Do electric smokers taste the same?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 22, 2022

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Are you looking for a way to enjoy the delicious, distinctive taste offered by wood smokers, without the hassle of burning wood or charcoal?

If yes, then you should consider buying an electric smoker to smoke meat.

Electric smokers are designed to simulate the flavor and texture of smoking meat by more conventional means, such as charcoal and pellet smokers, but offer a number of advantages over these models.

Do Electric Smokers Taste The Same?

But, the truth is electric smokers don’t make the meat taste quite the same. First, you don’t get the same smoke ring, and second, there isn’t as much smoke circulating so the smoke flavor is not as deep and smoky.

Electric smokers are very convenient because they don’t require much maintenance. All you need to do is plug them into an outlet, set your desired temperature, and turn them on.

You can even go about doing other things while you let the appliance do the work. It’s a convenient way to smoke because you just set it and leave it.

Once done, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of smoking without having to worry about fire hazards – a common concern with many wood smokers.

How to buy a bbq smoker video
How to buy a bbq smoker video

But before you purchase an electric smoker, you should first decide whether you want to invest in a commercial model or a home version.

The former is usually more expensive than the latter. However, if you’re planning to use it as your primary source of heat, then you may not mind spending extra money.

I’ll explain why the electric smoker doesn’t make your food taste the same as propane, pellet, or charcoal smokers and share tips on how to improve the flavors.

Do electric smokers provide the same smoky flavor as other smokers?

No, electric smokers don’t offer the same level of smokiness as charcoal smokers, for example.

That being said, most people can’t tell the difference unless they’re pitmasters, of course.

An electric smoker provides plenty of smoky aroma to your meat.

So, if you smoke some brisket or pork shoulder in an electric smoker, it will still taste great. Just not as smoky as if you would’ve used a charcoal smoker.

But overall, most people agree that you can make delicious smoked meat using your electric smoker but the flavor and smoke intensity aren’t the same because there’s no wood combustion and less smoke.

Wood smokers produce lots of smoke as wood chunks and lump charcoal burn. The hot smoke circulates around the meat, which is what gives it that distinctive smoky flavor.

So, if you’re looking for that intense smoky flavor in your meat, electric smokers aren’t the best choice.

However, they’re still a great option if you want to enjoy the flavor of smoked meat without having to deal with the hassle of burning wood or charcoal.

Why don’t electric smokers taste the same?

Well, there are several reasons why electric smokers taste different from charcoal smokers, propane smokers, and pellet smokers.

You can read my thoughts on the pellet smoker vs electric smoker and how the flavors differ too.

First, I just want to mention that electric smokers are vertical and that means you add wood chips and water into pans at the bottom or sides of the device, and then the heat and smoke rise up through the grates.

The combination of heat, steam, and wood chips creates an interesting smoky flavor, but it’s not as intense as what you get with wood smokers.

See Rob here compare the offset smoker to the electric (Masterbuilt) smoker to get a sense of the factors at play:

How much smoke does an electric smoker produce?

Electric smokers do tend to emit the least amount of smoke when compared to other types of smoker fuel.

This is due to the fact that, in contrast to gas, charcoal, and pellet smokers, it is the only heating source that operates without a flame or combustion.

However, it does generate enough to provide tangible effects and a reliable smoky flavor.

Don’t believe the people who say electric smokers produce bland smoked meat because it’s simply not true.

Let’s look at the reasons why the electric smoker tastes different:

Different fuel & heat source

Electric smokers rely on an electric heating element to heat the wood chips, which produces much less smoke.

Basically, the smoking process is much different as there is no combustion taking place.

The smoke is then channeled through a vent into the smoking chamber. But the smoke is mixed with steam from the water pan, which reduces the intensity of the smoke.

Just think of it as a toned-down type of smokiness that isn’t nearly as deep-flavored as if you use charcoal and wood.

The truth is that flavored wood chips, lump charcoal, and briquettes create much better flavor than electric smokers.

Even if you use wood chips in the electric smoker wood chip tray, the flavor is not equally strong as with the meat smoked on a charcoal grill or smoker.

Whether you use a really good electric smoker or a cheap electric smoker, the heating method is the same.

And that’s why they all taste different than smokers that use a different heat source, such as charcoal or gas smoker.

Electric smokers don’t have as much smoke circulation & there’s less smoke

Another reason electric smokers don’t taste the same is that there’s less smoke circulation.

As I mentioned, electric smokers are vertical, so the heat and smoke rise through the grates.

With horizontal smokers, such as offset smokers and bullet smokers, the heat and smoke travel across the grates in a side-to-side direction. This means that the meat is exposed to more smoke, which creates a stronger smoky flavor.

Also, there’s less smoke generated by the electric smoker since there’s no wood combustion.

So the only logical conclusion is that less smoke = less smoky flavor.

Electric smokers also have a water pan

Most electric smokers come with a water pan, and this can further reduce the smoky flavor of your meat.

The water pan is there to help keep the meat moist, but it also produces steam.

And as I mentioned earlier, the steam can mix with the smoke and create a more diluted flavor.

The problem is that if you don’t use the water pan, the meat turns out rubbery and dry and rather bland anyway because the meat won’t absorb the smoke as well without the moisture.

So, it’s really a catch-22 situation. You can either use the water pan and get less smoky flavor or don’t use it and get even less flavor.

So, if you’re looking for that intense smoky flavor, you’re better off smoking your meat on a charcoal or gas smoker.

But if you’re looking for a smoky flavor that’s not as intense, then an electric smoker is a great choice.

Less complex flavor profile

When using an electric smoker, you’ll notice that the flavor is not as complex as with other smokers.

This is because charcoal smokers burn all kinds of complex compounds that contribute to the flavor of the smoke. These will stick to the meat and make it tastes better.

These compounds include:

  • tar
  • gases
  • unburned wood particles
  • resins
  • oils

All of these things contribute to the flavor of the smoke, and that’s why charcoal smokers can produce deeper, more complex aromas.

I know that these compounds don’t sound like a good thing to have in your food but this is what makes wood-smoked meat taste so amazing!

Electric smokers don’t create the same smoke ring

The main complaint I hear from people using electric smokers is that they don’t get that nice smoke ring on their meat as they would with charcoal smoking.

Some smokers will tell you the smoke ring doesn’t actually add any flavors because it’s just a visual thing.

However, others disagree and say the smoke ring does indeed add flavor.

I’m not going to focus on this debate too much since it’s purely subjective but the dark smoke ring definitely tastes strong when you bite into that part so, in my opinion, it does add flavor.

A smoke ring is not actually a sign of well-smoked meat, but it is something a lot of people look for.

The main reason you don’t get a smoke ring with electric smokers is that there is no combustion taking place.

Smoldering wood produces lots of smoke, which is what creates the ring.

With charcoal smoking, you are burning wood which creates smoke that contains carbon monoxide. This gas gets trapped in the meat and creates that pink smoke ring.

Electric smokers use a heating element to heat up wood chips that have been soaked in water. This produces steam rather than smoke and will not create a smoke ring.

That being said, electric smokers will still make the meat taste smoky, but it’s not the same wood smoke flavor intensity as with offset smokers, for example.

Many people take their smoke rings very seriously and this might be a deal-breaker for them.

Ways to make meat taste better with an electric smoker

What Are The Best Types of Smoker?

That said, there are ways to make your electric smoker taste more like a traditional wood smoker.

Here are some tips:

Fans

One of the most important things you should look out for is the smoke flavor. Some models feature a built-in fan that blows air through the chamber to create a smoky effect.

Others rely on external fans to produce the same effect and that amazing smokey flavor. 

Some models will allow you to choose from a number of complex flavor profiles, including a milder smoke flavor or something a little more intense.

Season the electric smoker

I know, seasoning the electric smoker? What? But just like any smoker, it can benefit from a good seasoning.

Seasoning the smoker will help to create a barrier against moisture and also add flavor.

Just like with any new grill or smoker, seasoning it properly ensures that any residue or buildup on the steel or cast iron surfaces inside the smoker is removed.

When you season your electric smoker, the steel also ages and becomes more resistant to stains from liquids or food residue.

Simply turn on your grill as directed by the model to season it.

Depending on the model and instructions – every smoker is built differently – set it to high heat and let it run for 45 to an hour.

The first few times you used your smoker, you might not have gotten the ideal smokey results if you neglected to complete this step.

Don’t smoke wood chips

Have you heard that soaking your wood chips in water before smoking them helps to produce more smoke?

Some pitmasters recommend soaking the wood chips but if you want to maximize the smoke flavor in an electric smoker, you do not need to soak the wood chips.

Why?

Because wet wood chips will create lots of steam.

Since the steam must evaporate before the wood can burn, it merely delays the process without providing any further advantages because the electric smoker doesn’t use combustion.

Always use unsoaked hardwood wood chips in your electric smoker if you want greater smoke flavor.

Get a smoke tube

You may always try utilizing a high-quality pellet smoking tube if you believe your electric smoker isn’t producing enough smoke and smoky flavor for those strong barbecue cravings.

These stainless steel tubes contain wood pellets that are stacked uniformly along the tube’s perimeter to create a steady chain reaction that releases extra smoke for your meal.

You can find smoke tubes that create billowing smoke for hours right here.

If you ever feel like smoking cheese or vegetables, keep in mind that these smoking tubes can also be used to cold smoke indirectly because they don’t release as much heat.

Use plenty of wood chips

Let’s say you’re planning on smoking brisket or pork butt – you’ll need to smoke for longer than 4 hours.

If your smoking session lasts more than four hours, it’s unlikely that one tray of wood chips will suffice.

When necessary, make sure to top off the tray to maintain a steady source of smoke.

It’s vital to have good smoke flow throughout this time because the majority of the smoke flavor actually comes from the beginning and middle of the cook.

Keep adding more wood chips if you want to make the meat more flavorful.

However, don’t make the mistake of overfilling the wood chip tray as that can make the smoke taste funky.

Use a good amount and wait until it’s almost done and then replenish with more chips.

Use strong flavored wood

Some smoking woods pair well with certain foods. Fruit woods like apple are mild and work well for poultry, pork, and seafood.

But if you find them too mild to taste when using your electric smoker, go for a stronger wood.

Hickory and mesquite are two of the most popular smoking woods because they’re readily available and have a deep, rich flavor that works well with pork, beef, and lamb.

But, when you want very smoky flavorful meat, you can use these stronger woods for all foods.

Avoid opening the doors

You might be tempted to open the electric smoker doors frequently to check on the food, but each time you do, heat and smoke escape.

Smoke is what flavors the food, so you want to make sure as much smoke as possible stays inside the smoker.

Only open the doors when you absolutely need to and make sure you close them as quickly as possible.

You can spritz and mop the meat but do it super fast.

Why does the electric smoker make meat taste funky?

Have you tried to smoke bacon with the usual hickory wood chips but the smoke flavor seems off and the food tastes funky?

Here’s what can cause this issue: the wood chips smolder so they don’t burn.

This means that they don’t burn clean smoke sometimes and this creates a funky flavor.

That’s why you need to use good-quality wood chips and avoid soaking them. Use the driest wood chips you can find, preferrable kiln-dried and well seasoned.

You can use less wood chips at the start and only replenish them when they’re nearly done so you’re using plenty of wood chips to give the smoky aroma but not too much at once.

Takeaway

There are different types of smokers but most experts will agree on one thing: electric smokers don’t produce the same strong smokey flavor as charcoal or pellet smoker.

When you’re smoking food with electricity, there’s no wood combustion happening, hence the lack of that strong smoked food aroma.

However, that doesn’t mean your electric smoker can’t produce great-tasting food.

By following the tips in this article, you can make your electric smokers work better and taste great every time.

Next, read my Step by step guide on How to Use An Electric Smoker

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.