A common misconception in the world of barbecues is that they all achieve the same thing.
For foodies and avid BBQ enthusiasts, however, you’ll know that it’s not always the way you cook something on a barbecue that will determine the taste – it’s the type of barbecue you use.
While two of the most popular types of barbecues – smokers and grills – might share some similarities, there are key differences between them that result in the way food is cooked.
If you’re tired of your old charcoal barbecue and you’re looking to enhance your cooking and dining experience, it’s time to invest in either a smoker or grill.
If you’re wondering which type of barbecue is best suited for you, you’ve come to the right place. Here is everything you need to know about the difference between smokers and grills!
What’s The Difference Between A Smoker And A Grill?
Before we go into the differences between a smoker and grill, here is an explanation of both barbecue types.
What Is A Grill?
A grill works to cook small pieces of food at a fast speed and a high temperature.
Most people use grills to create the distinctive black lines in chicken pieces, pork chops, steaks, and vegetables thanks to the extreme temperature of the grill (between 400-550 °F).
Grills are only ever fueled by gas (propane or natural gas), and are never fueled by charcoal. They do not provide any additional flavor to the food.
What Do Grills Do?
You can cook virtually anything on a grill, from fish to meat to vegetables.
As grills are designed to produce a lot of heat (and therefore cook food quickly), you’re likely to be moving the food around a lot to stop it from burning.
Searing is a distinctive part of grilling. This is what happens when the surface of meat/fish/vegetables is essentially caramelized by the hot grill, which heightens the flavor.
This is also known as direct grilling, but you can also indirectly grill food by treating the grill like an oven and keeping the food away from the flames.
What Is A Smoker?
Smokers work to cook larger pieces of meat at a slow pace and a low temperature, which is typically between 90-300 °F.
The reason for this is so the meat has several hours of cooking amongst an array of flavors, which is created through the addition of flavored wood.
Flavored wood is added to create a smoky taste, hence the name. There are three ways for smokers to be fueled – with pellets, charcoal, or gas.
Pellet smokers use sawdust and flavored wood pellets to create smoke, which slowly cooks meat for many hours to allow the flavors to embed into the food.
The pellets are stored in a hopper, and then drawn into the burn box by an electric auger. An electric coil is ignited to burn the pellets and a thermometer is used to gauge and alter the temperature.
Charcoal smokers come in either a vertical or horizontal style, with both working pretty much the same. These smokers use charcoal as fuel, and as they are made of ceramic, work to retain heat really well.
Gas smokers are the least common smoker type. These are vertical smokers that are fueled by gas propane to burn flavored wood pellets or chips.
What Do Smokers Do?
Smokers are only really meant for slow cooking large pieces of meat, such as a rack of ribs, a whole chicken, or a chunk of pork.
This is achieved by cooking the meat in a closed environment of smoke, which is embedded with the flavors of your chosen wood.
The flavor of the wood depends on what meat you’re cooking, as well as the time it takes to cook it.
While you might assume leaving meat in the smoker for multiple hours would dry out the meat, this is a common misconception.
Instead, smokers tenderize meat by slowly releasing the fat juices, allowing for the meat to quite literally fall off the bone.
Smokers vs Grills
So, now we have established what both smokers and grills are, but what are the key differences between them?
Grills are notorious for cooking food quickly, while smokers are notorious for cooking food slowly.
This is achieved through varying temperatures, as grills typically hit temperatures of 400-550 °F, while smokers stay in the 90-300 °F range.
Gas grills are only ever fueled by propane or natural gas. This is to achieve high temperatures quickly, which also means it can be controlled much like an oven.
Smokers can be fueled in three ways – with pellets, charcoal, or gas.
All of these methods use wood pellets or chips which create smoke that slowly penetrates the food with an abundance of flavors while the meat cooks over the course of several hours.
Gas grills don’t add any flavor to food, except for when food is deliberately seared. This creates a caramelization that gives the food a slightly smoky flavor.
Smokers are all about creating flavor. Each wood pellet flavor corresponds with a type of meat (for example, alder is good for chicken and apple wood for pork).
Types Of Food
Grills are arguably more diverse than smokers, because they have the ability to cook virtually anything – including meats, fish, vegetables, and more.
They are often used for toasting burger buns and keeping food warm.
Smokers are typically only limited to cooking large pieces of meat. This is because of the slow cooking process which works to penetrate meat with smoke at a low temperature.
Conclusion: Which Is Best For You?
It all comes down to personal preference, because both grills and smokers are highly beneficial for foodies.
Luckily, both are so vastly different that it’s quite easy to tell which is best for your needs.
If you want something to cook food quickly for regular barbecue parties, then a grill will do the trick.
You’ll have to ensure that the food is prepped with the adequate flavors, as grills won’t add additional flavorings.
Smokers are excellent for those who are passionate about tasty meat.
While it can take between 5-8 hours for a piece of meat to be cooked, the waiting time is certainly worth it. Still, this is the main thing to consider when hosting a barbecue party.