Not all smokers rely strictly on wood or charcoal to produce heat. Some use an electrically powered heating element to cook food at a safe and desirable temperature. Known as an electric smoker, it's a popular alternative to a traditional wood smoker. But if you're thinking about buying a new smoker, you should familiarize yourself with both types to determine which one is right for your outdoor culinary activities.
What Is a Wood Smoker?
The most common type, wood smokers are designed to cook food by burning wood and/or charcoal. You place the wood and/or charcoal in the smoker's fuel compartment, and once it has reached an appropriate temperature, you can add your food to the cooking grate. Wood smokers only use the heat generated by the burning wood and/or charcoal to cook food.
Wood smokers are very similar to charcoal grills, with both cooking devices featuring a cooking grate as well as a fuel compartment. But many wood smokers are designed with an offset fuel compartment -- a characteristic you won't find in charcoal grills. The offset fuel compartment is also known as a firebox. It's usually located on the side of the smoker, allowing you to cook food at a lower temperature than grilling. With charcoal grills, you place the wood and/or charcoal in a compartment that's directly below the cooking grate. As a result, food is exposed to more heat, making it difficult to achieve a low temperature that's necessary when smoking meat.
What Is an Electric Smoker?
Electric smokers (see image below) are designed to produce heat using an electrically powered heating element. When turned on, electricity will travel through the heating element until the interior of the electric smoker reaches your specified temperature. Nearly all electric smokers have a digital control interface where you can increase or lower the temperature. Turning up the temperature through this interface sends more electricity through the heating element, whereas turning down the temperature reduces the amount of electricity traveling through the heating element.
Although there are powered by electricity, electric smokers typically support the use of wood. They feature either a compartment or tray where you can place smoking chunks to produce thick flavorful smoke. Electric smokers still rely on an electrically powered heating element to achieve an appropriate temperature, but you can add wood like smoking chunks to create a desirable smokey flavor.
Benefits of Using a Wood Smoker
When compared to electric smokers, wood smokers provide better flavor. They release more of the flavorful compounds from the wood, resulting in better-tasting food. Whether you are smoking beef, chicken, pork, fish or virtually any other meat, you can rest assured knowing it will have the best flavor if you use a wood smoker rather than an electric smoker. Furthermore, while many electric smokers support the use of wood for added flavor, some do not. If you choose one of these all-electric smokers, you won't be able to take advantage of wood like smoking chunks.
You can also use a wood smoker anywhere on your patio, lawn or outdoor living space. Electric smokers require a corded connection to a wall outlet. If there's no wall outlet nearby, you won't be able to use an electric smoker. Thankfully, this isn't a problem with wood smokers. You can use it anywhere outdoors without the need for a nearby wall outlet. As long as you have charcoal and/or wood, your smoker will heat up and allow you to cook food.
It's worth noting that wood smokers typically cost less than electric smokers. A typical wood smoker costs less than $100, whereas electric smokers may cost $200 or more. If you're on a budget, you may want to stick with a wood smoker for this reason.
Benefits of Using an Electric Smoker
Wood smokers are usually the preferred choice among seasoned chefs because of their superior flavor, but there are still reasons to consider purchasing an electric smoker. Perhaps the greatest benefit of using an electric smoker is the ease at which you can control the temperature. As previously mentioned, electric smokers feature a digital control interface where you can adjust the internal temperature of your smoker.
Along with easier temperature control, most electric smokers can support more food than wood smokers. While wood smokers only have a single cooking grate, electric smokers may have a half-dozen or more cooking racks, each of which can be filled with meats or veggies.
You can smoke delicious food using either a wood smoker or electric smoker. Of those two types, though, wood smokers are superior in their ability to create rich, flavorful food.
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