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Last Updated on August 25, 2021
Pellet and electric smokers have become increasingly popular in recent years, and many barbecuing fans choose them over offset or charcoal smokers.
They are the perfect choice for those who value convenience above everything else, with many models offering Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connection and allowing you to monitor the smoker’s temperature from your phone.
The main difference between the two types is the energy source. Electric smokers run only on electricity, while pellet smokers run on wood pellets for fuel and a small amount of electricity for the auger and fan.
How Do They Work
There are some key differences in the way both types of smokers work. Knowing exactly the smokers’ internal mechanism can help you make a better choice.
The Difference in Energy
Pellet grills or smokers use wood pellets as an energy source. Wood pellets are non-toxic and made from compressed sawdust. They are like small capsules of compressed wood that burn easily and quickly. Of course, the smoke produced by wood pellets isn’t as strong as the smoke produced by wood logs or charcoal, and it gives meat a subtler taste than other more traditional grills.
Pellet grills still need to be plugged in because it works with a small electric motor that moves the wood pellets into the cooking chamber. In this sense, they are similar to electric smokers. Both of them work with digital controls that allow you to set the temperature and forget about the food until it’s ready. While pellet grills use wood pellets to create smoke, electric smokers use the combination of an electric heating element and wood chips in a tray at the bottom of the unit.
How Does an Electric Smoker Work?
An electric smoker functions with three essential parts: a heating element, a wood chip tray, and grill racks. Most electric smokers have an elongated rectangular shape, with the heating element on the bottom and the racks on top. Right above the heating element, there’s a tray for wood chips.
The heating element works with electricity and heats the wood chips, creating smoke. The smoke rises and spreads throughout the cooking chamber by convection and slowly cooks the food. Some electric smokers also have a water pan that creates vapor when heated, helping the meat retain moisture.
How Does a Pellet Smoker Work?
A pellet smoker’s mechanism is a bit more complicated than an electric smoker. It’s composed of two main parts: a cooking chamber and a hopper. The hopper is a small metal box attached to the side of the cooking chamber. It’s similar to the firebox of an offset smoker.
The hopper is where you store wood pellets. It has a small door on top that you open and use to toss the pellets inside. The hopper has a small fan, and an electric motor called an auger. The auger feeds the pellets into a fire pit on the bottom of the cooking chamber. There, a small fire rod ignites them. Simultaneously, the fan starts dispersing the smoke and heat throughout the smoker.
Also, the auger connects to a thermostat on the cooking chamber. Depending on the temperature you have set on the digital controls, the auger and the thermostat will keep a steady temperature. According to the thermostat’s signals, the auger will increase or decrease the speed at which it’s moving pellets into the fire pit.
Pellet Smokers Vs. Electric Smokers: Pros And Cons
Once you understand the primary mechanism of pellet smokers and electric smokers, you can start thinking about each type of smoker’s pros and cons. This will help you make a better choice and buy a practical smoker that you love. Both types are an excellent choice for convenience, but there are some minor differences.
One of the main differences between pellet smokers and electric smokers is their versatility. Even though they are very reliable pieces of equipment, electric smokers can only smoke foods, while pellet smokers are more versatile.
Many modern pellet grills have a very wide temperature range, allowing you to reach the 500-700°F temperatures. Some models even let you cook directly on the flame instead of smoking. You can do a wide variety of cooking styles on pellet smokers, from grilling and smoking to roasting, baking, and braising.
However, keep in mind not all models are that versatile, and you may need to pay a higher price for a high-end model that provides such versatility. In many models, heat from pellets won’t be strong enough to get the dark grill marks you would get on a charcoal or gas grill.
Also, electric smokers can provide much lower cooking temperatures. If you want to smoke foods like cheese or fish or do some cold smoking, electric smokers are better suited for this.
Difference in Flavor
Many people who use electric smokers say they are delighted with the flavor they provide. However, keep in mind the taste of electric smokers is usually relatively mild compared to other kinds of smokers. The reason is there isn’t a lot of open flame combustion. The heating element burns wood chips to produce smoke, but it doesn’t create a lot of smoke.
If you value flavor, then pellet smokers are a perfect option. They offer great convenience benefits without completely trading flavor. You can buy a variety of different flavored pellets to add to your smoker, from musky mesquite to sweet cherrywood.
Pellet smokers tend to be a lot more expensive than electric smokers. A decent pellet smoker costs around $700, and a high-quality one can be up in the thousands. Electric smokers are much more affordable and start around $100, and good quality electric smokers have prices around $500.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Both are reasonably easy to clean, but electric smokers are a bit easier to maintain and clean overall. Electric smokers don’t produce as much smoke, so the inside doesn’t develop a lot of grime or creosote build-up. You’ll still have to clean the grates, but it’s the same with pellet smokers.
Pellet smokers produce quite a bit of ash, and you’ll have to buy and place the wood pellets into the smoker.
Deciding Between a Pellet Smoker and an Electric Smoker
It all comes down to flavor, convenience, and cost. Pellet smokers provide a more intense flavor on foods, but for a good pellet smoker, you’ll be paying a much higher price than for an electric smoker. Both smokers are very convenient compared with offset or charcoal smokers, offering set-and-forget digital controls. However, pellet smokers do require a bit more effort in terms of cleaning and maintenance.