Everything to Know About Electric vs Charcoal Smokers

When you think about smoking meat, most will encounter the head-to-head between electric vs charcoal smokers. If you’re hesitating on which one to get, then it might be that you don’t like how an electric smoker won’t have the same smoky flavor that a charcoal smoker can give you.

The other concern probably because of your preferences in smoking meat. Some prefer the convenience of an electric smoker while some could find the idea of getting their hands dirty with a charcoal smoker to be the most authentic way to smoke meat.

It’s a well-known debate and one that we’re going to address in hopes of helping you make that decision. If you’re a beginner in this area and you’re looking at an electric or charcoal smoker, but you don’t know which one you should choose, then this article is perfect for you.

We’ll explain the differences between the two, which one is perfect for you? And as a bonus, we’ll even give you tips on how to get that coveted charcoal flavor on an electric smoker.

Side by Side Comparison between Electric vs Charcoal Smoker

electric smoker and charcoal smoker
Electric smoker and charcoal smoker

Which type of smoker is more popular?

If you’re new to smoking meat, then you would be glad to know that an electric smoker is a popular choice for beginners. Not only is it convenient and easy to use, but it also helps lessen the learning curve you normally have to go through to understand the smoking process.

The biggest reason why an electric smoker is a popular choice for beginners includes how you can set the right temperature and even key in a timer.

On the other hand, charcoal smokers are popular for a different demographic. Specifically, it’s the best choice for those who like to smoke meat in the traditional way.

Despite the lack of technological functionalities that electric smokers are known for, the cooking process of charcoal smokers is no less straightforward. It does, however, require a bit of attention, particularly in terms of temperature control.

If you’re someone who’s looking to dive deep into the smoking process and willing to invest the time to learn the ins and outs, then a charcoal smoker might be what you’re looking for.

Which one is easier to store and/or transport?

Another aspect that you should consider before deciding between these two meat smokers is its size. Aside from how much space it’s going to need, it may also be essential for you to know if it’s something that you can be transported for your outdoor explorations and to your camping sites.

In terms of size, there is no clear winner. Both electric and charcoal meat smokers can come in small packages.

Electric smokers don’t need some of the parts that a charcoal smoker has, like vents and room for whichever fuel you’re using, because it can regulate its own heat.

Meanwhile, charcoal smokers may require more space, especially since you will need to distribute the charcoal to control the heat.

Regardless, both electric and charcoal smokers can come in a wide variety of sizes that can fit your needs, be it in terms of surface area or the amount of meat it can cook at one point in time.

Portability is where some might find a deal-breaker. Because an electric smoker will need a power source to run, it might not be all that portable unless you’re going to a place where you can plug it in.

For some of you who might be dreaming of that campfire scene, that’s just not possible with an electric smoker. On the other hand, a charcoal smoker will continue to cook your meat no matter where you are.

What are the space and weather requirements?

In relation to size and portability, space requirements and weather conditions are things that you should also consider before buying a meat smoker.

Think about your space. Do you have a spot in mind for your smoker? Do you want to smoke meat indoors or outdoors? If you want your smoker on your deck, is a covered area or not?

An electric smoker will not require much space, but smoking meat will have to be done indoors unless you have a covered area outside. It’s not going to survive rain or snow, and things like animal and weather-related damage can cause its parts to break down.

A charcoal smoker may not be the right choice for you if you want to smoke meat indoors. Because it produces actual smoke, and because it can reach high temperatures, it is safer to use a charcoal smoker outside. The main advantage is that when you do take it outside, neither rain nor snow can damage it.

What’s the fuel source?

Depending on your location and needs, the fact that an electric smoker doesn’t require any fuel source other than electricity might appeal to you.

It’s an especially attractive choice for those living in the city or in a place where charcoal and wood chips might not be things that you can find in a store close to home.

However, it is worth noting that because of its limited fuel source, an electric smoker can only get up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit max, unlike a charcoal smoker cooker, which can reach higher temperatures.

That’s a price you’ll have to pay for the convenience and ease of use that an electric smoker offers. If you’re someone who’s looking to explore cold smoking, the limits on temperature may not be such a steep price to pay.

In comparison, a charcoal smoker will need charcoal for smoking every single time you smoke meat. If that’s something you can see yourself doing quite often, then it might cost you a lot more than the electricity bills that come with using an electric smoker.

Considering how an electric smoker is also capable of temperature control, a charcoal smoker may either need more fuel to sustain a specific heat or more attention to prevent it from burning too much.

You might want to think about how much of your money and time you’re willing to invest when you want to smoke raw ham or other meat. If the answer is not much, then you’re better off with an electric smoker.

Which one can produce better flavor and food quality?

The head-to-head between an electric smoker and a charcoal smoker may be decided in this section. The clear winner in terms of flavor and food quality is a charcoal smoker.

Because it produces the smoke needed in the cooking process, a charcoal smoker can give you that authentic smoked flavor that may just be the entire reason why you got into smoking meat in the first place.

By using the perfect wood chips with the right meat for smoking plus the ideal temperature, you’ll be well on your way to infusing the flavor of burning charcoal and wood into every crevice of the meat.

Meanwhile, an electric smoker that relies on its digital capabilities just pales in comparison in terms of flavor and food quality.

That said, you might be interested to know that with the right settings inputted in an electric smoker, you won’t have to worry about accidentally burning your meat.

The heating process on electric smoker works by regulating the indirect heat that cooks your meat. When it determines that it’s hot enough, it will automatically turn off to maintain the temperature you set.

On the other hand, if you leave a charcoal smoker alone for too long, then you’re likely to end up with overcooked and charred meat.

Which one is easier to clean?

The electric smoker gains back the points it lost in the flavor category when it comes to cleaning. Because you don’t need to burn anything to smoke meat with this device, you’ll be able to keep it clean without much of a problem.

The heating elements and processes of the electric smoker can almost always ensure that you won’t have to find yourself in a situation where you’re wondering how you’re going to clean off the stuck burnt bits on the tray.

Meanwhile, a charcoal smoker involves a more complicated cleaning process. To ensure that you don’t accidentally destroy it, you will need to wait for all the charcoal and wood chips to burn itself out. While some people may say that you just need to pour water on it, this practice is not advisable as you will certainly damage your smoker.

You will also need to clean up the grill to ensure that your next batch of meat is free of ash and charred bits. When done improperly, you’re not only risking the smoker you spent money on but also the quality of your smoked meat.

Even with the perfect charcoal flavor, it isn’t very appealing to eat something that’s covered in ashes and burned old meat bits.

Which one costs more?

Compared to a propane smoker, both the electric and charcoal smokers are less expensive options. For those on a budget, you’ll be glad to know that you can get a high quality model even when you’re not willing to spend more than a couple hundred bucks on a meat smoker. Of course, a charcoal smoker may still be cheaper considering how an electric smoker includes the price of technology in its total cost.

Moreover, you may also need to think about future costs. This includes the cost of the fuel source and the repairs that you may need over time. Charcoal smokers are generally sturdier but will need more money to be allocated to buy its fuel source.

Meanwhile, an electric smoker has more parts that are breakable, which will definitely have significant ramifications on your repair budget. However, the best electric smokers out there will come with a warranty package, which can save you a lot of money in the long run.

Operating, Running, and Using

While not exactly the most portable and versatile choice, electric smokers might just be what you’re looking for if you need something easy to operate, run, and use.

It’s a plug and play device and one that you can leave and trust to cook your meat according to your preference. Beyond making sure that you have a power source, your efforts to smoke meat in an electric smoker only extend as far as understanding the cooking process.

With electric smokers, all you need is to set he right temperature and key in the digits into the time and voila! You’ll have your cooked meat before you know it.

Compared to how beginner-friendly an electric smoker is, a charcoal smoker isn’t for the faint of heart. Because it lacks the digital functionalities than an electric device is equipped with, you will have to get accessories like a thermostat, thermopop or thermapen, learn how to control the temperature, and watch over the entire cooking process.

Despite these caveats, operating a charcoal smoker is a straightforward process that involves chucking in the charcoal or wood, lighting it up, and placing your meat on top. It may not be plug and play, but it’s certainly for you if you’re someone who’s looking to learn and implement a variety of smoking techniques.

Cold Smoking with Charcoal compared to with Electric Smoker

Here’s an important note before we dive into this category: cold smoking can be a particularly dangerous activity, but when done right, then you’re going to get cured and preserved meat that’s especially juicy and smoky in flavor.

Both electric and charcoal smokers can be used for cold smoking. The glaring difference is that if you’re looking to do cold smoking with a charcoal smoker, then you’ll need a lot of prevision tools, a bucket-load of patience, and a near-indomitable drive to learn.

Cold smoking is among the popular reasons why someone might go for an electric smoker instead of a charcoal smoker. Electric smokers are equipped with the digital capabilities that make cold smoking an almost-too-easy process.

Add in how brands and manufacturers usually include a kit that’s specifically made for cold smoking, and you have a setup that can do what needs to be done at a consistent temperature.

You can also buy a wood pellet tube smoker or use the included wood chip tray to produce more smoke without drastically changing the overall temperature. In this category, an electric smoker is a definite winner and the more cost-effective and safer option.

Bonus Tip: How to Get the Charcoal Flavor with an Electric Smoker

Unlike smokers that use natural gas or charcoal as the main fuel and heat source, electric smokers are wholly incapable of producing meat that is infused with the desired level of charcoal or wood flavor.

If this is why you’re leaning toward getting a charcoal or pellet smoker, then you might want to take a moment. We’re here to tell you that yes, you can actually get the charcoal flavor even if you’re using an electric smoker. Here’s how:

  • STEP 1: First, you have to choose what type of wood chips you’re going to want to use. The most popular choices for most types of meat are mesquite, maple, oak, apple, and hickory, among others.
  • STEP 2: Check to see if your electric smoker is equipped with a wood chip tray. Most models include one, but if you don’t have it, then you might want to look into getting the necessary add-ons.
  • STEP 3: Soak your wood chips at least an hour before you’re scheduled to smoke your meat. This step is important if you don’t have many wood chips in storage, and you want to let it burn a little longer than normal. Drain the liquid, and let the wood chips dry after the time period.
  • STEP 4: While you’re soaking your wood chips, you will have to get your electric smoker ready. Let the grill heat up so that when you put in the chips, you won’t have to wait hours before you see the beginnings of smoke.
  • STEP 5: Once the wood chips are dry, place them in the tray or smoker box. Situate the package in your grill. For your own safety, use tongs. It’s going to need a few minutes to start burning and begin smoking, but when it does, you can now begin smoking your meat.

Which one for you: Charcoal or Electric Smoker?

The choice between an electric or charcoal smoker rests solely on your needs. If you want an outdoor device that can 100% give you that smoky flavor without extra effort, then it’s best to go with a charcoal smoker. But if you need something that is convenient, easy to learn, and speedy, then an electric smoker is the way to go.

Before you make a decision, take stock of what you have and what you need. Look around your space. Take the time to consider why you want to start smoking meat. Maybe even start a budget sheet. Whichever one you choose, be sure that it’s a decision that will help you have fun learning the smoking process.

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