Electric vs. Charcoal Smoker: Comparison & Differences

Electric vs. Charcoal Smoker

It is easy for many food smoking enthusiasts to get stuck between the electric and charcoal smokers.

The decision here often boils down to whether you prefer the authentic flavor of charcoal smoking or the ease of use and convenience of an electric smoker.

However, we look at the differences between the two in more detail to make things clear.

Comparison Table

Electric Smoker

Charcoal Smoker

  • Cooks at between 100 °F & 275 °F
  • Easy & precise temperature control
  • Extremely simple to operate
  • Tasty food but without the deep smoky flavor
  • Ideal for smoking only
  • About $0.06/hour running costs
  • Cooks at between 125°F & 400°F
  • Temperature control takes more effort & skill
  • Comes with a steeper learning curve
  • Great flavor depth with an intense smokiness
  • Most can smoke, roast & grill
  • Running costs ranges can be up to $1/hour

Electric vs. Charcoal Smoker

1. Food Taste

  • Flavor of Charcoal Smoked Food is Unbeatable

The food taste you get is perhaps the primary consideration for deciding between these two smokers. However, the decision here should be a more straightforward one as the charcoal smokers always seem to carry the day no matter how you look at things.

Charcoal smokers deliver the intense smokiness that many smoking enthusiasts always yearn for. What’s more, these smokers provide a greater flavor depth.

Charcoal gives off some complex compounds as it burns, which then stick to the food to give it an excellent flavor profile.

Electric smokers cook well as they provide a consistent temperature to ensure you always get good results.

However, while the food is still quite tasty as most have wood chip trays to add a smoky flavor, it is not as intense as what you get from charcoal.

2. Temperature Control

  • Electric Smokers Provide More Precise Temperature Control

Electric smokers often include a digital panel designed to make operation easy. When it comes to adjusting the temperature, you only need to choose your preferred setting, and the machine will hold it there until you make changes.

Better yet, the smoking temperature is easy to monitor as many of these smokers also include a digital thermostat.

On the other hand, controlling the charcoal smoker’s temperature takes a little more effort than this. Here you have to do things more manually.

To change the temperature, you have to adjust the dampers and air vents. Altering the amount of charcoal can also alter the temperature significantly.

Additionally, you have to keep a close eye on the thermometer to ensure the charcoal smoker is cooking at the preferred temperature.

3. Versatility

  • Charcoal Smokers are More Versatile

Electric smokers will not do much besides smoking foods. They cook at between 100 and 275 degrees Fahrenheit, which despite being perfect for smoking most kinds of food, is not enough for other things like grilling food.

However, these smokers allow you to cook at super-low temperatures. With an electric smoker, you can get the temperature low enough to make beef jerkies and smoke things like cheese that require very low heat.

With the charcoal smoker, you get an all-around tool you can use for smoking, grilling, and roasting.

These smokers cook at between 125 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and some models can achieve even higher temperatures than this.

Therefore, if you prefer something you can use for much more besides smoking, go for the charcoal smokers.

4. Ease to Use

  • Steeper Learning Curve for the Charcoal Smoker

While smoking will require some skills and practice making some fantastic foods regardless of the smoker you are using, an electric one is still much easier to use than those that run on charcoal.

Anyone, including those smoking food for the first time, can use an electric smoker. These smokers are plug and play, meaning besides powering them, you only need to choose your desired temperature, set the cooking time, and then wait for the food to smoke.

Charcoal smokers come with a steeper learning curve, and using one requires you to keep a keen eye throughout the process, which can be hectic.

You have to get the charcoal burning properly and keep adjusting air vents to ensure good results.

But, given how engaging this smoking method is, many people end up enjoying it more than others once they get the hang of it.

5. Weather Consideration

  • Electric Smokers Work Well in Any Weather

As you choose a smoker, which is more so if you intend to use it outdoors, you must consider the weather. For these two types, the electric ones seem to be ideal for use even in inclement weather

With an electric model, you do not have to worry about wind as they do not have air vents, meaning there is no way for the wind to get in and disrupt the cooking process.

Even if the wind was to find a way in, there is still nothing to worry about since the smoker does not have a flame that can be extinguished.

Charcoal smokers do not hold up well in windy conditions and can be hectic to use in such weather. On the other hand, precipitation can affect both smokers, but it seems to damage the electric ones more if it gets to the control panel.

6. Running and Operating Cost

  • Electric is Always the Cheaper Option

The initial cost for the two smokers depends on the size and other things like the brand.

However, charcoal smokers’ price averages between $200 and $300 and hardly goes past $500. Electric smokes start at $200, and the cost can go up to $4,000.

When it comes to the running and operating costs, electric smokers are much cheaper to use.

On average, the cost of running one is around $0.06/hour. Depending on your local electricity rates, it can be slightly higher or lower than this but not by much.

Charcoal smokers are more expensive to run, and the actual cost you incur depends on the charcoal type you are using. On average, you can expect to spend between $0.5/hour and $1/hour.


The choice between electric and charcoal smokers should be easier if you know what each has to offer and understand what you are looking for.

However, it also depends on various other factors like ease of use and running cost.

But, if you want something that will give you a more intense smoky flavor and is engaging to use, charcoal smokers are always the best option.

Those who are just getting into smoking and prefer something easier to use with more precise temperature control and cheaper running costs go for the electric smokers.