Electric Vs Charcoal Smokers – [Which One Is Better]

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Now I am ready to master the art of BBQ but what smoker do I need to kick start my BBQ journey? It should be electric or charcoal? Both are well known for their individual qualities we can’t differentiate within some paragraphs; however, if you are in hurry we have provided a quick answer and comparison Table below.

“The main difference Between Charcoal and electric smokers is a smoky flavor, Electric smokers can’t match the authenticity of the charcoal smokers due to the intense level of smoke”.

Electric Vs Charcoal Smokers – Quick Comparison

ParametersElectric SmokersCharcoal Smokers
Flavor and TextureMild smoky flavorThe authentic strong smoky flavor
UsageVery easy to use, set and forget featuresA bit difficult to use Need expertise to maintain the temperature, ventilation, etc.
MaintenanceEasy to CleanHard to Clean
Initial CostHigherLower
Ongoing CostLowerHigher
Temperatures100 – 280 Fahrenheit100 – 350 Fahrenheit
Size and PortabilityMost of the units are Portable with 2’x2’ sizeSome of the units are portable with 2’x2’, however, with offset design, you will get 6’x4’ or 6’x3’ size
Cooking versatilityOnly do smokingDo smoking, roasting, and even searing
Cooking SpeedFaster cookingSlower Cooking
Cooking areaWith a fewer large model, you will get cooking size like charcoal smokersHalf of the charcoal smokers have a larger cooking area
Hopper CapacityLowerHigher
DurabilityLess durableMore durable
Whether EffectsThe wind is not a problem but Can’t work properly in rain and snow due to the lower temperatures.Work well in rain or snow because of the high temperatures but the wind should be blocked
Health EffectsMore healthy food with fewer carcinogenic particlesLess healthy food with More carcinogenic particles
PopularityNot popular in real BBQ lovers communityVery popular in real BBQ lovers community

Electric Smokers Overview


From the word “electric” you may get an idea about the electric smoker mainly relying on the electricity, they have a heating element sitting on the bottom that supplies the heat to the food with convection method, so there is no direct contact. We also add some wood chips, briquettes, etc. on the top of heating to get Smokey flavor.

Electric smokers are popular for their portability and ease of use, even a beginner can operate it easily; also they offer a fully functional digital meter with multiple features like timers, Bluetooth control, auto temperature regulator, etc. 

Charcoal Smokers Overview


Charcoal smokers mainly work on the coal and some wood chips, briquettes, or pallets they have a specific area on the bottom where we make a bed of charcoals and put some wood chunks, pellets, or briquettes on the top to infuse some smoky flavors in the meat.

Electricity is not a primary source to operate the charcoal smokers, and an old-school real BBQ lover always prefers charcoal smoker over electric for getting realistic smoky flavors.

Electric Vs Charcoal Smokers – Detailed Comparison

Quality, Texture, and Flavor of Food:


Food quality is much better in a charcoal smoker if you are a real smoky flavor lover; however, an electric smoker is ideal for a beginner who doesn’t want excessive smokiness.

Also, an electric smoker Is a perfect option for a beginner since it doesn’t need babysitting you just need to set it up and forget, however, a charcoal smoker needs an expert who knows well about the temperatures.

When it comes to the texture and juiciness the electric smokers mostly struggle to provide crisp skin with juicy meat, tough we can balance the juiciness by placing a water bowl on the bottom of electric smokers but we can’t get crispy skin.

Due to the sufficient ventilation and the moisture of wood, charcoal, or briquettes, the charcoal smoker is ideal for getting crispy skin with balanced tenderness.

WINNER: Charcoal Smoker

Ease of Use and Convenience:

Electric smokers are easier and beginners friendly because it provides complete control on temperatures, even you don’t have to refill anything like coal and woods chips you just need to plug it, feed the meat, and leave it until the meat is ready.

In the case of charcoal smokers, you need the expertise to maintain the temperature; also you need to feed some wood chips or briquettes once they are burnt.

WINNER: Electric Smoker

Cooking Versatility:


Electric smokers are mainly used for smoking because they don’t have higher temperatures and options for open cooking, however, in the charcoal category, you will surely get some charcoal smokers that can do smoking, roasting, or even searing if you are going for an offset smoker. We suggest you go for an offset charcoal smoker to explore more cooking options because a vertical charcoal smoker is limited in terms of cooking flexibility.

WINNER: Charcoal Smoker

Temperature Ranges:


Electric smokers are limited in terms of temperature ranges most of the electric smokers can only attain 100-280 Fahrenheit (38 – 137 Centigrade), however, the charcoal smoker can attain 100 – 350 Fahrenheit which is perfect for roasting or even searing.

With an electric smoker, you can only do smoke or some low-temperature recipes, however, with a charcoal smoker, you do smoke, roast, or even searing.

WINNER: Charcoal Smoker

Size, Space Requirements, and Portability:

Both are available in portable sizes, however, electric smokers have more choices as they come only in a vertical design, however, the charcoal smokers come in both vertical and offset designs.

In the case of offset design, you may not have that much portability since they are pretty heavy and broad; however, in the case of vertical charcoal smokers, you can easily find a 2’x2′ or less sized charcoal smoker like weber 24” or Cuisinart COS-118 Vertical 18″  that can be transported easily.

WINNER: Electric Smoker

Cooking Capacity:

Both are the winners in terms of cooking space, you can go for an offset charcoal smoker with a huge cooking area. On the other hand, you can purchase a large size vertical electric smoker to get the almost same cooking area as a charcoal smoker has.


Cooking Speed:

Electric smokers cook faster as they have a heating element that produces heat instantly and maintains the temperatures for a longer time, however in the charcoal smoker the coal needs to be burned perfectly before placing the meat, also the temperatures are high but you have to feed the woods chips, etc. more often to maintain the temperatures.

WINNER: Electric Smoker

Hopper Capacity:

As charcoal smoker relies on charcoals, pellets, and wood chips, they have a medium to huge hopper size, however, the electric smoker only has a wood chips tray inside it, or in exceptional cases, they have a hopper outside the smoker with a smaller feeding capacity.

WINNER: Charcoal Smoker


As per our experience, the electric smoker is more fragile compared to the charcoal smokers, since the electric smoker has a lot of electrical assemblies that can be destroyed with the contact of water, etc. you have to do special care for that.

With charcoal smokers, you only need to care about the rusting which can be easily handled with the proper maintenance, cleaning, and storage.

WINNER: Charcoal Smoker

Weather Effects:

A charcoal smoker up the game in this area, since they have higher temperatures and rely on the charcoal, wood chips, etc. they don’t have an electrical element that can be destroyed with a bit of water, moisture, or snow however, you have to block the air and snow for proper cooking.

In the case of electric smokers, they can’t attain higher temperatures and are very sensitive to the water, you have to place it at a safe place to operate it. Though the heating element will work at constant flow still the outside temperature affects the cooking efficiency of the electric smokers terribly.

The bottom line is both need shelter on rainy days but the charcoal smokers provide considerable good temperatures compared to the electric smoker.

WINNER: Charcoal Smoker

Health Effects:

Charcoal smokers produce more smoke when the fat of the meat is burned and falls on the charcoals or wood chips. The smoke produces a delicious smoky flavor that we loved to eat but sadly it contains carcinogenic particles that can be harmful if you are eating the smoky meat regularly.

In the case of electric smokers, the smoke levels are minimum compared to the charcoal smoker that affects the test of meat but you will intake less amount of carcinogenic particles.

The bottom line is an electric smoker is more beneficial for health compared to a charcoal smoker no matter whether you are using highly processed coal or wood in a charcoal smoker.

WINNER: Electric Smoker

Maintenance Required:

As an electric smoker doesn’t emit too much smoke it needs little maintenance compared to the charcoal smoker.

In the case of charcoal smokers, we need to produce huge smoke for infusing proper flavors to the meat, however, this thick smoke needs to be cleaned properly.

WINNER: Electric Smoker

Initial Cost:

Typically charcoal smokers are pretty affordable unless you want a higher-end charcoal smoker with multiple options, however, the electric smoker is a bit pricy even if you are willing to purchase a basic one.

We have made a list of the best electric smokers under 500 you can choose a budget one from there.

WINNER: Charcoal Smoker

Ongoing Cost to Run:

An electric smoker is 10 times cheaper than a charcoal smoker as it only needs 2 – 3 ounces of wood or briquettes and some amount of electricity. On the other hand, the charcoal smoker needs a handsome amount of charcoal, wood chips, or briquettes to get your food ready.

As per our experience, we spend about $0.06 – $0.08/hour for an electric smoker, however in the case of charcoal smokers we need to spend about $0.5 – $1.2 depending on the quality of charcoal.

WINNER: Electric Smoker


Charcoal smokers are more popular in the BBQ community since they provide authentic taste compared to electric smokers, A pro will always go for a charcoal smoker over an electric smoker.

Electric smokers are only for beginners even some renowned restaurants use charcoal smokers.

WINNER: Charcoal Smoker

We also have written some other comparisons like pellet vs electric smoker and pellet vs charcoal smoker you can visit them to get in-depth practical knowladge.

Which One Should I Choose?

It depends on your experience and taste.

  • Electric smokers provide mild smoky flavors but they are easy to operate with less ongoing cost and maintenance.
  • Charcoal smokers are well known for their flavor like the pallet smokers, they infuse proper smoky flavors to the meat. Though they are a bit old school and need the expertise to operate it perfectly but once you master it, you can easily do multiple cooking tasks like searing roasting, etc. because of the high temperatures.
  • In winter electric smokers reduce their cooking efficiency by 20 – 30% as they don’t have higher temperatures, however, the charcoal smoker works pretty well.
  • For the health-conscious electric smokers are good because they produce very few carcinogenic particles due to the low smoke levels, you can fearlessly eat smoked meat about 3 – 4 times a week with an electric smoker, however, with charcoal smokers, we only recommend eating 1 – 2 times in a week, you can follow this latest research for better understanding about the smoked meat.
  • From the analysis of 10 days, we do multiple experiments for figuring out which one is better for the beginner and Pro-level BBQ lovers. We found an electric smoker is perfect for newbies as it doesn’t need babysitting, however, a charcoal smoker is good for a pro-level experienced guy who can manage everything from temperatures to the heat levels.

Pros and Cons Of The Electric Smokers


  • Easy operation and maintenance
  • Faster cooking
  • Low ongoing cost
  • Self-regulated temperatures
  • Set and forget features.
  • Produce Healthy food.
  • Portable size
  • Multiple options


  • Higher Initial Cost
  • No authentic smoky flavor
  • Lower temperatures
  • Can’t work on rainy days without shelter.

Pros and Cons Of The Charcoal Smokers


  • Authentic smoky flavor
  • Versatile cooking options
  • Higher temperatures
  • Can work in winters perfectly
  • Can work on rainy days with shelter
  • Low initial cost


  • Need babysitting
  • Higher ongoing cost
  • Not easy to maintain.
  • Hard to maintain the temperatures
  • Takes longer to start up the fire

Wrapping Up

Hope we have cleared your queries about electric vs charcoal smokers, if you are still confused about which one is better below is a quick recap for you.

  • Electric smokers are easy to use and maintain with extremely low ongoing cost but they lack authentic flavors and cooking versatility.
  • Charcoal smokers are hard to use and maintain but they provide authentic BBQ taste.

Still confused, don’t worry we will be more than happy to replay your comments.

Happy BBQ!

Samy is an industrial engineer and fellow meat enthusiast. He works as a graphic designer and content manager for lightupbbq.com.

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