Electric cooking technology has advanced significantly in the last 20 years. Electric grills and smokers once underperformed their gas and charcoal counterparts.
Today, some electric designs perform just as well and often add convenience for the right buyer.
If you’re in the market for a new smoker, you’ll need to consider the benefits and shortcomings of both types.
Which is best, A Charcoal or an Electric Smoker?
Short Answer: An electric smoker is best for simplicity and ease of use.
We’ve dug a little deeper to follow the comparison so you can decide.
Simplicity and Ease of Use
When it comes to simplicity, nothing comes close to electric appliances. When considering your next smoker, the fuel type will be one of the first things you think about.
A charcoal smoker needs to be started and then maintained throughout the process.
You will need to adjust vents and replace the solid fuel during longer sessions. With some smoked meats taking 12 hours or even longer to be finished to perfection, this requires a lot of hands-on work.
An electric smoker is much different. You can set the temperature and let the electric element take care of the rest.
Maintaining a low and slow cooking temperature is key to perfectly smoked ingredients. Charcoal requires experience and some trial and error.
Vents will need to be opened when the temperature gets too low, and closed if it gets too hot. Adding fuel during the process will require adjustment again.
You’ll need to check the temperature at least every hour to make sure it’s in the optimal range.
Electric smokers use thermostats and regulate temperature without interaction. You can quite literally set the temperature and walk away. Electric smokers are also easier to set for cold smoking.
The Verdict: It’s easy to set and maintain temperature with an electric smoker.
If you love the rich complexity of smoked meat, fish, cheese, and other ingredients, you’ll probably want the freedom to cook at any time of the year.
Charcoal can be used in any season. More fuel is required to regulate temperature during the winter, but charcoal is cheap and easy to store.
An electric smoker won’t perform as well during the winter. Most models struggle to maintain their temperature when it’s cold enough to snow outside.
Beyond this, an electric smoker can’t be used outside when there’s a chance of rain.
The Verdict: For all-weather performance, a charcoal smoker is ideal.
Charcoal smokers are incredibly simple in concept. Charcoal ignites and then slowly burns the wood chips during the cooking session.
You maintain the temperature and fuel. There are few moving parts, so there’s not a lot to go wrong in terms of reliability.
Electric smokers use thermostats, some have hoppers for wood chips, and they rely on electric elements to create heat. There are more parts, which also means there’s more that can go wrong.
A charcoal smoker could last for decades or even a lifetime if protected from moisture and well-maintained. An electric smoker is likely to require parts replacement within the first ten years.
The Verdict: Charcoal smokers are both more affordable and more reliable than electric smokers.
Finally, we come to the most important point of all. The flavor between electric and charcoal smokers is similar, although ‘smokiness’ could be increased when using natural wood chips with natural lump charcoal.
Charcoal enthusiasts swear by its richer flavor, although in a blind taste test, results are likely to be similar across both types. The final result has more to do with ingredients, the wood chip or pellet type, and the total smoking time.
The Verdict: Charcoal might have a slight edge in flavor, but the variables in ingredients and smoke flavor mean that results are comparable with electric smokers.
The Bottom Line: A Charcoal or an Electric Smoker?
Both types of smokers excel in different ways. Electric smokers are easier to use, have better temperature control, and the flavorful results can be impressive.
Charcoal takes more hands-on work, but charcoal smokers are more reliable and can be used during the winter.
The right one for you depends on your needs. If you smoke year-round, a charcoal smoker will suit you. If you only smoke occasionally and don’t mind sitting out the worst weeks of winter, then electric will offer more convenience.
Either way, both options can create delicious smoked flavors for all of your favorite ingredients.