Electric vs Pellet Smokers – 14 Major Differences


Electric smokers and pellet grills are two of the best ‘set-and-forget’ smokers on the market, and unlike other smokers, they can be used year-round with minimal supervision. Charcoal and wood smokers make delicious meat, but they can be very time-consuming and difficult to use in winter. Electric and pellet smokers are popular because they offer convenience, complete temperature control, and are as easy to use as a conventional oven. Although electric smokers and pellet grills both use electricity, they are very different smokers. Pellet smokers are often mis-categorized as electric smokers because they need electricity to operate, but electricity is where the similarities between the two smokers end. So how do electric smokers and pellet grills stack up against one another? I wanted to find out all there is to know about two of the easiest smokers on the market.

1. Electric Smokers Use a Heating Element Like a Stove

Electric smokers produce heat through a heating element similar to an oven or stove, whereas pellet smokers burn wood pellets (compressed sawdust) in a fire pot as a source of heat. Meat cooked with fire has a distinct flavor, which is why the food tastes better on a pellet smoker.

2. Electric Smokers Produce Less Smoke Than Pellet Grills

One of the most common criticisms you will hear about electric smokers is the lack of smoke that they are able to produce. However, electric enthusiasts have found their way around this problem by using smoking tubes inside their electric smokers. Pellet grills are fueled by wood pellets that not only provide the heat for cooking but also a nice flow of pure wood smoke to flavor the meat. Pellet grills produce less smoke when cooking at higher temperatures, but if you cook low-and-slow, the meat will get plenty of smoke. Electric smokers have a wood chip tray that slides in above the heating element. The wood chips smolder throughout the cook, flavoring the meat with smoke.

3. Pellet Grills Have Larger Cooking Capacity

Pellet smokers have a larger grilling area than electric smokers, therefore can cook more food at one time. Electric smokers are vertical and the cooking racks are narrow, whereas pellet grills have a wider cooking area which allows for more food to be spread out across the grill.

SmokerGrill Area (sq.in) Rib RacksChickens
Traeger Pro 575 Pellet Grill575 sq. in. 54
Traeger Ironwood Pellet Grill 650 sq. in.58
Traeger Pro 780 Pellet Grill 780 sq. in.66
PitBoss 3-Series Vertical Pellet Smoker721 sq. in.46
PitBoss 4-Series Vertical Pellet Smoker1,077 sq. in.66
Masterbuilt Electric Smoker 30 Inch711 sq. in.46
Cookshack Smokette Electric Smoker 588 sq.in.32
Cookshack Electric SuperSmoker756 sq.in.64
Cooking capacity of pellet grills and electric smokers

4. Electrics Max Temp is 270⁰F but Pellet Grills Get to 500⁰F.

One of the biggest advantages a pellet smoker has over an electric smoker is a wider temperature range. Pellet smokers can cook between 150-500°F, but electric smokers can only reach about 270°F. Turkey and chicken need to be smoked in the 300°F range to get a nice crispy skin, which is why birds smoked in electrics end up with a soft rubbery skin. The way around this problem is to finish your turkey or chicken in the oven to get a nice crispy skin.

SmokerHigh TemperatureLow Temperature
Electric Smokers275°F100°F
Pellet Smokers500°F170°F
Temperature range of pellet grills vs electric smoker

5. Electric Smokers Are Better For Cold Smoking

Electric smokers can smoke food at lower temperatures, which gives you the option for cold smoking. The lowest setting on an electric smoker is usually around 100°F°, but the smoker’s temperature will drop even lower in winter. Electrics are perfect for smoking foods such as cheese, which can only be smoked below 90°F otherwise it will melt. It’s very difficult to drop the temperature on a pellet grill below 170°F without having to use ice trays. Cold smoking isn’t impossible on a pellet grill, it just requires more work. Winter is the best time to use your pellet grill for cold smoking since they run colder in the cooler weather.

6. Electric Smokers Are More Compact

Most electric smokers follow the same vertical cabinet-style design with three or four shelving racks, while pellet smokers look similar to a standard hooded outdoor grill. Some pellet smokers have a vertical design that resembles an electric smoker, but most follow a hood design. Electric smokers are compact and will sit on a small deck or patio, whereas a pellet grill will take up more space.

SmokerSize – InchesWeight
Masterbuilt Electric Smoker 30 Inch20.4 W x 33.2 H x 19.8 D45.9 lbs
Traeger Timberline 130058 W x 51 H
x 28 D
255 lbs
Traeger Ironwood 88553 W x 47 H
x 27 D
170 lbs
Traeger Pro Series 78049 W x 55 H
x 27 D
145 lbs
Traeger Tailgater Portable Grill37 W x 36 H62 lbs
Pit Boss 3 Series Vertical Pellet Smoker26.7 W x 54.90 H97 lbs
Size and weight of popular pellet grills and electric smokers

7. Electric Smokers are More Affordable

Electric smokers are more affordable, and you can buy a decent electric for under $400. The Masterbuilt Electric smoker (MES) is arguably the most popular electric smoker, and Amazon sells a variety of MES models for around $300-$400 (check for exact pricing here). Smoking-Tex and Smokin-it are both good electric smokers, and prices range from $400 to over $1000. Cookshack make high-quality commercial-grade electric smokers, but the prices start at around $1000.

8. Electric Smokers and Pellet Grills Require Electricity

People often mistake pellet grills as electric smokers because they both use electricity, but they are very different smokers. However, they have some things in common. Pellet smokers use electricity to power the fan, the digital controller, and the auger to feed pellets into the fire pot. The major difference between the electric and pellet smoker is with an electric smoker, the heat comes from a metal rod, while the pellet smoker produces heat though burning wood.

9. Electric and Pellet Grills Are Set-And-Forget

Electric and pellet smokers fall into the ‘set-and-forget’ category of meat smokers. Charcoal and wood smokers produce delicious meat, but they require a lot more work to manage the fire and keep the temperature stable. The best thing about electric and pellet smokers is their ease of use. All you need to do is set the temperature and walk away as you would a conventional oven. There are always dangers when using any type of cooker, but electric and pellet smokers are just about as safe as it gets.

10. Electric Smokers Are Great When You Are Busy

Smoking meat can be time-consuming, especially if you’re using a stick burner or a charcoal smoker. Managing a fire will take a lot of work, and most of your day. The best thing about an electric smoker is it allows you to smoke meat on days where you would normally be too busy to fire up your charcoal smoker. All you need to do is place the meat on the rack, set the temperature, and walk away.

If you take meat smoking seriously, it’s good to have a few different smokers, so you have more options. Often, its weather or time that seem to determine whether you smoke meat on any given day. If you have a lazy Sunday, sometimes it’s relaxing to spent the day throwing logs on a stick burner or firing up your charcoal smoker, but other days it might be too cold or you have limited time, which is why electric smokers are so convenient.

11. Electric Smokers Work Well In Winter

Electric smokers are one of the few smokers that can be used year-round in all weather. As long as you keep them out of the rain, the weather won’t have any effect on an electric smoker. Cold weather can make smoking meat difficult, so I should consider your climate before selecting a smoker. Wind especially will cause the temperatures of your smoker to fluctuate, and if it’s snowing, you will burn through twice as much fuel because the metal on your smoker will be frozen and will take twice as long to heat.

12. Electric Smokers Make Soft Skin on Turkey

Most electric smokers can only reach temperatures of around 275° which makes it difficult to get a nice crispy skin on your chicken and turkey. When smoking any kind of bird, you need the temperature in the 300°F range, otherwise you will end up with soft, rubbery skin. Most electric smoker enthusiasts will tell you there is a quick-fix to this problem. All you need to do is to finish your turkey in a conventional oven, and it will make the skin crispy. To do this, remove the bird from the smoker once it reaches an internal temperature of about 150°F and place it in a hot oven (about 425°F). Keep a meat thermometer inserted in the bird and remove once the internal temperature reaches about 165°F. This will make your turkey skin nice and crispy, and you will still get to enjoy the nice smoke flavor from the electric smoker.

13. Electric Smokers Produce Less Flavor

Electric smokers can produce tasty meat, but it will never be as tasty as meat cooked with actual fire. There are five types of smokers; charcoal, pellet, offset, gas and electric smokers. Comparing meat cooked on the five types of smokers, electrics have less flavor than the other smokers because it is the only pit that doesn’t use real fire. The flavor from an electric smoker differs from other smokers because the heat comes from a heating element which has an influence on the taste of the meat. Pellet smokers have a fire pot where the wood pellets burn and produce a distinct flavor that can’t be matched with a metal rod.

Smoke Tubes Give Electric Smokers More Smoke and Flavor

Since electric smokers produce less smoke than other smokers, a popular method is to stick a smoking tube inside your electric smoker to double the amount of smoke. Smoking tubes are cylinder shaped metal tubes that can be filled with sawdust or wood pellets. The idea is not to burn the wood in the tube but allow it to smolder. You can buy smoking tubes on Amazon here or look out for one at your local barbeque store.

14. Electric Smokers Produce No Smoke Ring

The smoke ring is the sign that the meat was smoked low-and-slow and something pitmasters pride themselves on achieving. Electric smokers are the only smokers that don’t produce a smoke ring. The smoke ring is the result of a series of chemical reactions that take place inside the meat. For a smoke ring to form, there needs the right combination of temperature and gases. The wood in electric smokers smolders at low temperatures and doesn’t have oxygen flowing through a fire, which is why a smoke ring isn’t able to be formed.

15. Pellet Grills Are More Expensive

Pellet smokers are far more expensive than electric smokers, although most manufacturers have mini pellet grills where the price is comparable to an electric smoker. If you are only cooking for a small family, Traeger make an affordable Tailgater that will give you all the benefits of a pellet grill but at a price similar to an electric smoker. The standard Traeger pellet grill will cost around $600 to $1000, while the more expensive Traeger models (Ironwood & Timberline) cost between $1200 to $2000. Camp Chef is another popular pellet grill company and their grills cost between $600–$1000. There are several cheaper pellet grills on the market like Z Grills and Pit Boss, and they sell anywhere from $400 to $800, but the cheaper you go, the lower the quality.

Popular Pellet SmokersPrice Range
Traeger Tailager$400 – $500
Traeger Pro Series$600 – $1000
Traeger Ironwood & Timberline $1200 – $2000
Green Mountain Grills$500 – $1000
Z Grills$400-$750
Pit Boss $350 – $800
Weber Smoke Fire$1000- $2000
Rec Tec$1200
Camp Chef$600 – $1000
Mak Grill$2000 +
Yoder Smoker $1500 – $2000+
Fast Eddy’s Cookshack$2000
Prices of popular pellet grills

Popular Electric SmokersPrice Range
Masterbuilt Electric Smokers$300-$400
Smokin-it (Analog)$380-$800+
Old Smokey$50 – $150
Cookshack$900+
Smokin-Tex$400 – $1700
Landmann Smokers$150-$250
Prices of popular electric smoke

15. Electric Smokers are Safer Than Pellet Grills

Electric smokers are much safer than pellet grills. Electrics are the safest smoker to leave unattended, and you can comfortably smoke a brisket overnight in an electric smoker without any concerns. Although pellet grills are relatively safe, they are more of a fire hazard because they burn an actual fire at the bottom of the smoker. Whenever you have a fire, you need to be close by in case anything happens. Another common problem with pellet grills are back burns in the pellet hopper which can cause excess smoke. Compared to charcoal and offset smokers, electrics and pellet grills are the safest smokers on the market. If you follow the instructions from the manufacturer, you shouldn’t have any issues.

So Who Wins? Electric or Pellet?

When it comes to set-and-forget smokers, pellet grills are the clear winner. Pellet grills and just as easy to use as electric smokers, and produce much tastier meat. Electric smokers are generally cheaper, but you can buy smaller pellet grills that are suitable for an average-sized family. The Traeger Tailgater is just as affordable as an electric smoker, will feed a family and will produce much better barbeque.

  • Pellet grills cost more than electric smokers.
  • Pellet grills produce tastier meat.
  • Pellet grills have a larger grill area, so can cook more food.
  • Pellet smokers are large units and will take up a sizeable chunk of your deck or patio.
  • Electric smokers are more affordable.
  • Electric smokers produce meat with less flavor.
  • Electric smokers use a heating element rather than an actual fire, so there are no combustible gases to add flavor to the meat.
  • Electric smokers are more compact.
  • Electric smokers are better for cold smoking.
  • Electric smokers are safer.

What is Pellet Grill? How Does It Work?

Pellet smokers are fuelled by wood pellets, which is compressed sawdust. The pellets are stored in a hopper and fed through an auger into the fire pot at the bottom of the smoker. A fan circulates the heat around the smoker, cooking the meat with an even, indirect heat. Pellets burn clean and efficiently, producing nice smoke and leaving only 1% ash. Pellets are available in all the different wood varieties such as apple, cherry, hickory, maple and oak.

Digital Controller – Automated Cooking

Pellet smokers are controlled by a digital controller that allows you to set the temperature as you would in a conventional oven. Many of the newer models have WiFi built into the controller which allows you to control and monitor your pellet grill via your smartphone from anywhere. Pellet grills have a large temperature range and can cook between 180-650°F.

What is Electric Smoker – How Does It Work?

Electric Smoker Pros

  • Compact
  • Easy to use
  • Can use in all climates.
  • Economical to operate
  • Versatile

Electric Smoker Cons

  • Soft skin on turkey and chicken
  • Produces less smoke flavor.
  • No smoke ring
  • Can’t get over 275°F
  • Needs electricity to operate

The Best Electric Smokers

For an in-depth look at all the different electric smokers on the market, check out my Guide To Electric Smokers. In this article I review the most popular electric smokers on the market, with all the pros and cons of each model.

My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBooard website here.

Related:

Which Traeger Should I Buy?

Are Electric Smokers Any Good?

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