There’s nothing like the smell of smoked meat in the morning. In the afternoon. Or at night. At any time, really. Of course, you’re going to need equipment to enjoy the deliciously cooked barbecue any time of the day. While it can be done with your good ole fashioned charcoal grill, nothing beats the ease of use and the taste of meat cooked in an actual smoker. The question is, what smoker should you buy? Today, we’re going to take on two types of smokers – the traditional charcoal smoker and the modern electric smoker.
Charcoal, as we all well know, is the most traditional type of smoker there is. It’s also the most basic. You have a smoker’s box either at the bottom of the unit or at the side where charcoal is burned to generate heat. You can place wood chips on top to add flavor. Within the main cooking chamber, you’ll find several racks (the number will depend on the size of the smoker). A charcoal smoker will also feature adjustable air vents to allow you to control temperature. Electric smokers, on the other hand, feature a heating element placed near the bottom of the unit where a bowl of smoldering wood chips or pellets can also be found. There’s a digital control panel to help you set the timer and temperature for your cooking session. Plus, a plug that will help you power your smoker all night long, if need be. So, which one is better? Let’s do a short comparison:
Ease of Use
Between the two types of smokers, the electric smoker would be easier to use as well as more convenient. It doesn’t require your attention beyond placing your meats inside the chamber, positioning the wood chips and water pan, and setting the time and temperature. There’s no babysitting required at all. On the other hand, the charcoal smoker will require a lot of effort to use. You’re going to need to make sure the charcoal is burning and that you’ve got enough fuel for your entire cooking session. You also need to monitor the temperature to ensure it remains constant as well as adjust the air vents to control temperature, something that will require a bit of practice to perfect.
Quality of Barbecue
There’s no question which smoker wins this round. A charcoal smoker will always produce meat with a greater flavor depth and smokiness compared to those cooked from an electric smoker. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll be getting tasteless ribs if you have an electric smoker. It’ll still be delicious. Just not as delicious as one from a charcoal smoker.
Maintenance and Reliability
Electric smokers are much easier to maintain as there is little for you to clean. Charcoal smokers, on the other hand, require more cleaning (think of all that ash). In terms of reliability, however, charcoal smokers are the clear winner. There aren’t any complicated parts to worry about. Repairing any damage isn’t going to be a hassle. With an electric smoker, you’ve got complex electronic components that can break and require specialized repair – not something you can fix on your own.
While electric smokers will generally be more expensive compared to a charcoal one, there are some units that are expensive. That being said, you can get a high quality charcoal smoker at a low price and even enjoy a 10-year warranty. With an electric smoker, you need to get a medium-priced one if you want quality.
Cost is not just about the price of the model in the market. There is an additional cost that you need to consider when operating a smoker. In general, you’ll be spending less when you fire up your electric smoker compared to all the charcoal or wood you need to buy to heat up the charcoal smoker.
Of course, whether a charcoal smoker is better than an electric smoker or vice versa is a judgment that only you can make. But if you’re in the market for one, check out some comparisons we’ve made between two models, so you can make the right choice for you.
Comparison 1: Smoke Hollow 26142E 26-Inch Electric Smoker vs Dyna-Glo DGO1176BDC-D Charcoal Offset Smoker
- Includes 1500-watt heating element with fully adjustable temperature control
- Two (2) chrome-plated cooking grids are included and can be Adjusted to variable heights
- Full range heat indicator
- Side handles and cool-touch spring wire door handle with latch system
- Porcelain coated water pan
- Porcelain coated chip tray
- 1.3 cu.Ft. Cooking capacity
- 36.5" x 19" x 16.5"
- Vertical design lends itself to naturally rising heat, achieving greater efficiency and improved smoke flavor. Offset design keeps direct heat away from the food, allowing for slow cooking.
- Six height-adjustable cooking grates accommodate various sizes of food. 784 square Inch of total smoking area; 1176 square inches of total cooking space with 25-pounds capacity per grate.
- Porcelain-enameled steel charcoal chamber is designed to keep briquettes stacked tightly for improved burn efficiency.
- Charcoal & ash management system with the charcoal chamber, grate, and sliding, removable steel ash pan. Designed to handle large amounts of ash for hours of maintenance-free cooking.
- Smoke stack features an adjustable flue for additional flavor and temperature control.
- Built-in, stainless steel thermometer. ‘Smoke Zone’ indicates ideal temperature for infusing smoke flavor and an easy-to-read gauge helps you achieve perfectly smoked foods.
- Dimensions: 20.2 × 34.52 × 47.03 in
Comparison 1: The Smoke Hollow 26142E 26-Inch Electric Smoker features a fully-welded steel cabinet with two chrome-plated adjustable grates, a porcelain-coated wood chip tray, and a porcelain-coated water pan. It also comes with a 1500-watt heating element that provides the unit with a temperature range of 175 to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s a small adjustable air vent at the back of the unit for additional temperature control. Like most electric smokers, this baby is quite easy to use. The door features a latch system to ensure that smoke doesn’t leak out unnecessarily. This is a great entry level smoker. The main drawbacks are that you only get two racks and temperature control can be tricky, especially if the weather is cool. For a little bit more money, you can get the Dyna-Glo DGO1176BDC-D Charcoal Offset Smoker which is, in our opinion, a better choice all around. The heavy gauge porcelain enameled steel wood chip box is set to the side and features its own door, enabling you to add more wood when necessary without opening the main cooking chamber. More importantly, the heat isn’t directly under your meat, potentially causing the ones on the lower rack to cook earlier or dry out. Instead, this smoker makes use of indirect heat to ensure even cooking all around. Even better, you get 784 square inches of total cooking space provided by 6 height adjustable cooking grates. The steel smoke stack with the adjustable flue allows you to be more precise about temperature control.
Comparison 2: Old Smokey Electric Smoker vs Char-Broil Bullet Charcoal Smoker
- Color: Grey
- Size: 15.5"w x 15.5"d x 29"h
- This smoker has a flat top, so juices drip right back onto the food.
- On top of the heating element is a chip tray where you put wood chips for smoke flavor.
- This smoker is controlled by a heat thermostat to allow a wide variety of cooking times and styles.
- 584 sq in cooking surface across 2 porcelain-coated cooking grates
- Innovative airflow control system simplifies temperature regulation, featuring numbered damper settings
- Porcelain-coated body for lasting durability, and removable ash pan for quick and easy cleanup
- Two chamber-lift handles and lid-mounted temperature gauge
- Formed fire access door seals the smoke chamber and steel tube legs offer a conveniently accessible height
- Care instructions: Hand Wash
Comparison 2: The Old Smokey Electric Smoker is, perhaps, the simplest of its kind in the market. It looks like small vertical barrel with a lid on top. The barrel is made of aluminized steel. The 1250-watt heating element can reach temps over 300 degrees Fahrenheit. It is located at the bottom of the “barrel” and controlled by the advanced heat thermostat. The wood chip tray is placed right on top of the heating element to add flavor to your meats while the lid seals all that smoke for the best possible results. This smoker is portable, efficient, easy to clean, and can produce high quality barbecue even in the dead of winter. Now, the Char-Broil Bullet Charcoal Smoker is no slouch either. It is shaped quite similar to the Old Smokey but it does have a unique feature – you can lift the top lid to access the top rack, open the middle door to access the second rack, or lift the entire cooking chamber to access the charcoal. The entire body of the smoker is made of porcelain-coated steel to improve durability. But what really sets this smoker apart from any other charcoal smoker out there is the innovative airflow control that makes setting and maintaining the internal cooking temperature easy as pie. Now, both smokers are great options for beginners and experienced cooks. But since there can be only one, we’d have to say that the Old Smokey is the better choice if you want a lot of bang for your buck.
Comparison 3: Masterbuilt 20078715 Electric Digital Smoker vs Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 18 Inch Smoker
- 721 sq. Inch of cooking space with four chrome-coated racks
- 800 watt heating element
- Blue LED display for easy reading, even in direct sunlight
- Thermostat temperature control for even cooking from 100 to 275 degrees F
- Redesigned front-access drip pan
- Material Type: Steel
- The Weber Smokey Mountain charcoal smoker helps you achieve an authentic smokehouse flavor at home
- It can accommodate a whole turkey and an entire ham at the same time. Item weight- 39.1 pounds
- Made of porcelain-enameled steel, this smoker comes with 2 nickel-plated 18-1/2-inch-wide cooking grates
- Includes a water pan, thermometer, individual vents on bowl and lid, and heat-resistant nylon handle
Comparison 3: When it comes to electric smokers, none do it better than Masterbuilt. So, it’s not really surprising that we’ve got one on our list. The Masterbuilt 20078715 Electric Digital Smoker is a 30-inch smoker that features 721 square inches of cooking space (that’s 4 chrome-coated racks), an 800-watt heating element, a thermostat temperature control that ranges from 100 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit, and an easy-to-read blue LED display. The wood chip loading system is easy to access from the side. This smoker is easy to use and built to last. Plus, the price isn’t anything to scoff at (under $300). However, we’re battling it against the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker. Aside from the fact that this is a charcoal smoker, it’s one made by the gold standard of grills – Weber. You can never go wrong with one and the Smokey Mountain Cooker is no exception. It features porcelain-enameled components (lid, bowl, center) for superior heat retention, dampers for temperature control, and two cooking grates that can fit large pieces of meat. There’s even a silicone temperature grommet where you can slip in a meat probe, enabling you to keep an eye on your food as it cooks. Of course, the biggest drawback is that using this smoker requires a bit of expertise. But since it’ll last you longer than a lifetime, we believe you have enough time to practice until the roast is perfect.