Pellet Smokers vs. Electric Smokers

Last update June 3, 2020

If you’re a fan of perfectly smoked meat pieces and searching for a grill that will be able to cover your needs, this article is for you. Here we’ll compare a pellet vs electric smoker, as well as walk you through their pros and cons so you can decide which is the perfect one for you. 

How Do Pellet Grills Work?

How pellet smokers/grills work

Even though technology hasn’t changed much in the industry in the last two or three decades, pellet grills do not disappear from the scene and remain one of the hottest trends of the upcoming summer. However, you’d hardly be able to appreciate all the benefits a pellet grill offers without knowing what stands behind it. So, if you’ve just started your search or aren’t sure which grill will be best for you, let’s first figure out how it works and compare it with electric grill smokers and some other existing BBQ methods.

In all, the process is very easy. You pour wood pellets into a storage container, or hopper as it’s also called, and then these pellets travel to a cooking chamber by an auger. Inside this chamber, the pellets ignite, producing heat needed for smoking. Further on, the unit draws air through the intake fans, after which the smoke and heat disperse throughout the cooking chamber. What happens next is similar to an oven. Fitted with temperature controls (digital or manual), a pellet grill allows selecting a precise temperature that the grill will be using for maintaining the cooking process. That way you will be able to decide whether to cook “slow” or go really hot. Some of the best pellet grills are also equipped with a meat probe enabling you to monitor the degree of meat readiness, but if the model you choose doesn’t have it, you can always buy one separately.

A Major difference between a pellet and electric grill

How do pellet grills differ from electric smokers? In electric smokers, the only heat is the heat produced by the element whereas in pellet smokers, it is wood. As you can guess, the major difference between the two (besides the price, of course) is flavor. Though the food will taste wonderful regardless of whether you choose to cook it in an electric or pellet grill, it’s important to consider that its smoky taste comes only from the wood. So, which is the best one for you comes down to your preference.

Pellet smokers work based on natural fuel source

The next point to take into account is the health aspect. As many studies conducted by the National Cancer Inst. show some methods of smoking food including smoking on charcoal can lead to cancer, which diminishes many of their good points. On the other hand, when grilling with wood pellets, this risk is greatly reduced since there are no carcinogens produced in the process. Compared to other BBQ equipment that uses propane or gas, wood pellets are a much safer option too, because, well, it is a natural source of fuel.

Easy to use and maintain

Finally, not unlike electric smokers, pellet grills are user-friendly and very easy to maintain. All you need to do is set the temperature, load the food inside the cooking chamber, and wait till it is all cooked. No fuss no muss. When it comes to maintenance, it’s not much more complicated than the cooking process and the difference between electric and pellet smokers isn't that big either. The electric smoker will require you to remove the tin foil that you will use to line the bottom of the device while the pellet grill will require you to clean ashes. However, that is about the same time and work.

How Long Do Wood Pellets Last in a Grill?

How long do wood pellets last?

Just like when you’re planning a trip and checking out if you’ve got enough fuel in the truck, you need to make sure the hopper has enough wood pellets for grilling before each cook. In general, most grills need about 2 lbs of pellets for slow cooking and about 4 lbs for fast grilling. This amount might vary from model to model, but not a lot.

How Long Do Wood Pellet Smokers Last?

Pellet smokers can last for a lifetime

When it comes to the durability of a pellet grill, it’s the kind of appliance that has all the potential to last for a lifetime if you take care of it. In fact, the majority of big names that sell pellet grills back up their products with amazingly long warranties as well, which proves that these devices are made with durability in mind and from premium-quality materials that will survive through years of use.

However, in order to have peace of mind, it is important that you choose a pellet grill among trustworthy brands that have a good reputation. It is also important to understand that these models will be quite pricey as well, which is why it’s essential that you make your decision wisely and reason your choice.

On the hand, if you’re searching for a no-frills piece of grilling equipment for occasional family BBQ parties outdoors, then a regular pellet smoker from a lower price may suffice. What’s important here is that you recognize your needs and decide for yourself which way you want to go.

Pellet Smokers: Pros and Cons

Pellet smokers: pros and cons

Pros:

  • Pellet grills impart amazing flavors to the food, which is something that’s exclusive of the devices using wood as a heat source.
  • The device is not difficult to use. Even if you’ve no prior experience of smoking meat before you’ll be able to master the process easily.
  • Pellet grills are incredibly durable. Often backed up with long manufacturers' warranties, they are really long-lasting and will stand the test of time provided you treat them carefully.
  • Because pellet grills use a natural source of fuel, they make a much safer alternative to other cooking methods that use gas or propane, keeping you less exposed to the risk of developing cancer.

Cons:

  • Pellet grills run pretty hot, meaning you will not be able to set and maintain very low temperatures, which is unfortunate since it limits their versatility a bit.
  • Pellet grills are expensive. Even some less sophisticated models run from 700 bucks and up, so you should be ready to invest about ~$1000 and more, adding to the price additional arrangements that you’ll likely need to purchase separately to gear it up.

How Does an Electric Smoker Work?

How does an electric smoker work?

Electric smokers, which are also called “lazy” smokers, have many features and functions making them suitable for inexperienced users who’ve only recently started looking in the direction of the grilling/smoking as well as avid barbecue cooks who already know how to smoke and smoke a lot. The electric grill is a great investment as it allows achieving consistently fantastic results and is very easy to use which makes it an excellent entry-point for novices.

So, how does an electric smoker work? The process doesn’t differ much from a pellet grill. You need to connect it to the electricity, load the food in it, select the desired settings, and press “Start”. No flames to depend upon no babysitting is needed. In regards to construction peculiarities, electric smokers consist of a box, a wood chip tray, and a heat source. Once you plug the grill in, the heating element starts to heat the box, causing coils smouldering to produce smoke. No combustion occurs. What’s actually produced is a bit of hot steam and some water vapor. Finally, electric grills allow for a "set and forget it" way of cooking: once you’ve set up the time and temperature, it will do all the work for you and even feed coils automatically for maintaining the heat. Not surprisingly, electric grills have many fans in the country and around the world. However, they are not without their flaws too. Let’s check their major advantages and disadvantages before you make a decision if it is right or not right for you.

Electric Grills: Pros and Cons

Electric grills: pros and cons

Pros:

  • Electric grills are very easy to use, offering a "set and forget it" way of cooking, which makes them ideal for inexperienced users.
  • Electric grills do not produce flames, which makes them not only safer but also a less messy option.
  • The upkeep is simple and quick. All you will need to do is remove the tin foil after use, that is if you line the unit’s bottom with it. These grills are pretty affordable, with the price starting from $300 and above.
  • The cost of operation is not expensive too. The electric grill uses electricity and about 2-4 lbs of coils or wood to create smoke.
  • They can maintain very low temperatures.

Cons:

  • It might take longer for an electric grill to get sufficiently hot.
  • They do not produce the “authentic BBQ taste”, which is their biggest shortcoming.

Conclusion

Electric vs pellet grills

By now, you might’ve already decided for yourself which of these two devices is the right one for you. If not, we will say that no matter whether you go for a pellet or electric grill, if you’re taking care of your health and look for a safe smoker/grill then both these versions will work for you: neither an electric nor pellet grill uses gas or propane as a fuel, so chances of absorbing any harmful chemicals due to the combustion process are non-existent. But when plunging into details and actually comparing electric and pellet grills it’s easy to see that the advantages of pellet grills outweigh electric grills. Electric grills are a great option for those who’re new to smoking as well as for those who want to be able to precisely control the cooking temperatures. They also can cook at a quite fast pace, allowing for a "set and forget it" way of cooking. But when it comes to the flavor, electric grills are simply incapable of imparting that deeply flavorful smoky taste to the meat that a pellet smoker can give. So, if the flavor matters to you, the obvious winner is a pellet grill. For those who’ve only started their search we can offer to take a look at the comparison of these top rated pellet smokers. Meanwhile, if ease of use attracts you more, it will be better to choose an electric model. The choice is yours.