When looking at smokers, many people are confused about the advantages of pellet smokers (like a Traeger) vs electric smokers.
Which one is better for making delicious smoke-flavored food? There’s nothing like slow-smoked brisket after all.
Is the pellet smoker better than the electric smoker when it comes to smoke flavor?
Both electric smokers and pellet smokers run on electricity for power. The difference is the fuel source. An electric smoker is heated by a heating rod that heats wood chips and creates smoke for your food, a pellet smoker burns wood pellets to create smoke.
Let’s take a closer look at the two types of smokers and what kind of delicious dishes you can cook with each.
About the Traeger pellet smoker
The Traeger is one of the most popular pellet smokers of all time.
But, pellet smokers and grills (like these top options) are a fairly recent invention. One of the most affordable Traeger pellet grills is the TFB30KLF which costs about $470.
Don’t get me wrong, Traegers are excellent smokers, but they are very pricey. But, these last you for years to come, and those who love smoked foods will get tons of use out of them.
To use this kind of smoker, it has to be plugged into an electrical outlet. They run on tiny pellets as their fuel source but still infuse food with a delicious smoky aroma.
The benefit of a pellet smoker is that you cook the food over a natural wood fire. Therefore the flavor is similar to that of a charcoal smoker.
Like an electric smoker, the pellet smoker has electric automation, so you don’t have to keep monitoring it once you set the temperature.
Both electric and the Traeger models are hands-off cooking units which makes them extremely convenient and beginner-friendly.
Pellet smokers are so popular these days because they are easy to use and give that wood smoke flavor to food.
How does a pellet smoker work?
The storage container is filled with small hardwood pellets, which are the heat source. Then, an auger motor feeds the small pellets into the cooking chamber, where they burn to cook the food and create smoke.
This process is called combustion and what happens is that the pellets burn at the bottom of the cooking chamber as they’re ignited by air. Special intake fans bring the air inside to aid the pellet-burning process.
The heat and smoke are then evenly dispersed, and meat (or other food) is cooked perfectly!
When you want to start smoking or grilling, you set the temperature on the digital panel.
The motor then adjusts how much air goes in to control the temperature inside the cooking chamber. That’s done by controlling the number of pellets going in and how fast or slow they burn.
What are wood pellets?
The Traeger runs on wood pellets. These pellets are made out of compressed sawdust and look like tiny cylinders.
You place them into the hopper – a big container that is usually located at the bottom or the side of the unit.
More on this: Wood pellet vs. charcoal vs. wood chips vs. wood chunks
Is the Traeger a smoker or grill?
Depending on the model, it can be more suited for grilling and cooking on direct heat, or it can work as an excellent smoker.
All models are capable of low and slow smoking, starting at 180 degrees F. Basically, you can smoke with any pellet grill.
If you want to grill or sear at high temperatures, you need a Traeger model that reaches those high temperatures between 450 and 650 F.
The bottom line is that a Traeger smoker is a smoker and grill, and you can use it how you prefer, whereas an electric smoker is for smoking only.
Generally, the Traeger is a great smoker, but some people think it works better as a smoker than a grill.
Many pitmasters are saying that a Traeger is overpriced. Traeger smokers are versatile because:
“they can smoke, roast, barbecue, bake. However, they are not great grills“
There are better and cheaper alternatives, like the Z Grills, if you only need a grill and not a smoker.
Is the Traeger pellet smoker worth it?
Traeger smokers are quite expensive ($400+). Some electric smokers cost just under $200, and if you only want to smoke meat occasionally, you might not want to invest in a Traeger pellet grill and smoker.
But, as far as cooking with the Traeger, pitmasters rave about how great it is. The food takes on an amazing flavor, and with the digital dial and displays, you can set it and forget it.
Since the pellet grill has a convection fan, it is fuel-efficient.
On average, you use about 2 pounds of pellets per hour. Therefore, you end up using fewer pellets and spending less money than you would on charcoal, for example.
But, you’ll still spend more than if you use an electric smoker because of the long cooking times.
Find my full Traeger grill review here, including best models & comparison against competition
About electric smokers
One of the reasons people compare the electric smoker with the Traeger pellet grill is that they are both easier to use than charcoal and gas smokers.
Compared to pellet smokers, electrics are similar in the sense that they run on power. As well, you can set up the electric smoker and let it do the work. You don’t need to monitor it constantly.
The electric smoker doesn’t smoke the food using natural wood pellets. Instead, it runs purely on electricity. The heat is generated by a heating element, just like an oven.
This heating element is usually located at the bottom of the smoker. Then the grates are stacked on top of each other vertically.
To give food that smoky flavor, you add flavored wood chips in the wood chip tray, usually located at the side of the unit. When heated, wood chips smoke inside the cooking chamber and infuse the meat with delicious wood smoke flavor.
The smoker also has a water pan, and adding water to it ensures the food, especially meat, stays tender and juicy.
Thus, when it comes to flavor, the food is tender and full of smoky flavor, although not quite like pellet smoked food. That’s because the pellet smoker cooks with natural wood, and the flavors are more intense.
Electric smokers also have digital settings and displays. They are easy to manipulate, and you can set the digital controller to the desired temperature, and it self-regulates.
Set it and leave it is a convenient cooking method many people are searching for these days.
Check out these top electric smoker cookbooks with recipe inspiration for all skill levels
Functionality of electric smokers
The electric smoker is designed for smoking meat, cheese, nuts, veggies, and seafood. You can’t grill with an electric unit like you can with a pellet smoker.
The reason is that electric smokers don’t get as hot, so you can’t reach those high temperatures you need. Besides, the role of electric smokers is to cook food in a low and slow style.
One of the most popular electric smokers is the Masterbuilt MB200 series because it is small yet does an excellent job smoking all kinds of foods.
Check out my complete electric smokers guide and the best ones to buy!
Differences between electric and pellet smokers
On a basic level, they are both smoking cookers, but they are different because one cooks with electricity and the other with wood pellets.
So, what should we consider when comparing the two?
- Ease of use
- Operating costs
I will explore each difference and discuss it in detail.
Electric vs. pellet: flavor
One of the most common questions people have is about the flavor. Is the smoked food cooked with an electric smoker better than a pellet smoker?
The answer is mostly no.
The pellet smoker is known to give food an amazing smoky flavor, and it’s much more intense. Most people agree that the smoke profile of the food cooking in the electric unit is not as strong or tasty as the pellet smoker.
That’s because an electric heat source doesn’t compare to cooking with wood.
In the electric smoker, a water pan like in these examples creates steam which mixes with the wood smoke – but this only imparts some flavor – not as much as classic wood smoke alone.
The wood smoke is superior and gives a nice smoke ring (read more). Electric smokers don’t create that soft bark (here’s how you get it!) and smoke ring, but regardless, the meat will still taste delicious.
The bottom line is that if you want convenient cooking methods and tasty food, electric smokers are great. But, if you like the classic wood-smoked flavors, you’re better off buying a pellet smoker.
Wondering which wood to use for smoking what? Find all my posts on using wood for smoking here!
Electric vs. pellet: ease of use
Can you use these smokers if you’re a complete beginner?
The good news is that, yes, they are both very easy to use.
Pellet smokers are simple to set up and use. They require minimal supervision and maintenance. Set the temperature, put the food in the cooker, and you can go about your day.
Electric smokers are even simplers, and some people jokingly call them smokers for the lazy. Set the temperature you want, fill the smoker with food and let it do the work for you.
Clean up is easier with the electric smoker. You have to clean it after each use, but there isn’t much deposit in there, so it doesn’t take long.
The pellet smoker is full of ashes, and you have to clean those ashes out after every use.
Electric vs. pellet: operating costs
There’s no doubt that an electric smoker is cheaper to operate. The smoker runs on electricity as the “fuel” source and you need about 3 to 6 ounces of wood, which is quite cheap.
Since electricity is relatively inexpensive, the operating costs are low.
The pellet smoker costs more to operate. First, the smoker uses electricity to ignite the pellets, and that’s not expensive.
However, these Traeger grills use lots of pellets, and these can be quite costly. About 10 hours worth of pellets costs about 10-12 dollars.
Electric vs. pellet: versatility
The Traeger takes the prize when it comes to versatility and cooking options. You can make anything from smoked sausage to brisket, smoked salmon, smoked cheese, and even french toast.
That’s because this cooker can smoke, bake, grill, sear, and roast. It’s a great investment if you like to cook a variety of foods.
With the electric smoker, all you can do is smoke foods. Sure, you can smoke almost any kind of food, but that’s about it.
If you need a multifunctional cooker, the electric doesn’t offer that.
Electric vs. pellet: price
Generally, pellet smokers, especially the Traeger, are more expensive than many of the best electric smokers. These pellet smokers can cost between a minimum of $400 to $2000.
Electric smokers are cheaper. Small ones cost about $200, and commercial ones can set you back $4000. It all depends on your needs and your budget.
Pellet smoker pros and cons
As with all grills and smokers, the pellet smoker comes with a set of advantages and disadvantages.
- Quite easy to use.
- You can set the temperature and check back after many hours.
- The smoker is well insulated, so you can smoke and grill when it’s cold out.
- Authentic wood-fired flavor.
- Versatile – it’s not just for smoking.
- Fuel efficient.
- It has a temperature dial, so it’s easy to set it up.
- It runs on power, so you have to set it up near an electrical outlet.
- More expensive than charcoal, and many electric smokers.
- Smaller cooking area compared to vertical electric smokers.
- The smoke is still not as strong as an offset smoker.
Electric smoker pros and cons
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of an electric smoker.
- An electric smoker is a great option for both outdoor and indoor smoking as some models are suitable for indoor use.
- Usually portable.
- Set it and leave it – it doesn’t require non-stop monitoring.
- It is well insulated, and most models work well in cool weather.
- Mid-priced, and some models are very affordable.
- You can smoke at very low temperatures, which is ideal for smoking cheese, fish, and nuts.
- It has a large cooking capacity.
- Not very messy and less clean-up than other smokers.
- It runs on power, so you need an electrical outlet nearby, and it uses quite a lot of power.
- Can only smoke – no grilling and no searing.
- Smoke flavor profile not as great as real wood-fired smokers.
- No smoke ring.
The bottom line
If you want convenient and easy-to-use units, electric smokers are the best option. But, if you’re more focused on that natural wood smoke flavor, the Traeger pellet grill will be much better.
It all comes down to your budget and how often you think you’ll use the smoker.
If you want to have a portable smaller smoker, the electric is compact and fits in small spaces, so it’s great for small patios and apartment balconies.
The Trager is a bulky grill, but it’s versatile, so you can use it for more than just smoking meat.
Read next: How Does a BBQ Smoker Work? 7 types of smokers explained