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Smoker vs Pellet Grill Showdown: 7 Advantages, 7 Disadvantages, & What to Buy

By Daniel Cdebaca

January 24, 2024

You’re in the market for a shiny new smoker… But you’re not entirely sure which one to get.

Hence, why you’re on the hunt for some comparison blogs.

Namely… A smoker vs pellet grill blog.

Because ultimately, you know you want a smoker of some sort.

You’re just not exactly sure which one appeals to you the most.

Should you get a regular smoker?

Or a pellet grill?

smoker vs pellet grill

Right now, it’s a toss up… And we’re here to bring this agonizing decision to a close.

But before we dive in… Let’s qualify ourselves with some experience.

We have a partnership with a premium outdoor appliance manufacturer. And over the years, we’ve become intimately acquainted with a variety of pellet smokers and charcoal grills.

Beyond that, though… Our team is chock full of pellet grill and outdoor smoker owners. On the regular, we’re smoking up brisket, ribs… You name it. (We’re enthusiasts!)

Point is, we know what it’s like on both sides of the coin. So let’s determine which side you’re going to land on.

Quicklinks:

What is a Pellet Grill? Is a Pellet Grill a Smoker?

red kamado joe ceramic smoker with meat cooking

Smoker

pellet grill rta outdoor kitchen

Pellet Grill

Starting off… It’s important to know how each appliance differs from a functional level.

And although we’ve taken a deep dive on this topic elsewhere… We’ll briefly cover the basics for you.

Put simply, a pellet grill is a grill fueled by pellets.

Alright. Perhaps that’s a bit too simple.

Wood pellets are delivered to the firebox with the help of an auger… And a system of fans brings your pellet grill to the desired temperature.

So unlike a propane or gas grill… This fan system causes it to operate much more similarly to a convection oven.

Which also means… Unlike most grills, pellet grills are well-suited to smoking meats. (Which is why you’ll often find them called pellet smokers.)

Feeling a bit more clear?

Now let’s define smokers.

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What is a Smoker?

Moving right along… What is a smoker?

This is actually a more complicated question than it seems at first blush.

Why?

There are so many different types of smokers… And everyone seems to have a different version in mind.

So let’s quickly cover the basics of the most popular categories.

Offset Smoker

Oaklahoma Joes Offset smoker

There’s no doubt that offset smokers are the most true-to-form smokers out there… And any pitmaster worth their salt is going to own one!

With these smokers… The fire pot will sit off to the side. Hence, the name “offset”.

This effectively shields your proteins from getting hit with the full-force of hot smoke… Favoring a slower, more measured approach. (This also keeps your proteins from drying out.)

Cool smoke will dance around the cooking chamber and exit through the smoke stack.

We’ll get into a bit more detail later… But for now, this is a good starting point.

Charcoal Smoker or Kamado Smoker

weber charcoal smoker
kamado classic joe standalone grill series 3

For those not wanting to commit to a full-on offset smoker… Many grillers opt for a charcoal or kamado smoker instead.

Like the offset smoker, both offer a simplistic, no-frills construction method.

Charcoal smokers are typically made from steel or aluminum… Whereas, kamado smokers will typically feature a highly-insulative ceramic construction.

Since ceramic kamado smokers offer superior temperature control… Many home cooks will prefer this over a regular charcoal smoker.

That said, they function quite similarly otherwise.

Both smokers will use charcoal as the fuel source… And fill the chamber with an abundance of beautiful, flavorful smoke.

Although these smokers are some of the most popular options out there… They still might not be what you had in mind.

Electric Smoker

deluxe xl digital electric smoker

If you prefer your smoking experience to be a little more hands-off (and a little more high-tech)… You might have your sights set on an electric smoker.

While far less common than an offset smoker or kamado… Their electric counterparts have a decent following.

Of course, these smokers operate by electricity. An electric rod will slowly burn some wood chips to generate the smoke. Like a pellet grill, it will also keep a consistent temperature.

Generally speaking, electric smokers will have a vertical orientation. This allows for a more efficient use of space… And makes it easier to hang sausages or other similar products.

That said, we’ve found that if you’re interested in an electric smoker… More often than not, you’ll end up happier with a pellet grill.

So for the purposes of this article, when we reference “smoker”… We’re talking about an offset smoker, charcoal smoker, or kamado smoker.

But that still doesn’t answer your question.

Smoker vs Pellet Grill: Which is Better?

rta pellet grill island with alfa pizza oven in stacked stone chalk on patio

Even though you have a clearer understanding of what pellet grills and smokers are… You’re no closer to deciding which one you’d like to purchase.

Which one is better?

Well, it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer.

We have to do a bit more digging to discover the best choice for you.

And how can we do that?

It really comes down to the pros and cons.

First up… Pellet grills step up to the plate.

Pellet Grill Advantages

We’ll start off with some words of affirmation for pellet grills.

But make no mistake… We aren’t just blowing smoke.

Pellet grills have taken the outdoor grilling market by storm these past few years… And it has a lot to do with these advantages.

Convenience is Unmatched

When it comes to smoking meats, nothing can beat the convenience of a pellet grill.

You toss in the pellets… Set your target temperature and let it preheat… Put your meat on… And let the smoker do the rest.

You don’t have to worry about starting a fire at all.

If you can use an indoor oven… You can use a pellet smoker. It’s that simple.

So whether you’re a beginner or just short on free time… The convenience of a pellet smoker will be a key deciding factor.

Versatility & Diversified Results

jet tila using his pellet grill

Since you’re debating between buying a pellet or regular smoker… Likely, that means you only have space (or the budget) for one outdoor appliance.

So the more that your appliances can do… The better off you’ll be.

And in the case of versatility… A pellet grill can pretty much do it all.

A high quality pellet smoker will be proficient at grilling, smoking, baking, and even searing. (Traeger, Pit Boss, and Weber pellet grills tend to struggle with high heat searing.)

What else could you want?

One day you could be grilling burgers or searing a steak… Another you could be smoking pork shoulder at low temperatures… And on yet another day, you could be baking up an apple pie for dessert!

Starting to see the potential here?

You’ve got a world of outdoor cooking potential right at your fingertips… With a single appliance. (A standalone smoker can’t do that!)

Technology Keeps You in the Loop

close up of temperature gauge on pellet grill

Unlike a traditional smoker… You don’t have to be “on-call” all the time with a pellet grill.

What do we mean by this?

Normally, when you cook food… You can’t stray too far away.

Anything could go wrong at a moment’s notice… So you need to be nearby to check and make adjustments on the fly.

With the technology in most pellet grills… You don’t need to be leashed to it all the time.

These days, most pellet smokers offer Wi-Fi or bluetooth connectivity to your phone.

Which means… You can consistently check temperatures of the smoker (and meat probes) remotely.

So you can go about your day worry-free… Knowing you can check on your pork butt’s progress no matter what you’re doing.

Not only does this provide excellent peace of mind… You can multitask without concern about screwing up your dinner!

Ease of Use Saves You Time

We’ve already discussed convenience… But it’s important to hammer home how much time you can save by using a pellet smoker.

By being so beginner friendly and easy to use… A lot of steps are removed from the process, allowing you to save a boatload of time.

What steps?

Starting and managing a fire.

Especially if you don’t have the skill… Starting a fire can take a long time and become quite frustrating.

You could easily be standing out there for a half hour or more, desperately waiting for your fuel to catch flame.

And once you’ve managed that… You have the exasperating task of waiting for your smoker to come up to temp. (And manage the fire throughout the day.)

This requires frequent checks and adjustments! And it can become massively annoying if the temperature goes off track… And you don’t know how to fix it quickly.

Of course, as you learn and get a few mistakes under your belt… This becomes easier and you can handle it.

However, that’s many hours of time you need to invest… And you might end up with some failed BBQ as a result.

So if you’d rather not bother with these struggles… A pellet grill is going to sound a lot more appealing.

Get the best of both worlds

Why settle for one when you can have it all? Add a smoker and a pellet grill to your outdoor kitchen design using our free 3D design tool. Get started today!

Pellet Grill Disadvantages

With all that said… A pellet grill isn’t without its problems.

Nothing is perfect!

So let’s see where a pellet smoker shows some cracks.

Pellet Grills Can be Fragile

While technology can be a great tool for efficiency… It can also cause some serious headaches when it decides to malfunction.

And in this way, unfortunately… Pellet smokers can be quite fragile.

Digital control panels and app connectivity are susceptible to bugs and failure.

And if your digital control panel turns out to be on the fritz… It makes your pellet grill quite literally unusable.

It’s not a quick fix, either. You’re at the mercy of the customer service department for assistance… And it’s not always something that can be solved remotely.

Which means your pellet grill might be out of commission for weeks!

That’s frustrating.

So while you gain a ton of convenience with a pellet smoker… You also sacrifice some reliability and your ability to repair malfunctions.

Jams are a Challenge

Technology issues aside… This type of grill is also susceptible to mechanical malfunctions.

If you’re not careful… Wood pellets can get jammed in the auger.

This happens when your pellets are exposed to humidity and take on moisture.

The pellets swell… And get stuck inside the smoker.

And that leaves you with only one thing you can do.

Pull out the entire auger and unjam it yourself. And depending on which pellet grill you have… The difficulty level of this varies widely.

Either way, it can be done. But it will take some time and effort!

Thankfully, this issue is fairly easy to prevent. Keep your wood pellets stored in a dry, sealed location. And when you’re done grilling, put any unused pellets back into storage.

You Need Electricity

outlet inside outdoor kitchen

If you’re settling in on the idea of a pellet smoker… You’ll also have to think about how your newfangled grill will be powered.

Unlike a regular offset or kamado smoker… Pellet grills need a source of electricity to ignite the pellets.

Generally, this isn’t a big deal. But it’s important to know this ahead of time.

If you already have a way to access electricity outdoors… That’s great!

If not, that’s a little wrinkle you’ll need to smooth out first.

Flavor will be Slightly Lacking

Rounding up our disadvantages… This may become the sticking point if you’re a real stickler for authentic, smoky flavors.

Make no mistake, a pellet grill will make delicious smoked meats.

However…

It won’t be quite the same tier that a kamado or offset smoker can produce. (Offset smokers in particular are the best-of-the-best.)

Why is this?

It’s simply that wood pellets are a bit further away from pure charcoal or wood that you’d normally be smoking with. And as a result… You lose some of that flavor in the process.

Pure hickory wood will be more flavorful than hickory pellets, for example.

If you don’t care about getting top-notch, competition-grade barbecue… This slight drop in smoke flavor won’t be a big deal to you.

But if you’re all about the flavor… This might be something to keep in mind before you move forward.

Smoker Advantages

Alright. Now that you’ve seen everything a pellet smoker has to offer… What about regular smokers?

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll be lumping offset, kamado, and charcoal smokers into one category.

Yes, there are some differences… But overall, the advantages and disadvantages will be the same across the board.

Simple, No-Fuss Construction

tamara day cooking a pizza on a coyote asado smoker

First things first… Analog smokers feature a straightforward construction.

There’s no digital control panels, attached meat probes, igniters, or electric hookups.

It’s just you and the grill. Au naturel.

The simplicity of this in and of itself can be quite nice.

But more importantly… You’re not having to deal with tech issues.

Sure, you won’t get to set the exact cooking temperature you want. But you won’t be barred from using your smoker due to a fringe tech problem!

If something goes wrong with your charcoal or offset smoker… It’s generally as simple as purchasing a replacement part.

The only thing you’ll have to ensure is that your smoker is made with high quality materials. (Same goes for a pellet grill, for that matter.)

Always look for complete 304 stainless steel construction… As this will provide the most resistance to rust and corrosion.

Best-in-Class Flavor

While this was already mentioned as a ding on pellet grill/smokers… We’d be remiss not to bring this up as an advantage.

Because far and away… Top notch flavor is the primary reason why aspiring pitmasters opt for charcoal or offset smokers over a pellet grill.

There’s a reason why BBQ competitions tend to center around the use of offset smokers specifically.

Offset smokers rely on pure wood to get that smoke flavor… And being as close to the source as possible, you retain the full essence of smoke flavor.

As for lump charcoal, it’s only one step removed from the pure source. Whereas, hardwood pellets require processing… And lose some volatile flavor compounds in the process.

So if you’re after the most pure smoke flavor possible… A traditional smoker makes a compelling argument for your next backyard purchase.

Can Grow into Expert Skill Level

The skill level to run a traditional smoker is truly a double edged sword.

On the one hand, it’s incredibly difficult to get the hang of. (Which we’ll get to.)

But if you stick it out and stay committed… What you learn can truly make you become an expert pitmaster.

Now, this is only appealing if you truly want to become an expert at smoking and slow cooking food.

If the idea of participating in BBQ competitions excites you… Or you’re just chasing a sense of accomplishment… The challenge of a charcoal, kamado, or offset smoker might be appealing to you.

Smoker Disadvantages

At the same time… There’s no shortage of cons for a traditional smoker.

They might make up a lot of ground in the flavor department… But that does cause weaknesses to show in other areas.

Let’s take a look.

High Skill Cap

As we just mentioned a moment ago… Traditional smokers are tough to get the hang of.

Pellet grills are a “set it and forget it” type of appliance. You tell it to do what you want… And it does it.

Traditional smokers don’t have the luxury of that option.

You have to start the fire yourself, get things up to temp… And meticulously keep the fire managed all day long.

While ribs might only take a few hours… If you’re smoking something like a brisket, you’ll be on call for 12 hours or more!

Not only is that an exhausting day… A lot of things can go wrong in that period of time. (And trust us, things will go wrong.)

If you’re a beginner… Using a charcoal, kamado, or offset smoker is not for the faint of heart.

So if you’re someone who doesn’t like to nerd out on the details… A pellet grill might be the better choice for you.

ec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Takes Time to Get Going

Here’s the other issue. Traditional smokers take a long time to get cranking.

Sure, pellet grills have some preheating time. But you’re just pushing a button and kicking back.

Getting a charcoal or offset smoker started takes work. Especially if you don’t know your way around starting a fire.

It takes time to get that wood or charcoal lit… And you don’t always get it right on the first try.

Sometimes, it can take about 20 minutes just to get a solid light.

And only then can you get your smoker preheated. Which is usually around another 20-30 minutes… As long as your fire stays lit.

Point is, it’s not exactly a linear process.

Getting a fire started is finicky… And even with tons of experience under your belt, it takes time and patience to get things going.

Some Smokers are a One Trick Pony

We have to start off this section with a caveat.

Kamado smokers are actually just as versatile as a pellet grill. You can smoke, sear, grill, and bake with great success across the board.

But charcoal smokers and offset smokers can’t make the same claim.

They’re designed to smoke meat… And that’s about it.

That’s fine if you’re only intending to smoke foods.

But if you want the flexibility to go beyond… These options simply won’t make the cut.

Final Thoughts: Where Should You Begin?

Jet tila using his pellet grill to cook pork

Still waffling back and forth? 

For those leaning more heavily on the pellet grill side of things… Allow us to make a special recommendation: the Coyote pellet grill.

Coyote’s pellet grill is an absolute powerhouse for all your grilling and smoking needs.

With a temperature range of 175°F – 700°F… You can low smoke, grill, bake, and even sear with ease.

Plus, this grill comes equipped with solid 304 stainless steel construction and a lifetime warranty.

With the Coyote pellet grill, it’s truly a one-and-done purchase.

But no matter where you land on the offset smoker vs pellet grill debate… We have an excellent way to make the most of your new purchase.

An outdoor kitchen.

We know, it’s a huge purchase. (And a huge decision.)

But allow us to paint a picture for just a moment.

You’re getting ready to head outside and get a whole chicken prepped for a day of smoking.

You don’t have any counter space outside… So you need to take care of seasoning your bird inside.

That’s not too bad. You just make a little mess on your kitchen countertop that’ll have to be cleaned later.

But when you head outside… Where are you going to put your bird?

Most smokers have small, rickety side shelves… And it doesn’t feel very secure to set a wobbly whole chicken down onto it. But what other choice do you have?

So now you have a whole chicken dominating one of your side shelves. Doesn’t leave much room for utensils and work space… Does it?

And with one wrong move… That bird can roll off and hit the dirty ground with a distinctive splat.

That’s just one of the ways an outdoor kitchen can simplify your cooking process.

linear outdoor kitchen with power burner and coyote asado smoker

An outdoor kitchen will give you no shortage of counter space… Allowing you to sprawl out your prep space with seasonings, cutting boards, utensils, and more.

You’ll also have no shortage of storage space.

Need to store pellets or wood chunks? Want a place to keep your utensils? What about special seasonings?

Your outdoor kitchen will safely stow away all of the above.

There’s more to say… But for now, we’ll leave it at that.

If we’ve stimulated your curiosity at all about an outdoor kitchen… Check out our free online design tool.

You can design your dream outdoor kitchen in minutes… Complete with a pellet grill or a smoker!

Alright, we’ll leave you to it. We hope to hear from you soon!

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