Electric vs charcoal smoker | Which one to choose? [detailed comparison]

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  August 5, 2021

Always the latest smoking tips & tricks?

Subscribe to THE ESSENTIAL newsletter for aspiring pitmasters

We'll only use your email address for our newsletter and respect your privacy

I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

Electric smoker or charcoal smoker? If you’re reading this, then you’re trying to figure out which time of smoker would be best for your particular needs.

Are you looking for convenience? Or are you looking to stretch your smoking skills?

In the article below, I’ve detailed the pros and cons of both types of smokers, and what each one is best for.

Electric vs charcoal smoker which one is the best and do you choose detailed comparison

Electric smokers are quick and great for beginners, while the nostalgia and skill involved in charcoal smoking are irresistible to some enthusiasts.

In the table below, I’ve briefly noted the key characteristics of each smoker. I have personally tried both types, and as my skill level increased, I preferred using a charcoal smoker.

BUT my electric smoker was the perfect introduction to the world of smoking.

Characteristic Electric smoker Charcoal smoker
Convenient and speedy  
Great for beginners  
Great for cold smoking  
Easy cleaning  
Can be used in the rain  
Good warranty  
Best overall flavor  
Traditional BBQ  
Affordable starting price  

Electric smoker vs charcoal smoker

Alright, let’s dive into each type of smoker in more detail now, to help you further narrow down which one is the best for you.

All about the electric smoker

Without a doubt, electric smokers are extremely convenient. That’s what makes them perfect for beginners who don’t have the knowledge and expertise for charcoal smoking.

Electric smokers also have a very low-temperature range, making them extremely versatile.

They can be used for cold smoking, and if paired with the right accessories, even beginners can get extremely tasty results!

Cold smoking at low temperatures doesn’t naturally create a lot of smoke, so make sure that if you get an electric smoker, you also get a cold smoking kit. They are usually sold separately but are an essential tool for this type of smoking.

Electric smokers also reach temperature much faster than the typical charcoal smokers. They are ‘set and forget’ style, so all you have to do is plug it in, select your ideal temperature, and pop in your meat 15-20 minutes later.

There isn’t any need to worry about temperature control as the heating element and controller make sure that the food stays at a consistent, accurate temperature throughout the smoking process.

BUT, be aware that electric smokers are NOT recommended for really cold and rainy weather conditions.

When it comes to mobility, you’re constrained by the length of your extension cord. You can’t take your electric smoker out camping with you, and you certainly can’t take it to a tailgate party.

So if mobility is one of your priorities, then a charcoal smoker would be far better suited to your needs.

Most smoking and grill enthusiasts agree that the flavor you get from an electric smoker differs significantly to a traditional charcoal one.

While the wood chips do add that smokey aroma to your food, the overall smokey flavor is much more subtle than a traditional BBQ.

This doesn’t change the fact that the food is delicious, it just tastes different from what comes out of a charcoal smoker. It’s up to you to decide what you like most!

I’ve highlighted the main pros and cons of electric smokers below, so you can see if this kind of smoker would suit your particular needs or not.

Electric smoker pros

  • Convenient and speedy
  • Great for beginners
  • Great for cold smoking
  • Easy cleaning

Electric smoker cons

  • Mobility (you need to be close to an electric outlet)
  • Cannot be used in the rain!
  • Short warranty period

Find the Best indoor electric & analog smokers reviewed here (featuring Masterbuilt)

All about the charcoal smoker

The charcoal smoker is definitely the most popular type of smoker! It’s the one with the most nostalgia. Almost everyone who loves BBQ and grilling has fond memories of time spent around the grill with family and friends.

When you use a charcoal smoker, you know it’s not just about the food on the table, it’s all about the journey to get there. You’re involved from beginning to end.

From selecting your favorite charcoal to lighting the fuel, adjusting air vents, and controlling the temperature throughout the smoking process.

Every smoking enthusiast has their own customized technique and fuel preferences – honed over many years of practice behind the flames.

According to the majority of experts, charcoal smoking results in the best tasting food. The distinctive, intense, smokey flavor can’t be duplicated in an electric smoker.

Another advantage of charcoal smokers is that you can get a good quality model for a very affordable price.

Their simple structure means that they are relatively affordable, and because they don’t include any ‘fancy’ gadgets, the manufacturers focus on quality and durability.

Many models come with a generous 10-year warranty.

I’ve noted the key pros and cons of charcoal smokers below:

Charcoal smoker pros

  • The flavor!
  • It’s nostalgic
  • You can add your own ‘personality’ by selecting your coal, and controlling the temperature throughout the process
  • Affordable starting price
  • Durable with a lengthy warranty

Charcoal smoker cons

  • It requires a lot of your time
  • Ash removal can be messy (select a model that offers an easy ash-removal system)
  • You need some practice to get the coals burning, and to maintain the right temperature throughout the process

Check out the 10 Best Charcoal Smokers that’ll have you smoking like a pro

Best charcoal vs best electric smoker compared

I ended up buying the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker looking for a challenge so I saved up and went on to purchase it, and haven’t looked back since. It allows me full control over the heat and ventilation while still being easy to use so I don’t stress while smoking my meats. I have a medium-sized yard so this BBQ smoker was the clear choice for me. It doesn’t take up much space while maintaining the quality and a great overall flavor.

Here’s T-Roy Cooks on his BBQ channel on how to easily smoke and slow cook on the Weber:

However, if you don’t have enough yard space or you would prefer something with simple controls and that you can even use indoors, you might prefer to look into an electric BBQ smoker, like the Masterbuilt 30-inch Digital Smoker. They’re pretty awesome too since they have external controls that allow for hands-free smoking. You can set everything up and then forget about it until it’s done. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

I understand what you’re going through, because when I first decided to buy one I had no idea what I had gotten myself into and had to do all this research on my own, looking all over the place because I couldn’t find a single trustworthy source. So today I want to help make this adventure much easier for you by sharing the best BBQ smoker brands out there so you can make your own educated choice.

To sum things up before we dig in, I tested a few in order to give you the best recommendations I could and I have to say I picked these two as my favorites, since you can choose the one that best suits your needs. These are my two definitive choices in smokers that you should consider before moving on:

Brand Benefits Image
Weber and their
Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker
High-quality charcoal smokers with years of experience to back them up and 10 years of warranty. Weber brand smokey mountain cooker
(view more images)


Masterbuilt and their
Masterbuilt 30-inch Digital Smoker
Easy-to-use electric smokers that make the experience of smoking meats easier than ever. Perfect for beginners. Masterbuilt brand digital electric smoker
(view more images)

As I mentioned before, those two are my preferred brand choices. However, if you would like more information on brands before deciding which one is the best for you to invest in, continue reading. I will provide useful company reviews and information so you can decide which brand is better suited for you.

Electric vs charcoal smoker: conclusion

After all that you’ve read here, you shouldn’t have any problems choosing between charcoal vs electric smoker. If you still have any doubts, however, I have prepared a brief summary for you.

Do you want to have the best flavor possible as well as traditional BBQ where you need to take care of everything yourself?

Choose the charcoal smoker, and you won’t be disappointed about the food nor quality.

Sadly, you have to keep in mind that smoking with this type of smoker requires not only skills but most of all a whole lot of time.

Do you value convenience, speed, and decent results of smoking?

Choose the electric smoker, which makes a great alternative for those who hate the traditional, time-consuming BBQ.

An electric smoker is very easy to use and great for beginners. It’s a ‘set & forget’ style smoker where once you start it you don’t have to worry about anything.

Sadly, their downside is a huge risk of malfunction when exposed to water, poor mobility, and a short warranty period.

Next, find out how the electric smoker compares to the pellet smoker: Do you want convenience or flavor?

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.