How to Choose an Electric Smoker. What You Need to Know.

Electric smokers are by far the most user-friendly smokers. They are designed for the sole purpose of allowing you to make smoking into an easier, more accessible hobby in your daily life. However, there are still plenty of different things you should consider before spending three hundred dollars on one.

Electric smokers give food a different flavor than charcoal, propane, and pellet smokers. But they’re much cheaper than other smokers since their fuel is electricity. The difference between analog and digital electric smokers provides pitmasters with various cost and heat control options.

Getting a whole new smoker is a big decision, and it is not one that should be taken lightly. But doing this research and putting in the time will help you find the best kind of electric smoker that you will love.

Electric Smokers Versus Other Smokers

If it’s a competition, then electric smokers definitely have all other types beat when it comes to convenience. In other smokers, especially charcoal or propane, you have to be tending the fire or heating element to make sure it’s burning at a constant rate. But electric smokers are electric–so the heat source is fully automated and controlled by technology. The heating rods at the bottom of the smoker will heat to whatever heat you desire, making it easier to lay back and relax. No combustible heat source here, no siree.

But that also means that there is no authentic fire burning in your smoker. There’s no fire, so the wood chips you buy to use in the smoker don’t burn in order to produce smoke. All you need to smoke something is the smoke, so technically, there’s nothing wrong with this system. But can be a sticking point for some people.

If you’ve had authentic BBQ made in high-maintenance charcoal or propane by an experienced pitmaster, you’re probably wanting the food that comes out of your smoker to taste as rich and authentically smoked. But many people who have eaten meat from electrical smokers and meat from other smokers prefer the meat out of the other types of smokers.

That’s not because electric smokers are bad, per se, but when there is a real, combustible heat source making thick, steady streams of smoke that is going directly from the wood/charcoal into the meat, that’s pretty hard to beat. The electric smokers might start to taste like microwaved food in comparison with only measly heat rods. Not bad, sure, but definitely not as good as it could be.

That isn’t to say that you won’t enjoy food from an electric smoker. Some people are picker than others, which isn’t bad either. It’s good to know what you like. And your food will still have been enveloped in delicious smoke for hours upon hours in the electric smoker will taste good no matter what. Just maybe not as good as it could taste if you spared a few extra bucks and a little more effort to get one of the harder-to-use smokers.

Cost of Electric Versus Other Smokers

While electric smokers might not have the gourmet, fully authentic taste of food cooked on a charcoal smoker, they’ve got a leg up in the money-saving department. Most smokers cost the same amount at the upfront price, from 200-500 dollars, but it’s when the fuel comes in where electric smokers change the game. Electric smokers use electricity as fuel, and because of that, they’re so much cheaper than smokers that use other sources of fuel.

On average, electricity costs 0.12 dollars (12 cents) per kWh (kilowatt-hour). That unit just means how much power (kW) is being used per hour (h). And an average household in the United States uses 908 kWh each month. So, 908 multiplied by 0.12 equals $108.96. That is the total cost for a month’s worth of electricity for an entire household, which is really cheap considering how much we use electricity each hour, much less every month. Electricity is cheap as dirt, which is great.

So if you use an electric smoker for 8 hours on one day (and electric smokers have a power consumption of around 800 Watts), then multiplying 800 by 8 means that the smoker will use up 6.4 kWh, and 6.4 multiplied by .12 is $0.76. That’s it. Seventy-six cents is all you will have to pay on electricity for an entire cookout. That whole cookout would only cost you less than a dollar on fuel (minus the cost of wood chips, which stays about the same for all smokers).

Let’s compare that to one of the other smoker types. How about charcoal? So, if an electric smoker’s fuel costs a penny over seventy-five cents for an eight-hour cookout, how much would it cost to fuel a charcoal smoker in the same amount of time?

It’s hard to know the exact data, because it depends heavily on the size and heat of the fire, but on average, one hour of smoking requires, at the very least, one pound of charcoal. And one highly recommended brand of charcoal (Kingsford Original Charcoal Brand) sells a 16 lb bag of charcoal for 15 dollars. That’s 0.94 dollars (94 cents) per pound of charcoal. And if one hour of smoking requires at least one pound of charcoal, (multiplying 0.94 times 8) an eight-hour smoke would cost 7.50 dollars. That’s still less than an Alexander Hamilton (a ten-dollar bill), but 7.5 is a huge jump from 0.76. It’s almost exactly ten times the amount of fuel cost from the electric smoker. So, while the flavor might be a little more authentic in other smokers, electric smokers will save you hundreds of dollars on fuel costs.

Costs of Different Electric Smokers

But when it comes to the different costs of different types of electric smokers, it gets a little more complicated. The sizes of the smokers can vary the price, which might not come as a shock, but the price difference can be anywhere from 50 to 100 dollars. A thirty-inch (measuring height) and forty-inch electric smoker of the same brand can have a price difference up to 150 dollars. Although, some of the price difference has to do with the differing technology used for controlling the temperature of the smokers.

With the explosion of technology in recent years, there have been three main developments when it comes to the temperature control technology on smokers. The three different types are called analog, digital, and Bluetooth.

It’s likely that you already know what the last two are. Digital smokers are either built-in or plugged into the smoker, and they’re generally a simple, digital control panel where you can press in all the times and temperatures you want. Some of these digital pads can be kind of confusing, so be sure to read the smoker’s instruction manual to know exactly how to use it to its full potential.

Bluetooth smokers are just a specialized type of digital smokers, so on the product description, it will probably say “wireless digital smoker.” Bluetooth is, according to Google, “a standard for the short-range wireless interconnection of mobile phones, computers, and other electronic devices.” It’s a wireless connection, plain and simple. Electric smokers that use this for their temperature control will have the technology to connect directly to your phone–so you can set the time and temperature of your smoker from anywhere, even your bedroom while you’ve got “The Avengers” playing in the background. Nothing like smoking a turkey while watching re-runs from your favorite tv show!

And analog is the type that always gets the short end of the stick. Analog controls are what are usually on the stovetops of ovens. They’re the little dials that you turn until it’s at the correct temperature you want. And that’s it. Some of them can’t even control the amount of time to keep the smoker hot.

And when it comes to costs, analog smokers are, by far, the cheapest kind of electric smokers, but the cheapness comes with another price. We hesitate to fully endorse analog smokers due to the fact that they have a different system that helps them heat up the smoker and control the temperature–a system that doesn’t work nearly as well as the type that digital smokers use.

Types of Heat Control Technology

Electric smokers use electricity as fuel, and because of this, there are two different internal technologies that heat up and control the heat of the smoker. They’re called rheostats and thermostats.

Rheostats are used in cheap electric smokers, and they’re not recommended as they have poor temperature control. Long story short, rheostats are concerned with whether or not they’re producing heat at the right temperature. This might seem fine, but this means that they’ll keep chugging along, producing heat at 255 degrees Fahrenheit, ignoring the fact that the smoker already reached that heat thirty minutes ago. The smoker will heat up higher than you ever wanted it to.

Thermostats not only are controlling the output of heat, but they’re constantly taking in the internal temperature of the smoker and adjusting the heat they output accordingly. They’ll shut off and turn back on and lower their heat in order to make sure that your food is cooking at exactly the temperature you want it to.

We’ve already discussed the differences in cost when it comes to analog versus digital. And while analog smokers do cost much less than digital ones, you NEED to know that analog smokers use rheostats. Digitial smokers use thermostats, which work much better at sensing and maintaining the internal temperature of the smoker, which is why they’re more expensive. Rheostats (analogs) and thermostats (digitals) both control the temperature, but one does it better than the other.

Doors and Trays

There are two main door types for electric smokers; glass and metal. The glass doors are prettier, sure, but they have less insulation than metal doors. And the glass is see-through, which means that the smoke and juices will build up in clear sight, so you’ll have to clean them more frequently and thoroughly than metal doors. That being said, glass doors do have a certain aesthetic. There’s nothing like seeing your turkey or pork shoulder slowly turn a beautiful brown color as the hours pass.

Metal doors are preferred by plenty because of their incredible insulation. Your food is cooking, and you know it’s cooking because nothing (not even air) can slip through. Metal doors don’t require as thorough (and frequent) cleaning as glass doors, but you won’t get a good view of your food until it’s finally finished cooking. It all depends on what you value. Do you wanna see your food cooking and making it easier to keep tabs on (but also making it torturous to wait), or do you want to keep as much heat in as possible?

Another important feature to look for in electric smokers is components that let you access the wood chips without making you open the main door. Insulation is super important; nothing will cook if the heat keeps escaping. Every once in a while, you might have to stick a meat thermometer into the food, but that can’t be avoided. However, you have to make sure the wood chips are being constantly resupplied, and if you have to open the main door to put new ones in every time, it’ll take way longer to cook everything.

Most modern models of electric smokers have side compartments that make it easy to pull out and put in new wood chips at ease. They’re little cylinders that slip in and out of the side. There are also some fancier smokers that have a constant storage line sticking out of the smoker where you can stack pressed cylinders of wood chips that will be automatically dispensed when the smoker needs more, although, that might be more expensive.

Manufacturing Defects

Electric smokers, like many other products, sometimes aren’t built perfectly. But these have more of a risk because if they break, they can set on fire and burn everything down around them. Some models of electric smokers have had a flaw in their wood chip tray that kept it stuck inside the smoker, starting a fire that wouldn’t go out unless the whole thing was unplugged and dumped in an ice bath.

The main point here might be obvious, but it’s an important one: CHECK THE PRODUCT REVIEWS. More often than not, the people who bought the product will give you more helpful information than the sellers will.

Mike Greenly

I'm a big fan of outdoor cooking and try to BBQ any chance I get. My family loves the results just as much as I do so I try to keep up on the latest methods, tips, and tricks to make sure I'm keeping them happy! :)

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