Pellet Smoker Versus Charcoal Smoker

charcoal smoker versus pellet smoker

Before giving my opinion about a pellet smoker versus charcoal smoker to cook some low and slow meat I have to explain what they are first for the new readers here.

pellet smokers

Although they have been around for a while it is just in the last few years that they have gained a lot of popularity.

A pellet grill works by burning wood pellets at a certain rate to get the desired temperature you set it on.

This is done by an electronic controller that keeps track of the temperature in the smoker and adds more or less pellets to the firebox.

I know this is a very simple explanation and if you like to read a little more in-depth you can look it up online.

Here is a picture that might explain it better.

how a pellet grill works

As you can see it works pretty simple and some people call it a set and forget method. I will give you my opinion about that later.

This picture comes from the Zgrills website and I wrote about Zgrills here.

Charcoal Smoker

It will take a lot for the old-time charcoal smoker users to change their way of smoking meat low and slow.

Talking about charcoal smokers there are many types and models available. The most used is an offset smoker with a firebox at the side that is used to make the fire. Hence the name firebox 🙂

Here is a picture that shows the popular Oklahoma off set smoker.

Offset Smokers

offset smoker

There are many pitmasters that have not got too much space or like their smokers to be more compact.

Ugly Drum Smoker

Many of them opt for a so-called Ugly Drum Smoker and to be honest I use one myself that I built.

A picture explains it better again that I can.

ugly drum smoker

With drum smokers, you built a fire at the bottom and place your meat at the top. There are tons of accessories and things that you can use for them.

I read some good things about many brands but the pit barrel cooker caught my attention and the reason was the high number of positive ratings and that you see them more in the competition barbeque world.

Also read: Charcoal or gas for the grill

Pellet smoker versus Charcoal smoker – My opinion

I have to start by saying that I do not have a pellet grill but it is on my wish list. I have, however, used them and cooked on them.

Although the claim is that pellet grills are set and forget I still think you have to watch them. There are electronics in there that can fail or you can even have a power outage and the grill will be turned off.

There are models that come with WiFi and you can control the whole process on your phone if you like.

Charcoal smokers, on the other hand, need a little more pampering. Charcoal can burn faster or slower depending on the airflow.

However, it is my personal experience that once dialed in a charcoal smoker keeps the temperature pretty steady. If you have problems with that you can read some tips here.

You can also read my Pellet grill vs Kamado grill to decide on that possible option.

Pellet smoker pros and cons.


  • Easy to set up
  • No messy charcoal
  • Many electronic options


  • Not complete set and forget.
  • Hard to change out pellets
  • Wet pellets can’t be used anymore
  • Higher priced

Charcoal smoker pros and cons


  • can be made by yourself
  • can be bought fairly affordable
  • Will last for many years
  • No electric required


  • Charcoal can get messy
  • Hard to clean

I have eaten meat cooked on a pellet smoker and on a charcoal smoker but never at the same time.

It would be a nice comparison to do so and see what tastes better.

I read, and partially agree with that, that meat from a pellet smoker does not have the smoke taste that a charcoal smoker gives us.

There are manufacturers that add a more smoke feature to their pellet grills now. Don’t know if it is especially for that reason or not.

However, there are also other ways to add more smoke to a pellet smoker.

I think that pressed wood since that is what pellets are will never have the same smoke and wood infusion in our meats that charcoal has.

I will probably get a lot of comments here from people with different opinions. That is the fun part about cooking outdoors on a grill or smoker. We all have our preferred way of doing it.

Related: Pellet grills – worth the money?

Eddie van Aken

Eddie van Aken has years of experience in running his full-service restaurant and with this came working with using and dealing with all types of kitchen equipment. With his experience, he can find all the pros and cons of grills and add them to the grill reviews he is doing. You can read more on the about page for Eddie van Aken

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