Electric vs Charcoal Smokers: What You Need to Know

If you are a connoisseur of barbecued food and crave the power to cook smoked ribs anytime you please, it’s time to look into getting a smoker.

Nothing beats the great taste and smell of smoked foods. But there is usually one thing that holds people back from embarking on their culinary adventures: choosing the right smoker.

Two of the most popular options on the market are charcoal and electric smokers. Often, charcoal seems to take the cake with taste alone. This is only second to the Electric vs Pellet smoker debate.

Electric smokers have not yet figured out how to mimic the juicy and flavor-filled meat that the charcoal models can create. However, when it comes to convenience and ease of use, electric smokers tend to pull ahead. 

To help you find your footing in this charcoal vs electric smokers debate, we’ve created this comprehensive guide. Check out the differences between the two types and a quick recap of their pros and cons before making your purchase. That way, you’ll get the perfect, mouthwatering smoked meats and foods you desire with a smoker suited for your lifestyle and budget. 

Electric vs Charcoal Smokers: What's the Difference?

This comparison of the common capabilities in the two kinds of smokers can help you choose your side in the battle of electric vs charcoal smokers.

Ease of Use

Charcoal

When we’re talking about practicality, there is no contest between the two. Charcoal smokers will take all of your attention for nearly the entire cooking process.

This means that those who are interested in the actual cooking side of smoking will likely enjoy charcoal models. To use these, you must get the charcoal burning, adjust the air vents as needed, and monitor the temperature throughout the whole process.

Electric

If you’re looking for something that is low-maintenance and lets you tend to other tasks, the electric smoker may be the best option for you. But for those of you who want to feel like you’re out on an island and smoking a pig, the charcoal will not let you down.

The Verdict

Charcoal smokers call for more steps that must be taken with the electric smoker, which only needs to be turned on and put on the correct temperature to start smoking. These types are better suited for those who want the great-tasting food and aren’t worried as much about the knowledge of cooking the meat.

Temperature Control

Charcoal

It’s hard to control the temperature with charcoal units. They take longer to heat up, and once they’ve reached a certain heat, it’s harder to lower the temperature. For this reason, if you require consistent temperatures for your smoking method, a meat thermometer will be necessary when cooking with charcoal.

Electric

Electric units come with temperature modulators, so you know that your meat is always cooking at the exact temperature you desire. With some of the advanced options, you also can set different temperatures for different levels. This allows you to cook multiple types of meat in different smoking styles at one time.

The Verdict

Electric units offer superior temperature control. However, if you prefer the traditional method of charcoal grilling, a meat thermometer can help you maintain consistent cooking temperatures.

Flavor

Charcoal

You simply cannot beat the intense smoky flavor achieved by the charcoal smoker. This intense flavor is complex and rich with every bite. With charcoal, you can taste the smoky seared meat, and you’ll experience layers of flavor from the smoky outer layers to the juicy core.

Electric

While the electric smoker does do a great job of making great-tasting meat, it does not render the same complex flavors as the charcoal grill. Instead, it has a unique taste, created by the bowl of wood chips in this smoker. These chips generate a fair amount of smoke into the space, allowing the meat to achieve a fair level of smokiness.

One factor, however, where electric does reign supreme is that you can have more control over the juiciness and flavor consistency. If you like meat that is evenly and consistently cooked throughout, the electric is a fair choice.

The Verdict

When it comes to flavor, you will get the best meats with the charcoal option, but you are still in good hands flavor-wise if you go for the electric option.

Weather

Charcoal

For the most part, you can smoke outdoors with your charcoal smoker in rain, snow, or shine. The only thing that is affected by this weather is the insulation within your smoker. For those of you who live in some of the rainier or temperamental climates, look for a well-insulated option. That way, you can get use out of it even when the weather isn’t perfect.

Electric

Electric smokers, however, are never recommended for use when they might be exposed to water, including rain and snow. For your and your family’s safety, don’t attempt to use these kinds of smokers when the weather is bad. They are more finicky when it comes to the weather you’re able to use them in, but if you live in an area that doesn’t see much rainfall, you won’t have to worry about these models.

The Verdict

Charcoal smokers are a great option to save for a rainy day, but don’t forget to keep a watchful eye on your insulation to ensure that your meat will be cooked properly.

Cold Smoking

Charcoal

Cold smoking is a process that many foodies use to curate their meats. When it comes to cold smoking, charcoal grills make it difficult, although not impossible, to cold smoke meats. Because cold smoking requires consistent low temperatures, charcoal is not the preferred grill for this method, especially for beginners.

Electric

Electric smokers let you select a low temperature that will be stable throughout the process. Many leading manufacturers even sell a cold smoking kit for this activity with these grills. This is the preferred method of cold smoking.

The Verdict

If cold smoking is something that you’re considering, research the process and opt for the electric smoker, so you can learn to cold smoke safely and effectively.

Affordability

Charcoal

Charcoal units tend to offer high-quality at a low price. This is because these units have a simple construction without a lot of parts. Any parts that do fail can easily be replaced. For those who want the full smoking experience with the highest pay-off, these units can often be found at a bargain price with warranties that will make them a wise choice anytime.

Electric

Electric smokers tend to be more expensive because of the small and advanced technology they contain. Those who want the ease of use will flock to these models, but it is recommended that you buy one of the better-quality models rather than the cheapest. This will prevent any accidents from happening with cheap and poor quality smokers.

The Verdict

If you’re looking for a charcoal smoker, you’re in luck as you probably won’t have to fork out too much money to get a great quality model. You also can expect a warranty that will make the price worth-while. If you’re looking for the electric smokers, our only advice is to spend a little extra money to get the best quality at the best price—your tastebuds will thank you.

Durability

Charcoal

With charcoal models, you can usually expect a great warranty from most manufacturers. Because they don’t generally malfunction, distributors often offer up to ten-year warranties on these products.

Electric

The electric style generally consists of more complicated parts, making it more likely to break than other types. As such, manufacturers generally only give warranties for 2-3 years on these products. Be sure that you read about how best to care for these models. This will save you money on the cost of parts replacement and upkeep with your electric smoker.

The Verdict

When weighing the pros and cons of these two styles, durability is something that you need to consider. Charcoal models are generally a lot more durable than electric. If you take care of the smoker and operate it the way that it’s meant to be, the electric is still a great option for easy smoking.

Portability

Charcoal

One of the main selling points of these smokers is that they allow you to cook outdoors. While they vary in size, charcoal models are generally very easy to transport. They also only use charcoal as a fuel source, which means you can cook anywhere you can set-up your charcoal smoker.

Electric

With electric smokers, you only have to worry about one thing: the power source. While this smoker is easy to move around in terms of size, you’ll need to remember that it can only work if it has a source of electricity.

The Verdict

If you’re worried about the ability to transport your smoker, the electric model is likely not the best option. Unless you have access to a power source, the charcoal smoker is the better option.

Charcoal vs Electric Smokers: Pros and Cons

Here’s a quick recap of the pros and cons of both types of smokers:

Charcoal: The Good

  • Richer, more complex flavors
  • Better for well-aged or dried cuts
  • Holds up in various weather conditions
  • Simple construction
  • Easily replaceable parts
  • Affordable
  • Durable
  • Portable
  • Extensive Warranties


Charcoal: The Bad

  • More high-maintenance
  • Unreliable temperature control
  • Difficult to achieve low temperatures

Electric: The Good

  • Low-maintenance–just add the meat and set
  • Precise temperature control
  • Consistent cooking
  • Easier to create juicy cuts
  • Good for cold smoking
  • Advanced tech for improved ease of use

Electric: The Bad

  • Cannot use in adverse weather conditions
  • Electronic parts hard to replace
  • More expensive to purchase and maintain
  • Shorter warranties

Which Should I Buy?

In the end, the decision for electric vs charcoal smokers depends on how you plan to live your new smoked meat lifestyle.

  • If your only intention is to put some meat in a grill and forget about it for a few hours while you hang out in your backyard with friends, the electric option is likely the best for you.
  • If you want to be a true connoisseur and creator of smoked meats, the charcoal option is a great way to go back to the roots of smoking and create meats with flavor complexity.

Whichever option you get, you’ll be able to enjoy great-tasting smoked food that will taste even better when you know that you were the one who made it happen.

Hopefully, this side-by-side comparison has helped you to decide which smoker would be the best fit for you and your backyard or camping needs. Use these facts to decide what you want out of your smoker. Are you willing to go the extra mile to smoke meats on charcoal or are you willing to sacrifice flavor for simplicity and opt for electric?

Whichever you decide, happy smoking and don’t forget the barbecue sauce!