Pellet Grill vs. Electric Smoker: Which One is a Better Smoker?

Pellet Grill vs. Electric Smoker

Barbecue season is in full swing. If you’re anything like my husband, your summer goal each year is to become a grill master. This summer, we got a smoker, and my husband is obsessed. We’ve had more smoked meat in the past few months than I think I’ve ever had. But I don’t hate it!

If you’re considering getting a smoker, you might be overwhelmed at all the options on the market. Where do you even start? When choosing between a pellet grill and an electric smoker, it ultimately comes down to how much smoke you want to taste.

A pellet grill produces a smokier flavor and uses far less electricity than an electric smoker. An electric smoker produces a very light smoky flavor but requires much more electricity. Electric smokers are usually cheaper than pellet grills.

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Pellet Grill

A pellet grill, also known as a pellet smoker, uses indirect heat. This allows you to cook larger cuts or quantities of meat for a longer timer at lower temperatures. The lower the temperature the more smoke is produced. And the smoke, as we know, is where all of the flavor is.

How It Works

Pellets compressed from sawdust and woodchips move through a hopper by way of an auger. They then end up in the burn pot. The thermostat determines how fast the pellets move into the hopper. Oxygen creates extra fuel which blows over the burn pot, increasing the burn rate and creating a steady burn.

A pellet grill is powered by electricity, thus it needs to be plugged in. However, the most electricity used is during the start up to ignite the hot rod which gets the pellet fire going. After that, most of the heat comes from the burning pellets. Once the pellet fire is going, the grill uses, at most, 100 watts of electricity.

Flavor Intensity and Moisture

Since the pellets are constantly burning and that is what infuses the meat with flavor, you can expect a more intense smoke flavor from a pellet grill. Some smokers have the ability to choose the smoke intensity scale.

What really gives the signature barbecue flavor are the gases and solids involved in combustion—primarily carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. Combustion is present in a pellet grill. Therefore, the flavors it brings will be there, too.

In the same vein, pellet grills keep the meat moist. Pellets contain between 5-10% moisture. So, the risk of drying out the food is minimal.

Portability and Convenience

A pellet grill can be used pretty much anywhere! Because the pellet grill requires only a minimal amount of electricity, it can be powered by a car or RV battery.

Not only can you take it anywhere, but you don’t have to constantly hover over it. You can walk away from a pellet grill from time to time without much worry. As long as you monitor the temperature and the pellet level, you can pretty much set it and forget it. Some grills even have the ability to monitor remotely through Wi-Fi or apps.

Cost

The price of pellet grills varies widely. They can be anywhere from $500 for a small one to well over $1,000 for one with all the bells and whistles. Some even cost as much as $9,000.

Pros

  • Flavor level. Due to combustion, pellet grills produce a higher intensity of smoke flavor.
  • Moisture level. Moister heat creates moister meat.
  • Double duty. Horizontal-style pellet smokers can also be used as a regular grill.
  • There are many different options to choose from.
  • Set it and forget it. The temperature rises slowly which means you don’t have to hover.
  • Minimal electricity is required. It can be powered by your car or RV battery!
  • Because of its minimal power requirements, you can take it anywhere.

Cons

  • Due to the wide price range, there’s a pellet grill out there for any budget. That being said, pellet grills are vastly more expensive than electric smokers.
  • Space to cost ratio. For the price, you’re getting less internal space than you would with an electric smoker.
  • Pellet storage. Any extra pellets need to be stored somewhere free from flooding, humidity, and mold.

Electric Smoker

As its name suggests, electric smokers require electricity to operate, which means it needs to be near an outlet. The mechanics of it, however, are much less involved than a pellet smoker. Simply flip a switch, set the temperature, and that’s it.

How It Works

An electric smoker is a box—either insulated or not—a heating element, and a woodchip or chunk tray. The heating element heats the box and gets the woodchips smoking. To put it simply, it’s essentially an oven with steam and smoke.

With an electric smoker, the heat source comes from electricity which is not the case for a pellet grill. Therefore, the electrical demand is far greater. The amount depends on the size and model, but typically, an electric smoker uses 500 to 1,500 watts.

Flavor Intensity and Moisture

All of the flavor comes from the heat source. Because the heating element causes the wood to smoke, that does impart some flavor. However, since combustion doesn’t happen in an electric smoker, that extra smokiness is not present.

Whereas a pellet grill creates humidity from the moisture in the pellets, electric smokers produce very dry heat. In order to combat this, you must place a water pan in the bottom of the smoker. This will need to be done with every use, however, if you don’t want the meat to dry out.

Portability

Electric smokers are typically lighter and smaller than pellet grills, making them easier to move. However, because of the required electricity, it may be difficult to find a suitable power source if you were to take it on the road.

Cost

Electric smokers are typically less expensive than pellet grills. On average, they run from around $200-$400. Commercial grade electric smokers can be upwards of $2,000.

Pros

  • Easier to clean. Because no combustion is present, there is much less residue produced from an electric smoker, making it easier to clean.
  • Space to cost ratio. For the price, you’re getting more internal space than in a pellet grill.
  • With an electric smoker, you have the ability to smoke other food besides meat because you can set and maintain very low temperatures. Pellet grill temperatures run too hot for anything other than meat.
  • Cooks food faster. Because you’re not dealing with the unpredictable combination of fire and oxygen, the temperature stays consistent which cooks the food faster.
  • More affordable.

Cons

  • Flavor level. They don’t impart as much smoky flavor.
  • Moisture level. They have a tendency to dry out food unless you use a water pan.
  • A certain higher amount of electricity is required. You need to know ahead of time if this is available. Otherwise, you can’t take it with you.

Related Questions

Can you leave a pellet grill unattended?

Yes, and that is one of the pros of this appliance. However, there are some safety concerns to be aware of. You don’t want to leave it unattended for longer than a few hours. Make sure it’s at least four feet away from any structures, especially your house. Finally, make sure it’s properly cleaned and has enough pellets.

How long do pellets last in a pellet grill?

The rule of thumb is two pounds of pellets for every hour of high-heat cooking and one pound for every hour of low-heat cooking.

Is it safe to use an electric grill on a deck?

You can safely use it on your deck as long as you keep it off the floor in a secure area and make sure people are aware that it’s on. While you don’t have to check it regularly, it’s always a good safety precaution to ensure it is operating properly.

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Which Is Better?

Ultimately, the decision between a pellet grill and an electric smoker comes down to a few factors: flavor, ease of use, and cost.

A pellet grill produces meat that is not only moister but smokier in flavor. While it does require electricity to ignite the wood, the amount is minimal, allowing you to use it in various locations. However, the cost of a good-quality pellet grill can be high.

Though not as intense, an electric smoker imparts some smokiness to its foods. However, a water pan must be used to keep the food from drying out. Electric smokers require a lot of electrical power, making it a less portable option. But it is versatile in the kinds of foods it can cook, and it’s a less expensive option compared to a pellet grill.

There’s a perfect smoker out there for every budget, lifestyle, and flavor profile. Here’s to finding yours and perfecting your barbecue game. As the late Anthony Bourdain said, “Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start.”

Brigid Levi

Brigid Levi is a wife, mother, and freelance writer who enjoys a good DIY project and creating beautiful spaces within her home. From cleaning and organization hacks to home decor ideas, she loves helping people in their quest to turn a house into a home. Her hobbies include pretending to be Joanna Gaines while updating her home with her husband and performing in local theater productions.

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