Pellet Grill Vs. Charcoal Smoker: Pros and Cons

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 4, 2022

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Due to various models and choice available in the market, a consumer is always confused about which one to buy best. The purchasing of a grill unit can be overwhelming.

There are a vast variety of options available and can be heated by types of materials like propane, natural gas, charcoal, infrared, wood, and even electric ones. Some grills are good for searing a steak while others are fine for baking.

But the easiest to use (pellet grill) and the best smoke flavor (charcoal grill), how do they stack up?

Pellet grill vs charcoal offset smoker

Also read: these pellet grills give the best smoke flavor

Wood pellet grills are better comparing to charcoal and gas. As they have many advantages like ease of use, appropriate consistency, versatility and above all is the taste.

You will not get all these with charcoal and gas grills. There is no comparison of hardwood flavors that are available in variants, also their Pellets grills simple controls, masters, your cooking techniques like a pro.

You don’t have to stand around the flipping food or need a labour-intensive start-up, all you need is to welcome flavor and convenience.

Pellets deliver nice sear by exposing food to the flame while in charcoal and gas you will not get this convenience.

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

There may be chances that you or someone you know is planning to buy a new smoker this year but not sure about it. We can help you in shortening your time and make an informed decision by knowing about the best pellet smokers for your needs.

Beyond models and shapes, there are many things to look while buying smoker grills. When buying Pellet Grill Smoker you should keep following points into consideration:

  • Pellet Delivery System
  • The Combustion system
  • The grills and construction
  • Digital controls – the technology behind perfect smoking
  • Easy to Clean Features
  • Guarantee

The pros and cons of buying a wood pellet smoker

Pros:

Convenience and speed – There is no doubt that the pellet grill is one of the most convenient and the easiest grills. It’s a set & forget style smoker that doesn’t require your attention once it’s turned on. After you set the desired temperature, just wait about a dozen minutes and you can start cooking.

Temperature control – You don’t need to worry about the temperature being too high or too low, adjusting the air vents, amount of fuel or burner power. All of that is taken care of by a system that calculates when and how much fuel to add to the furnace to keep a particular temperature. The newer and more advanced the system, the better the results. That’s what makes it an incredibly convenient smoker, smoking usually takes a few hours and requires a lot of control whereas in a good pellet grill you don’t have to worry about anything.

Cleaning – Most models have a properly designed structure and different features that make cleaning easier. Pellet leaves ash behind that has to be removed once in a while.

Cons:

Price – The greatest downside is sadly the price, a good entry-level pellet grill costs much more than a high quality charcoal smoker or charcoal grill ( such as weber performer ). It is pretty much impossible to buy a good pellet smoker at a much lower price.

Malfunctioning – Another downside is a lot of electronics, which are prone to malfunctions ( definitely less than an electric smoker ). If something stops working then in most cases you can forget about being able to cook something. The costs of repairs in many cases are pretty high as well which is why I believe that it’s a better choice to buy a more expensive model with a better warranty.

Requires being plugged in – It is a certain limitation which has a negative impact on mobility but keep in mind that a pellet grill needs electricity to function. Without it all the important systems won’t work which makes the grill impossible to use.

Pellet Smoker Benefits

At this point, a picture is probably starting to take shape in your mind about what a pellet smoker is. But in case you missed some of the benefits we alluded to above, here’s an overview of each:

  • Smokers are easy to use, thanks to their “set and forget” ability. All you need to do is make sure that you’ve set it at the correct temperature and go on about your business. You can sleep through a roast and come back to perfectly cooked meat instead of an overcooked or burnt meal. That’s the magic of pellet smokers.
  • Pellet smokers are versatile in that you can use them for more than just smoking and grilling meat. You can use them to roast, bake and even sear meat to perfection.
  • Pellet smokers use the indirect cooking method which means the food doesn’t come into direct contact with the fire. Instead, it’s the heat and smoke that are responsible for ensuring that the food is well-cooked. Most users can attest that this method brings out the natural flavor in food while imparting a nice smoked wood aroma as well.
  • Wood pellets come in different flavors, like maple, cherry, pecan, oak, hickory, and others.

Also check out our full article on pellet vs gas grills with a real in-depth comparison of the pros and cons

What is a Pellet Smoker Grill?

Pellet smoker grills are a fantastic addition to any serious pit master’s collection of tools. They have a load of benefits like the Set & Forget feature which allows you to set the grill temperature and leave it to cook without worrying about constantly checking up on it. Of course, it also imparts that characteristic smoky flavor that you’d expect from a pellet smoker grill.

The pellet smoker grill is well-made and can easily last for decades with proper care. It’s perfect for slow cooking meat and when used in conjunction with hardwood pellets it provides a nice smoky flavor. However, the best part about using this grill is that it comes with an electronic system that simplifies the cooking process. This feature allows you to control the temperature and add wood pellets in a more simplified way.

Offset charcoal smoker vs. pellet grill: pros and cons

When comparing pellet grills to offset smokers, here are some points for and against.

  • Price: Offset smokers are generally cheaper than pellet grills.
  • Fuel efficiency: Pellet grills are more fuel-efficient.
  • Ease of se: Pellet grills’ set and forget technology means grilling is low maintenance.
  • Even cook: A pellet grill maintains temperature throughout the grill making for a more even cook.
  • Durability: Offset grills tend to be more durable.
  • Space and versatility: When using an offset, you can cook food over the fire in the firebox or over the charcoal to get a big grill area. You can also grill or smoke food. While some pellet grills will grill food, for the most part, you will be limited to smoking.
  • Beginner-friendly: Pellet grills are beginner-friendly while offsets take some skill to use. Requires electricity: Pellet grills require electricity so you have to use them near an energy source. Offset grills work anywhere so you can take them with you on camping trips, to the park, etc.
  • Taste: It is difficult to get a great smoky flavor from a pellet grill.

When you compare the two, it’s obvious they both have their shares of pros and cons. If it comes down to taste, you may be better off with an offset. But if you’d rather go for convenience, a pellet grill will be more your speed.

Offset charcoal smoker vs. pellet grill: what people are saying

The pellet grill vs. offset smoker debate is a topic of much discussion. For instance, if you look at this thread on BBQ Brethren, you will find it’s an issue cooks feel strongly about. Many of the hardcore grillers and smokers on this forum have both an offset and a pellet smoker in their possession and use them for various applications. Here’s what one man had to say:

There is a definite difference in smoke intensity between the two. Obviously, the wood smoker places more smoke on the food being cooked. I use the wood smoker for cooks between 5 and 8 hours. I cook chicken, ribs, etc. within that time period. I use the pellet smoker for very long cooks like brisket and pork butt. The major reason that I do this is because I can leave the pellet smoker unattended for 18 to 24 hours except for one refill of pellets until the meat is ready to remove. With the wood smoker, I have to check fuel and air flow every hour in order to keep the temperature where I like to cook the meat.

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.