Smoker Vs Grill. Which is Best for You?

Last Updated November 7, 2022
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Your cooking equipment is your best buddy if you’re a backyard pitmaster. They do the jobs that need doing whenever you’re ready to prepare some delectable BBQ meals, and you may find that you grow fond of the ones you use the most. And this explains why so many ardent home chefs vouch for their grill or smoker.

Anyone who enjoys the charred, seared texture of meat and vegetables will benefit greatly from using these two potent cooking tools. But what distinguishes the two, and which is superior?

I’ll address the age-old argument between team grills and team smokers in this article. I’ll go through how these two tools function, how to utilize them, and the main differences that separate them from one another. So let’s delve into the smoker vs grill debate a little deeper.

Smoker Vs Grill

Smoker vs Grill – The Short Version

When choosing between grills and smokers, there is no optimum option; instead, it is up to you to consider which you prefer based on the kinds of foods you intend to prepare. There are a few important factors to take into account though, that may help you decide between a smoker and a grill.

Cooking time: While grilling is frequently a quick procedure, smoking meat can take hours. Many cooks have decided to continue grilling because of how easy and fast it is. Choose a grill if you’re searching for a quick, flexible, and easy way to cook food such that it tastes charred and seared.

But that does not imply that grills are superior to smokers. When you need to rapidly prepare dinner, using a grill is preferable to using a smoker because it takes a little more time. However, one of the things that makes smoking such a pleasurable cooking technique is its long-term experience – letting you sit around the smoker talking and drinking with friends and family. It’s challenging to obtain the precise taste and texture of barbecue through grilling, but smoking will give you the flavor that can be so difficult to achieve. So, if you enjoy authentic BBQ food, a smoker is the way to go.

It can be worthwhile to acquire a grill and a smoker if you’re set on making barbecue and grilled meat staples in your home cooking. Having both of these instruments at your disposal provides you with a variety of methods to customize the flavor of meat and other dishes!

Let’s now compare grilling vs smoking in greater detail.

What is Smoking

A smoker is a piece of equipment used for smoking food while cooking it at low temperatures. There are many different kinds of smokers, including ceramic kamado smokers, huge, specially constructed offset smokers for restaurants, and even portable smokers for RV trips. Foods including meat, vegetables, and other items are smoked in smokers.

One of the most delicious and traditional methods of preparing meat is smoking, but it’s also one of the most enigmatic. Food is cooked by being exposed to smoke in order to preserve, brown, and/or flavor it. It is one of the oldest methods of cooking and probably emerged soon after cooking over an open flame first came about. Meat is smoked by hanging it from hooks or arranging it on racks inside a cooking container that captures the smoke produced by a hardwood fire.

Different Smoking Methods

To add extra difficulty to your decision on picking a smoker or a grill there are also different styles of smoking and grilling. Here are the two basic forms of smoking.

Cold Smoking – For flavor and preservation, meats are smoked at low temperatures (between 60 and 120 °F) away from the heat source. Meats are frequently cured before cold smoking since it does not cook them, as you would with smoked salmon. It’s also fairly common to cold-smoke non-meat dishes like cheeses.

Hot Smoking – Hot smoking entails exposing meats to smoke that is 200–300°F in temperature, which will gently cook the meat through. Hot smoking imparts flavor to meat in two ways – by coating the surface with smoky flavor compounds, and by cooking over a long period, which can render some tougher cuts of meat very soft.

Different Types of Smokers

If you choose a smoker over a grill, you’ll need to do a lot more study because there are so many different varieties of smokers. Below I’ll outline the main ones, and as I’ve used and reviewed more smokers and grills than I can remember I’d recommend you start your research with pellet smokers (although I also think you should look at Kamado smoker grills, which I have added to the combination grill section).

Offset Smokers

Oilfield workers in Texas and Oklahoma invented offset smokers first. Because they were stationed in distant regions and had access to large steel barrels, they began to make their own DIY offset smokers.

The offset smoker’s design was inspired by traditional brick BBQ pits, where the meat is cooked in a room with the smoke being sucked into it from the adjacent room.

Modern designs use this strategy, placing the main chamber in the middle of the smoker with a smaller firebox linked to it that serves as the heat source. The word “offset” is used in relation to this connection, as the firebox is connected a little lower than the main chamber and off to the side of the cooking area.

There are a few benefits to the fire being to one side rather than immediately below the meat. One is that because the heat source is further away, the meat can cook more slowly.

Another benefit is the smoke is sucked through the main chamber and out of the exhaust chimney, which allows it to swirl around the meat and add a smokey taste to it.

Pellet Smokers

A form of grill that burns wood pellets for fuel is known as a pellet smoker. Burning the pellets warms the cooking chamber and imparts flavor to the smoke.

Small cylindrical shapes known as wood pellets are created from compressed sawdust, bark, and other hardwood byproducts that are left over when trees are felled by the timber industry.

Joe Traeger created the first pellet grill back in the 1980s. Traeger has long held the top spot in the pellet grill market thanks to an early patent.

Companies flocked to the pellet grill market after the initial patent expired in 2006. Even established gas and charcoal manufacturers like Weber have entered the market with their SmokeFire grill as sales keep rising.

Weber Pellet Grill

Check SmokeFire on Amazon

Charcoal Smokers

Of the types presented, charcoal smokers have been in use the longest. They are obviously still in use today, but electric and pellet smokers have given them some competition recently.

Your meal is exposed to indirect heat in a charcoal smoker thanks to burning charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal. You will light the charcoal in the firebox at the start of the smoking process to provide heat for several hours of cooking.

Precision and perseverance are essential when using a charcoal smoker as temps can fluctuate wildly when using charcoal.

Electric Smokers

An electric smoker is a type of smoker that cooks food by using electricity to generate heat. It has a vertical shape and resembles a mini-fridge.

You have plenty of cooking area thanks to the vertical design, which enables you to stack several cooking racks on top of each other. Since an electric smoker has no flames or burners, it cooks similarly to an oven with no risk of fire or flare-ups.

At the base of the vertical box, they have a heating element along with a wood chip pan that is burned to release smoke into the cooking chamber, which gives meals a woodsy taste, there is a water pan for keeping the meat moist above it.

An electric smoker doesn’t require constant inspection. You’re able to turn it on, let it warm up, put the food inside, then get on with your day. Electric smokers are far more user-friendly and clean to use than charcoal or pellet smokers.

Electric Smoker Vs Grill

Check Masterbuilt Electric Smoker on Amazon

Gas Smokers

Gas smokers are heated by a burner at the bottom of the appliance which is fueled by a propane tank. A wood chip pan that is placed right over the gas burner produces the smoke. Gas smokers have three or four racks, a water pan, and a door, just like the majority of other smoker styles.

Cast iron and/or stainless steel are the two materials used to make most gas smokers. Gas smokers differ from other smokers in that they only have one vent or chimney on the top of the appliance, whereas other smokers typically have top and bottom vents. This is because manual temp control on a gas smoker is much easier than on other smokers.

Why Smoke Food?

Food has been preserved by smoke for thousands of years by drying and compounds in the smoke. Some compounds in smoke can kill bacteria and prevent fat oxidation. Formaldehyde and certain alcohols in wood smoke also work as natural preservatives.

Nowadays, smoking is primarily done for flavor because it is no longer necessary for food preservation. Burning wood releases chemicals with flavors and aromas reminiscent of caramel, vanilla, and other spices. Additionally, smoking aids in creating “bark,” a dark, thick crust that forms on the outside of meat when smoke interacts with the moisture on the flesh’s surface. Cooking with smoke can make tough cuts soft since it takes so much longer than cooking with direct heat, like grilling or pan-frying.

Pros & Cons of Smoking

A smoker is most likely right for you if you’re a pitmaster seeking the pinnacle of flavor. Because smoking temperatures are always lower than grilling temperatures it gives food more time to absorb the smoke flavor, but also means food requires more time to prepare in a smoker than on a grill.

There are beginner smokers and smokers geared towards experts available. Ready-made wood pellets are used in one of the most straightforward smokers. Hickory, maple, applewood, or mesquite pellets, among others, can be placed in the hopper, turned on, and the machine will handle the rest. The best pellet smokers in the world are produced by Traeger.

Charcoal smokers are on the other extreme of the skill scale. These burn the same kind of fuel as charcoal grills do, but because there is more space between the flame and the food, the cooking temperature is kept lower and the essential smoking time is prolonged. The Weber Smoky Mountain is an excellent example of this type of cooker and has a cult-like following among fans of smoked meat.

Food smoking has been a practice since the dawn of modern humans. This genuinely traditional method entails piped-in burning wood smoke and heat inside a tiny structure where food is hung or arranged on racks. Modern-day equivalents include smoker cabinets that use real wood or pre-purchased wood chips and are powered by gas or electricity. The wood/chips/pellets are ignited by fire, producing the smoke that gives your dish flavor. The best electric wood smokers are simple to use and run largely automatically.

The advantages of owning a smoker and what sets it apart from grills are listed below:

  • Because smokers cook food at a lower temperature, cheaper and tougher meat pieces can become more tender without becoming overcooked.
  • Because the connective tissue in the meat fibers is fully broken down during the long cooking process, smoked foods are extraordinarily soft, juicy, and tasty.
  • You can have numerous different flavors without changing your ingredients since different types of wood lend themselves to various flavor profiles.
  • Long and slow cooking times, commonly referred to as “set it and forget it,” enable the development of rich, complex flavors.
  • Since high-quality smokers have a long lifespan, you might consider them an investment.

Although smokers are adaptable and may be used for more than simply meat, there are a few disadvantages.

Smokers have lower max temperatures than grills, this is a benefit if you want delicate, fall-off-the-bone, juicy meat. But if you want to cook hot and fast a smoker isn’t the right bit of equipment.

Smokers are expensive. Although smokers can be pricey, they also have a lengthy lifespan so you’ll not need to buy a replacement anytime soon. Additionally, smaller smoker models can produce food that is just as soft and delectable as larger ones. So although smokers are more expensive to grills in general you do have some budget-friendly options.

It can take some time to figure out this cooking technique and how each smoker runs. Thankfully youtube has a lot of information and advice that can help you smoke any type of meat.

What is Grilling

A grill is a piece of cooking equipment with a rack or grate and a heat source underneath the cooking surface. The heat source for different grill types might be either an open flame (either gas or charcoal) or an electric element.

Dry heat is applied to the food’s surface during the grilling process, usually from the top, bottom, or side. Grilling is frequently used to quickly prepare meat and vegetables and typically uses a substantial amount of direct, radiant heat.

When utilizing a grill, thermal radiation accounts for the majority of the heat transfer to the meal. When utilizing a grill pan or griddle, heat is transferred through direct conduction. In the US, grilling is referred to as broiling when the heat source is from above. In this instance, heat transfer occurs through thermal radiation, and the pan holding the food is known as a broiler pan.

Grilling over direct heat can subject food to temperatures frequently exceeding 260 °C (500 °F). The Maillard reaction, a chemical mechanism, gives grilled meat its distinct grilled aroma and flavor. Foods only undergo the Maillard reaction when heated over 155 °C (310 °F).

Different Grilling Methods

Just like with smokers, grills have two main styles of cooking. To aid with the grill vs. smoker debate, I’ll quickly explain each.

Direct Grilling – When most people think of grilling, they picture direct grilling. Food is cooked for a short time at a very high heat with the lid open on the grill, directly over the hot coals or burners of a gas grill. Only direct heat will produce the ideal grill marks, giving meat and veggies a golden-brown color and crunchy exterior.

For quick-cooking meals like hamburgers, hot dogs, kabobs, veggies, and the majority of fish, consider grilling them directly on the grill (especially shrimp). Additionally, it is the best way to prepare thin dishes like steak, boneless chicken breasts, and pork chops. In order to ensure equal cooking, it is best to turn these things halfway during the cooking procedure.

Indirect Grilling – Indirect heat is best for dishes that require more than 20 minutes to cook. With this cooking technique, the grill has two distinct heat zones: a hot area and a nearby region without direct contact with the heat source. Since the food isn’t in contact with the flame, it can cook for a longer time at a lower temperature. When grilling using indirect heat, the lid is often closed to keep the heat inside the grill, and you may add wood chips to the mix to transform your grill into a smoker and give your meal more flavor.

When preparing large cuts of meat, such as whole birds, roasts, or fish cooked on cedar planks, consider using indirect heat grilling. The low cooking temperatures needed for a barbecue to tenderize tough portions of meat like brisket, ribs, and Boston butt make it the perfect cooking technique. It is not necessary to turn the food over midway through cooking because it is never in direct contact with the heat source.

Different Types of Grills

Since grills have been around longer than smokers, it makes sense that there are numerous grill types. So if you would prefer a grill over a smoker then you’re going to have a steep learning curve on all these different types. One tip I can give you is you can’t go far wrong with any Weber grill. And I currently really enjoy using my Kamado Joe kettle grill, although I have this listed as a combination grill.

Charcoal Grills

For decades, people have used charcoal barbecues to achieve that traditional smoky flavor. These grills use lit charcoal, which may burn for hours because of a unique design element called the intake vent. This vent allows air to enter the grill’s base, providing the fire with oxygen and extending the charcoal’s burn time. Your food is cooked over time and given a charred texture by the heat from the charcoal radiating up from the bottom of the grill to it.

Gas Grills

Outdoor cooking devices known as gas grills run on either propane or natural gas. Most have a lid attached to a cook box installed on a wheeled cart (portable gas grills normally have small foldable legs and built-in gas grills normally have neither cart nor legs). Small flames from metal burners beneath the cooking surface radiate heat upward toward the food. Models powered by natural gas are linked to home gas supplies. Propane variants use portable tanks that are hosed and linked to the burners with a regulator to draw fuel.

Gas Smoker Vs Grill

Check Coleman Portable Gas Grill on Amazon

Electric Grills

An electric grill is a type of outdoor cooking device that may be used to heat and prepare a variety of foods, including meat, fish, and vegetables. As opposed to traditional barbecues, electric grills are powered by electricity, so you don’t need a gas tank, a fire starter, or charcoal to get the grill hot. Due to the fact that exterior factors like wind or rain have no effect on the ability of the grill to heat up, electric grills are more user-friendly, safer (there is no flame), and consistently quicker to heat up, and no flame to extinguish like with charcoal grills.

Infrared Grills

Opposed to open flame cooking, which is typically seen in barbecues like the Weber Master Touch, infrared grills use radiant heat to optimize taste and heat.

The infrared burner makes use of homogeneous radiant energy to directly heat the meal. With infrared technology, the food is heated without the need of hot, moving air. Food cooks more quickly and keeps more juice. Additionally, because the extreme heat rapidly vaporizes the drippings and returns with favor-enhancing smoke, infrared grills are less likely to experience flare-ups. The best steakhouses cook their steaks using infrared burner systems.

Pros and Cons of Grilling

The most common type of grill uses natural gas or propane as a heat source to deliver quick cooking without the need to build a fire. Once the gas is turned on and the igniter button is pressed, you immediately get a lot of heat. A gas grill is unquestionably the best choice if you want to cook outdoors in the easiest and most practical manner possible. Another choice is a small electric grill, however these are less common.

There are still some people who firmly believe that charcoal grills are the only option for great barbecue, despite the fact there has been massive advances in different grill types. Why? primarily flavor. Charcoal grill uses lump charcoal or briquettes as a heat source. Which has a longer startup time as one disadvantage, but it does gives food an intense smokey flavor. A charcoal barbecue may require 30 minutes to reach the same temperature as a gas grill does in just 30 seconds. A gas grill’s heat control is also considerably better than a charcoal grill’s.

Listed below are a few benefits of grills.

  • Grill can get extremely hot, meaning you can cook and sear food really fast.
  • Compared to smokers, they are more adaptable, which is perfect if you want to vary the menu for guests or prepare a different meal every night.
  • Anyone may rapidly master grills and enjoy nutritious, home-cooked meals because of its simplicity of use.
  • Grills are frequently less expensive than smokers (at least beginner grills), which might benefit those with limited resources.

And you should consider some of the disadvantages before choosing between buying a smoker or grill.

  • If you’ve spent a lot of money on a beautiful steak, it can be disheartening when the food on the grill gets burnt, which happens often with beginner due to the high heat of grills.
  • Cleaning can be an ongoing process that requires cleaning ash from under the charcoal grate and burnt-on food from the grill grate.
  • Due to the shorter cooking period and the smoke escaping rather than being trapped as it is in a smoker, your meat will have less of a smoky taste.

Differences Between Smoking & Grilling

Although many people would believe that these two categories of cookware carry out the same fundamental tasks, grills and smokers have very different advantages and applications. The main distinctions between a grill and a smoker are listed below.

How They Operate

As the name implies, smokers prepare food by using actual smoke. Despite the fact that smokers can be powered by charcoal, gas, pellets, or electricity, the electric and pellet models are typically considerably simpler to use and require less adjusting. Smokers use indirect heat and operate using a combination of basins at the bottom of the smoker chamber: one for water, the other for wood chips. The water aids in maintaining a steady internal temperature while the wood from the wood chip produces smoke and has a smokey flavor.

On the other hand, grills give you the freedom to prepare your food in a variety of ways. Grills can be powered by gas, charcoal, or electricity, but because they provide a greater flavor, charcoal grills are typically chosen over gas and electric grill types by seasoned grilles.

The beautiful thing about grilling, though, is that you can cook your meal using either direct heat (putting your food over the open flame directly – great for searing) or indirect heat (positioning your food near to the open flame). Indirect heat allows you to cook meat at a slower rate and with thicker pieces of meat without scorching the outside.

Infrared grilling has become a more well-liked method of grilling. Infrared technology is used exclusively as the heat source while infrared grilling. These barbecues are becoming increasingly popular since they can produce greater temperatures much more quickly than conventional grills. For instance, they may achieve temperatures of more than 700 °F in about 7 minutes. With grills, your meals will be ready to eat in no time at all in addition to the versatility of using multiple cooking methods.

Cooking Temps

Grilling frequently takes place at high heat, usually between 300 and 550 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, smoking typically occurs at lower temperatures, typically between 225 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Time

For many people, grills are simpler to use and get the job done faster. Direct heat cooking expedites the cooking process, but if the food is left unattended, it can also cause it to burn quickly. Foods will cook rather quickly whether they are grilled over high or low heat, and there won’t be much room for creativity (unless you’re a marinade master). Additionally, a grill allows you to prepare a lot of food quickly, making it a superior option for cooking for large gatherings or entertaining.

In order to impart flavor into the meat, smoking involves cooking it for a long time at a low temperature. Since the meats do not need to be rotated or turned as frequently as they would on a grill, the process is significantly slower (sometimes taking hours) but necessitates less attention. However, one disadvantage of using a smoker is that it can be challenging to tell whether the meat is thoroughly cooked without a good dual-probe meat thermometer.

Smoking is the method of choice for large portions of meat like roasts, ribs, briskets, and ham, as well as for dried goods like jerky. Grilling is preferable for small cuts of meat like chicken, steaks, and fish.

Flavor

You can anticipate the distinctive, genuine “barbecue” flavor that results from cooking meat when you use a smoker (especially from charcoal and pellet smokers). Foods cooked in this way acquire a smoky, barbeque flavor very easily.

There are certain flavor benefits to grilling your meat, though it won’t have the same smoky flavor that you’d get from a smoker. For instance, food grilled properly on a grill retains more moisture and you can give chicken a crispy skin or other meats a nice sear. Furthermore, grilling tends to be a healthier alternative because it burns lipids and preserves more vitamins in vegetables and meats than smoking does.

Smoking Vs Grilling Video

Combination Grills – Grills that are Good for Smoking

Consider a combo grill if you want to experience the best of both worlds. Several barbecues are available that can cook and smoke simultaneously. For instance:

Kamado Grill

A kamado is a Japanese-made ceramic barbeque in the form of an egg. Due to its versatility, simplicity of use, and low maintenance requirements, it is gaining popularity among conventional pitmasters. You may grill, smoke, roast, and cook all of your food on a kamado, either all at once or in separate batches. The dense ceramic structure enables effective heat retention, even for longer than 12 hours, and very precise temperature regulation. Another benefit of this grill is that it uses relatively little charcoal.

If a combo grill is what you’re after, I strongly advise purchasing a Kamado Joe ceramic grill. They are pricey, which is the one drawback.

Kamado Joe Kettle

The Kamado Joe Kettle is Kamado Joe’s take on the very popular kettle grill made by Weber. But Kamado Joe has taken things to another level and added some extra that allows you to switch between and charcoal grill and a charcoal smoker very quickly. If you already have a Weber kettle then you can also buy the Kamado Joe extras and they will fit on your Weber.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Deciding on a Grill or Smoker

Before determining whether a grill or smoker is the best option for you, there are a few basic questions you should yourself. Making a decision will be simpler if you respond honestly.

Are You a Fan of Smoked Food?

Do you even enjoy smoked food? Have you ever eaten smoked food? These are the first two questions you should ask yourself. You probably shouldn’t buy a smoker unless you have tried smoked food and enjoyed it.

This does not imply that, simply because you haven’t eaten smoked food before, you shouldn’t purchase a smoker. You can simply buy some smoked food for yourself at a nearby barbecue joint or restaurant to determine whether you would enjoy it or not.

What Food do you Plan on Cooking?

Some of the easiest recipes to prepare also happen to be the tastiest and most satisfying. I’m referring to veggies, chops, chicken breasts, hot dogs, hamburgers, and sausages. A grill will work for you if that’s what you frequently plan to cook.

But a smoker is your best option if you have visions of barbecued ribs, pork butts, and briskets.

Numerous grills and smokers come with extra functions. Making a selection could be aided by knowing what they are. Do you think it would be a good idea to add a rotisserie to your grill, for instance?

Consider what you want to eat, how you want to prepare it, and any future experiments you might want to try.

Do You Have the Time and Patience For Smoking?

As has already been established, smoking takes time and patience. But not just patience in waiting for the meat to cook, you also need patience with building your skills by using a smoker, as it takes a lot of time to master one.

Smoking takes a long time, even the entire day, especially if you are smoking big lumps of meat. However, grilling only takes a few minutes, so you should consider your two options and decide which one best suits you.

Final Thoughts on Grills vs Smokers

In the dispute between smokers and grills, there is really no clear winner or loser because both provide fantastic outdoor cooking options. A grill often provides adaptability and convenience for most individuals, and they are typically less expensive. But there is no disputing the delectable flavors a smoker can produce. Devoted outdoor cooks should own both if money and space permit.

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About Brian Hamilton

Brian Hamilton is a BBQ grilling enthusiast and has the expertise and knowledge to have created GoShindig.com. Brian specializes in all methods of grilling and bbq equipment and is a self-proclaimed backyard Pitmaster. Qualified at degree level he gained a BEng Degree in Engineering in the United Kingdom. Brian is a well-traveled and cultured individual and has lived and worked in several countries in Europe and has gained quite a reputation amongst peers for his skills and commitment on the grilling circuit.

Smoker Vs Grill. Which is Best for You?

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