Want to start a heated debate about food? At the next barbecue you attend, pose the question, “Which is better, electric smokers or pellet smokers?” Grab a cold drink, step back, and watch the heat rise as the talk of smoke begins.
Opinions and preferences about which is better, pellet or electric smokers, vary widely. These opinions evoke some of the most passionate emotions you can imagine. Each school of thought has its arguments. In fairness, both types of smokers have their pros and cons. Is one type of smoker better than another?
The choice of a wood pellet or electric smoker depends on your expectations. The overall end goal is, of course, a tasty smoked meat meal. However, other factors contribute to the debate: equipment expense, the intensity of flavors, versatility, and ease of use. Understanding the differences and similarities between pellet smokers and electric smokers is important before deciding.
Table of Contents
- Wait – What’s the Difference
- It’s All About the Flavor
- The Other Aspects of the Smoker Debate
- Pellet or Electric – The Bottom Line
Wait – What’s the Difference
The question of wood pellet versus pellet smokers can get confusing. In truth, both styles of smokers need a source of electricity and wood to create the smoke used to flavor and cook the meat. Why is the debate over which is better so intense?
Where There is Smoke is There Fire?
Both styles of smokers indeed need electricity and wood to perform their functions. It is the way the heat and smoke are generated that causes the debate. Much of the argument surrounds the smoke that flavors the meat and which method of producing the smoke is better.
Back to the Source – Heat, Flame, and Smoke
As you might assume from the name, pellet smokers burn wood pellets to generate both the heat and the smoke used to cook the meat in the smoker. Pellet smokers depend on a source of electricity to drive the pellet system and operate the control systems.
Electric smokers require electricity to generate the heat that does the cooking inside the smoker. This source of heat is usually a large electric element near the bottom of the smoker. This electric element is much like the element in an electric skillet. The element also heats the wood to generate smoke for the process.
It’s All About the Flavor
Once you get past the technical details, which we will discuss later, the real debate is about flavor. The goal is always about taste. Much of the debate centers around three factors that a part of the finished flavor of the meat.
- The intensity of the flavors
- The Complexity of the flavors
- The depth of the flavor that gets into the meat
Pellet smokers and electric smokers do have their differences in these three factors. The way smokers produce the smoke, and the intensity of the smoke all affect the outcome. Therefore, the flavors you prefer are a big factor in which kind of smoker you may prefer.
Smoking with Pellets – Getting Intense
Pellet smokers do indeed need a source of electricity. The pellet delivery and control systems depend on electricity to operate. Most pellet smokers also have electric igniters to get the wood pellets burning in the first place. However, the burning pellets generate the heat and smoke that cook the meat in a pellet smoker.
In general, pellets generate more intense tastes than electric smokers. The burning process generates a complex mixture of gases and particles that combine in the meat to create those complex and subtle flavors.
Cooking with Electricity – Convenient and Effective
Electric smokers can produce excellent results. There is no doubt that a good electric smoker will put off tender, juicy, and tasty smoked meats. However, the intensity of the flavors is generally much less using an electric smoker.
Heating wood to produce smoke in an electric smoker doesn’t produce the same complex mix of gases and particles as burning wood pellets. Most electric smokers also depend on a pan of water to generate steam which aids in the cooking process. You might say that using an electric smoker is more of a steaming process than a smoking process.
The Other Aspects of the Smoker Debate
Once you get past the flavor part of this debate, other considerations affect people’s choice of pellet smokers or electric smokers. Both styles of smokers have their pros and cons for you to consider. Choosing the type of smoker that best fits your lifestyle is important.
These pros and cons represent a few of what we consider the most important factors you should consider before choosing your style of smoker.
Wood Pellet Smoker Pros
Wood pellet smokers do have many advantages over electric-style smokers. Many of these advantages affect the taste and look of the finished product. Before you purchase, a pellet-fired wood smoker consider these advantages.
- Flavor Intensity – Wood pellet-style smokers impart more intensive and complex flavors to your meat. This intensity comes from the complex nature of the smoke generated by the burning pellets.
- More visually appealing finished products – Avid meat smokers often care as much about the visual appeal of their meat as they do about the taste. Wood pellet smokers tend to produce a better look on the finished meat. The depth of the smoke ring and the bark on the meat are beautiful side products of a pellet smoker.
- Ease of Use and Controls – Pellet grills are often advertised as “start and forget.” The sophistication of the controls allows you to put on your meat, set the controls, and start the smoker without worrying about constant attention. On some higher-end pellet smokers, the control unit on the smoker will connect with your smartphone, allowing you to check progress almost anywhere.
- Versatility – Many horizontal style pellet smokers double as grills. These features make for a much more versatile smoking/grilling setup adding value to the cost of the smoker.
- Portability – The lower power requirements of the pellet feed system and the control units make many pellet smokers portable. Batteries can provide the necessary power for the pellet feed systems and the controls. You can take your pellet smoker to the lake or the beach away from the power grid.
- Popularity and Availability – Pellet smokers are immensely popular, and this has brought the price down. There are also a wide variety of styles and manufacturers from which to choose. You can find a pellet smoker in your price range with features that match your needs.
There are other advantages to wood pellet smokers. These represent the advantages that most pellet smoker users cite as the reasons they chose wood pellets over electrical smokers.
The Cons of Wood Pellets
Despite all their advantages, wood pellet smokers do have their downsides. Before buying a wood pellet smoker, you should consider these negative factors.
- Price as a factor – Even though their popularity has generated a price drop in pellet smokers, they still tend to be more expensive than electric smokers.
- Capacity – Design factors and often result in smaller internal capacities than a comparable electric smoker. The need for extra insulation to contain the heat, space for a firebox to burn the pellets, and the pellet feed mechanism contribute to reduced cooking space.
- The Pellet Problem – Burning wood pellets in a smoker mean purchasing, transporting, and storing the wood pellets. You must keep your pellets dry if you keep them for more than a few days. Humidity will soon cause the pellets to swell or even disintegrate, rendering them unusable.
The disadvantages to wood pellet smokers may seem trivial to some. However, anyone living in an apartment can appreciate the challenges of owning and operating a wood pellet smoker.
Electric Smoker Advantages
Electric smokers do offer some advantages over wood pellet smokers. These advantages make electric smokers preferable for some users or in some situations. Making a smoker decision should include considerations of these pros and cons of electric smokers.
- Affordability – Overall, electric smokers are less expensive than wood pellet-fired smokers. If you are beginning to smoke meat, an electric smoker is a good choice as an entry-level unit.
- Efficient operation – Many people find electric smokers a better choice for ease of operation and maintenance. Electric smokers are generally easier to clean than wood pellet smokers. There are also no issues with storing wood pellets.
- More room to cook – The design of electric smokers often means more interior room to smoke meat. With no requirements for a fuel feed system, a firebox, or pellet storage, electric smokers can devote more space internally to the cooking area.
- Less smoke in smaller areas – Electric smokers tend to produce less visible smoke than their pellet-burning cousins. Anyone living in an apartment or small space situation can appreciate generating less smoke for their neighbors.
The Downside of Electric Smokers
Before purchasing an electric smoker, the cons of these units need understanding. Some of these downsides of electric smokers make them unacceptable to some meat lovers.
- Smoked meats mean smoke – Electric smokers still produce smoke. Usually, this is a pan or tray near the heating element where you put wood pellets or wood chips. The wood is heated and produces smoke to flavor the meat.
- Less intensity – Since the wood chips or pellets don’t burn to provide the cooking heat, the intensity of the smoke and the flavors in your meat are less.
- Connected to the grid – Using an electric smoker means staying close to a power source. The electrical requirements limit the portability of most electric smokers. Even running an electric smoker with a portable generator is challenging due to the demands of the smoker.
- Constant attention required – You might think that an electric smoker would require less attention than a pellet smoker. In truth, electric smokers need regular attention to keep the water pan and wood chip pan filled. The water pan keeps the meat moist and juicy. The wood chip pan provides the flavor. Failure to attend to either will result in less than acceptable results from your smoker.
Pellet or Electric – The Bottom Line
In the end, we prefer a wood pellet smoker to prepare our smoked treats. The versatility and the flavors that burning wood gives tilt the tables in this direction. Having the option to take our pellet smoker along on excursions to the lake or the beach fits perfectly into our idea of a great weekend. Your needs and situations may be different. Good smoking and have a great weekend.