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Electric Smoker vs Charcoal Smoker – Which is the Better?

Looking to invest in a new smoker and confused which one to go with – electric or charcoal? Well, the choice depends on individual preference. For example, people who want convenient usage can go with electric smokers while people who are looking for a traditional experience choose charcoal smokers.

In addition to that, there are several other factors to consider before making the right choice. If you are a beginner in this area or need help to analyze the two options, then you are in the right place.

To provide the best for our readers, we have consulted the experts in the grilling world and explored the pros, cons and other factors of both the smokers.

Below, we have provided detail information of everything related to electric and charcoal smokers. Read through the article to make a wise decision.

Before comparing the models, lets first explore an overview of electric and charcoal smokers.

Overview of Electric Smokers

Electric SmokersElectric smokers are the best choice for beginners because they require no open flame. Instead of using an open flame, electric smokers use a heating element at the bottom to smolder wood chips or pellets.

An electric smoker is like an enormous home oven. It is easy to use for people who are experienced in operating an electric oven in your kitchen. Similar to it, temperature control is easy when you have a digital model. You just need to set the temperature and it will keep it there without you having to babysit it.

They are powered by an electric heating element which is located near the bottom of your unit and placed underneath your wood chips. It then sets them smoldering. Combining this with the high temperatures that are emitted, it cooks the meat and gives it a great, smoky flavor.

However, electric smokers should not be used in extremely cold or rainy conditions. The extension cord is your limit when it comes to mobility. You can’t take this smoker to camping with you and it can’t be brought to a tailgate party. If mobility is important to you, then a charcoal smoker might be a better choice.

Many smokers and grillers agree that an electric smoker adds a different flavor than a charcoal one. The wood chips add a smokey smell to your food but the overall flavor is subtler than traditional BBQ. It doesn’t matter if the food tastes better from charcoal smokers or not, the choice depends on what you prefer.


Overview of Charcoal Smokers

Charcoal SmokersCharcoal smokers are the most popular types of smokers. This is the type that brings back the most memories. Nearly everyone who enjoys grilling and barbecue has fond memories of times spent at the grill with friends and family.

Actually, charcoal smoking is not only about the food or flavor, but also about the journey. Selecting your favorite charcoal, lighting the fuel, controlling the temperature, and adjusting the air vents. Every smoker has their own unique technique and preferred fuel – developed over years of experience behind the fire.

Experts agree that charcoal smoking produces the best tasting food. An electric smoker can’t replicate the distinctive smokey flavor of charcoal smoking. Charcoal smokers also have the advantage of being affordable. They are simple in design, making them affordable. Many models come with a 10-year warranty.

Though it is the most preferred option, they come with their share of cons. It’s not difficult to use, but it is basic. Charcoal smokers need more attention than others. They require constant temperature monitoring, adjustment of dampers, replenishment of wood chips and charcoal during long smokes.


Electric Smokers Vs Charcoal Smokers – Overview

Below is a quick glance of different factor analysis between electric smokers and charcoal smokers. If you want a quick analysis between the products, you can consider this comparison.

Factor Electric Smoker Charcoal Smoker
Food Quality It provides less strong smoky flavor, but it’s more likely to result in perfectly cooked food You can get great smoky flavors, but you run the risk that the food is not cooked well.
Temperature Control 1000F to 2750F/thermostat maintains constant temperature It’s difficult to maintain 1000F for long periods of time, or 3500F at the highest. Temperature control and consistency are possible with practice
Versatility It is very easy to use and convenient. It takes some skill, commitment and learning. Can be used to roast and grill (if available).
Dimensions Average size is 18x18x34 Come in different sizes from as small as 34x57x54″ to 21x19x41 “to 50x22x21 “
Hopper Capacity Minimal to Zero Maximum
Space 2 feet x 2 feet 2 feet x 2 feet for verticals to 6 feet x 4 feet for offsets
Reliability Electrical faults/parts breaking could be a risk Less likely to run into problems
Maintenance Easy to clean and maintain Easy but needs regular cleaning which is a bit messy
Mobility Less as you need an electric outlet anywhere you take it High as you can take it to camping, trekking as you don’t have to depend on electricity
Warranty Short Long (sometimes even 10 years is provided)
Suitable For Beginners Experts
Ease of Use Easy with digital controls Challenging, need experience to regulate the temperature.
Weather Suitability Can’t be used in rainy situations Weatherproof mostly but hard to maintain/regulate temperature in cold and wet conditions.
Price Expensive Cheap to expensive models available
Running Costly Fairly cheap – around $0.06 Costly – somewhere between $0.50 to $1.00 based on the coal used.
Accessories Provided Thermostat, temperature gauge, meat probe Thermometer and temperature gauge
Popularity Limited users Highly popular

In-Depth Differences Between Electric Smoker and Charcoal Smoker

Below, we have provided a detail comparison of each factor for both the models. If you want to make a decision after a thorough analysis, then check out the information mentioned below.

1. Quality of Smokey Food

An electric smoker will give you a better result if you are new to smoking. It can hold the temperature, which is crucial when it comes down to smoking. If you are familiar with temperature control, a charcoal smoker will give you the same consistency.

The charcoal smoker is the best choice if we are focusing on the quality of food. You may not be able to create crispy skin with an electric smoker but you will have no problems using a charcoal smoker.

The electric unit has problems with moisture retention but a charcoal grill is more efficient in this factor due to its ventilation. In addition to that, a more complex flavor profile will be created by charcoal burning creating smoke. It adds complex compounds to the meat while it is burning.

But an electric smoker is more consistent so you can get subtle flavors with properly cooked meat. You might have to deal with this issue if your charcoal smoker is not capable of controlling the temperature.

Winner – Depends on the smoky profile you like on the food.

2. Temperature Range/Control

An electric smoker has limited temperature control because it’s designed for just smoking. The temperature range for a typical electric smoker is between 100- and 275-degrees F (which is 38-135 degrees Celsius). This is ideal for slow smoking of fruit, nuts, meat and veg.

It is more difficult to maintain a charcoal smoker for cooking at a low temperature. A thermometer may be set to 100 degrees, but it would be very difficult to maintain a charcoal fire at that temperature.

The practical lower limit of a charcoal is likely 125 degrees F. Your upper limit will probably be closer to 350 degrees F, although it is possible to reach higher temperatures with a very roaring fire. If the offset has an oven in its firebox, you can sear the meat if you make a fire.

3. Versatility

An electric smoker is not versatile as you cannot grill or roast on it; you can only smoke. Although you can do some cold smoking at lower temperatures, it is not cold smoking. True cold smoking requires temperatures of around 85 degrees F (30 degrees).

When it comes to charcoal smoker, you can grill on a charcoal grill but you cannot do direct heating on a charcoal smoker.

Some offset smokers have a grate that can be placed over the charcoal to provide a small grilling area. It shouldn’t take much to heat your smoker to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C). Charcoal is a great option if you are looking for options.

Winner – Charcoal Smoker

4. Cooking Capacity

Although you might believe that charcoal smokers are larger than electrics, they actually have a very similar size to electrics. You can find electrics that can smoke six turkeys simultaneously, although there are more charcoal options in king size. You can also find pint-size options, but with more options in charcoal smoker. Vertical models have more capacity compared to horizontal option. This is the benefit of stacking racks vertically.

Winner – Electric Smoker

5. Convenience

Electric smokers are dependent on electricity for smoking the meat. Charcoal smokers depend on charcoal burning, temperature control, and adjusting air vents. It’s clear that electric smokers are more convenient and easier to use.

If your power source isn’t interrupted, your electric smoker should be able to last for days without the need to refill your charcoal. The heating elements will instantly turn on, reducing cooking time. The wood chips will smoke before you can add charcoal.

You can also smoke in an electric smoker. The digital element will take care of all the work. If you love to travel with your smoker, the electric device may not work as well. Because it is essential that you are always within easy reach of an electrical outlet. But a charcoal smoker can be lit anytime and anywhere.

Winner – Electric Smoker

6. Weather Conditions

Bad weather conditions, particularly the cold, can severely impact the way that your smoker retains heat. A high-quality smoker will be able to hold on to the heat, regardless of what fuel it uses. This will not be possible for a cheap smoker.

The temperature range of an electric smoker is smaller than that of a charcoal smoker so your unit might have trouble keeping the heat at the right temp. Electric smokers are not affected by wind, as they only require electricity to function and don’t depend on vents. Even if there were a way to get around it, there’s no way to put out a flame.

It’s quite different with a charcoal smoker. You’ll need to block wind because this smoker relies on smoke to be produced. An electric smoker is rendered useless by rain. Water can easily get into the control panel of an electric smoker and fry it.

You should do the same with snow and humidity. When not in use, make sure your electric smoker is protected. A charcoal smoker is not well suited for wet conditions. It will chill the smoker and may also cause the chimney to collapse, causing the fire to go out. To prevent this, you can cover the top with a hood. A charcoal smoker works better in bad weather.

Winner – None

7. Mobility

Mobility features are important if you don’t want to leave your smoker out on your patio, or if you prefer to clean the area around it regularly. Many charcoal and electric smokers have wheels, while charcoal smoker handles can withstand heat. Charcoal smokers are cumbersome and heavy, but an electric smoker is easier to move. It’s best to not take your electric smoker with you on vacation, as there are more fragile parts that can be damaged during transport.

Winner – Electric Smoker

8. Cooking Area

If you are one of those people who enjoys entertaining large groups of family and friends for dinner, then your smoker must be able to handle the weight. Vertical charcoal smokers will provide more cooking space, especially if you have removable racks.

An electric smoker can easily smoke several turkeys, a pork belly, and a chicken at once. The factors that will determine your cooking space include the size of your smoker, how much you are willing to spend, and whether you choose a vertical option or a smaller one.

Winner – Both

9. Maintenance

Electrics don’t emit a lot smoke so cleaning is easy. To prevent moisture problems, you should wipe the exterior and scrape your racks in between uses.

Because of the increased volume of smoke, a charcoal smoker will require more cleaning. This is true if you create thicker smoke and thinner blue smoke. To allow smoke flow freely, it is important to clean the chimney of creosote buildup.

Winner – Electric Smoker

10. Price

Your budget will determine how much you are willing to spend on your smoker. A top-rated electric smoker will typically have you spend a lot more.  Charcoal-smokers are more affordable. This will allow you to have more options if you are on a tight budget. Both types are expensive and include a lot of gadgets like WIFI and Bluetooth.

Winner – Charcoal Smokers

11. Running Costs

This category has a clear winner is electric. Even ignoring the wood chips cost, the hourly cost of running an electric smoker is much higher than that of a charcoal smoker. Electricity costs are reasonable everywhere, except for remote areas like an island with very limited power resources. An electric smoker can be used for many years before you have to spend as much as the price of charcoal.

Winner – Electric Smoker

Summary – Charcoal Smoker and Electric Smoker

After reading through the detail analysis, you may have got an idea about everything related to both the smoker options. But for your reference, we are providing a quick summary here again.

If you like to enjoy traditional barbeque flavor and like to experience the whole process of smoking, then charcoal smoker is the right choice. However, you have to remember that it needs practice and skills to perfect the cook.

They are best suited for experienced charcoal grillers, barbeque enthusiasts, and anyone who wants to smoke on the road or while camping. They are not the right investment if you have never used charcoal before, prefer less smoky food or need set-it-and-forget approach of cooking. Some downsides of using an electric smoker include higher running costs, challenging temperature management and longer set up duration.

If you are looking for a convenient smoking option, then electric charcoal smoker is the right choice. This smoke is a perfect choice for beginners who want like barbeque with convenience but don’t like the time-consuming process.

With an electric outlet, you don’t have to worry about running out of fuel. As it doesn’t need any constant attention, you can enjoy drinks or party after setting up the cooking process. They are perfect option for beginners and casual smokers. But they are not a right choice for people who don’t like strong smoke taste or have easy access to electricity.

Final Takeaway

Both types of smokers have great benefits. If money is not an issue, you can also own both. It really depends on your personal preferences and situation. If we had to choose one, we would go for charcoal.

We find the flavor benefits of charcoal smoking far more appealing than the convenience and ease of electric smoking but it depends on your taste and cooking preferences. You will know the best thing for you after you’ve read this article.

If you have any doubts or queries, write to us in the comment section below. We shall reply to them as soon as possible.

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