Smokers vs Grills—Which One Is Best?

If you’re ready to get out and grill or smoke something delicious this summer, you’re not alone. Cooking outside is a perfect way to get some fresh air and create truly special meals in the great outdoors. That said, when it comes to outdoor cooking there’s a lot of confusion about smokers versus grills.

What’s the difference between a smoker and a grill? Is one better than the other? Can I buy a grill-smoker combo?

Let’s dig into smokers versus grills—and which one could be right for you.

The Difference Between Smokers & Grills

Thankfully, both smokers and grills are aptly named. A smoker cooks meat, vegetables, or any food of your choosing using smoke. Alternatively, a grill uses heat to cook food, either directly on the fire or indirectly via a heated surface.

Types of Smokers

If a device traps smoke to cook food, it’s considered a smoker. There are various types of smokers with different power or heat sources, such as:

  • Gas or propane smoker
  • Charcoal smoker
  • Electric smoker
  • Pellet or sawdust smoker
  • Wood-burning smoker

Types of Grills

While there are indoor grills, we’ll be focusing on outdoor grills, of which there are several types, including:

  • Gas or propane grill
  • Electric grill
  • Kamado grill
  • Pellet or sawdust grill
  • Wood-burning grill

Grill-Smoker Combo

In addition to the grills and smokers listed above, there is also the grill-smoker combo. Typically, the grill and smoker components are two different pieces of equipment attached to the same device.

This could be a good choice if you think you could use a grill and smoker in equal amounts. If so, a grill-smoker combo will save you money as you won’t have to pay for a separate grill and smoker.

Smokers vs Grills—Which One Is Best for Me?

There are many different kinds of smokers and grills, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, if you’re using a wood-burning smoker, you’ll need to account for preparation time in building your fire (and preparing the wood if you’re going for your own kindling rather than buying some that’s pre-prepared) versus an electric smoker, which simply turns on with the click of a button.

You may want to go for the convenience of a gas or propane grill, both of which also require little preparation, but don’t provide the same rich flavor as a charcoal grill does.

In order to make the decision between a smoker versus a grill, you’ll need to consider a few different factors:

How Much Time do You Want to Invest in Cooking?

The time it takes to cook food is the biggest difference between smokers and grills. Smoking food (especially meat) is very time-consuming while grilling meat can take as little as 30 minutes, depending on the amount of meat and your taste preferences (rare, medium-rare, well-done, etc). Comparatively, smoking meat can take up an entire day, with average cooking times between six and eight hours.

What Flavor Profile do You Want in Your Food?

The flavor profile can vary greatly between smoked food and something that’s been grilled. If you want a strong smoky flavor, a smoker is the best way to go. Grills can also give your meat a smoky flavor, though it will not be nearly as strong as the flavor from a smoker.

The type of heat source you use (gas, wood, charcoal, etc.) will also greatly affect the flavor of your food no matter what method you use to cook. So, it’s important to consider that too when you’re deciding between a smoker and a grill.

Where Smokers & Grills Come Out Even

Cleaning & Maintenance

Grills and smokers both require similar maintenance and clean up. Most grillers and smokers recommend cleaning your equipment a few times per year, but some people choose to clean their cooker after every use. Cleaning frequency will partly depend on how often you use your equipment and your personal preference.

Ease of Use

Electric smokers and grills operate similarly. You flip a switch and within seconds, you’ve got heat! You can periodically check on the readiness of your food with either a grill or a smoker, so they tie there, too. The best part of both smokers and grills? Neither requires expert cooking knowledge to operate.

Resource Consumption

Electric grills and smokers both use about the same amount of electricity to cook food. Electric grills cook more quickly than smokers; however, grills use more energy to produce a lot of heat over a shorter period of time. As a result, you’ll likely end up using the same amount of energy to cook food with a grill or a smoker.

How to Make Your Choice When it Comes to Smokers vs Grills

If you want a simple way to cook meat and other foods quickly, an outdoor grill is your best option. If you don’t mind spending a bit more time attending to your meal’s preparation and really want your food to have a smoky flavor, a smoker will work great for you. And if you really can’t decide, go for both with a smoker-grill combo.

When it’s time to make your choice—smoker versus grill—the ultimate decision will depend on your time and taste preferences.