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Pellet smoker vs. electric smoker

Which is better, a pellet smoker or an electric smoker? 

Pellet and electric smokers are both great buys to achieve the low-and-slow tenderness and smoky flavor of barbecue at home. Also, they both offer the convenience of set-it-and-forget-it cooking so you can enjoy smoked meat at home without having to babysit it all day. When choosing which type of smoker is best for you, you'll want to consider a few factors, including versatility, flavor and price point. Pellet smokers are more versatile but often more expensive than electric smokers. 

Pellet smokers

A pellet smoker, also called a pellet grill, is an impressive piece of outdoor cooking equipment that combines the capabilities of charcoal smokers, gas grills and home ovens into a single unit. 

Pellet smokers work by burning sawdust pellets inside a heated firebox to create heat and smoke. An internal fan system then circulates the smoke and heat inside the cooking chamber, and an auger mechanism pulls pellets into the firebox as needed throughout the cooking process.

Pellet smokers can reach temperatures up to 550 degrees and can grill, sear, braise and bake in addition to smoking. Some higher-end models also have advanced features like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity to monitor the cooking from afar. 

A pellet smoker costs between $300 for the most basic models and upward of $3,000 for the top of the line. 

Pellet smoker pros

  • Versatile: Pellet smokers can grill, sear, braise and bake in addition to smoking. 
  • Real wood-fired flavor: Pellet smokers offer the wood-fired taste of traditional smokers and reach temperatures high enough to produce the sought-after smoke ring. 
  • Easy to use: A pellet smoker automatically feeds pellets, regulates airflow and maintains a consistent temperature throughout the cooking process, making these smokers highly convenient and easy to operate, especially for long smoking periods. 
  • Advanced features: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity on higher-end models lets you monitor your food from the comfort of your couch. 

Pellet smoker cons 

  • Must be plugged into a power source: A pellet smoker requires electricity to run, so it can't be used off-grid or far from home without a power source. 
  • Expensive: Pellet smokers are significantly pricier than electric smokers. 
  • Holds less food than electric smokers: The cooking capacity on pellet smokers tends to be smaller than electric smokers, despite taking up more physical space. 
  • Pellets need to be carefully stored: The sawdust pellets used in pellet smokers need to be carefully stored away from moisture to avoid causing jams or other problems in the unit, which may feel inconvenient to some. 

Best pellet smokers

Traeger Grills Ironwood 885 with WiFire

This is a top-of-the-line pellet smoker with a large cooking area and a host of advanced features, including an easy-to-read control panel, a low pellet indicator, a Keep Warm setting and Wi-Fi connectivity to monitor your food from afar. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Pit Boss Classic Wood-Fired Pellet Grill 

This user-friendly smoker is a great bang for the buck and best for beginners who don't mind missing out on the advanced features of pricier units. It includes a dial temperature control, an easy-to-read display panel, and a 700-square-inch cooking space. It also includes a flame broiler for grilling food over an open flame.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Z Grills 10002B Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker 

This mid-priced pellet grill has a sturdy stainless steel build, a digital controller, and an ash clean-out system for easy cleaning. It also includes an extra-large cooking area for large portions and a 20-pound pellet hopper for long smoking times. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Electric smokers

Like pellet smokers, electric smokers use a convection system to blow heat around the unit and slowly cook the food. But rather than burning pellets for heat and smoke, electric smokers rely entirely on an electric heating element to produce heat. A small pan of water is used to create steam and moisten the food, and a pan of wood chips is used to add a smoky flavor. 

Electric smokers cannot reach the same high temperatures as pellet smokers and are best for low-and-slow cooking and cold smoking. These smokers do not produce any live fire and aren't capable of searing or grilling meat. 

Electric smoker pros 

  • More affordable: Electric smokers are generally less expensive than pellet smokers.
  • Convenient for apartments and condos: Electric smokers can be used in areas where live fire is not permitted, like outside an apartment complex.
  • Best for cold smoking: Due to their low temperatures, electric smokers are capable of cold-smoking foods like bacon, fish, nuts and cheese.
  • Large cooking capacity and space-saving design: Electric smokers can generally fit more food than pellet smokers while taking up less space. 
  • Easy to clean: A lack of live fire in the unit means you don't need to clean up messy ash. 

Electric smoker cons

  • Need electricity at all times: Like pellet smokers, electric smokers need to be consistently plugged into a power source to function. 
  • Wood chips need to be added while cooking: Depending on the cooking time, you may need to refresh the wood chips throughout the smoking process. 
  • Lighter smoky flavor: Electric smokers won't produce the same authentic wood-fired flavor of pellet smokers. However, you'll still get a flavorful smoke. 
  • Won't create smoke ring: Electric smokers don't reach high enough temperatures to create a smoke ring. 
  • Less versatile: Electric smokers are not capable of searing or grilling meat. 

Best electric smokers

Bradley Original Digital 4-Rack Electric Smoker 

This versatile and durable smoker is best for beginners and experts alike. It has a large capacity for smoking a lot of meat at once and also includes a cold-smoke option for delicate foods like salmon and cheese. However, it is significantly more expensive than other electric smokers on the market. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Cuisinart 30-Inch Electric Smoker

This is a straightforward and affordable smoker with a large cooking capacity and a space-saving design. It includes a built-in thermometer and removable shelves but lacks some of the high-tech features of pricier models. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Masterbuilt Digital Electric 30-Inch Smoker

This strong and sturdy smoker has easy-to-use digital controls and a patented wood chip loader that lets you add wood chips during cooking without removing the door. Its extra-large capacity can fit up to two turkeys or six racks of ribs. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Should you get a pellet smoker or an electric smoker?

Pellet smokers and electric smokers are both great options for smoking meat and other foods at home. If you're a serious pit master who plans to smoke meat regularly, it's probably worth investing in a pellet smoker for the real wood-fired taste. But if you only plan to use the smoker occasionally or mostly plan to cold-smoke foods like bacon and fish, an electric smoker is your best bet. 

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Katy Severson writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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