It all depends on your preferences but before you make the choice, you need to learn the key differences between them.
Overall everything boils down to convenience and food’s flavor, but there are obviously also many other important things to take into account.
In this article we have compared for you the charcoal and electric smoker, looking into many important aspects of smoking. After reading the whole guide you should actually know which of them suits you the best.
Charcoal Smoker Overview
A perfect solution for the enthusiasts of real smoking where the results depend on the cook’s skills. The results are worth it but one has to admit that the charcoal smoker isn’t for everyone.
It requires a lot of time and attention, first and foremost you need to get the charcoal burning.
Then comes plenty of very important tasks such as temperature control by adjusting the air vents and the amount of fuel.
It is not the kind of smoker that you can leave for a whole day unattended. Of course there are experienced cooks who can cook in a way that doesn’t require them to be around the smoker all the time, but this requires the right equipment and a lot of practice in order to get to know the smoker perfectly.
A huge advantage is the relatively low price and great quality as well as durability when it comes to many types of charcoal smokers (like the pit barrel cooker or weber smokey mountain).
There is nothing in it that could ruin cooking and make it impossible like in case of electric smokers (digital controller or the heating element).
Charcoal smokers have a definitely larger community which means more guides and recipes. If you’re into real smoking then the more difficult temperature control won’t be a problem for you.
If you haven’t cooked with charcoal ever before then you need to know that you will need a whole lot of patience. Increasing or lowering the temperature isn’t like in a gas grill, here everything takes time.
Electric Smoker Overview
A real set & forget style smoker that allows to forget about smoking once you set the temperature.
You don’t have to worry about the temperature control, the heating element will make sure to achieve and maintain the temperature you selected.
It’s an incredibly simple smoker compared to the charcoal smoker. You don’t have to worry about getting the charcoal burning, temperature control, adjusting the air vents or ash removal.
On top of that, an electric smoker can maintain lower temperatures without any problem. It means that it is perfect for cold smoking as long as you buy a cold smoking kit that will ensure the adequate amount of smoke when smoking.
The operating principle is nearly the same as with an electric oven.
The downside is absence of the authentic smoky flavor of food cooked with charcoal. It doesn’t mean that the food from an electric smoker is bad, it’s just different.
Inside there’s a wood chips container that allows to achieve a wooden food flavor.
It’s a great solution for those who hate cooking with charcoal or simply want to prepare smoked food mega easily.
Electric vs Charcoal Smoker: Face to Face analysis
In order to understand the differences between the charcoal and electric smoker, one has to take a closer look at them. Below we have prepared for you brief comparisons of the key aspects of both types of smokers.
Food from a charcoal smoker has no matches, no other type of smoker can offer a more characteristic smoky flavor. The smoke impacts not only the flavor but also the appearance of food, creating a smoke ring and bbq bark.
In an electric smoker there’s also smoke but it is generated using wood chips. Despite the food’s flavor being enriched, it is in no way even half as great as when smoking with charcoal.
Ease of use
The electric smoker is incredibly easy to use, it’s a great option for those who hate traditional smoking. All you have to do is turn it on, select the temperature, fill the water and wood chips containers, and then in the end put the meat in.
You don’t have to worry about getting the charcoal burning, temperature control, adjusting the air vents and many more.
Overall charcoal smokers are not expensive, but a lot depends on a particular type of smoker. The prices with great manufacturers (Pit Barrel Cooker or Weber) are close to a big electric smoker from Masterbuilt.
In practice, however, it is the charcoal smoker that turns out to be a much better and more durable construction.
When cooking with charcoal, you need to gain some experience with temperature control. Adjusting the air vents takes time and isn’t quite so simple for beginners. It all takes way longer here than with any other type of smoker.
With the electric smoker you only have to plug it into the socket, start it and select the temperature. After reaching the target temperature you don’t have to worry about anything. The heating element is characterized by good stability, similar to that in the most basic electric oven.
When it comes to charcoal, we advise against this type of smoking techniques, it is possible but it requires perfect conditions and experience. Hot charcoal makes it nearly impossible to maintain a low enough temperature.
The situation is completely different in case of the electric smoker where the heating element makes it possible to achieve stable, low temperatures. It will be useful, however, to have an adequate accessory that makes it possible to generate smoke, as the smoker itself won’t give good results at a low temperature.
Charcoal smokers have been on the market for a definitely longer time and they enjoy a bigger popularity. For those reasons, among others, there are way more accessories for charcoal smokers than for electric smokers.
The electric smoker, as the name suggests, relies on electricity which limits its mobility to places that have a power source. The charcoal smoker can be used wherever you are as long as it’s not forbidden in a particular place.
Of course in practice smokers are stationary smoking devices so they’re not very often moved to a different spot. If, however, you have a large backyard and often move the smoker from one place to another, the charcoal will be more comfortable.
When it comes to warranty and durability, the charcoal smoker definitely performs better.
The simpler construction without any electric elements is very unlikely to malfunction. For that reason, manufacturers can offer a much longer warranty period being sure that their product is solid.
For example, Weber offers whole 10 years of warranty for Weber Smokey Mountain, in practice we can confirm that in good hands they can withstand way, way longer.
Meanwhile, when it comes to electric smokers, the situation doesn’t look so good. The large number of electric elements including the controller or the heating element are things prone to malfunctions. On top of that, these are pretty expensive elements so seeing a warranty period of only one year is something completely normal.
When it comes to the charcoal and electric smoker, we think that the choice won’t be difficult for you.
The answer is simple, if you love smoking and the best smoky flavor of food – choose charcoal. On top of that, you can be sure that a solid charcoal smoker is an investment for years to come.
If, on the other hand, you hate the whole commotion around charcoal and don’t feel like spending a lot of time around the smoker then choose the electric smoker. Ease of use, time saving and decent results (flavor) are very important arguments for many people.
Make sure to check out our other comparisons, like the propane vs electric smoker.