Obviously running a website called PelHeat you’re probably not going to be surprised to hear that on balance I would personally choose a pellet smoker over an electric smoker. But why? Also, for those not ‘in the know’ what actually are the differences between a pellet smoker and an electric smoker? How can electricity produce smoke? Well, it can’t, an electric smoker relies on a source of wood (chips or pellets) to actually produce the smoke. Then again, a pellet smoker actually relies on a source of electricity to power the pellet auger motor which feeds to the fire, the combustion fan, control panel etc. So in reality, both pellet and electric smokers both require wood and electricity to do their job. Therefore, is there really any difference in how they perform? Yes, there is, and I’ll discuss why below.
Because both pellet smokers and electric smokers require a source of wood and electricity to actually perform I can appreciate why the differences between them can get confusing. I think the best way to think about it and to differentiate between the two is where is the source of heat coming from? Forget the smoke side of things for a second. Both pellet and electric smokers work like convection ovens. With a pellet smoker, the source of heat comes from the combustion of pellets. With an electric smoker, the source of heat comes from an electric element. Basically exactly the same thing as the element found in the bottom of an electric kettle, only larger.
Introduction To Pellet vs Electric Smokers
With this article, I want to discuss the specific reasons why I feel pellet smokers are much more capable than electric smokers. However, there are some negatives/drawbacks of pellet smokers compared to electric smokers. Therefore, a pellet smoker is potentially not for everyone. While I’d like it if you have the time to read my whole article, we are all busy people. Therefore, below I’ve put the main Pros/Cons of each smoker type.
- Pellet Smoker Pros
- More intensive smoke flavour over electric smokers
- Set-and-Forget (WiFi/Apps available in some case)
- Low electrical consumption (portable pellet smokers are viable)
- Horizontal pellet smokers can also perform as grills
- Wide range of pellet smokers to choose from
- Pellet Smoker Cons
- Generally more expensive than electric smokers
- Typically less internal space for similar money
- Additional storage space needed for wood pellets
- Electric Smoker Pros
- Generally more affordable than pellet smokers
- Easier to clean (fewer combustion residues)
- Typically more internal space than a pellet smoker
- Electric Smoker Cons
- Still requires a source of wood chips/pellets to produce smoke
- Produces a less intensive smokey flavour
- Less viable as a portable smoker due to high electrical demands
- A tendency to dry out food (water pan required)
Pellet vs Electric Smokers – Power Demands
So as I referenced above, both pellet and electric smokers require a source of electrical power. However, as an electric smoker actually needs that electrical power to produce heat, its electrical demands are far greater. For instance. On startup, a pellet smoker/grill will require quite a bit of electricity for the hot rod igniter to get the pellet fire going. However, once the pellet fire is ignited the electrical power demands are pretty minimal (a hundred watts if that) to run the auger, fan and control panel. Hence, its possible to have portable pellet grills that can use a source of 12V DC (car battery/RV leisure battery) as their source of power. Therefore, it means you can use a pellet smoker/grill pretty much anywhere.
An electric smoker, on the other hand, requires electrical power to produce pretty much all of the heat. A small amount of heat will be created from the smouldering pellets/wood chips required in the base of an electric smoker to produce the smoke, however, their heat output will be minimal. So how much electric power does an electric smoker require? Well, it obviously depends on the specific make/size of the electric smoker. However, typically electric smokers consume from 500 watts up to 1,500 watts, hence significantly more than a pellet smoker. What this increased electrical power demand means is a portable electric smoker is less viable. Hence, you cannot run an electric smoker from a car/RV battery unless you want to drain it pretty quickly and end up stranded!
Pellet vs Electric Smokers – Smoke Flavour Intensity and Moisture
As discussed above, with an electric smoker you have to add either wood chips or pellets into the base of the smoker to actually get a smoky flavour into your food. With a true pellet smoker on the other hand, as all of the heat is coming from burning BBQ wood pellets, you will typically get a more intense smoky flavour from a pellet smoker. Now, depending on your own personal preference that may be a good or a bad thing. However, I should note on some pellet smokers you can choose the smoke intensity on a scale, the Camp Chef XXL WiFi Pellet Smoker being an example, and one of the best vertical pellet smokers currently available. Hence, if you don’t want a particularly intense smoky flavour its not a problem.
The other thing to note as a difference between pellet and electric smokers, is electric smokers produce very dry heat. As pellets, on the other hand, contain a little bit of moisture (between 5-10%) they don’t carry the same risk of drying out the food. Therefore, with an electric smoker, you really need to use a water pan in the based of the smoker on pretty much all occasions. Though, to be honest, a water pan in a pellet smoker is still a good idea on many occasions. You can also use things like apple juice (or something stronger) to get different flavours into the food as it smokes.
Pellet vs Electric Smokers – The Cost Difference
As a general rule, you will have to spend more to purchase a pellet smoker over an electric smoker. Now, the simple reason for that is a pellet smoker contains more components, therefore its more expensive to produce. You can purchase an electric smoker for just a few hundred dollars. The cheapest pellet smokers on the market will be at least a couple of hundred dollars more to provide the same cooking area. However, in terms of smoke flavour and ease of use, I believe a pellet smoker is simply superior. For instance, an electric smoker only produces smoke when there is a sufficient source of wood in the base to produce that smoke. With a pellet smoker on the other hand you know there is smoke if there are pellets still in the hopper.
Though on average, the point still stands, you will have to spend more to get a true pellet smoker. I have a previously produced a series of articles on the best wood pellet smoker/grills for under $500, under $1,000 and under $2,000. You may also want to check out some of my comparison articles comparing Traeger (the most popular pellet smoker brand) against other brands. Such as Traeger vs Pit Boss, Traeger vs Camp Chef and Traeger vs Weber. Many of the pellet grill manufacturers also offer finance/monthly payment options. Therefore, while the total cost of a pellet smoker is more than a typical electric smoker, that cost can be spread out over time.
Conclusions on Pellet vs Electric Smokers
If you are on a very tight budget and you only ever want to get a very light smoky flavour into your food, you could consider an electric smoker. However, if you want to have the option to get a more intense smoky flavour into your food, then a pellet smoker maybe your best option. If you already own a propane grill and your on a tight budget a vertical pellet smoker may be your best option. However, if you don’t already own a propane grill a horizontal pellet smoker/grill can fulfil both needs. Now, you may have heard that ‘pellet grills don’t get hot enough to actually grill/sear‘. Now there is some truth to this on some budget/older-generation pellet grills. However, on those pellet grills, a set of GrillGrates have been shown to work wonders.
That’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope my comparison above on the pros and cons of pellet vs electric smokers was interesting/informative. If you want to learn more about all the pellet smokers/grills currently on the market, please check out my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide. 🙂