Pellet Smoker vs Electric Smoker: What’s Better?

pellet smoker vs electric smoker

Pellet smokers and electric smokers both use power, so what’s the difference in terms of smoking? Quite a lot actually! In this article, we take a look at the pellet smoker vs electric smoker debate to help you decide what’s right for your backyard.

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What is a Pellet Smoker?

Pellet smokers, also known as pellet grills, are one of the newest types of smokers on the market.

Plug one into the power and an auger motor feeds small, 100% hardwood pellets from the storage container (called a hopper) into the bottom of the cooking chamber. Here, they’re ignited through combustion as air is brought in by intake fans to create a small fire that heats the barbecue and disperses smoke, smoking and/or grilling the meat inside.

Because they’re automated by electricity, using a pellet smoker is almost a totally hands-off experience. Just like an oven, the temperature is maintained by setting a dial or digital panel. The motor then adjusts it’s feed speed based on how much fuel is needed to keep the required temperature. That means for less pellets for low and slow or more pellets for the hotter temperatures needed for grilling.

So, is it a pellet smoker or a pellet grill?

The answer to that depends on the model. All pellet smokers do the low and slow temperatures required for smoking really well. Starting at about 180°F, you shouldn’t have a problem smoking on any unit.

But, if you want to grill on your pellet barbecue, you need to make sure it’s a model that’s able to reach a high heat of 450-650°F to make sure it’s going to get hot enough for effective grilling and searing. Some do and some don’t. So, check out our best pellet smoker article for more info on which pellet smokers grill too.

Why are pellet smokers so popular?

The coolest thing about pellet smokers (and, what makes them SO popular), is that they’re the only type of barbecue that gives you 100% wood smoked meats without the hassle of learning how to use a trickier offset smoker.

What is an Electric Smoker?

Like pellet smokers, electric smokers are another type of set and forget barbecue. Except, instead of cooking via a natural wood fire, electric smokers rely on the heat from an electric element, like an oven, to cook the food.

The heating element sits at the bottom of a vertical box. Above that you’ll find a water pan to keep the meat moist and wood chip pan which, when heated, will release smoke throughout the cooking chamber, giving it a light woody flavor.

Being electric powered, this type of smoker also self-regulates the temperature so that all you need to do is put the meat in, set the dial or digital controller and wait until it’s dinner time.

Flavor on an electric smoker

But, being easy to use does come at a bit of a cost when it comes to electric smokers. Because the heat source is electric instead of a real fire, the smoke profile of meat cooked in one of these is not the same as you’d get in a pellet smoker. You can expect a lighter flavor without a smoke ring and a softer bark.

Don’t get me wrong! Meat smoked on an electric smoker is delicious! Especially if you live in a condo or apartment where you’re not allowed wood, gas, charcoal or pellets. But, wood, gas, charcoal and pellet fires will make food that’s even more delicious.

Can you grill on an electric smoker?

No. You can’t grill on an electric smoker because the temperature won’t get hot enough. And, they’re designed to heat the entire cooking chamber like an oven instead of focusing high heat over the heating element. You wouldn’t expect to be able to sear in an oven and it’s the same in an electric smoker.

But, there is an exception to this rule! The Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker with Broiler has a patent pending grill and finishing element that lets you use high-heat on the top rack.

Pellet Smoker Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Set and forget smoking
  • Ideal for smoking in cooler climates when well insulated
  • Real wood-fired flavor
  • Some can be used for grilling too
  • One of the most fuel efficient types of barbecues
  • Looks cool
  • Can sometimes be used in condo or apartment complexes where real fires aren’t permitted

Electric Smoker Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Set and forget smoking
  • Ideal for smoking in cooler climates when well insulated
  • Inexpensive
  • Suitable for using outside of condos or apartments where real fires aren’t permitted
  • Great for smoking fish, nuts, bacon and cheese where you want really low temperatures
  • Large cooking capacity
  • Don’t take up much room
  • Eliminates the need to clean up messy ash

Pellet Smoker Cons

  • Needs to be hooked up to power to run
  • More expensive than electric smokers
  • Generally hold less food than the vertical style of electric smokers
  • Most can’t produce a really strong smokey flavor like you’d get from an offset smoker

Electric Smoker Cons

  • Needs to be hooked up to power to run
  • Can’t be used for grilling
  • Food tastes good but not as good as you’ll get on a pellet smoker
  • Won’t create a smoke ring
  • Takes a bit of practice to stop meat from drying out and to get a good smoke level from the wood chips

Pellet Smoker Vs Electric Smoker Comparison

Suitable for smoking, baking, roasting and grilling (some models)

Smoking

Small to large cooking capacity

Small to very large cooking capcity

$300-$2,000+

$150-$600+

Burns 100% wood pellets and has an electric powered motor

Electric powered with smoke created from heating wood chips

Moderate running cost

Low running cost

Power requried

Power requried

Some are portable

Most are portable

A Real Comparison of Real Pellet and Electric Smokers

It’s all very well to look at the facts. But what does your money get you when comparing the pellet smoker vs electric smoker?

Here, we take a look at the best budget, mid-range and high-end pellet and electric smokers on the market.

For more details and reviews, check out our articles on the best pellet smokers and the best electric smokers.

Budget Pellet Smokers vs. Electric Smokers

$$$

$$

Powder-coated steel with porcelain-coated grates

Powder-coated steel with chrome plated grates

180 - 450°F

100 - 350°F

459 sq. in of cooking space

544 sq. in. of cooking space

15 pound hopper

1,000 watt element

3 year warranty

1 year warranty

  • PID temperature controller

  • Hopper window

  • Hopper cleanout

  • Manual feed button

  • Includes grill cover

  • Double wall insulation

  • Dual latches

  • Simple controls

  • Large wood chip tray

Mid-Range Pellet Smokers vs. Electric Smokers

$$$

$$

Powder-coated steel with porcelain-coated grates

Powder-coated steel with chrome plated grates

180 - 450°F

100 - 275°F

884 sq. in. of cooking space

711 sq. in. smoking space + 309 sq. in. grilling

18 pound hopper

800 watt element

3 year warranty

1 year warranty

  • Digital Pro Controller

  • Dual meat probes

  • Hopper cleanout

  • Bluetooth connectivity

  • Built-in meat probe

  • Side access wood chip port

  • Top element for grilling and broiling

High-End Pellet Smokers vs. Electric Smokers

$$$$

$$$

Powder-coated steel with stainless steel grates

100% stainless steel

180 - 500°F

100 - 250°F

869 sq. in. of cooking space

1,247 sq. in. of cooking space

24 pound hopper

800 watt element

3 year warranty

3 year warranty

  • Fully insulated

  • WiFire

  • Stainless steel front shelf

  • Bamboo cutting board

  • Super Smoke mode

  • Low pellet sensor

  • Included meat probe

  • Turbo Temp

  • True Convection System

  • Dual position smoke and sear bottom plate

  • Hopper cleanout

  • Fiberglass insulated

  • External drip pan

  • Double latch door

  • Certified for commercial use

For full reviews of these barbecues and more, check out the best pellet smokers and the best electric smokers.

Our Verdict on the Pellet Smoker vs Electric Smoker

When it comes to the flavor of the meat, the results you’ll get from a pellet smoker are without a doubt, better than an electric smoker.

That being said, pellet smokers are more expensive than electric smokers and are even cheaper to run.

So, we usually say that if you want a totally hands-off smoker and have the budget and space, buy yourself a pellet smoker. Nothing compares to that real wood-smoked taste. But, if you want to limit your spend, an electric smoker is still a solid option for set and forget backyard smoking and you’ll still be impressed with what you get!