Smoker vs Grill: What’s the Difference?


If you are considering outdoor activities during the summer, then a grill or smoker would be a part of your outdoor kitchen. But do you know the difference between a grill and a smoker? If not, this smoker vs. grill comparison will guide you on the right choice of outdoor addition.

Both the kitchen appliances use different techniques, which result in different flavors. Smokers give the meat a smoked flavor, and you would know if a smoker cooked the food or not. Grills, on the other hand, emphasize heat distribution, and they lead to evenly cooked meat.

Read on to learn about smokers and grills, pros and cons, and how to choose the best appliance for the outdoor kitchen.

What is a Smoker?

Smokers are cooking appliances suitable for outdoor cooking as they use actual smoke for cooking the food. The smokers can be charcoal, gas, wood, or electric, but the electric and gas varieties utilize the combination of a water basin and a wood chip that produces the smoke.

Smokers use indirect heat on the food; thus, producing slow and well-done food. The wood piece placed at the bottom of the smoker produces smoke, which makes the food achieve the smoked flavor. The water basin regulates the temperature of the smoker, ensuring it is stable for even distribution.

Types of Smokers

Electric Smokers

Electric smokers are easy to use as they don’t need propane gas and charcoal, which can be hard to find. You will need an electric plug-in in your outdoor kitchen, and you won’t worry about running out of fuel.

However, some people think electric smokers don’t offer the smoked flavor like other smokers. However, it is the most convenient smoker and comes with a sleek design. However, you should provide a constant electricity supply to the smoker, and you might not take it during a hike or road trip.

Charcoal Smokers

Charcoal smokers work on the concept that whenever there is fire, there will be smoke, and they use charcoal as the source of heat. The charcoal itself produces the smoke which cooks the meat, and they provide authentic smoked meat.

If the smoked flavor is what you are looking for, this will be the best smoker for your kitchen. However, they might be less convenient as starting the charcoal smoker might need special skills, and users may not like it.

Propane Smokers

Propane smokers allow the meat to cook slowly and let out the smoked flavor effectively. The smoker is easy to handle, and you will not need the skills required to handle charcoal or electric smoker. Moreover, it is affordable, and you would need constant propane fuel to keep the smoker burning.

These smokers get heated up quickly and easily, and you would take it for your next hiking and road trip. Additionally, it needs less attention, and you will not worry about burning your food.

Pros of a Smoker

  • The smokers offer the best-flavored meats, and the flavor will depend on the wood you choose for smoking. Your meat will be infused with a touch of smoke, and if you love the deep smoky flavors, then the smokers will be the best choice.
  • They come in different varieties, such as electric, propane, and charcoal, and you can find one which meets your needs.
  • If you want your meat to get a subtle smoky flavor, you can go for the electric or propane smokers as you can control the amount of smoke produced by the wooden pellets. However, if the deep smoky flavor is your thing, it would be better to stock it with charcoal smokers.
  • They heat food indirectly, meaning it offers effective heat distribution, which results in well-cooked meat pieces.
  • The smokers are among the best DIY projects, and you can build your charcoal smoker in your backyard; this is one of the economic approaches to meat cooking during the holidays.
  • Charcoal and propane smokers are easily portable, and you can carry them on your next road trip.

Cons of a Smoker

  • Charcoal smokers might require some skill to operate.
  • The electric smokers might not be good for a road trip as they require a constant electric supply.

Different Methods Of Smoking

Cold Smoking

Cold smoking exposes the food to low-temperature smoke (60-120 degrees Fahrenheit) away from the heat source. Cold smoking aims to preserve the meat and add flavor, and cold smokers do not cook the meat. The cold smokers act as food preservers, and most ancient societies used them to preserve the food before the innovation of the fridges.

Hot Smoking

Hot smoking cooking is a barbecue and involves exposing the meats to hot enough smoke to cook slowly. Hot smoking adds flavor to the meat as they contact the smoky flavors on the surface. Slow cooking can make certain meat cuts tender leading to a juicy steak.

What Is a Grill?

In most homes, the grill is the centerpiece of an outdoor kitchen as it offers the flexibility to cook food in different ways. Grills are kitchen appliances powered by electricity, charcoal, or gas. The grills can use both direct and indirect heat for cooking food and thus are the best for convenient cooking.

Although the grills might not offer the smoky flavors like the smokers, you can enhance the flavor by cooking meat close to an open grill flame.

Types Of Grills

Gas Grills

Gas grills are the most common, and they operate on propane and common gas. There is little difference between the gas and propane grills, and both produce similar cooking results. However, the natural gas grills might be more convenient and less costly compared to the propane tanks.

The gas grill is easy to fire up and might be convenient for people who want a quick fix.

Charcoal Grills

Charcoal grills need some skill to start as they use charcoal as fuel, and the cooking from the appliance might be time-consuming. Charcoal grills can be more expensive than gas grills as they produce the subtle smoky flavor that meat enthusiasts love. Grilling with charcoal is a pure skill that you can miss in a modern gas-fueled grill.

Electric Grills

Electric grills are effective, and they offer convenience compared to charcoal or gas grills. The cooking is done on overheated grill plates without the inconvenience of fire. The electric grill is best suited for people who might not withstand cooking with charcoal grills or can’t deal with the gas and fire regulations

Infrared Grills

The infrared grill is gaining popularity among meat lovers who enjoy the convenience of the grill. The heat source for the infrared grill is made of infrared light entirely. They produce high temperatures within a short time compared to the normal grills.

You can cook food quickly over this grill, and it offers flexibility to cook different food with various techniques. If you love whipping an easy meal within no time, this grill will be the best choice. 

Pros of a Grill

  • Charcoal grills infuse smoky flavors into your food, especially if you cook food over an open flame.
  • The grills get hotter faster than smokers and offer even heat during cooking.
  • Depending on the type of grill, grills can be easy to clean and come at a lower cost.
  • Grilling meat reduces fat giving the food an energy boost; however, the meats hold on to their nutrients despite losing the fat.
  • They can be the centerpiece in your outdoor kitchen as they are versatile and can cook meat quickly.
  • Moreover, you can use the grill for cooking vegetables, roast potatoes, and other food.

Cons of a Grill

  • The charcoal grills can be messier to clean and pose a fire risk.
  • The gas and electric powered grills might be costly.
  • If you entirely cook high-fat food like burgers, hot dogs, and sausages, you might be eating more fat than you like; therefore, it would be wise to choose the food you cook over a grill carefully.

Related: How Long to Smoke Sausage

Different Methods Of Grilling

Direct Grilling

The direct grilling method cooks food quickly at a high temperature, as the food is placed directly over coal. It offers a crunchy charred exterior and a moist interior. This method is suitable for small meat pieces like steak, chicken breast, fish fillets, and kabobs.

The direct heat might not work with large meat junks as it burns the outer layer before the inner parts cook as desired.

Indirect Grilling

You would place your food on the grill over a foil drip with coal-burning on either side. Indirect grilling utilizes the heat fully as you would keep the grill closed so that the heat rises and reflects under the sides.

It is best for larger meat pieces like whole chickens, turkeys, and larger steak. These larger meat need less heat intensity to retain their moisture.

Spit-Roast and Rotisserie

The method utilizes the rotisserie, which rotates over hot coal, leaving the juice intact, leading to a tender, moist and juicy meat. The grilling method is suitable for large junks like whole chicken, lamb legs, and suckling pigs which would need more time to cook well.


The grilling method imparts a smoky flavor to your meats, and it uses fruitwood chips soaked in water before adding to the burning coal. Then, one would then close the grill but check it periodically to ensure the smoke is dissipating. If you are not getting enough smoke, you can replenish the chips as needed.

Main Differences Between Smokers and Grills


Heat and cooking temperature

Smokers use low heat as they use the smoke for cooking the meat indirectly. Most of the food needs low temperatures to get a smoky flavor.

The grills use high heat and can get to 400 degrees Fahrenheit within minutes. However, you can control the temperature if needed.

Design and construction

Smokers are designed so that they receive indirect heat. The heat is vented to the cooking chamber, and it indirectly hits the grates for indirect cooking.

Grills are designed so that they receive direct heat. The grills need high temperatures, and heat directly hits on the grills


Some smokers are used for food preservation. However, if you aim at cooking the food, it will be smoky, moist, and nutritious.

The grills heat food at high temperatures, and it is easy to lose nutrients. Moreover, it might be challenging to get the smoky flavors from the electric and gas grills.


Smokers use indirect heat, and it might take some time to cook crispy food.

Grills are easy to use and will lead to an even burn within a few minutes as they are easy to heat to a high temperature.


Smokers are convenient for cooking food that requires slow cooking.

The grills can cook food quickly, but you can easily adjust the temperature to cook food slowly.

Smoker vs Grill: Which Is Better For You?

If you love cooking in your outdoor kitchen, choosing between a smoker and grill might be difficult. Both cookers are suitable for the outdoor space, and you can choose one which meets your personality. For instance, if you love smoky meat, it would be wise to go for the smokers as they infuse different flavors. Moreover, they cook the food with indirect heat resulting in an outer crispy look and a juicy inner section.

On the other hand, if you enjoy cooking your food quickly, then the grill is a better choice as it can reach a high temperature within a short time. However, the grill is adjustable and will also be used to cook food slowly.

Both the grills and smokers have modern electric charcoal and propane-fueled appliance, and you can choose the cookers which meet your needs.


Choosing a cooker for your outdoor kitchen can be challenging as both the smokers and grills have their advantages and limitations. However, you can go for one of the cookers based on your lifestyle and nutritional needs. For instance, smokers cook food slowly and infuse smoky flavors.

The smokers are slow cookers and cook large meat pieces such as whole chicken, turkeys, and lambs. On the other hand, the grills cook the food at high temperatures and are suitable for small meat pieces such as chicken breast and fish fillets. However, you can buy an outdoor cooker that meets your budget and cooking expectations.

Bobby Johnson

When he's not writing about barbecue, you can find Bobby smoking meat for friends and family. He's been a backyard pitmaster for roughly half his life, and has worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands-on guide to teach them BBQ, but that's what Bobby hopes to do with Electric Smoker HQ. He wants to help people create amazing food that they can be proud of.