Electric smokers vs charcoal smokers?

Discussion in 'Electric Smokers' started by pargeman, Jun 24, 2015.

  1. pargeman

    pargeman Fire Starter

    I have been smoking for the last 2 years with a charcoal smoker.  With wind, etc it is hard to keep the temperature constant at 220 and over.  My meats are all taking at least an extra hour because of the way the temp fluxuates up and down.  I am now thinking of an electric smoker to try and digitally put  the temp I need in and keep it over 200+ degrees.  I have always thought smoking without charcoal is the easy way out but I really would like to get a couple of real good smokes without going over time or worrying about temp??  Does this make sense?? Of course I cant afford the big smokers that you see on TV.  Anyone with thoughts about switching to electric?

    Thank you so much for any opinions.   (I'm a rookie)    Mike
  2. old sarge

    old sarge Master of the Pit ★ Lifetime Premier ★


    Electric is a great way to go.  Sort of the crock pot method of getting good BBQ.  Put the food in, add some wood, turn it on, walk away till done.

    You can use the search feature at the top of the page for the smokers I am listing. Also, visit the various smoker's own site (and forums if available).  These smokers are all good, some are better - more reliable/less problematic than others.  Some analog, some digital.  All electric. 

    Cookshack, Smokin-it, SmokinTex, Masterbuilt, Landmann, Old Smokey.

    Smoking takes time. If you are smoking low and slow (225 -235 degrees), ribs can take 4 - 6 hours; a butt 10 - 16 hours. 

    Analog will have temp fluctuations as per each manufacturers site in the FAQ  (20 or so degrees above to below the set temp) as the element turns on then turns off. No different than the average electric oven. Digital is more accurate but it too will turn the element on and off.  

    Most on this forum have their favorite. For me it was Cookshack (a few years ago) if you have the money; otherwise, go for the Smokin-it.  It is a lot of smoker for the money and the best bang for the buck in an all stainless steel electric smoker. 

    Just do you research. Look up the brands I have mentioned  in each section here as well as their own manufacturer's site. And good luck.
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2015
    pargeman likes this.
  3. pargeman

    pargeman Fire Starter

    Thank you Sarge.... I checked the Cookshack and don't think I can go with the $700 + smokers so I will check the others and will get back to you.... I do appreciate the help!   The one question I do have,  if I am using "electric smokers" will my electric bill skyrocked after using the smoker??   Thanks again.....
  4. Mike.

    I started out using a smoke hallow that I picked up for $150. It was a great smoker but as I discovered the joy of smoking I purscased a Cajin Injector w glass door. If you can find both in your area you'll fine they won't break your back pocket and are good starter electric units. Your bill won't skyrocket matter of fact I haven't noticed a change in my bill at all. You can find a good mastebuilt at Lowes. Hav you checked there or any home improvement store?
    I hope I provided some help.

    pargeman likes this.
  5. pargeman

    pargeman Fire Starter

    I have just started my search for an electric smoker. I have gone online but I would rather come to this site and listen to the wisdom of people here. I will check out the items you mentioned. Thank you so much.
    darryl wayne likes this.
  6. old sarge

    old sarge Master of the Pit ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Any electricity usage will be charged, but not really noticeable. Some of the smokers I mentioned only need wood at the beginning of the smoke, typically 2 to 6 ounces.  Some need chips added every 20 or 30 minutes or so, or an optional accessory that holds either pellets or sawdust for hours of continuous smoke.

    The CS, SI ans ST smokers use wood chunks. You can also use branches from tree pruning if you are located near orchards. Trimmings are typically free.  The three stainless smokers mentioned above use glass insulation, like an oven. Owners of the SI smokers report using them throughout the winter without any problem in freezing temperatures. 

    Here is a video showing the construction of a SI smoker. Actually it illustrates hard wiring in a digital controller.  But you can see the construction. 


    Hope this helps.
  7. divotmaker

    divotmaker Smoke Blower

    Pargeman - If you want to "step up" to an electric smoker, you owe it to yourself to check out the Smokin-It line of smokers.  Absolutely the "best bang for the buck" in the world of all-stainless-steel construction, pro-line smokers.  This is not your "big box" plastic dorm fridge smoker.  The SIs are built like tanks, come with a longer warranty than anybody else, and have a user forum that blows away all other "manufacturer" forums for smokers, bar none!
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 25, 2015
    kjtrail likes this.
  8. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    The MES BT 40 + AMPS is all you need. It's genius. I am so happy with my setup. The Cabelas one was $285 out the door. You can't go wrong.
  9. ak1

    ak1 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    How can I put this?   Electric sucks. It's not smoking. It's a glorified oven..... You cannot make good smoked food in electric boxes. Just look at all the stuff that this one member here called Bearcarver posts. You wouldn't consider that smoked food!!!!

    OK, all BS and sarcasm aside; Charcoal is good, Wood is good, electric is good, gas is good. Some are better than others at times depending on the person. In the end you need to make yourself happy. I would suggest if you are getting electric, get an MES and talk to members like Bear... These guys will help immensely.
  10. regular guy

    regular guy Newbie

    Here is my take on this. I have been smoking, grilling, cooking out, BBQing or whatever you want to call it for a long time. Since I was a kid basically, watching my Dad and pitching in where I could in those days. I have cooked on almost every type of commonly found cooker that is meant for home use. Gas grills of varying quality, water smokers, bullets, Webers, offset smokers, Kamados, pellet grills. You get the idea.

    I have gotten pretty dang good at what I do and I am very competent with my skill set on whatever I choose to cook on. I currently have a Traeger Pellet grill, 2 Big Steel Kegs (Kamados), a Natural Gas drop in gasser AND..............A Smokin-It #3 ELECTRIC smoker, lol.

    You may be wondering why I bought an electric smoker since I already had 2 Kegs and a Traeger. My Wife wondered the same thing to be honest with you. I like to experiment, plain and simple. You see, I used to be in the "Electric Smokers suck!" club. I would see people that had Masterbuilt smokers and my thought was "Well, that's nice" but not in a good way. Think of it more being annoying, somebody telling you that with no sincerity at all :p

    I thought that there is NO WAY that a cheapo electric TOY could make real BBQ. I needed WOOD, not electricity! So, when I decided to get rid of my old sidebox offset style smoker and move over to the Kamado side of things (which I absolutely recommend BTW) I chose the Kegs for portability and versatility. I use ATCs on them (Automatic Temperature Controllers) to keep the fire stoked and I can sleep knowing that it's doing what it needs to do. No babysitting, no running out of lump and worrying about keeping a steady temp. I had enough of that on the old offset!

    I had it made my friends, no worries, but the thought of electric began creeping into my brain. I had turned my nose up at them for years but never cooked on one. How could I form an opinion on it if I had never used one or eaten food from one? They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but yet I had done just that for YEARS!

    Short story long, I began to think more and more about electric but I didn't want a MES, no offense intended to anyone. I wanted something a little more robust. I found a Cookshack on Craigslist and that intrigued me. I began researching that style of electric smoker and that lead me to price inquiries which lead me to one of my favorite places on the entire world wide web. Yep, AMAZON! :)

    I saw Cookshack, Smokin' Tex and that lead me to Smokin-It smokers. I read and read and then read some more. I spent a week comparing all three of these smokers and to be honest, they all look EXACTLY the same, like they all used to work together and then branched off and created Smokin' Tex and Smokin-It after leaving Cookshack. These are commercial grade smokers, built like a friggin' tank! These are not your flimsy little $99.00 smokers found at Home Depot. These are not your windowed dorm fridges (that cracks me up BTW). I've never understood the window anyway, after a few smokes it would seem that the window would get gunked up and you're not seeing what's going on inside anyway. I personally see no need to look inside while doing a low and slow. I'd rather not look at it until it's time to eat but I digress.

    As you know, I pulled the trigger and bought a Smokin-It #3, hated the shipping costs but even with that as part of the deal, I came out better off than if I had chosen a Cookshack or a Smokin'-Tex. Much more bang for the buck. One thing to know about electric smokers, you will NOT get a smoke ring. I don't care what people tell you, it's a fallacy. It just doesn't happen. It can't happen in that environment. It's scientific, I'll let you do the research. I've typed a book already, not going into the explanation here, lol. You CAN fake it though, a faux smoke ring makes people feel better but taste is where it's at. I can tell you that the food off of my SI smoker is as good as anything off of my Keg or Traeger. The very first thing I smoked on it was a butt for some friends. I helped them move and took it for lunch on moving day.

    Sorry for the long read, but I don't half ass anything :p

    ** It looks like someone edited my post to remove links that showed comparison cooks that I did on my Keg/SI/Traeger.  Not sure why a moderator would take that out as it's very informative. What a shame. The SI held it's own.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2015
    divotmaker likes this.
  11. gregbooras

    gregbooras Newbie

    Over the years I have had lots of different smokers and I can tell you this, a good electric smoker like Smokin-it will change the way you smoke. Not only will your food taste great you will spend less money. The amount of wood needed for a smoke is between 2-6 oz. and the cost to run your smoker for 24 hours is less than $1.00.

    These babies are built like tanks and are super well insulated, which means you can smoke in the heat and you can smoke in the snow with the same great results.

    I know some of the the more traditional types turn their noses at electric. But have you been watching BBQ Pitmasters lately, look at the smokers they are using.... Not electric but many of them don't require the skills running a true pit used to.

    Just my 2 cents.

  12. Mike...when I decided a couple of years ago to try out smoking meat, I wrestled with what kind of smoker to get...charcoal, propane, electric.  I did a lot of research online and watched way to many youtube videos of various types of smokers.    When I determined that electric was my choice, my research led me to the Smokin-It smoker.   I looked at several others, but reviews were mixed at best, but the reviews on SI smokers were nearly 100% positive.  I ordered the SI #2 and have been smoking meat pretty much every weekend.  I absolutely love it, built like a tank and produces excellent Q that has fam and neighbors raving up and down the street!   They have a great forum on their web site that I recommend you check out for further evidence of how happy people are with this smoker.   Good luck with your research!
  13. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    The reason I went electric is because I knew deep down I would use it a lot more than a WSM or similar.  I just dont always have the time on weekends.  And whats even better, is that my wife did her first smoke on our MES this week while I was at work.  There is no way she would have ever done anything like that with a WSM.  I feel I'm going to get 10X times more use out of my electric.

    This actually reminds me about my decision to go with a gas grill years back.  I was always a charcoal guy and shunned gas grills (you know, "thats not real grilling").  Well, again, I would never come home at 7pm at night these days and fire up a charcoal fire.  But we grill all the time on gas!

    I'll say it again, the MES + AMPS is genius. 
  14. dr k

    dr k Master of the Pit

    My favorite smoker is my Char-griller Big Red Kamado Kooker.  I got the Gen 1 MES for reasons many may not consider other than smoking between 225*-250*F (an outdoor oven for the summer,  an additional oven for the holidays for all the dishes people bring, a prime rib oven with or without smoke, an over night smoker without baby sitting and a smoker for super low temps so I can reverse sear steaks/roasts at 150*F etc.)   The link below on mythbusting the smoke ring has some good scientific data on CO and NO gases that form the ring.  Since I use the AMNTS and not the chip tray I'll be trying the Kingsford briquette test in the chip tray, since it has sodium nitrate to see if that produces enough CO/NO gas for ring formation.  This link was provided to me by daRicksta.    


  15. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    Hey Kurt, please report back on your findings.  I am really curious too.  What about crushing up a kingsford bricket and sprinkling it over your AMPS?  I wonder if you would get more creosote?  How much charcoal do you think would be needed to form a smoke ring?
  16. dr k

    dr k Master of the Pit

    The link I posted is a good read.  The ring is all about the invisible tasteless odorless carbon monoxide/nitric oxide gas that can get into the meat to lock in the pink color of Myoglobin before the IT hits 170*F.  It mentions vigorous burning of charcoal briquettes and wood produce the most CO/NO gas so I'm thinking like the article said to put a whole briquette in the chip tray where it's the hottest.  I have no idea how long it takes the briquette to turn to ash and if a Kingsford will fit in whole.  Lump charcoal is almost 100% carbon so it doesn't have nitrogen to produce NO gas.  You can get a small ring in 30 minutes because the adequate amount of gas starts the ring instantly.  Pop's has a good article on this forum on the colors of meat and how myoglobin reacts to oxygen and carbon dioxide, changing the color of freshly butchered purple beef to a bloomed cherry red oxymyoglobin then to the oxidized brown metmyoglobin you see in the butcher's deli case. 

  17. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    I have brickets and lump at home.  I was thinking lump would burn better, but from what you're saying, I should crush up some brickets and try it.  Worth a shot. 
  18. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    So the question is, how many briquettes do I crush up?  How many are required to get the right PPM to get the smoke ring?
  19. cliffcarter

    cliffcarter Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    The way I see this is that you have 3 problems.

    The first two, wind and temp fluctuation, are easily addressed. First build a wind break or place the smoker out of the direct wind. Second cook at a higher temp, nowhere is it written in stone that proper BBQ must be cooked at 220° or any other temp. However it is my experience that if you cook at higher temps you get better and more consistent results.

    The third problem is with your expectations, charcoal smokers are not set and forget cookers, they require that you monitor the fire and make adjustments as needed. I find that the more you do this the easier it gets. JM2C.
  20. pargeman

    pargeman Fire Starter


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