It is not uncommon to find people try to pit a charcoal smoker and pellet smoker against each other. Both smokers are quite great and the confusion as to which one of them is better is quite understandable. Each of them has its specific strong points for and against them and understanding these talking points might help you in making your decision at the end of the day. Let’s begin with a short description of each type of smoker.
Arguably one of the most popular ways of grilling food, charcoal smokers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Many purists believe grilling with a charcoal smoker is a more superior and authentic way to grill. As the name implies Charcoal briquettes are the main fuel source, although some people add wood chips or lumps to the fires. This is done mainly to enhance the taste and add a strong smoky flavor to the meat.
Cooking with a charcoal smoker is typically slow and requires some practice to master as it is a bit more difficult to control the internal temperature of the smoker. Also, starting a charcoal fire and getting the temperature up to optimum level might take a while. Cleaning up requires more time too. However, the flavor it adds to the food makes the efforts worthwhile at the end of the day.
Pellet smokers have been around for more than 3 decades and are still very much in use today as one of the most popular tools for outdoor cooking. Pellet smokers are fed with food-grade wood pellets which are put into the hopper of the burner and then ignited inside. Typically, there is an auger which connects the hopper to the burn pot beneath the cooking grate. As this auger rotates, the pellets are moved into the burn put.
The wood pellets are ignited with a “hot rod” and they give off heat and smoke as they burn. The smoke gives the food smoky flavor without having to add wood chips as in charcoal smokers. Another major advantage of using pellet smoker is how easy it is to cook at high heat or low heat depending on your preference. Pellets are also free from fillers and additives typically present in briquettes. This makes them burn up almost completely and leave almost no ash.
Major differences between charcoal smoker and pellet smoker
Since pellet smokers and Charcoal Smokers use different materials as fuel, the types of fire produced and the resultant effect on what you cook varies slightly. Basically, they differ in the following areas:
Generally, charcoal smokers are able to deliver higher temperature compared to pellet grills. Typically, the strongest pellet smokers are limited to a range of about 500°F. Most types don’t even reach that temperature. However, they are able to maintain a steady temperature for a long time. Charcoal fires can reach up to 800°F. How hot the smoker gets depends largely on its size and the type of charcoal being used.
However, Charcoal fires can be made to burn at lower temperature as well if you want to, but they can be quite hard to control. It takes some practice to get used to controlling the temperature but managing a digital pellet grill is quite easy and simple.
Since pellet is basically wood, you will find the flavor they give to be quite similar to the much-desired flavor of wood. Foods grilled over the Charcoal fire are usually smokier and has a flavor of its own, but it is not quite the same as the strong flavor of wood. Many people add wood to the charcoal fire to achieve the desired flavor.
Typically, pellet grills are a lot more expensive than charcoal grills in terms of their initial costs. Operating costs will depend largely on the types of wood pellets or charcoal being used in either case.
Ease of use
As mentioned, Pellet grills are easier to use compared to charcoal grills. All you need to do is fill the hopper with pellets and choose the temperature you desire, very much like using a regular oven. A charcoal smoker requires more effort to use. Even when you use lighter fluids or charcoal chimney to get the fire going, it will still take a while before the smoker is ready to start cooking. Setting the smoker to your desired temperature also takes a while as well. you will have to learn how to control air flow by opening and closing air vents.
With pellet smokers, it is easier to cook at a lower temperature but on the other hand reaching higher temperatures might be difficult especially if you intend to go beyond 500°F. Charcoal grills can reach higher temperatures which means cooking is faster in the long run. At the same time, you can reduce the temperature to slow down the cooking process if you want.
How long do pellet grills last
Pellet grills can run for up to 8 hours or more without having to add more pellets on a single load. For charcoal, how long a single load lasts depends largely on how the smoker is being used. With a slow and steady fire, the charcoal fire might last up to 12 hours, but it can be a lot less if you are grilling at a very high temperature.
Are wood pellet grills healthy?
There is no substantial evidence to prove that pellet grills are healthier than charcoal smokers. Generally, both grill types are healthy and cooking food with them pose limited health risks. For those asking the nagging question, are wood pellets toxic? The plain truth is that they are no riskier than other fueling options.
Pros and cons
Benefits of pellet grills
- It is easy to fire up pellet smokers in no time
- They can maintain a steady and constant temperature quite easily
- Pellet smokers give the final product different flavors
- Some people might find less smoky meat
Cons of pellet smokers
- Pellet heaters are run on electricity which means you need to be close to an outlet at all times
- They are a bit harder to maintain since it has to be cleaned up more regularly
Benefits of charcoal smokers
- Low purchase and operation costs
- Can work effectively at both low and high temperatures
Cons of charcoal smokers
- Controlling and maintaining temperature is a lot harder
- Charcoal is a messy fuel which means you might have a hard time cleaning it up each time you cook with it
- It lacks the sort of flavor you get from pellet smokers.
While both types of smokers are quite effective and versatile, if you love the idea of making and tending your own fire when you cook, and you have sufficient experience to handle it then a charcoal smoker should work best for you. Otherwise, you should settle for a pellet smoker since it is easier to manage. Of course, for the ease of use and extra control, you will have to pay more to own a pellet smoker. However, the idea of being able to add flavor to your meat anyhow you like it be sufficient motivation to look beyond the money and settle for a pellet smoker.