A real outdoorsy person or family would find themselves asking this question at some point in their lives: should I buy a smoker or a grill? Both equipment has their strengths and weaknesses, not to mention relatively pricey. That is why when choosing between the two, you have to consider your options thoroughly.
Smoking and grilling are two cooking methods that existed since the prehistoric area. Back then, the early men do not know how the existence of pots and pans to cook their food. They also do not have refrigerators and freezers to make their food last a long time. Both methods serve as a quick and easy way to make the food they hunted more palatable and safe to eat (although they do not yet have the concept of food safety at that time).
Today, we still do smoking and grilling, probably not as frequently as our ancestors, but as a way to make our cook-outs extra special. Smokers and grills are a constant fixture in outdoor dining activities, camping, and hiking, among others.
Despite them being a standard fixture in any backyard, most people sill wonder what the difference between the two is. Am I required to buy each separately? Can a grill be repurposed as a smoker or vice versa? Should I buy a smoker or grill?
To help you answer the question “Should I buy a smoker or a grill?” here are some tips, factors, and points we want you to ponder on as you choose. But first, let us talk about these two products separately.
Grill: A More Popular Choice
Most people who answered the latter to the question “Should I buy a smoker or a grill?” often answer the latter. For one, most backyards have at least a grill in their yard. This means that if you plan to buy a grill, you can get a lot of opinions and recommendations as to what model to buy, plus the pros and cons of choosing it over the smoker.
Grills can either be powered by, gas, wood, charcoal, or electricity. Most households prefer to have the gas and charcoal over the electric models, especially since most do not have an electrical outlet outdoors. It would require more work to install one.
- Cooks foods faster than smokers
- Grilled vegetables keep more of their vitamins and minerals
- Excess fats drip off the meats, making it healthier cut
- The moisture remains even after basting and cooking
- Grilling meat requires extra work since you have to rotate it more often
- Only recommended for small portions of meat, like chicken breasts, chops, and steaks
- Charcoal grills may be challenging to use for first-time users
Should I buy a smoker or a grill? If you want to have a tried-and-tested-by-many type of product, and you prefer quantity over quality, then the grill is perfect for you.
Smoker: A Sophisticated Version
Smokers use the power and heat of smoke to cook the food. You can choose between wood, gas, charcoal, or electricity. Each one has their advantages. For example, gas and electric smokers are more straightforward to tend to, making it a good choice for first-time smokers. On the other hand, wood and charcoal smokers would most likely give you that authentic barbecue flavor you want to achieve. This would largely depend on the type of wood you will use to smoke the meat.
Once you look inside the chambers of a smoker, you will see two basins: one for the wood or charcoal chips and another for the water. The latter has a role in keeping the temperature consistent all throughout the smoking period. Because it can handle large quantities of food at one session, most people use this in the restaurant setting or doing large gatherings.
- Smokers require only minimal tending
- Foods are generally more flavorful and tender
- Large quantities of meat, like whole chicken and turkey, can be smoked at one time
- Can give you an authentic barbecue flavor
- Smokers are famous for its slow cooking process, so it might take a while for you to get your desired results
- Despite the water basin, the temperature can still become unpredictable
- Food safety can become an issue if smoking is not done right
- You might need to buy a meat thermometer on top of the smoker to help you be sure that the meat is cooked all the way through
Should I buy a smoker or a grill? If you believe that good things (or in this case, good meat) come to those who wait, and you don’t want the tedious cooking process, the smoker is a good option for you.
The Differences Between the Two Giants
Aside from its purposes, there are a lot of differences between them. Here are factors you need to consider should you buy a smoker or grill.
|Cooking Temperatures||160-300 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the food||at least 400 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Overall Design||bulky and heavy, can weigh up to a hundred pounds||portable versions are available, easy to transport|
|Cooking Techniques||uses indirect heat (smoke)||uses direct heat|
|Food Safety||a good food preservation technique||may need to be consumed immediately|
|Ease of Use||requires more attention and expertise||straightforward and easy to manipulate|
|Price Point||$50-$10,000 depending on the model||$20-$15,000 depending on the type of grill|
Smokers use indirect heat (smoke) to cook the food inside. To make sure that you cook the food evenly, you must keep the internal temperatures stable at all times. The temp should be around 160 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. This can go higher or lower depending on the type of meat you will smoke. For white meats like chicken and fish, you might have to go lower since the heat can easily penetrate and cook the insides. The tougher the meat, the higher the temperature should be.
As for grills, the temperatures should go as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit. That is because grills use direct heat to cook the meat. Grilled foods also tend to have an overcooked outside but raw inside, especially if the temperature keeps on fluctuating while cooking.
Should I buy a smoker or a grill? Grills need a tremendously high amount of temperature to keep it going. This means tending to the fire frequently. You will not likely encounter this issue with smokers as long as you keep the temperature inside consistent throughout the cooking process.
Smokers have a bulkier appearance, resembling that of a mini-tank. In picking a smoker, make sure that the door is something that can be tightly sealed. Even a tiny gap can drastically affect the internal temperatures once you use it. Smokers rely on the trapped heat inside to cook the food evenly.
Because of their heavy-duty look, smokers can be difficult to transfer from one place to another so you might not be able to bring it on a camping trip (unless you buy a smaller, portable unit).
On the other hand, grills tend to be lightweight. Anyone can quickly assemble it. Depending on the brand and model you choose, you can detach the metal grates from the wood chip basin for easy cleaning. You might not have the same luxury with smokers.
Should I buy a smoker or a grill? Smokers are bulky. Therefore, you cannot bring it from one place to another. Grills are portable and easy to disassemble on any outdoor surfaces. Just don’t leave it unattended.
Because grills use direct heat, you have to tend to your fire and meats frequently to avoid burning your food items since they cook them fast. You may also have to baste it every turn to keep it moist. Too high temperatures can quickly suck the moisture out of any food.
Smokers are only recommended for those who have the patience to wait for good stuff. Because it employs indirect heat, plus it has relatively low temperatures, the cooking time is long and tedious. The good news is that you don’t have to tend to your meats too much once it is inside the smoker. It also gives your meat enough time to develop this smokey flavor that is perfect for any outdoor celebrations.
Should I buy a smoker or a grill? Smokers are great options for families who want that full smokey flavor and willing to wait for that mouthwatering taste. For people who want quick, convenient barbecued meat, grills are better choices. However, be prepared to subject yourself to constant heat the whole cooking process.
Smoking is the most common cooking process our ancestors used to preserve the leftover meats from their meals. That is because smoking removes the moisture until the meat resembles that of a jerky. Once it is dry enough, they add salt to drive away further bacteria. Smoked meats can last for about six months to one year after being cooked. This is good news especially if you prefer smoking meat in large batches.
Grilled meats, on the other hand, cannot last more than a week even under refrigeration, even less so if it is not cooked well. To make sure that your family can consume all the grilled meats during cookouts, keep the portions small. Not only would it ensure that everything would go to everyone’s belly. It would also help cook the meat all the way to the insides faster.
Ease of Use
As previously mentioned, there are particular models in both smokers and grills that are easy to use, and there are others that may require a bit of effort to get the results you want.
Smokers need both water and wood chips to keep the internal temperatures consistent throughout the long cooking process. While you do not need to tend them all the time (the heat inside would escape if you open the door too often), you have to watch out for the cooking time correctly so as not to have an overly dried and smoked meat by the end of the day.
Grills, as mentioned earlier, need constant attention to ensure that the food is cooked evenly. The one in charge of the grill, then, might have to skip the socialization during the gathering, not to mention the “grilled” smell caused by being near it too long. The scent tends to cling onto the hair and shirt for hours, sometimes days on end no matter how many showers you take. Smokers do not give this kind of issue.
Should I buy a smoker or a grill? Smokers need little attention when it comes to cooking, while grills require constant tending to ensure that the meat gets cooked on all sides.
Smokers can cost about $50 to as much as $10,000. If you are just starting out, we recommend that you buy a small, simple water smoker first before investing in a large one. This is to help you gauge if you are capable of handling smoking meats without having to regret on the investment.
It’s actually a win-win situation. If you find that the water smoker is enough to satisfy your family’s needs when it comes to smoking, then you can use the extra bucks to buy a grill instead!
Grills, on the other hand, can go from $20 (for portable ones that can feed a family of 5) and the most expensive at $15,000. Some experienced grill users even take the time to install a countertop grill which could cost a lot more.
Should I buy a smoker or a grill? If you have a tight budget, but you still want to enjoy good outdoor meat, there is undoubtedly an affordable smoker for you. But if you are willing to invest more seriously, go for a grill. Of course, this would still depend on your family’s preference.
What to Ask When I Buy a Smoker or a Grill
So we have laid down some factors that you can consider as you choose between a smoker and grill. To further help you decide as you look for the best models out of everything being displayed in Ikea or Amazon, here are some questions you can ask yourself.
1. What is your budget?
As previously mentioned, smokers are relatively cheaper than grills. You can enjoy healthy, yummy smoked meat even at a regular quality smoker. Still, scrutinize the craftsmanship of the model whether you buy a smoker or a grill. Cheap does not mean it is of substandard quality, and pricey does not mean it can guarantee a good quality smoked or grilled product.
To help narrow down your choices, choose a specific range, say, $500 to $2,000. This can further help you decide what to pick without burning your wallet.
Should I buy a smoker or a grill? Go with what your budget range tells you. Do NOT fall into the trap of spending more than what you can, especially if you only plan to use the smoker or grill during the summer or outdoor trips.
2. What type of heat source do I prefer?
As previously mentioned, smokers are easier for first- time users because you do not need to tend to it much. Just put in the meat, water, and wood chips, control the internal temperatures, and wait. On the other hand, you cannot do this with grills. You have to be attentive to the equipment all the time if you want to have a perfectly grilled food item.
Are you just starting on the smoking and grilling game? Then you might want to try an electric or gas smokers and grills first since it is easier to control and use.
But if you want more challenge and you like premium quality smoked and grilled meat, then go for the charcoal and wood types. Depending on the type of wood you use, you can enhance the flavor of the meat. Plus, it gives you more opportunity to explore what taste and consistency you want for your food, something you cannot do with the electric and gas versions.
Should I buy a smoker or a grill? For first-timers in the game, a smoker is a good place to start since it does not require much attention. Grills need constant care especially if you have a specific flavor and moisture level in mind.
3. How many people do I want to accommodate?
The higher the number of guests you want to feed, the bigger the smoker or grill you have to buy. Of course, you wouldn’t want to make them wait for a long time just to enjoy a good barbecue, right?
Some manufacturers label their models as to how many servings of meat it can accommodate in one session. Grills also give away warming racks wherein you can put an “almost” cooked meat on it and let the indirect heat from the newly-grilled meat below finish the job.
Smokers, even the simplest ones, can typically feed as much as 20 people in one session. However, you might have to prepare it ahead of time since smokers are famous for their slow cooking process.
Should I buy a smoker or a grill? If you want to accommodate a large number of guests in one session, a smoker can do just that. However, you have to prepare it ahead of time.
4. What foods do I want to grill or smoke?
Grills can cook pretty much anything: small cuts of meat like chicken, turkey, steak, and fish, seafood, and vegetables (for kebabs). Because of its versatility, it is not a wonder that grills are a common fixture in American backyards.
Smokers, on the other hand, are mostly recommended for large batches of meat only. Smoking vegetables, especially in unregulated temperatures, can make them soggy and inedible (in appearance, at least). Also, smoking vegetables in a smoker is impractical since the time to cook them even in low temperatures is relatively shorter than the time it would take for you to raise the internal temperatures inside the smoker. It’s just not worth it.
Should I buy a smoker or a grill? If you want something that can cook a wide variety of menu items, a grill is a perfect choice. However, if you’re going to focus on meats alone, go for the smoker.
5. Are there any special features I want to have?
Perhaps you want a grill or smoker that can withstand cold temperatures－very vital if you plan to keep it outside. Or you probably want a model that can also do other cooking methods, such as searing and rotisserie cooking.
While this can be tempting especially if you want to take this seriously, any additional features come at a price. Not to mention that it offers a more significant multitude of problems aside from the grilling or smoking itself.
Should I buy a smoker or a grill? Grills tend to have more frills or additional features compared to smokers because it is easier to install them in the former. If you want simple, hassle-free cooking, a smoker is a better option.
6. Do I plan to bring it somewhere else?
As previously mentioned, smokers tend to be bulkier than grills. Grills can be easily assembled and brought to any place. Depending on the model, you can place the grills on the table or countertop, and start cooking.
Should I buy a smoker or a grill? If you want something you can carry around during outdoor trips, grills are better because it is lightweight and portable.
7. Where would I put it at home?
Do you plan to keep it on the porch outdoors? Or do you prefer keeping it stored inside the attic or basement until you think about using it? Whatever your answer is, it is essential that you know how much space you are willing to give up for either the smoker or grill.
Should I buy a smoker or a grill? Smokers may need extra space since you cannot easily disassemble it. Grills, especially the portable ones, is something you can keep even in the kitchen or pantry.
8. Is quality important to me?
If you plan to use your smoker or grill frequently, then Yes, quality should also be considered as you buy one. Smokers should be made of solid, high-quality material as the base since they need to store high amounts of heat and food in one session.
Grills, on the other hand, should have grates made of superior-quality metal. Your food should not stick to it during cooking.
Final Verdict: Should I buy a smoker or a grill?
So which one is better? The answer is: it depends on your needs. Every family’s preference when it comes to food is different. Some prefer grilled meats, while others like the taste of smoked food. Whichever category your family is, make sure that you decide based on what the other members want. You don’t want to end up with a smoker or grill you will not use for a long time, after all.