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Charcoal vs Electric - Newby Needs Advice

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by bjohnston11, Oct 26, 2010.

  1. bjohnston11

    bjohnston11 Newbie

    Hello everyone,

    I am definitely a newby to Smoking and would like to get everyone's opinion on the charcoal vs electric battle.  Most of the people I know have electric smokers and absolutely love them for ease of use and the ability to set the smoker in the morning, go to work, and come home to a well smoked meal!  I understand the conveniece of electric smokers, but for some reason I just keep leaning towards charcoal.  I have a pretty small family at this point and my wife is a white meat eater (chicken, turkey) so I don't think she will get a lot of use out of the smoker.  My plan is to only use the smoker on the weekends, maybe once a month or so.  It seems the process of the smoke is almost as appealing as the end result of great bbq.

    Here's my dilema.......I'm not great at tinkering with things, although I do find it fun.  My biggest concern is I will spend $250-300 and not be able to get any good results with charcoal.  I know I could get good results with electric, but it just doesn't seem as much fun...and definitely not a challenge.

    I am leaning towards the Weber 18.5 Smoker because of great reviews.  Is it really as easy as the reviews say?  Anything else I need to know before purchasing?  I also live in Nebraska and am a bit concerned about how the Weber will perform in the middle of the winter.

    Thanks for your help! 

  2. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Get the Weber, you won't regret it. They really are as easy to use as everybody (me included) says, and Weber has outsanding customer service. [​IMG]
  3. alblancher

    alblancher Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    Blake,  welcome to the forum.

    You are opening a can of worms with this question.  Not only are you breaching the electric vs charcoal question you are also in the territory of what kind of natural fuel smoker should you get.   If you are truly new to the hobby you may consider an inexpensive ECB (el cheapo brinkman) as your first smoker.  For under 60 bucks you have the basic functionality of a Weber without the weight and expense.  Once you learn how to cook on the ECB you can decide your next step, moving up to the Weber, an offset, or a reverse flow

    My point is that you can still purchase the electric for unattended, day to day cooking while having the ability to throw the ECB in the back of your truck and take it with you.  Nothing quite like having the smoker at the camp site or beach. If you catch the bug you haven't invested a whole lot in the ECB and can still move up to a better smoker.  

    Just trying to make your decision more difficult.  Personally I have owned 3 ECBs over the years and now have a decent offset.  Next on my list is a small reverse flow smoker.

    Good luck and happy smoking
  4. eman

    eman Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member

    I sit on the other side of the fence from JR,

     I have the MES and i love it.

     I have had an ecb charcoal and an old new braunfuls coal /stick burner.

     I like the ease of use w/ the MES and it puts out some great food.

     BUT.... It does not have the same flavor as something slow smoked on a coal or stick burner.

     Don't know why ya wife won't get any use as smoked chicken and turkey breast are fantastic!!!
  5. bjohnston11

    bjohnston11 Newbie

    haha, I knew I was opening a can of worms with this one.  One of my buddies is a huge fan of charcoal smokers and when I asked him the question he gave me a "where do I even start" look.

    My concern with cheaper smokers is that they will be even more work and tougher to regulate.

    At least I didn't title the thread "charcoal vs electric vs propane"....  :)

    Thanks for your input! 
  6. bjohnston11

    bjohnston11 Newbie

    Thanks for the input, if I do go with charcoal I think it will probably be the weber.......everyone I speak with says the MES is so easy though....and now I'm back to square one! 

    We definitely will be trying a chicken or turkey, I just meant I won't be smoking large quantities of food, like a big shoulder or butt

  7. mballi3011

    mballi3011 Epic Pitmaster OTBS Member SMF Premier Member


    First off Welcome Blake to SMF. I know.....why don't you screw with everyone and go out there and get a gasser maybe a smoke Vault 24" (like I have) and then you will be a ma on his own lsland. You'll like it here for there are a lot of really good folks here that would just love to help you with just about anything to do with smoking. Now there are a lot of proven recipes for some amazing things here too. So if you need sign up for the E-Course it's free and it will give you the basics of smoking and some good methods to use also. So the next big thing for you to do is go out and get you something to smoke and if you happen to have any questions just post it here and we will be happy to answer them for you.

    Welcome To Your New Addiction    
  8. dale5351

    dale5351 Smoking Fanatic

    I had what is essentially the Brinkman 10+ years ago and used it until it rusted out.  IIRC, cost back then was about $30 and I certainly got my use out of it.  I think it was called a Cajun Smoker -- I called it R2D2 because of the way it looked.  I would use charcoal and hunks of wood -- often apple wood trimmings from the crabapple tree in my front yard.  Did some pretty nice things with it.

    After about a 5 year absence from any smoker, I decided to get back into it again about 4 years ago.  Research and price led me to my current MES30.  I really like the fact that it has controlled temperature, that it can use a variety of wood chips.  Together with the A-Maze-N smoker, it can do a range of smoking from 80F to 275F for smoking anything including cheese, pork (in many forms), and poultry.    Price of an MES30 today is near $200 depending on where you buy it. 

    I would say that if you are not sure you will use it much, take the plunge with the inexpensive Brinkman / R2D2 type of model.  Although you'll need to monitor the temperatures yourself -- with a little experience it will do a good job for you to smoke chicken, turkey, pork or whatever.  If you add on an A-Maze-N smoker (about $45 with shipping) you can use it as a box to cold smoke cheese, etc.

    Hope this helps.
  9. alblancher

    alblancher Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    Don't let Eman fool you.

    A little bird told me that he is in the market for a nice reverse flow.  He may love his MES but he knows the quality of food that comes out of a stick burner. 
  10. Welcome Blake!

    For me, a lot of the fun of this hobby is the challenge of building and maintaing a fire for as long as it takes to produce your desired outcome. I'm always tinkering around with ways to get better, or longer burns, or different kinds of woods. That's what attracted me to a stick burner.  There is nothing more fun for me on a lazy saturday than tending the smoker all day and sucking down a bunch of cold beers. Producing some good Q is always the ultimate goal, but like a lot of things, getting there is half the fun.

    On the other hand, there are a lot of days that I don't get to smoke, because I don't have a "set it and forget it" type of smoker.  Days when you can spend all day within walking distance of your smoker can be few and far between. So, I guess the answer is there is no perfect smoker.  It just depends on what you are trying to get out of your whole smoking experience.  Either way, you should be able to get a quality smoker for what you are looking to spend. 
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2010
  11. dk666

    dk666 Fire Starter

    I just picked up a new WSM $230 shipped and I'm glad I did I you will get great results just follow the post on here not really much to do to get working right for you. As for winter I can't help you there but judging on weather outside I will be able to soon LOL. Goodluck with whatever you choose to buy 
  12. eman

    eman Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member

    Like i said the MES is great for set it and forget it . and the food is good.But i'm going to get me a big reverse flow. I too like tending the fires.