Electric Smoker vs Pellet Smoker: Comparing 7+ Key Differences

Electric smokers are cheaper and easier to run; pellet smokers offer better flavor but cost more. Both need electricity and have pros and cons.

electric smoker vs pellet smoker

If you’re ready to buy a new smoker, you’re probably weighing the difference between an electric smoker vs pellet smoker options. Which one will give you the best bang for your buck? A few key differences exist between flavor, cost, and ease of use, and we’ll go through them to help you decide.

Electric smokers are convenient to run and cheaper to buy, whereas pellet smokers have a higher price point and cost more to run. Both require electricity, but electric units use elements for heat, and pellet smokers burn wood pellets. Pellet smokers produce better flavor but may be less versatile.

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Heat Sources

An electric smoker uses an element as its only source of heat. This power limits you to using it near an electric outlet, and you’ll need to add a small number of wood chips to the grill, adding a smoky flavor to the food.

Many electric smokers have a woodchip tray installed, but if you need to, you can make a foil pouch to hold your woodchips.

With a pellet smoker, wood pellets are burned to create heat, and the average pellet smoker will burn anywhere from 1 – 3 lbs of pellets an hour. These pellets are placed in a pellet hopper, usually at the side of the grill.

Despite their name, pellet grills need electricity to run features such as digital temperature control, so they will also be limited to use near a power outlet.

Neither electric smokers nor pellet smokers should be used in wet weather.

Flavor

While both units use electricity, only the pellet smoker uses wood pellets as a heat and flavor source. Burning the pellets creates not only heat but also releases smoke. This smoke is what gives your meat its distinctive smoky barbeque flavor.

A pellet and an electric smoker will cook meat that is tender, juicy, and full of great taste, but the pellet smoker has the edge on a deep, smoky flavor. The electric unit cannot produce the same blend of smoke and gases that a pellet-fired smoker will.

You can increase the flavor in an electric smoker by adding wood chips in the dedicated wood chip tray or in a foil pouch. While this won’t wholly emulate a pellet smoker’s flavor intensity, it will make a difference.

Wood pellets for pellet smokers and wood chips for electric smokers come in different wood types, giving you different smoky flavors.

Ease Of Use And Maintenance

Both smokers are simple to use. They require little setup, and once they’re going, you can leave them. Once you’ve set your temperature and loaded your pellet hopper or wood chip tray, you can add your meat and wait for it to be done.

They are both reasonably low maintenance. When you first get your smoker, you’ll have to prep and prime it, but as for constantly checking the meat to turn it, as you might with a charcoal grill, that’s unnecessary.

You will have to clean your smoker after use. Please wait until it has thoroughly cooled down before you clean it.

Z GRILLS Wood Pellet Grill Smoker with PID Controller, 700 Cooking Area, Meat Probes, Rain Cover for Outdoor BBQ, 7002C

Scrub your grates with a nylon bristle brush and wipe down any spilled marinade or sauces from the interior surfaces with a sponge. Remove any charred bits of meat or sauce from the cooking unit with a plastic putty scraper. Don’t use metal scrapers or brushes.

There’s no need to regularly deep clean the inside of the cooking chamber, as this will help to create seasoning. The outside of the smoker and the door seal can be wiped down with a damp cloth or sponge. Use warm soapy water.

Pellet units will collect the ash in a bucket or tray that you empty out; with electric units, you will empty the woodchip tray after use.

Cost to Operate

Camp Chef Competition Blend BBQ Pellets, Hardwood Pellets for Grill, Smoke, Bake, Roast, Braise and BBQ, 20 lb. Bag

The cost of running the two units can greatly affect your decision. There is a significant difference in price between running an electric smoker v. a pellet smoker.

You’ll need to factor in electricity and the cost of wood pellets or wood chips. On average, it’s cheaper to run an electrical smoker.

Pellet Smokers

You’ll need only wood pellets if you have a completely off-grid pellet smoker without electricity for digital temperature controls. Expect to use 1.2 lb of pellets per hour if you have it on the smoke setting and 2 ½ lbs with the heat setting on high. The higher the temperature, the less smoke you’ll create.

Pellet smokers that use electricity for temperature settings will use a similar amount of pellets as above, plus a small amount of electricity.

  • On average, a 20 lb bag of blended wood pellets will cost about $20.
  • The length of time you smoke food will depend on the cut and the best smoking temperature. Short ribs take 3-4 hours, while brisket can take 12-15 hours.
  • 15 hours on a low temp will use about 18 lbs of pellets.
  • 4 hours on a high temp will use around 10 lbs of pellets.

Electrical Smokers

Electrical smokers that heat using an element will run on electric power. To get a smokey taste to your meat, you’ll need to add wood chips, but far less than you would pellets, as these are for flavor, not heat.

  • A 1,200-watt electric smoker will likely cost around $1.20 for ten hours of cooking. 
  • A 1,6 lb bag of apple wood chips, suitable for several smoking sessions, costs around $15

Cost To Buy

The cost of buying a smoker is where electrical smokers really come to the fore, as electric smokers are usually cheaper, often by a significant amount. Here’s an example from Amazon.

Masterbuilt® 30-inch Digital Electric Vertical BBQ Smoker with Leg Kit, Side Wood Chip Loader and 710 Cooking Square Inches in Black, Model MB20070421
  • Vertical digital electric smoker with 710 square inches of cooking space
  • Digital controls to easily set cooking time and temperature up to 275°F
  • Patented side woodchip loader to continually add wood-fired smoked flavor without having to open the smoker door to keep smoke in during the cooking process, resulting in enhanced low and slow cooked dishes
  • Four chrome-coated smoking racks
  • Spacious vertical design that fits up to 7 chickens, 2 turkeys, 4 pork butts or 4 racks of ribs

Pellet smokers are usually far more expensive. Here’s an example from Amazon.

The Masterbuilt 40-inch Digital Electric Smoker retails for around $319.99, whereas a Flagship 700D4E pellet grill retails at $799.00. And it’s not that much better on Amazon.

Sale
Pit Boss PB440D2 Wood Pellet Grill, 440 SERIES, Black
  • Pit Boss 440 Deluxe Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker
  • Premium Gauge Stainless Steel Construction
  • Removable Side Shelf/Serving Tray
  • Two large Wheels
  • Digital Control Board w/ LED Readout

You can pay more for a grill, but the higher cost won’t change how the meat is cooked or tastes. You will get higher quality finishes, and higher volume, allowing you to smoke more food at once. A well-known brand may also come with a guarantee for many years.

Versatility

Masterbuilt MB20070421 30-inch Digital Electric Smoker, Black

One of the ways where an electric smoker has the edge over a pellet is they can usually be set to much lower temperatures for an extended period. This allows you more cooking versatility. Instead of only smoking meat, you can also smoke fish, cheese, and nuts.

Pellet smokers run too hot to suit the low smoke temperatures needed for nuts and salmon.

You can also find experimenting with a different flavor of wood chips easier with an electric smoker.

Open Flame

If you live in a complex, you will likely have rules regarding open flames. In this case, you will be limited to the electric smoker as the pellet smoker will fall under banned appliances.

Electric Smokers

Masterbuilt MB20070421 30-inch Digital Electric Smoker, Black

Good

  • They are generally much cheaper than pellet smokers.
  • Electric smokers are excellent starter smokers for beginners, as they are not complicated.
  • They are straightforward to use and maintain.
  • Electric smokers are environmentally friendly and don’t release a lot of smoke and ash.
  • They can smoke at very low temperatures, making them versatile and able to cook nuts, cheese, fish, and even desserts.
  • By leaving out the wood chips, you can use your electrical smoker as a convection oven, allowing you to even bake with it.
  • The low power usage makes them affordable to run over a long period.
  • You can buy different woodchips to experiment with other smoke flavor profiles.
  • No open flame or heavy smoke makes them suitable in most places.

Bad

  • It will not give a smoke ring—the pinkish layer of smoked meat under the surface.
  • The smoke flavor is not as rich and deep as with a pellet smoker.
  • You can’t grill or sear meat with an electric smoker, as there is no direct flame.
  • Electric parts may break down and need replacing.
  • They are not generally portable unless you have a small unit and are headed to a place with a power supply.

Pellet Smokers

Good

  • Pellet smokers are easy to use. Once you have loaded the pellet hopper and set the temperature, the grill feeds in the pellets as necessary.
  • Digital pellet smokers can be set and left, allowing you to do other things while the smoker cooks your meat to perfection.
  • Most pellet smokers can grill or sear meat on an open flame.
  • You can even bake bread or pizza in a pellet smoker, which works similarly to a convection oven.
  • The wood pellets impart a rich, delicious smoky flavor to your food.
  • You can change the smoke flavors by selecting different types of wood pellets.
  • Get more accurate temperature control by using a grill blanket to hold in the heat and the smoke.

Bad

  • Pellet smokers can be very expensive and are generally higher priced than electric smoker models.
  • Wood pellets can absorb moisture from the air and eventually fall apart. To prevent waste, you should seal all unused wood pellets to protect them from outside humidity.
  • Pellet smokers still require electricity to work. Some portable models use a car battery for power, however. 
  • Pellet smokers can be more expensive to run, especially at higher temperatures where they can use up to 3 lbs of wood pellets per hour.
  • Budget pellet units might not be able to reach suitably high temperatures for grilling.

Is An Electric Smoker Worth It?

Electric smokers are excellent for experienced smokers and those new to this grilling style. They are convenient and easy to use—if you can switch on an oven, you can use an electric smoker!

The long smoke times with no need for overseeing the unit means you can set the meat to cook and do something else—even run to town for that extra bag of crisps!

The units are often relatively compact and fit easily into smaller spaces, making them great for houses or units with only a small deck or outside area.

Because the heat comes from an electric element rather than wood pellets, it’s easier to set the temperature and costs less to run.

The biggest drawback with electrical units is that you will never get quite the same depth of flavor as you would with a pellet burner. While adding woodchips to your unit will help impart a smoky taste, you will not get the typical ‘smoke ring’ in meats cooked in a pellet smoker.

Are Electric Smokers As Good As Wood Smokers?

Electric smokers have attributes that can make them better than pellet smokers and disadvantages. Which you prefer will depend on your needs and priorities when smoking food.

Electric smokers are generally much easier to run and are more compact. The upright design allows for serval cooking racks rather than one grill, allowing you to cook more food at once.

Using an electric smoker is effortless, as you merely need to set the temperature to what you want, add your food, and leave it. You can add woodchips to the wood chip tray or a makeshift foil pouch if you’re going to add an extra smokey flavor.

Electric smokers are noted for lower running costs and extra versatility with heat control, allowing you to cook different types of meat, fish, vegetables, and cheese. You can even use your electric smoker for baking bread and desserts. They’re essentially convection ovens with an added wood chip tray.

However, when it comes to flavor, the winner is a pellet smoker. The burning wood pellets release smoke, ash, and gases, creating a unique smokey flavor that an electric smoker can never replicate. The flip side is that they cost more to buy and run and might be less versatile for some cooking.

As you can see from these pros and cons of the different types of smokers, one is not necessarily better than the other. Your choice will depend on what you’re looking for in size, price point, convenience, and flavor.

Which Is Better, Pellet Or Wood Smoker?

Wood-fired smokers use wood chunks to create heat, while pellet smokers use wood pellets. Wood smokers are a little more effort to run but can work out cheaper and are versatile. They can run on wood pieces and pellets and generally last longer than electrical pellet units.

It can be challenging to set and maintain the temperature on a wood smoker, and it can be messy to clean out after use.

Pellets produce less smoke than wood pieces, and this can make a pellet smoker more environmentally friendly.

Is An Electric Smoker Better Than A Regular Smoker?

Whether an electric smoker is better than a regular smoker is relative to your needs. If you’re after an intense smoky flavor and want your meat to show a ‘smoke ring,’ then you will be best off with a pellet smoker.

If you want convenience and versatility, and can sacrifice some of the smoky flavors for that and a lower running cost, then an electric smoker is best for you.

Next Steps

Ultimately, flavor vs. lower price and convenience are the most significant differences between an electric smoker and a pellet smoker. An electric smoker may suit you better if you cook several different kinds of food and want the option to have smokier or less smoky flavors.

A pellet smoker will suit you if you are after an intense smoky flavor in your meat and don’t mind the extra cost.

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