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Electric vs. charcoal smoker has always sparked a good debate among smoked food enthusiasts. The answer to which type of smoker is the best will depend on several factors since both have their own sets of pros and cons.
But if you’re after a true barbecue that has that unique smoky flavor characteristic, then nothing can beat a charcoal smoker (check out our gas vs charcoal smoker article and see). Nevertheless, its smoking process, which will have a massive impact on the final results, will eat up a lot of your time.
If you’re a smoking expert, you’ll be able to tell right off the bat just from the flavor of the meat how it was prepped up. Likewise, you know right away what type of smoker it was cooked.
And in the battle of electric vs charcoal smoker, the latter is definitely the winner when we talk about flavor. However, in terms of simplicity and convenience, an electric smoker can beat a charcoal unit at any time of the day.
Electric smokers come with their own advantages. On the other hand, charcoal smokers come with their own merits. So at the end of the day, it will still boil down to your preference.
Table of Contents
An Overview Of Electric Smokers
Electric smokers are convenient and user-friendly. These units are the perfect option for beginners to smoking meat. Likewise, they are ideal for anyone who’s not into all the tasks that come with owning a charcoal model.
But how do electric smokers compare against propane? Check our review.
What’s so attractive about these smokers is that it eliminates the need for you to worry about temperature control. You also don’t have to check if your charcoal is burning properly.
Every electric smoker is armed with a digital controller. Therefore, it allows you to select the specific temperature for the kind of food you’ll smoke. You only need to plug the unit into a power source, start it up, and you don’t have to wait long to begin the smoking process once it reaches the appropriate temperature.
Furthermore, this is also the smoker for you if you don’t always have plenty of time in your hands. An electric smoker will not require you to give your full attention to it. You can leave it to do its job while you do other things.
Another thing you don’t have to worry about is running out of fuel source. As long as there’s no power outage, you can enjoy delicious smoked meat any time you want.
One of its drawbacks is that it should always be near somewhere with access to electricity. Nonetheless, in terms of things that matter like flavor, electric smokers can produce very tasty pieces of meat.
And you may think that just because they run on electricity they won’t generate smoke. On the contrary, most models even feature wood chip trays that can provide added smoke flavor.
Advantages Of Electric Smokers
Safer and more convenient
As mentioned, you can forget about worrying about stuff like regulating temperature with an electric smoker. Additionally, its operation is quite simple. You only need to plug your unit, fill its water pan and wood chip tray, choose your desired temperature, and it’ll start smoking its heart out.
Moreover, you’ll be able to leave it unattended for several hours with no worries. Your unit has a thermostat that will take care of the rest while you’re gone.
Heats up fast
Once you start your electric smoker, you only need to wait a few minutes for it to reach the precise temperature to smoke your food. Thereby, it’ll save you time in comparison to other types of smokers.
Ease of use
Another excellent advantage of this smoker is its simple operation. It’s basically a plug and play device, which makes it great for newbies who haven’t have any previous smoking experience.
Cold smoking option
This is another benefit that you can’t get from a charcoal smoker. You can set your electric smoker to low temperatures, depending on the model, you can go as low as 160F. The popularity of cold smoking is increasing so this is a feature that many people will find pretty useful.
Disadvantages Of Electric Smokers
Not good with humidity
These cooking devices come with complex electric components that are attached tightly to one another. They’re not particularly fond of humidity, so you may want to avoid using your electric smoker when it’s drizzling outside.
Not very mobile
You need to plug your electric smoker to a socket every time you use it. Thereby, this makes it impossible to move it around freely. So make sure to carefully think where you want to place your equipment for a hassle-free smoking experience.
An Overview Of Charcoal Smokers
Charcoal smokers are probably one of the most popular types of smokers around. And this is all thanks mainly to the results it delivers. The smoker is largely linked to the history of a traditional barbecue. For this reason, a lot of people deem it to be the only smoker that can do the job, while the rest are for rookies.
We can’t deny the fact that the food out of a charcoal smoker is some of the tastiest and most flavorful. The smoky flavor it gives your meat is something that all bbq aficionados love. Plus, that’s something that you can only get from a smoker that uses wood or charcoal as its heat source.
Unfortunately, it’s very challenging for most beginners to use a charcoal unit. There’s more to its smoking process than simply burning charcoal and placing your food on its grates. Utilizing is mostly about your skills not only to produce but maintain the perfect smoking conditions inside the smoker.
Controlling the temperature in a charcoal smoker involves various activities. These include adjusting the air vents properly and ensuring you have just the right amount of fuel.
Also, you have to be aware that the smoking process with this model does not happen instantly. Each adjustment of its air vent or settings will need time to achieve noticeable results.
These are the reasons why charcoal smokers are not ideal for beginners. However, for seasoned smokers and pitmasters, it will be able to provide their meat with flavors that will satisfy them completely.
Advantages Of Charcoal Smokers
Delivers amazing flavor
You won’t be able to achieve the intense, smoky goodness that a charcoal model offers from any other types of smokers. There’s simply no comparison to the characteristic smoky taste your meat will get.
Easy to fix
When you encounter a problem in one of its components, it’s usually a pretty big deal. But if it’s something truly vital, you’ll be able to take care of it yourself. Sometimes, you can even continue smoking.
Charcoal smoker spare parts are affordable and readily available. Moreover, most malfunctions you’ll experience are simple enough to fix on your own using basic tools you can find in your home.
Unlike its electric counterpart, charcoal smokers don’t come with any complicated electronic parts. They’re also constructed with durable, sturdy materials that can withstand rust and corrosion.
For a decent price tag, you can purchase a high-quality charcoal smoker that will be able to serve you for many years. Some of the best models even come with a 10-year warranty. This usually means that the manufacturer is confident about its product.
Disadvantages Of Charcoal Smokers
You need to have the right skills
Beginners to smoking will find it challenging to operate a charcoal smoker. The smoking results will largely depend on your ability. So if you have no prior experience and this is the first time you’ll use it, you may find it hard to get that perfect smoky taste.
The smoking process for this smoker involves a lot of things. These include getting the charcoal burning, controlling its temps, adjusting its air vents, and checking the fuel from time to time. All of these will not only take up plenty of your time, but it’ll require your undivided attention to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
You need to maintain its temperature
You need to have the perfect temperature for successful smoking. And maintaining a stable temperature for hours is not that easy. Adding too much charcoal will result in a significant rise in temperature. This, in turn, makes it hart to stabilize it.
Furthermore, when you adjust the temperature you’ll use the air vents of your unit. However, it’s not that simple to manipulate them as what some may think. Working air vents will actually require you some time to learn it.
Electric Vs. Charcoal Smoker Comparison
Charcoal smokers utilize charcoal as its fuel source to heat up wood chips. The chips will then emit a constant flow of heat and smoke to your food. This is what will give your meat that delicious smokey flavor that we all can’t get enough of.
If you have enough experience, you won’t have any trouble setting up your charcoal smoker. In fact, you’ll even see yourself enjoying it. But as mentioned, if you’re a beginner to smoked food, you’ll find the entire preparation process quite challenging.
On the other hand, electric smokers use electricity and heating rods to heat wood chips. So basically, you only need a power source, some tweak of its settings, and you’re all set to smoke. What’s more, the heating rods will heat up quickly and provide you with a constant temperature throughout the entire cooking process.
To get the best possible results, you need to maintain the inside temperature of your smoker and ensure it remains the same.
This is the part where electric models shine since they can keep a steady heat. Once you set your preferred temperature, it’ll do the smoking magic on its own. Furthermore, there are different sorts of flavored wood chips available on the market you can choose for both these smokers.
The wood chips of an electric smoker are round and fed via a metal pan near its heating rods. So as long as you have ample wood chips for your smoking session, your unit will do all the hard work for you.
Meanwhile, the heating source of charcoal smokers is coal. This means that you need to keep a close eye on its temperature every time. It can be a laborious and even frustrating task, especially if the wind outside is strong. Nevertheless, most smoking enthusiasts are up for the challenge and even enjoy as well as take a lot of pride at getting their hands a bit dirty.
Hands down, charcoal smokers take the cake here. You will not get the same characteristic and intense smoky flavor that a charcoal model can offer from any other smokers. The flavor that you can get from an electric smoker is also good. But nothing beats the taste that you can get from a smoker that uses coal or wood as its heat source.
In terms of cleanup, electric smokers are the clear winner here. Since they don’t use coal, they won’t produce ash like with a traditional charcoal smoker. Thereby, cleanups are easy and quick.
Price is probably one of the main advantages of an electric model over a charcoal smoker. You can easily find a unit that suitable for your budget since electric smokers come in a wide variety of price points.
If you want more features, go for a more expensive unit. However, if you’re tight on cash and okay with basic features, then opt for low-budget ones. But that’s not to say that you won’t find a charcoal smoker with a cheap price tag that can perform well.
On this electric vs. charcoal smoker, if we’ll base it on the authenticity of flavor, the charcoal model is the clear winner by a mile. But in terms of convenience and ease of use, nothing beats an electric smoker (read our gas vs electric smoker and see for yourself). You only need to plug and set it up, and the rest is all up to your smoker.
Charcoal smokers are suitable for those with prior experience in smoking. Learning how to use it will require some time, and you need proper skills to achieve the best results. But all the hard work will be all worth it.
Consider reading our pellet grill vs gas grill to get a clear picture of what type of grill you need.