t allowed 
  • Large cooking capacity
  • Easier to clean than pellet smokers
  • Ideal for smoking nuts, fish, and cheese where you want low temperatures
  • Don’t take up huge amounts of room 

Cons Of Electric Smokers 

On the other hand, there are also some cons that need to be taken into account when looking into purchasing an electric smoker. Listed below are five of the most important to keep in mind. 

  • Requires electric hookup to run
  • Won’t produce a smoke ring
  • Food tastes nice, but not quite as flavorful as using a pellet smoker
  • Can’t be used for grilling
  • Takes a fair amount of practice to prevent meat from drying out during the cooking process

Pellet Smoker vs Electric Smoker: Which Is Better? 

Pellet Smoker

  • Smoking, baking, roasting, grilling
  • $300 – $2,000
  • Small to large cooking capacity
  • Natural fire with 100% wood pellets
  • Moderate running cost
  • Some units are portable 
  • Power output required

Electric Smoker

  • Smoking
  • $150 – $600 
  • Small to very large capacity
  • Electric powered 
  • Low running cost
  • Most units are portable 
  • Power output required 

All things considered, it’s highly likely that you’ll be pleased with whichever smoker you opt for as both pellet smokers and electric smokers come equipped with a range of impressive features that’ll be sure to enhance your cooking experience. 

If you’re looking for a smoker to provide your meat with a full-bodied flavor, the results you’ll get from a pellet smoker are going to be considerably better than those from an electric smoker.

However, electric smokers are far cheaper to buy than pellet smokers and provide a number of other impressive benefits such as a super large cooking capacity, low running costs, and excellent portability.

Therefore, if you have a large budget and want a completely hands-off smoker, you should prioritize a pellet smoker. After all, nothing quite compares to the taste of real wood-smoked meat. 

If, on the other hand, you’re working to a tight budget and want to limit your spending, an electric smoker is still an excellent choice. Yes, the taste may not be quite as flavorful, but you’ll still be impressed with many of the other features. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Do pellet smokers use a lot of electricity? 

Although they rely on electricity to function, pellet grills don’t actually use that much power.

It’s usually around 300 to 500 watts for the first couple of minutes to power the ignitor and then roughly 50 watts for the remainder of the process to supply power to the auger, digital display, and fans. 

Can you grill on an electric smoker? 

Unfortunately you can’t grill on an electric smoker. This is because the temperature doesn’t get hot enough, with the units designed to heat the entire cooking chamber rather than focusing high amounts of heat over just the heating element. Electric smokers work like an oven, and you wouldn’t expect to be able to sear a piece of meat in the oven.

Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that there’s an exception to this rule. Take the Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker With Broiler for example, which comes equipped with a patent pending grill, as well as a finishing element that allows you to cook with high heat on the top rack. 

So, if you’ve got your heart set on an electric smoker but also want to cook your meat on a high heat, this unit from Masterbuilt provides the best of both worlds. 

Do I need to soak my wood pellets before smoking? 

Generally, it’s best to avoid soaking your wood pellets. This is because they’re made with compressed sawdust, which will expand and then fall apart when soaked. Furthermore, soaking your wood pellets will not only ruin your smoke, it could also potentially damage your pellet smoker. 

Is it safe to use an electric smoker in a garage? 

Using an electric smoker in a confined space such as a garage can be incredibly dangerous and cause smoke damage if you don’t take precautions. It’s important to provide strong ventilation to prevent smoke damage and limit the lasting smell after you’ve finished cooking. 

Can you effectively run a smoker in cold weather? 

Smoking in cold temperatures is understandably a challenging process. Therefore, as temperatures drop, it’s important to be diligent and make sure your smoker maintains a high temperature. 

Weather conditions such as wind, rain, and smoke can add further obstacles, but with a fair amount of knowledge, experience, and patience, you can safely smoke in just about any type of weather. 

At what temperature does meat stop taking smoke? 

When meat reaches around 170℉, the smoke ring stops growing due to the fact that myoglobin loses its oxygen retaining ability. 

What’s an offset smoker? 

An offset smoker is a unit which provides a classic smoker design and is one of the most popular on the grilling market. The food cooks in a long horizontal chamber with charcoal and wood smoke burning in a firebox attached to one side of the unit. 

The vast majority of offset smokers feature several shelves in the cooking chamber to handle multiple different types of meat such as pork shoulders, briskets, and racks of ribs.