Smokers vs. Grills: What You Should Know

Updated: Apr. 10, 2024

In the battle between smoker vs. grill, the winner ultimately comes down to what type of meat you like to cook.

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Battle Of The Bbq Smokers Vs. Grills Via Merchant2FAMILY HANDYMAN, VIA MERCHANT (2)

Many Americans view barbecue as a religion rather than a cooking method, and the device they use as the altar to prepare their bountiful feast is incredibly important. Some choose to believe in smokers while others put their faith in grills. But in the smoker vs. grill battle royal, it turns out that both are equally capable of giving you a taste of heaven.

In a perfect world, there would be enough room for both a smoker and grill at your next tailgating feast or barbecue party. While there are many backyard barbecue savants who have achieved this level of greatness, sadly, most of us don’t live in that world. That’s why we’re here to break down the important similarities and differences between smokers and grills—and give you a handy guide on which one’s the best for your meat-cooking needs.

Smoker vs. Grill: What’s the difference?

Ironwood 885 Ecomm Traeger.comVIA MERCHANT

When it comes to smoker vs. grill, the two main differences are cooking times and heat levels.

Smokers use relatively low heat—usually reaching no higher than 300 degrees Fahrenheit—for longer periods of time. Cooking time can range from as little as 30 minutes all the way up to an entire weekend, depending on the cut and size of the meat. As the name implies, smokers give your meat a smoky flavor that’s accomplished by adding wood chips to your fire. Your meat also rarely, if ever, comes into direct contact with the flame.

Grills, on the other hand, can get as hot as 500 degrees Fahrenheit and are mostly used to cook slabs of meat for a few minutes. A grill grate is placed directly above a roaring flame fueled by either charcoal or propane, and the meat goes right on top of the grates to get those classic and coveted grill marks.

Most smokers and grills are their own piece of equipment, though there are combo units, like the Traeger Ironwood 885 Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker. If you’re looking to smoke some meat, load it up with wood pellets and adjust the heat to an appropriate temperature. If you prefer to grill, let the grill grates get nice and hot before tossing on some burgers or hot dogs.

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All About Smokers

If you’ve ever visited a Southern barbecue restaurant or watched a BBQ showdown on the Food Network, you’ve probably seen a smoker big enough to fit an entire hog or cow on it. Don’t freak out, as smokers come in all shapes and sizes, such as the vertical Masterbuilt digital electric smoker.

This 30-inch smoker, which has more than 1,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, is a perfect example of how smokers work. It contains more than enough room to fit six full-sized chickens and two turkeys, with space left over for some rib racks. There’s also a convenient wood pellet filler for you to load up with wood chips (try experimenting with different varieties, such as mesquite and cherry wood).

Amazon reviewers love that it’s more compact than more traditional smokers, which can take up 4 to 10 feet of backyard space. Multiple customers noted that the thermometer is not accurate, and that they’d recommend placing a secondary thermometer in the smoker to control the heat.

All About Grills

While there are strong cases for choosing a charcoal grill over a gas grill, setting up a gas-powered grill is less labor-intensive. There are a dizzying number of gas grills on the market, but you can’t go wrong with the classic Char-Broil four-burner gas grill.

This gas grill has been endorsed by more than 2,700 five-star Amazon reviewers, and it’s easy to see why. With a 23-inch-wide and 18.5-inch-deep grill grate, it offers you ample space for cheeseburgers, hot dogs, steaks, tofu, vegetables and just about anything else you can think of (there are a surprising number of things you can grill!). Plus, you get a side burner that’s ideal for whipping up sauces or side dishes and a side table for extra work space.

Like smokers, grills come with built-in thermometers that shouldn’t be relied on.

One of the downsides of owning a gas grill is that there’s quite a bit of cleanup required. Not only should you brush and clean the grill grates after every grill session with the right grill tools, but you need to regularly clean the bottom of the grill of any fat or grease that’s dripped through the grates. Built-up grease can cause massive flames and, if not extinguished, cause your propane tank to explode.

Side note: If a grease fire ever occurs, turn off all burners and shut the lid to starve the flame of oxygen, or pour salt over the fire.

P.S. You can also consider an Argentine grill to spruce up your outdoor kitchen.

People Always Ask

Can a smoker be used as a grill?

A smoker can be used as a grill if the flame is close enough to the grill grates and you can get the flame hot enough. Some smokers can’t be used as a grill, because the grates could never get hot enough to get that classic charred look.

What meat is best to smoke?

Any fatty meat is great for smoking, such as chicken leg quarters, pork shoulder and beef brisket. You want fatty meat because smoking can make meat very dry, but the fat from these meats acts as a built-in baster as it slowly melts. This keeps the meat moist, though pit masters will still advise adding a baste for the best taste and mouthfeel.

The Bottom Line

People on both sides of the smoker vs. grill debate will argue that their side is superior for a number of reasons—they’re both wrong. Neither is superior to the other, it’s just a matter of preference between smoked meats and grilled meats. Smoked meats are fattier and take hours to cook. Grilled meats, however, are usually charred, and while they can be fatty, they’re leaner when compared to smoked meats. They’re also ready in minutes, not hours.

Where to Buy Smokers

Masterbuilt Digital 711 Sq In Black Electric Smoker Ecomm Lowes.comVIA MERCHANT

Masterbuilt’s digital electric smoker is available on Amazon, Lowe’s, Wayfair and wherever most household smokers are sold. Most retailers sell it for under $300, though it is an item that frequently goes on sale, so it might be worth waiting before adding to your cart,

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Where to Buy Grills

Char Broil Performance 4 Burner Cart Style Liquid Propane Gas Grill Ecomm Amazon.comVIA MERCHANT

This four-burner gas grill from Char-Broil is a popular model that can be found on AmazonWayfair and the brand’s website for under $400. Don’t forget to snag some grilling tools on Amazon so you have everything you need for outdoor meals this season.

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