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

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  August 5, 2021

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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
Durable
Mobile
Can be used in the rain
Good warranty
Best overall flavor
Traditional BBQ
Affordable starting price

Electric smoker vs charcoal smoker

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How to buy a bbq smoker video

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

Electric smoker cons

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

Charcoal smoker cons

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

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.