Electric Smoker vs Pellet Smoker — A Detailed Comparison

Need to decide between buying an electric smoker vs pellet smoker? We’ll compare the two so that your decision becomes easier. 

There are quite a few similarities between both these smokers, which is why the comparison tends to get a bit tricky. Both these smokers use electric power. But, there is a difference between where this power is applied and how the cooking (smoking) proceeds.

So, let’s get down to business to see how these smokers size up!

The Power Source For A Pellet Smoker vs Electric Smoker

How An Electric Smoker Handles Power And Working

Generally, electric smokers have a box-like design and are vertical smokers. The cooking chamber is a prominent part of the design since they don’t need a firebox.

Smoking food is handled by an electric element and a tray where you place wood chips. As you switch on the smoker, the element heats up, which in turn heats the tray and the wood chips. As the temperature rises, the wood chips start giving off smoke, which then cooks the food.

Electric smokers have a temperature control system. This is usually a digital controller, though analog models exist as well. As the temperature inside the smoker reaches the level set by the user, power to the heating element is cut off. Similarly, the heating element comes back into play once the temperature goes down.

This setup enables electric smokers to work in a set-and-forget setup. Users don’t need to continually check the temperature or make manual changes to get the right temperature.

Note that a direct fire or flame isn’t involved in the cooking process in an electric smoker.

How Pellet Smokers Handle Power And Working

As with electric smokers, pellet smokers too need a connection to an electric outlet. However, they don’t use a heating element like electric smokers. Instead, electric power is used for an auger motor that moves the pellets from a storage container (hopper) to the cooking chamber. 

Electric power also runs a fan to manage the air intake. Other electricity-dependent features like wireless connectivity, screen display, or similar may also be involved. 

Once in the cooking chamber, wood pellets face ignition and burn to let off heat and smoke for cooking food. Note, fire is involved in cooking with pellet smokers, that’s one reason most pellet smokers take the shape of conventional grills. 

Pellet grills and smokers generally use a digital temperature control system. The auger manages the flow of pellets to maintain the temperature close to user input. As such, pellet smokers too can take the set-and-forget routine for cooking food. Continuous user input isn’t required. 

Some pellet grills with large hoppers can run for 24 hours or more, so user intervention for pellet refills is minimal. Well, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to smoke something for that long, but having options helps! Besides, a full hopper like this could last for several cooking sessions.

The Case Of Vertical Pellet Smokers

Vertical pellet smokers sit somewhere between conventional grill-style pellet smokers and electric smokers. Their working and shape are very similar to electric smokers. The larger difference is that vertical pellet smokers use a hopper to automatically feed pellets for smoking.

What Are Pellets Anyway?

Wood pellets image
Image: Traeger

Generally speaking, pellets are compressed organic matter or biomass. They have plenty of applications and even find use in coal-fired power plants

For use in grills and smokers, pellets are made from suitable woods. Often, these are wood chips, bark, and sawdust compressed together into a small shape. Many grills use hardwood pellets that offer the same flavors as conventional wood chips or chunks. 

Due to their processing, pellets are uniform in size, shape, and density. They have low moisture content, provide consistent heat, and offer minimal particulate emissions. 

Their uniform shape makes it easier for auger motors to move pellets and better manage their flow for automation. Their use gives pellet grills and smokers a bit of an edge over the competition. 

How These Smokers Stack Up For Their Cooking Capabilities And Flavor

Cooking Capabilities, Versatility, And Refills

Electric smokers and pellet smokers each have their strengths in how well they manage cooking. Electric smokers can go quite low with their temperature, so they can manage truly low and slow cooking. With a sufficient temperature setting, electric smokers can go for cold smoking as well. 

Cold smoking isn’t exactly outside the domain of pellet grills and smokers. It’s just that electric smokers can handle it better and easier. 

Pellet smokers are remarkably versatile too, especially since they work with a flame burning the pellets. Many pellet grills and smokers, like those from Pit Boss, have an option to BBQ or grill directly over the flame. 

Several pellet grills can maintain temperatures as high as 550 °F, giving them more functions beyond smoking food. Grilling, BBQ, and more are on the table with pellet grills.

One aspect that makes a big difference is the hopper capacity of pellet grills. With a large enough hopper, you could smoke a brisket without ever worrying about refills or managing smoke. 

Electric smokers lack in this area. You’ll find yourself changing wood chips in a couple of hours. Some electric smokers have larger chip trays, but even that will get you another one or two hours.

Flavor Management

There will be a decided effect on the taste of food depending on the fuel and type of smoker you use. Pitmasters still swear by offset smokers because they bring that classic strong smoky taste to food. 

With electric or pellet smokers, the flavor is going to be less intense than with offsets. Electric smokers add a lighter flavor. The food or meat has a lighter bark and no smoke ring. The primary reason for this is that the heat source is electric and the smoker doesn’t employ a real fire. 

Pellet smokers will see a flavor stronger than electric smokers, but not as strong as offsets. The flavor benefits from the use of a real fire during cooking.

Now, let’s put this all into perspective. Electric smokers are good at their job and the veggies or meat they smoke are delicious. They’re very useful in places where you need better smoke management or don’t have enough space for a full-sized grill. That said, if it’s the woody flavor that drives your taste buds, pellet grills and offset smokers will do the job so much better!

Connectivity And Technology Use

We are in a world where we have to discuss the internet connectivity of smokers. And that’s a good thing! The Internet of Things is here. And unlike refrigerators that connect to the internet for basically nothing, smokers can benefit from this technology.

Pellet grills and smokers have been quite prolific in adopting the use of WiFi and the internet. The exact features can vary by brand and model, but there are quite a few options. You could turn the smoker on or off, manage its temperature, and get a notification if the hopper is about to run out of pellets. You could do all this from an app on your phone!

Prominent pellet grill manufacturers like Traeger and Recteq are expanding their connectivity range. Traeger’s Wifire technology is quite impressive and adds several features and connectivity to their pellet grills. Many other companies too are ramping up on connectivity.

It’s worth noting that most pellet grills don’t have any connectivity options. They’re on the classic route. However, connectivity is increasingly popular for pellet grills and smokers.

Electric smokers haven’t quite taken to remote control like pellet smokers. A vast majority are old-fashioned standalones. Those that do have remote connectivity, use Bluetooth. While it does have its uses, Bluetooth limits the range of the user and the control. 

We could say that the Masterbuilt Gravity Series has app use, but it doesn’t fit into the category of electric smokers. 

Overall, pellet grills do better with internet connectivity and app controls. Still, it will be some time before companies perfect their connectivity options and app control.

Electric Smoker VS Pellet Smoker – The Monetary And Space Considerations

The Cost And Maintenance

For comparable models, pellet smokers have a higher initial cost compared to electric smokers. It’s not a small difference and you can expect pellet smokers to be a few hundred dollars more expensive.

Electric smokers can be very affordable. Some models can go to the $100 range. Meanwhile, even the budget-friendly pellet smokers and grills usually cost around $400-$500. 

Pellet grills also have somewhat higher running costs. This is because pellets are generally more expensive than wood chips or wood chunks. 

As general maintenance goes, electric smokers are easier to handle. This is because the wood and ash are contained and there is no direct flame. Pellet smokers are convenient to handle, though the presence of a real flame requires some additional cleaning.

Besides, electric smokers have fewer parts and thus can cost less on repairs and management. Pellet smokers have more parts, largely due to the inclusion of the auger and fan. As such, the cost of repairs could be higher for pellet grills.

Space Availability And Management

Electric smokers are vertical smokers. They don’t need a huge footprint and you can stash them in a small space. 

Pellet grills and smokers are available in a variety of sizes. From vertical smokers to compact grills and large pellet grills and smokers, they cover quite a range. So unless you have a large available space, check the dimensions of the pellet smoker you buy.

Are Electric Smokers Good Versus Pellet Smokers?

Electric smokers are good at their job and will deliver delicious smoked food. They are good at set and forget cooking and don’t need manual intervention often. Electric smokers are a natural choice for those who prefer meats or veggies with a light smoky flavor.  

There are benefits of pellet smokers and grills as well. They are incredibly easy to manage and work well as set-and-forget smokers. Since they use a real flame, some models also allow BBQ and grilling.

Is There A Clear Winner Between These Smokers?

Who wins in the electric smoker vs pellet smoker battle can depend on your viewpoint. Electric smokers are affordable, easy to manage, and require a small space. 

Pellet grills are feature-rich. They are incredibly easy to manage for set-and-forget smoking. With models that have internet connectivity, you don’t even have to be anywhere near the grill to control it. Plus, they tend to be more versatile and add a stronger wood flavor to the food.