Hot, smoking meat is something you simply can’t get over easily. Whether you had it last weekend at a restaurant or saw it on your friend’s Instagram, the visual appeal and taste can be too overwhelming for your mind.
No matter what drove you to get your own smoker, you will find yourself faced with two options – a pellet grill or an electric smoker. In this post, we will discuss the differences between electric smokers and pellet grills to help you make the right choice for you.
Before we delve into the differences between the two devices, let’s take a quick look at what they are and how they function. This will give us a basic outline of the two different gadgets used for making your favorite smoked meats.
Electric smokers sport a vertical design quite similar to a mini-fridge with multiple cooking racks one above the other. This provides an ample amount of cooking area if you have guests coming over or have an extended family.
How do they function?
As the name suggests, electric smokers are powered by electricity. While both electric smokers and pellet grills run by being plugged into an electrical source, the electric smoker specifically uses the electricity to heat food.
The electricity used in these smokers is controlled and adjusted by a thermostat. This helps you with better temperature control, therefore these units are comparatively more expensive than pellet grills.
Both these controls are used for heating up coils that then smolder and heat the wood chips kept in a metal bowl. The smoke produced dissipates into the food being cooked and infuses it with that perfect smoky flavor.
Benefits of using an Electric Smoker
Similar to pellet grills, electric smokers are known for being a set-and-forget cooking device. If the recipe demands you to maintain a constant temperature throughout, then you can simply set up the smoker and return to it when the meat is done.
Besides the convenience of the device, electric smokers are also easy to maintain and clean after use. As there’s no flame or residue from the combustion, you only need to clean the grill grates wherever the food was being cooked. Once in a while, you should also wipe the bottom and sides.
Pellet grills combine the elements of gas grills, charcoal grills, smokers, and ovens by using 100% authentic and food-grade hardwood pellets. These are used as fuel sources to produce indirect heating just like ovens.
How do they function?
The wood pellets are kept in storage containers known as hoppers and are fed into the burning pot with the help of an auger. When the wood pellets smolder, this produces a flame that can be maintained until the cooking is finished by adding more pellets to the pot.
There is a temperature controller that maintains the timing for the pellet feed. When the setting is higher, it takes significantly less time for the pellets to ignite in the burning pot. Air is brought in with the help of fans that blow smoke and heat through the smoker.
Benefits of using a Pellet Grill
There’s a reason why pellet grills are so sought-after these days. They serve the purpose of multiple devices to help you save counter space in your kitchen. You can use it for a myriad of things such as smoking, charring, roasting, baking, and grilling.
A pallet smoker helps you achieve that authentic smoky aroma that all of us crave. In the past, you had to constantly keep up the flame to get that delicious smokiness in your meat. With these contemporary electric pellet grills, you get the same benefit without going through the hassle.
Electric Smoker Vs Pellet Grill
Now that we have an idea about what these two devices are all about, let’s take a closer look into the individualities of the two. Below, we have discussed some of the main differences between these cooking devices:
#1. That Flavor and Aroma!
Let’s admit it! No matter what method you use to cook, the bottom-line is always that the flavor has to be spot on. While both devices use electricity, the heat source varies, and this brings about a world of difference in the overall flavor.
In an electric smoker, electricity is the only source of heat that cooks the food. There is a box (which in some models may be insulated), a source of heat, and some wood chips or chunks in a tray. When the electric element heats the box, wood pieces smolder to form smoke.
Here, the electric element is the only heat source, and only produces some hot air and water vapor. It works in a similar way to ovens with steam and smoke. With electric smokers, you can make some really great-tasting meat.
However, in the case of a pellet grill, they also burn a few wood pellets to form an additional source of heat. The electric element here is used to ignite the wood pellets to create smoke and heat, resulting in the combustion that is missing in the former.
So, in the second case, although the device is still powered by electricity, the source of heat is wood and not the electric element.
#2. Operating Costs
There is a slight difference between the operating costs of these two devices. An electric smoker runs entirely on electricity while pallet grills use at least 3 to 6 ounces of wood chips or chunks to produce an adequate amount of smoke.
As electricity is comparatively cheaper than wooden pallets, the operating cost is less every time you cook. Also, you can use wood from any source in an electric smoker, depending on the model, brand, and format.
Pallet grills, on the other hand, use electricity to ignite the fire. Plus, there’s also the need for much more wood than electricity to generate smoke. It requires a good supply of pellets to get the desired results, so make sure that you have enough before you start cooking.
In one pellet grill, you will require about 1-2 pounds of pellets per hour while cooking. An electric smoker, on the other hand, consumes only about 6-8 ounces for every cooking session. So, if you are budget-conscious while cooking then you will need to consider this aspect.
#3 Ease of Use
In terms of convenience, both electric smokers and pellet grills stand at the same level. They are quite simple to use and need a minimal amount of maintenance. Due to their sheer convenience, electric smokers are often called Lazy-Q or lazy smokers.
There is no mess or fuss associated with electric smokers. You just need to adjust the temperature, load the meat, and simply wait for the right temperature to kick in. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it type of device.
With a pellet grill, you will need to remove the ashes left after burning the wood pellets. You will also need to take out the burnt wood chunks and tin foil at the bottom of the food you cook.
We can say that both these smokers deliver an equally good performance when it comes to low-temperature and slow cooking, which is the main purpose of having a smoker. To get that delicious flavor and texture from pork butt, chicken breasts, and brisket, you need to cook slowly on a BBQ to break down the muscle tissues.
When you are using an electric smoker, there is little need for maintenance as you will be replacing the aluminum foil in it. In a pellet grill, you will be only emptying out the ash bin and filling it up with fresh wood pellets.
With an electric smoker, the biggest advantage is that you get a good roast quality without too much of a smoky flavor in the meat. In terms of tenderness, it gets full marks for producing a soft and juicy interior, but lacks in the bark and smoke rings category.
If you are someone who loves the smoky flavor, then you may not appreciate the results so much. When it comes to cost, electric smokers can easily be bought for less than $300.
On the other hand, pellet grills give you that smoky flavor that BBQ connoisseurs crave for, coupled with their ease of use. Entry-level pellet grills are available starting at $700 and can go up to $1000.
#4 Cost Factor
This is perhaps the biggest and most visible difference of all. Electric smokers tend to be significantly cheaper than their pellet grill counterparts, which is much more expensive. Many customers fall into a dilemma here because this is the toughest part of making a decision.
Please bear in mind that if you do not have any grill at all, then a pellet grill may not suit your needs. After all, you will not fire up a smoker just to make a few burgers. You may also not want to consume the electricity just for that.
It all depends on whether you are ready or not to make a big financial investment to start enjoying smoked meats in your backyard. Would you go for an electric smoker for less than $300? Or, would you take a bigger leap for a $1000 pellet grill?
Some decent pellet grill models can be found for less than $700. However, if you want a few frills and extra features like a sear box, then the cost may go up to $1000. Beginner-level pellet grills deliver good performance and get the job done really well.
While we think that the models which cost less than $700 are good enough, we miss out on the sear box in these entry-level models. The biggest advantage of having a sear box is that it helps you get a nice char on your steaks, burgers, and roasts.
In the absence of a sear box, you will need to look for alternative options to handle the job. If you already have a grill, then an entry-level pellet grill without the sear box may be a good option for you.
Some electric smokers can cost more than $500, but the heating element will remain the same, so the final output will not change. In the higher price ranges, you will be paying for much greater capacity, a better finish, and a fit that will last for several years to come.
If you are looking for one specific reason or factor that makes an electric smoker better than a pellet grill, then this is the one. Those who want the device not only to smoke meat but also for making a variety of other foods will derive more benefits from it.
For example, you may use the electric smoker to prepare dishes like smoked cheese, nuts, fish, and so on. These devices enable you to set very low temperatures and maintain the heat required to achieve the kind of aroma and flavor you want.
So, whether you want to smoke a salmon or steak at 120 degrees, that’s no problem at all. These types of dishes are not possible to cook in a pellet grill, as they get too hot for slow cooking.
As both devices need electricity to run, there’s no versatility in their power source. However, electric smokers are much lighter and smaller than their counterpart, which makes them easier to carry around when needed.
However, you can’t expect to be able to load a heavy pellet grill on a pickup truck and take it to a different destination. So, while there is a portability issue here in terms of their power source, electric smokers can be easily carried around as they are the same size as a dorm room refrigerator.
Another point of difference in versatility depends on where you live and what is allowed there. If you own a house with a backyard, a pellet grill or barbeque is a feasible option. However, if you live in an apartment or condo, then you will have limited space where an electric smoker can fit in, and it may not be permitted anyway.
Can you use a pellet grill as a smoker?
Yes, you may use a pellet grill as a smoker as both the devices need electricity to power them up and produce heat. However, the other way around is not feasible because a pellet grill uses smoldering wood chips or chunks to produce smoke.
Is it okay to leave unused pellets in the hopper?
We suggest you don’t leave unused pellets in the hopper, as they will be exposed to the elements which can cause them to rot.
Is it safe to use a pellet grill?
Yes, cooking food in a pellet grill is as safe as any grilling device. Contrary to what you may have heard, they have not been known to cause cancer and are no riskier than any other grill.