Top Differences Between a Charcoal Smoker vs Electric Food Smoker: Most Important Things To Consider Before Buying Yours

Top Differences Between a Charcoal Smoker vs Electric Food Smoker: Most Important Things To Consider Before Buying Yours

Posted on: January 17, 2023

It is not a secret that the taste of smoked meat depends on which type of smoker you use. Smoking meat is considered to be an ancient method of preparation, and some smokers manage to preserve all the tastes and nutrients perfectly.

In this article, we will focus on two types of smokers: charcoal and electric smokers. There are certainly people who prefer one type of smoker. Some like the smoky taste of the food prepared in charcoal, others say that using an e-smoker is more convenient. But, there’s no need to debate which type tastes better: it all depends on your personal preferences.

If you’re not sure about the type to buy, we’ve highlighted the main differences between electric and charcoal smokers below.

What are the Features to Compare?

The main difference between electric and charcoal smokers is the source of fuel. An electric smoker is a device that uses electricity to generate heat for smoking food products. That means that it only works when plugged into an electric power source.

A typical electric smoker comes equipped with a thermostat to control the smoking temperature. As the name implies, a charcoal smoker uses charcoal to smoke food.

What Size Do You Need?

Before purchasing a smoker, make sure you know how often you will use it and for how many people. If you plan to smoke food for family gatherings or parties, go for a large model. But if your ‘audience’ is limited to the number of people living in your house, choose a small smoker that can easily fit on your patio or balcony. Electric smokers are usually smaller in size than charcoal smokers.

How Much Will It Cost?

Electric smokers are generally more expensive than charcoal smokers. However, it’s good to note that other factors determine the cost. There are cheaper versions of each type of smoker. The features of the smoker and its size will affect the final purchase price.

Also, keep in mind that you will need to buy charcoal plus fruit wood every time you want to use a charcoal smoker, and a considerably smaller amount just for the wood on electric models.

Is It Portable?

Electric smokers are more portable than others. They are all bulky so you you can have good rack space for food, so no that easy to move around. Charcoal smokers, on the other hand, are usually a lot heavier and bulky. This makes them less portable than electric smokers. In the end, you’ll usually be on your backyard, so the size part of your decision will be related to how much space you have.

Temperature Regulation

An electric smoker comes fitted with a thermostat that regulates its temperature. That makes it easier for people who prefer more hands-off cooking. You can control the temperature which means no burnt or undercooked food.

A charcoal smoker requires more effort. You have to regularly add or remove coal to control its temperature. You also have to monitor and adjust the airflow in the smoker.

Temperature Range

Electric smokers tend to have a smaller temperature range than charcoal smokers. The temperature range in a typical electric smoker is 100-250 degrees Fahrenheit (38-121 degrees Celsius), what will allow you to do cold smoking (for cheese and sausages for example) or cook low and slow for tender and juicy results. Charcoal units can reach much higher temperatures up to 350 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (177 to 260 degrees Celsius).

Charcoal smokers are unsuitable for cold smoking, but will give you the opportunity to sear or quicker cooking sessions.

Smoke Output

Charcoal smokers produce more smoke than electric smokers. This can be both a good and a bad thing, depending on what you’re looking for in a smoker. More smoke means that your meat will have a smokier flavor, while less smoke means that the flavor will be more subtle.

The importance here is control over flavor, as in the electric smoker in most cases you can choose to cook and smoke, only smoke, or just cook. So you can have ribs made with the 3-2-1 method without wasting fruit wood that produces the delicious flavor you want. (needed for only 4 out of the 6 total hours of cooking)

One of the most important things to consider is using the wood as source for both heat for cooking and to generate smoke and how that changes the flavor. Experienced pitmasters and smoked food lovers can clearly notice a more acidic and foul taste coming from cooking from charcoal, for you to make a clear choice here is one article to learn more about Food Smoking Versus Cooking Food with Wood and how it impacts you choosing a smoker.

Fuel Management

For charcoal smokers there is a lot of babysitting involved, from starting the fire and making sure it is delivering the right temperature to having charcoal available and constantly tending to it not to ruin your preparations.

Vertical electric smokers have a variety of wood feeding systems, our recommendation is to purchase one that feeds wood automatically to avoid babysitting it. But you can also find ones that will need to be opened to empty a wood tray and fill it again from time to time (it can be a tedious task while cooking a brisket for 8-12 hours)


The maintenance of a smoker majorly depends on your handling. For electric smokers, all you need to do is to give it a quick wipe and wash the racks (sometime only use the dishwasher for that). The device comes with fewer components so you don’t need a lot of time to maintain it.

In addition to that, follow the instructions on your manual properly. That will keep your smoker in great condition and give you a longer service.

Charcoal smokers, on the other hand, require more time and effort to maintain. The carbon build-up must be removed after each usage, which makes the cleaning process more time-consuming than with electric smokers.

To Summarize

In conclusion, there are several factors you need to consider when deciding whether to buy a charcoal or an electric smoker. The most important ones are size, price, portability, ease of use, and temperature control. If you’re still not sure which smoker is right for you, ask yourself these questions:

– How often will I use it?

– For how many people will I be smoking food?

– Do I need a portable smoker?

– What is the maximum temperature I need to smoke food at?

– Do I want a smoker that’s easy to use and want more control over the temperature?

Whichever smoker you decide to buy, make sure to do your research first so that you know exactly what to expect from it. For more great ideas check out our articles on our Food Smoking Blog for more tips & tricks.