Charcoal vs Electric Smoker

So called “purists” in the food smoking world insist that the most delicious and flavourful meats are cooked in traditional charcoal based smokers, and that one can never achieve in an electric smoker what you can in a charcoal smoker. Whether or not that’s true, most people out there cannot tell the difference when they taste the food. In fact, there are professionals and chefs that are entering barbecue contests with electric smokers and winning!

We’re not going to say which one is ultimately better. Let’s just say that each has its strengths and weaknesses, and it really comes down to a matter of preference. Let’s talk about some of the key differences.

Preparation

Charcoal smokers use charcoal to heat wet wood chips, which then emit a steady flow and heat and smoke to the meat. This gives the meat that tasty smokey seasoning that we all love so much. With some experience, setting up a charcoal smoker can be easy and enjoyable. Those who are new to food smoking, preparing the coals can be challenging.
Electric smokers rely on heating rods, powered by electricity, to heat up wood chips. All you need is an electrical outlet and you’re all set. The heating rods heat up in a hurry and provide a constant temperature during the whole cooking process.

Cooking

For best results, the temperature inside the smoker needs to remain the same. Because charcoal smokers rely on coal as a heating source, you have to keep a close eye on the temperature. Depending on wind and temperature outside, it can be a tedious and sometimes frustrating task. However, most food smokers don’t seem to mind at all. In fact, many of them enjoy monitoring coals and take pride in getting their hands a little dirty.

This is where electric smokers shine. They are able to maintain a steady heat all by themselves. You use controls to set the temperature and it does its job! There are all kinds of flavoured hardwood chips out there to choose from for both charcoal and electric smokers that are fun to experiment with. Electric smoker wood chips are rounded and are fed by a metal tray that go near the heating rods. As long as you have enough wood chips for the job, your electric smoker will do the rest!

Cleanup

As far as cleanup goes, electric smokers take the cake. They don’t produce real ash or coal like traditional charcoal based smokers, which makes for quick and easy cleanup!

Cost

Charcoal smokers cost about $200-$300 and can run close to $500 for nice ones. They come in all shapes and sizes, and the prices really vary. You can be sure to find the right charcoal smoker for you, simply because there is such a large selection of quality models. If it comes right down to cost for you, then a charcoal smoker would suit you best.

Electric smokers do come with a slightly higher price tag. The Bradley Smoker food smoker featured in the image above is $399 and it comes with convenient controls that help automate the long smoking process. It does the work for you! So if convenience matters a lot to you, then it would be worth taking a second look at an electric or digital food smoker. As with the charcoal smokers, there are different models of varying prices on the market.