These two powerful cooking tools are ideal for anyone who loves that charred, seared texture in their meat and veggies. But what’s the difference between the two – and is one better?
In this post, we’ll tackle the age-old debate between team grill and team smoker. We’ll cover the way these two tools work, how to use them, and the key distinctions between them that set them apart from one another.
A smoker is a cooking apparatus that is powered by a heat source like gas, wood, charcoal, or electricity. Modern smokers primarily use electric power, which tends to be the most convenient and straightforward power source for smoking.
The heat from a smoker is indirect, meaning it never comes directly into contact with the food that you’re cooking. Instead, smoked food is heated and cooked by – you guessed it – smoke! Your smoker’s heat source slowly generates smoke at a controlled rate and temperature, which gives your food a distinct flavor and cooks it over time. The indirect heat lets you cook meat, veggies, and other foods thoroughly without worrying about things getting out of hand.
There are four main types of smokers – charcoal, gas, electric, and pellet. Let’s quickly go over how each of them works.
Pellet smokers use small pieces of wood to generate heavy smoke. These smokers are powered by electricity, but the use of wood pellets sets them apart from standard electric smokers.
In addition, these smokers come equipped with a convection-style fan mechanism, which distributes heat throughout the inside of the smoker as a built-in igniter lights the pellets on fire. The smoke from the pellets, carried by the fan, can smoke your food quickly and thoroughly!
Electric smokers are famously low-maintenance, and they’re often a bit more high-tech than your standard gas or charcoal variety. The perks of an electric smoker are easy cleaning, digital temperature controls, and a set-it-and-forget-it build.
However, unlike propane and charcoal smokers, it’s a bit tougher to take an electric smoker with you wherever you go. You’ll need a power source to get it going, so it’s not the best option for camping or other outdoor activities.
This type of smoker contains a convection mechanism that shoots hot, smoky air towards your food, indirectly heating it. You’ll get a fast, even cook with this type of smoker.
Propane (gas) smokers have been around for a while, and they’re famously easier to use than their charcoal counterparts. Most gas smokers come with an easy-to-adjust temperature control knob, which you can use to cook your food at your desired heat level. To make your propane smoker run, all you need is gas, wood chips, and water!
Charcoal smokers have been used the longest of all of the varieties listed here. They’re definitely not obsolete, but they’ve gained some competition in recent years thanks to electric and pellet smokers.
A charcoal smoker exposes your food to indirect heat with the help of burning bits of charcoal. At the beginning of the smoking process, you’ll ignite the charcoal in the firebox, giving you enough heat for several hours of cooking.
The key with charcoal smokers is precision and patience – the water in the built-in pan controls the temperature, helping you avoid overcooking your food. However, charcoal smoking is typically a long process, sometimes taking half a day before your food is ready.
A grill is another cooking apparatus that exposes your food to indirect heat. Regardless of how your grill is powered, it’ll cook food with heat from underneath, so you’ll typically need to flip grilled food to get both sides thoroughly cooked.
The main types of grills are separated into categories based on the type of heat they use and their build. Let’s explore charcoal, Kamado, pellet, and propane grills!
Charcoal grills have been used for decades to get that classic smoky flavor. These grills are powered by ignited charcoal, which can burn for hours thanks to a special feature – the intake vent. This vent lets air in through the bottom of the grill, feeding the fire with oxygen and allowing the charcoal to burn for longer. The heat from the charcoal radiates up from the bottom of the grill to your food, cooking it over time and giving it a seared texture.
Kamado grills are specialized charcoal grills that typically look a bit like an egg. These grills have the same basic structure and hardware as a standard charcoal grill, but they’ve also got some extra bells and whistles that make them indispensable for hardcore grillers.
Kamado grills often come with an accessory called the heat deflector, which can take your grilling to the next level. By separating the charcoal from your food, the deflector can slow down cooking, giving you the ability to bake and cook more slowly over your grill.
Pellet grills use tiny wood pellets to produce heat and are something of a mix between a smoker and a grill. Similar to a pellet smoker, these grills are best for barbecue-style cooking.
Propane grills are powered by a tank of highly flammable gas. Known for burning cleaner than charcoal, these grills give you high heat quickly – you won’t have to wait for them to heat up after your tank is turned on!
There’s no best option when it comes to grills and smokers – it’s up to you to decide which you prefer! However, there are a few major considerations to make that might steer you towards camp smoker or camp grill.
Smoking meat can take hours, but grilling is usually a relatively short process. The convenience and quickness of using a grill have convinced many cooks to stick with grilling. If you’re looking for a convenient, versatile, and simple way to get food to taste seared and charred, go with the grill.
Since using a smoker is a bit more time-intensive, using a grill is a better option when you need to get dinner on the table quickly. However, the long-term nature of smoking is part of what makes this cooking method so rewarding. Smoking will get you the barbecue flavor that can be so hard to achieve, and it’s tough to get that exact taste and texture through grilling. Thus, if you’re big on barbecue, a smoker is the way to go.
If you’re bent on making barbecue and grilled meat staples in your at-home cooking, it might be worthwhile to own a grill and a smoker. Keeping both of these tools in your arsenal gives you multiple ways to make meat and other foods taste exactly the way you want!
While some cooks might tell you that the grill is the winner or that the smoker can run circles around the grill, we think that it’s a toss-up between these two cooking tools. They’re both indispensable for making tasty meat-based dishes, including barbecue, steaks, kabobs, and much more.
And if you’re looking for some killer meat-based recipes that are easy to make and delicious to eat, look no further than our recipe collection. We curate recipes that have been tested time and time again, help you create the ideal grocery list, and then arrange for you to get your groceries. Getting dinner, whether you’re grilling it, smoking it, or something else, has never been easier.