When shopping for a new smoker, you might be tempted by the pellet smokers that you see advertised. These wonders of modern engineering are great multi-taskers, but are they the right choice to be your only smoker?
On the other hand, electric cabinet smokers are simple, affordable, and use regular wood chips to impart the smoky goodness in your foods.
Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons of electric smokers and pellet smokers to help you decide which one will earn the spot in your backyard.
Electric Smoker Overview
Electric smokers are usually fairly simple, cabinet-style smokers. They are rectangular boxes with a front door that swings open. Inside, there are several wire shelves for holding the food.
In an electric smoker, the wood chips are heated by an electric heating coil at the bottom of the smoking cabinet. A regular thermostat controls the intensity, so it will switch on and off to maintain a steady temperature.
A damper at the top can be opened and closed to control the amount of smoke over the food.
The entire appliance is built from the ground up for smoking. They are easy to use and reliable, but they can’t do anything other than slow smoking.
These kinds of smokers don’t get hot enough for roasting, and they aren’t set up for grilling or other activities you might do outside.
Electric smokers are best for folks who do a lot of smoking. They hold a lot of food and allow you to try different recipes easily. They’ll also accept any regular wood chip or chunks, an awesome opportunity for experimentation.
- Straightforward temperature control
- Easy to set up — just plug in and start smoking
- You can use any wood chips in the smoker
- Requires access to electricity
- Only good for smoking
Pellet Smoker Overview
Pellet smokers are really grills that can also do a good job at smoking food.
The pellet smoker burns food-grade wood pellets. You have to buy them especially, but thankfully these grills are now popular enough that you’ll find their fuel in big box retail stores.
But if you’re looking for custom wood blends, you might have to go to a specialty grill store or order them online.
The pellets are loaded into a wood pellet container or hopper on the side of the grill. Then, an auger or electric pellet feeder moves them into the pellet ignitor.
The chef sets the rate at which the pellets are moved into the burner with a thermostat. Since this is how the fire is controlled, pellet smokers can maintain a wide variety of temperatures with great accuracy.
Still, some pellet smokers are better than others. Since most of these appliances are built to both smoke and grill, some hold lower temperatures better than others. Likewise, some get hotter than others for grilling food.
The food is cooked on the grill grates above the pellet igniter. Its lid is a standard grill hood with a thermometer and damper built-in.
Pellet smokers are great for folks who regularly grill and like to add a smoky flavor to their food. If you’ve used a gas grill and played with smoker boxes, you’ll love the results you get from a well-built pellet grill.
But if you’re looking for a dedicated smoker, however, you might need to search to find a model that will hold enough food and keep the right low temperatures. There are also vertical cabinet-style pellet smokers on the market.
- Versatile — most models can do both grilling and smoking
- Wood pellets provide both heat and smoke
- Easy to start up
- Automatic temperature control
- Often more expensive than electric smokers
- Needs electricity to run
- High-quality wood pellets can be costly and are harder to find than wood chips
Pellet Smokers vs Electric Smokers – Main Differences
Next, let’s compare pellet and electric smokers head-to-head in some of the most important aspects os smoking:
While an electric smoker is made to create smoke and maximize its effects, pellet grills use hardwood pellets to make heat. That means that they result in more smokiness and flavor than a gas grill and maybe even a charcoal grill, but they don’t usually make as much as a dedicated smoker.
The fuels used in each grill are also important to consider. An electric smoker will use wood chunks or chips, which you can find in various species at nearly any retailer.
Pellet grills are still relatively new, and you will always be limited by the wood species used to make them. The big companies offer a wide selection, but many may need special orders.
Temperature Range and Versatility
The electric smoker is a smoker, so it is designed to hold temperatures around 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
On the other hand, the pellet grill is designed to do much more. Traeger pellet grills, for example, hold temperatures between 180 and 450 degrees, set in five-degree increments while Pit Boss grills usually go up to 500 degrees. Check out our comparison of Traeger and Pit Boss pellet grills for more details.
Of course, this makes a huge difference depending on how you want to use your smoker.
Do you want to grill one night and smoke the next? Or are you looking for a smoker to augment a grill you already own?
If you want high heat and nice grill marks, take a look at our guide with the best pellet grills for searing.
Ease of Use
Both smokers are fairly easy to use.
A pellet smoker usually holds much less food than an electric cabinet smoker can, but it can also grill. That double-duty might make it far more versatile for the average backyard chef who doesn’t smoke that often.
Maintenance and Cleaning
Electric smokers require very little maintenance and are extremely simple and reliable. Cleaning is also easy since you can remove the wire shelves and drip pan from the cabinet for cleaning.
With its large door and easy access, even a deep cleaning can be done quickly.
A pellet smoker and grill is more like a regular backyard barbecue. They are designed to catch drips and collect them in a drippings bucket for easy clean-up.
It also should be noted that the inner workings of a pellet smoker are much more complex than an electric smoker. That leads to a higher purchase price and a higher likelihood of mechanical problems or needing replacement parts eventually.
Price and Running Cost
As mentioned above, pellet grills are the more expensive of the two choices. Good-quality pellet grills range from $300 to $1,500. But there also some good pellet grills that cost under $500.
Alternatively, most electric smokers will cost less than $300.
Both smokers will cost about the same to operate. Quality wood chips and chunks can be expensive, but so too can good wood pellets. In the end, the price is very similar between the two.
Reliability and Weather Effect
Since both smokers feature electronically controlled temperatures, they hold their heat very well in nearly all conditions.
However, the colder or windier it is, the more insulation and robustness will matter.
Electric smokers often lack the power to combat truly cold weather. Pellet grills, since they can get up to high temperatures anyway, can usually handle that situation better.
Pellet smokers are versatile — if you want a rig that can do it all, it might the best option.
But if you want a new appliance only for smoking, the best bet is with an electric smoker.
These cabinets can hold nearly any amount or size of food you want to cook, and you have complete control of exactly how smoky you want the flavor to be.
Choose according to your needs and enjoy your barbecue!
PS. Read also our article about pellet grills vs smokers for more interesting comparisons.