Electric smokers provide great food without all the work a charcoal or pellet smokers need. Plus, they are a good choice, no matter if you’re a novice or an experienced BBQ master.
I’ve been on a carnivore diet for more than a decade. I’ve tried all kinds of grills during this time, but electric smokers are my favorite for several reasons. Today, I’ll explain everything you should know about electric smokers — from what they are and how to use them. I’ll also give you my tips and tricks so you, too, can be a smoker expert. Let’s start.
Summary of the Key Findings
- Electric smokers are beginner-friendly, easy to operate and create little mess.
- There are several pros and cons to using an electric smoker.
- Electric smokers are affordable, so you can spend more money on wood chunks, brines, rubs, and more.
What’s an Electric Smoker?
An electric smoker is a kind of smoker that uses electricity to create heat for cooking food. It’s vertical in design and looks like a mini-fridge.
The vertical design allows multiple cooking racks to be stacked, so you have ample cooking space.
There aren’t any flames or burners on an electric smoker, so it cooks similarly to an oven — there’s no danger of fire or flare-ups.
They have a heating element situated at the bottom of the vertical box. There’s a water pan for keeping the meat moist above it and a wood chip pan that is heated to release smoke in the cooking chamber, which gives food a woody flavor.
You don’t have to check an electric smoker all the time. You can turn it on, wait until it warms up, place the food inside, and go about your business.
Compared to charcoal or a pellet smoker, electric ones are much easier to use and cleaner to operate. They usually come in cast iron or stainless steel versions.
You can find different versions of electric smokers — different cooking area sizes, various temperature control options, double doors, warming and smoking racks, and other accouterments such as a one-touch power button, automated preheating, and more.
As for the flavor, there’s a bit of a compromise. The heat comes from an electric heating element and not real fire. Because of this, the smoke profile of the meat isn’t the same as what you’d get in a pellet smoker. Generally, you’ll have a lighter flavor with no smoke ring.
Parts of Electric Smokers
Generally, these smokers have a simple construction. They are made up of a cooking chamber, an electric heating element, and grill racks where you put the food for smoking.
Here are all the parts of an electric smoker.
1. Heating Element
Electric smokers are all about the heating element. One or more electric heating rods are placed at the bottom of the electric smoker. These heat the space and slowly cook the meat in the cooking chamber.
2. Wood Chip Tray
A wood chip tray surrounds the electric element in most electric smoker models. This is where wood chunks slowly burn and create smoke to give your meat that smokey aroma.
You can use different wood chips in an electric smoker, such as hickory, cherry, apple, maple, oak, or mesquite. Each of these will give your food a different aroma.
3. Water Pan
A water pan is located below or above the wood chip tray. It should be filled with cold water, so the internal temperature of the electric smoker doesn’t rise too quickly. As the water heats, it turns into steam, which helps convection cooking.
4. Food Rack
This part is similar to a grill. Electric smokers can have stainless steel grill racks, similarly to a grill. You can put your meat directly on the racks or use the racks to hold cast iron skillets where you place smaller food such as vegetables to roast.
5. Control Panel
Most modern electric smokers have a digital control panel, which you use to control the temperature with a push of a button. The temperature settings on the panel go from 100 to 275 degrees on most electric smokers.
Some smokers even have a 24 hours timer with an automatic shutoff, which means you don't have to worry about your food being burnt or overcooked.
How Do Electric Smokers Work?
Electric smokers work by creating a convection effect. You plug them into a power outlet.
The electricity passes through the heating rod at the bottom when plugged in.
This creates heat that goes upwards and heats the pan with wood chips. The wood chips smolder, which results in a cooking chamber filled with smoke.
The water pan creates steam once the heat reaches it. The steam from the water pan will keep the meat moist. This also makes the cleaning easier when you’re done smoking.
The electric smoker is completely sealed inside, so no heat or smoke can escape unless you open the vents.
Many electric smokers have an adjustable thermostat, which can be analog or digital, which also makes controlling the internal temperature easy.
Pros of an Electric Smoker
Here are all the reasons why you should use an electric smoker:
Electric smokers are extremely easy to use. They essentially work like a toaster oven.
The smoker controls the internal temperature by electronically controlling the heating element, so all you have to do is key in and check the digital thermometer from time to time.
There’s no learning curve with electric smokers. To make an electric smoker work, you have to plug it in, fill the water tray, add wood chips, wait for it to reach the right internal temperature, and add the food.
You don’t need to light the charcoal, control the airflow, and understand temperature spikes. Instead, you can focus on experimenting with rubs, brines, and sauces and make different sides.
Overall, this is a great way to start smoking and work on some basic smoke meat techniques before upgrading.
Most electric smokers are affordable, especially compared to solid fuel ones. This isn’t only in terms of initial cost, but also in long-term use and value for money.
For example, a good pellet grill starts at $500, and many new ones are more than $1000.
On the other hand, you can get a great electric smoker for as low as $200 and have more money for rubs, sauces, and different meat cuts.
Also, you can buy an electric smoker and a pellet smoker tray and get authentic smoked flavored food for less money than straight out buying a pellet smoker.
Finally, an electric smoker is energy-efficient, and electricity is pretty affordable these days.
3. You Can Smoke With a Smoking Ban
If there’s a fire ban in your area, you can still smoke if you have an electric smoker because there’s no fire.
Hot electric rods generate enough heat inside the smoker to make wood chips smolder without an open flame or hot embers.
Also, if you live in an apartment or a condo, you’ll love using an electric smoker for the smoking process. A lot of these places have restrictions on barbecue uses, but you’ll still be able to enjoy smoked food with an electric smoker.
4. You Can Cold Smoke
You probably know about smoking hot. This is usually how meat is smoked. The temperature for this smoking should be 212 to 280 degrees .
However, certain types of meat are too delicate for this temperature, which is when you should cold smoke.
“Cold smoking infuses food with that distinctive smoky flavor we love while using minimal heat. Unlike hot smoking, you’re not cooking the food. The objective is to transform fresh meats, fish, seafood, and even eggs and cheese into flavorful smoked treats.”
- Oklahoma Joe
Cold smoking is the same as regular smoking, except the temperature is lower — below 100 degrees . This is good for smoking cheese, nuts, dried meats, fish, and more, so it doesn’t melt or roast.
Most electric smokers manufacturers have cold smoke generators as add-ons. These usually don’t cost a fortune and are easy to set up and use.
5. Easy to Clean
Unlike solid fuel smokers, electric smokers are very easy to clean. When the cooking process is done, there’s next to nothing left for you to clean — no lumps of charcoal or logs and no piles of ash.
Solid fuel smokers create a lot of soot build-up, but that’s not the case with electric ones.
All you have to clean on an electric smoker is a little ash left behind by wood chips.
Finally, because electric smokers are mostly stainless steel, it’s easy to wipe down different parts, such as the drip tray.
The final pro electric smokers have, is that they are eco-friendly.
Charcoal smokers burn dirty, especially if you use lighter fluid. Propane releases carbon monoxide into the atmosphere.
But, an electric smoker only burns wood chips, so there aren’t additional gasses released into the atmosphere or your food.
Cons of an Electric Smoker
I sang its praises, and now it’s time to talk about where electric smokers fall short.
1. No Smoke Ring
A smoke ring is a pink coloration below the meat’s surface. Here’s what you should know about it:
- It appears when the chemicals released during combustion react with chemicals found in the meat.
- You don’t need smoke to create a smoke ring.
- It doesn’t impact the smoky flavor, nor is it a sign of a good barbecue.
A smoke ring looks pretty, and you can brag about being a grill master, but it won’t impact the smoky flavor or the texture of the meat in any way.
Also, it’s usually a solid fuel smoker that can make smoke rings. The heat on the electric smoker is too clean, so they mostly can’t create a smoke ring.
2. Not Versatile
Electric smokers cook and smoke meat well, but they aren’t as versatile as other kinds of smokers. For example, you can’t sear steaks or grill burgers on them, so keep this in mind if you like to prepare a lot of burgers.
3. Can Break Down Easily
Electric smokers have much more technology than offset smokers, so it’s more likely that they will break down.
There’s the heating element, thermostats, an LCD display, and more. Repairs can be expensive, and you’ll usually have to find a professional who deals with electric smokers.
4. Not Portable
Electric smokers aren’t portable because you’re tied down to a power supply.
This can be an issue for people who like smoking food away from home, for example, on a camping trip. You can’t find electrical power everywhere you go, so you’re limited to where you can use it.
Even if you plan to use this smoker at home, consider if there’s easy power access in the location you plan to keep it.
Tips for Smoking on an Electric Smoker
I perfected the use of electric smokers over the last decade, so here are my tips for using it:
- Season the smoker — This is especially important before you use it for the first time. You want to burn off residue found on cooking racks that accumulated during manufacturing. Cover the smoker’s interior with a coat of cooking oil and turn it on to 275 degrees for about three hours. Read our step-by-step guide to seasoning an electric smoker if you want to learn about the exact process.
- Use a temperature probe — Many electric smokers have a built-in thermostat, but these are usually low-quality. You should buy a digital thermometer to check the device’s internal temperature.
- Check the smokebox and the water pan — Refill the water pan and smokebox periodically to make sure there’s enough water because the heat produces vaporized water. Make sure wood chips get enough air for smoky flavors.
- Cook at the right temperature — Set the right temperature for different kinds of meat. For example, brisket, pork butt, and ribs smoke at about 225 degrees, and chicken and turkey smoke at higher temperatures, around 275 degrees.
What Are Electric Smokers Good For?
Electric smokers are good for smoking different kinds of food, including hot and cold smoking, such as cheese, bacon, fish, sausage, and even desserts.
What Is the Difference Between an Electric and a Pellet Smoker?
The difference between electric and a pellet smoker is that electric smokers need to be plugged into an electrical power source, and pellet smokers use combustion.
Should You Get an Electric Smoker?
Electric smokers are some of the favorite types of smokers I’ve used. They are extremely easy to use, they smoke well, and have a good temperature range, so you can do both hot and cold smoking.
Plus, if your smoker comes with a wood chip tray, you can experiment with wood chunks when smoking meat and get different smoky flavors.