Pellet vs Electric Smoker – Which One Is Better?

Updated July 5th, 2022
pellet vs electric smoker

The main differences between a pellet and an electric smoker are the volume of the smoke they produce, their cooking capacity, maximum operating temperature, size, price, and convenience.

Let’s talk about the similarities and differences between these smokers in detail. But to better understand what these smokers have in common and what sets them apart, we need to briefly talk about each smoker on its own.

Pellet Smokers

Pellets in a Pellet Smoker

Pellet smokers can also be referred to as pellet grills. It’s one of the most recent types of smokers and fast becoming one of the most popular smokers on the market.

Simply plug one into a power outlet to use a pellet smoker or pellet grill. When it turns on, its auger motor will release tiny wood pellets from the storage container into the base of the cooker.

These wood pellets are set on fire via combustion as the intake fans generate airflow to make a small natural wood fire. This will heat and cook the barbecue and release smoke. That’s how the pellet smoker grills or smokes the meat.

Pellet smokers use electricity to operate, making them very convenient because they don’t need much manual input. Like an oven, a digital or dial control panel maintains its temperature.

The motor of the pellet smoker also automatically adjusts the speed at which it feeds wood pellets into the cooking chamber. It does this by measuring the volume of fuel required to maintain the required temperature.

Electric Smokers

food cooking in an electric smoker

Electric smokers, like pellet smokers, are almost hands-off because they operate with electricity. It works differently, though. The electric smoker relies on an electric element to provide the heat required to cook the meat. It works just like an oven.

The electric smoker’s heating element lies at the base of a vertical box. Above this box is a water pan that keeps the meat moist. There’s a wood chip tray that disperses smoke throughout the cooker and gives it a subtle woody flavor.

It also has an automatic temperature regulator, just like pellet grills. It doesn’t require much manual involvement. Put your meat in, set the dial, and wait until it’s done smoking or grilling.

Its ease of use comes at a cost, though. Because it uses an electric heat source, the smoke it generates is lesser than what a pellet smoker generates. For this reason, meat cooked with electric smokers has less smoke flavor in the absence of a smoke ring and softer wood.

Differences

Cooking Capacity

Pellet smokers have more capacity for cooking meat than electric smokers. However, cooking on an electric smoker is easy. Most models of electric smokers are vertical electric smokers, which makes their cooking racks narrow. On the other hand, pellet grills are broader, which gives them more room for cooking.

Volume of Smoke They Produce

When it comes to electric vs pellet smokers, pellet smokers have the upper hand in producing smoke. Electric smokers produce less smoke than pellet smokers.

A typical electric smoker is often criticized because they don’t produce sufficient smoke. Electric smokers rely on wood chips, which are made from softer wood than wooden pellets. So when it burns, it doesn’t generate the same volume of smoke that burning pellets do. Although, some users have rectified this issue by inserting smoking tubers inside.

On the other hand, pellet smokers use hardwood pellets for cooking meat. Being hardwood, they don’t just provide the required heat for cooking. They also generate sufficient wood smoke, giving your cooked meat a better smoky flavor.

Pellet grills produce less smoke than pellet smokers because meat grilling requires a higher temperature range than meat smoking.

Temperature Range

When it comes to the temperature range in pellet smoker vs. electric smoker, the pellet smoker has an edge because it has a larger temperature range. Pellet smokers can smoke meat operating within a temperature range of 150°F to 500°F.

On the other hand, electric smokers have a temperature range of 100°F to 275°F. That’s their maximum heating capacity. Meat such as chicken or turkey requires a temperature in the range of 300°F or more to have a crispy feel. Because electric smokers can’t reach that range, the meat they cook usually has a soft and rubbery feel.

So, if you’re using an electric smoker and want your meat to have that crispy skin, we recommend putting it in an oven afterward.

Cost

You’ll spend less purchasing an electric smoker than a pellet smoker because they are more affordable. With a budget below $400, you can get a standard electric smoker. There are also high-end electric smokers, but they also cost less than a high-end pellet smoker or pellet grill.

Size

This factor directly relates to their cooking capacity because the larger an equipment is, the bigger its capacity will be too. The majority of electric smokers have a similar design of vertical cabinet styling. Many electric smokers usually have at least three shelving racks. They are more compact than pellet smokers, which is why they cook less meat than pellet smokers.

Pellet smokers, on the other hand, look like a standard outdoor grill. Though some models have a vertical design that makes them look similar to an electric smoker, most of them have a hood design. Because of their differences in size, an electric smoker can fit in areas with less space than a pellet smoker.

You can install your electric smoker on a patio or small deck. A pellet smoker, on the other hand, will require areas with more space. It’s better suited for backyard smoking.

Cold Smoking

Here, the electric smoker gains the upper hand over the pellet smoker. Electric smokers can smoke food at very low temperatures, making it better suited for cold smoking.

The minimum operating temperature usually comes around the 100°F mark, but the temperature of your electric smoker will drop even further during the winter season.

If you want to smoke cheese, an electric smoker is ideal because cheese melts when the temperature is above 90°F.

A pellet smoker or pellet grill, on the other hand, cannot easily operate below 170°F without the aid of ice trays. While you can still use pellet grills for cold smoking, it will take more effort than if you were to use electric smokers.

If you own a pellet smoker, the best time to use it for this kind of smoking is during Winter because its temperature will easily drop. However, the process is more straightforward with electric smokers because their minimum temperature is way lower than that of pellet smokers.

Safety

Electric smokers and pellet smokers are safer to use for smoking meat than many other types of smokers. However, electric smokers are safer to use than pellet smokers.

Electric smokers work with an electric heating element, so leaving them unattended is safer. You can confidently smoke meat overnight in an electric smoker without fear of any incident.

Pellet smokers, on the other hand, are more likely to result in a fire hazard because they produce actual wood fire when smoking meat. So it won’t be wise to leave a pellet smoker unattended for a long time. You have to be close by in the event of any incident.

Pellet grills have another problem; back burns in the pellet hopper. Such burns generate excess smoke. However, compared to smokers such as offset and charcoal smoking units, pellet smokers, alongside electric smokers, are among the safest smoking units on the market. If you follow the instructions in the user manual, there will hardly be an incident.

Similarities

Both Require Electricity

Both pellet smokers and electric smokers require electricity to function. For pellet smokers, the electricity is used to run the digital controller, the intake fans, and the auger, which will feed the pellets into the cooking area. When it comes to electric smokers, they use electricity to power the heating element.

Both Are Convenient

Both electric smokers and pellet smokers are categorized as set-and-forget smoking units. Smokers such as charcoal smokers produce smoke and cook meat well, but they require much more manual input to maintain the required temperature.

Temperature control is way easier with electric and pellet smokers because they already have a digital controller. It’s similar to operating an oven where you put your food in and set the desired temperature range.

Comparison Summary

Which smoker you choose between an electric smoker and a pellet smoker, depends on your preference. We’ll quickly recap their pros and cons for you to make it easier for you to arrive at a decision.

Electric smoker pros include safety, convenience, automatic temperature regulation, ability to fit in small spaces, cold smoking, and affordability.

Electric smoker cons include a lighter flavor for your cooked meat, smaller cooking capacity, and a lesser temperature range.

On the other hand, pellet smoker pros include convenience, relative safety, producing smoke rings for stronger flavor when cooking meat, wider temperature range, larger cooking chamber, and automatic temperature regulation.

Pellet smoker cons include less suitability for cold smoking, higher cost, and increased likelihood of a fire hazard if unattended for a long time.

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