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Charcoal vs Pellets vs Wood vs Gas vs Electric

Dr. Dobbins

Fire Starter
47
75
Joined Dec 18, 2018
I own every type of cooker except the electric smoker. My first smoker was electric so I do have experience with that type also. This is my experience with all of them, keep in mind your experiences will be different.

I will dive into electric smokers first. An electric smoke in my opinion is probably the easiest to use. If you are new to smoking meat then it is a great place to start. They are relatively inexpensive to purchase, and they are the cheapest to operate per hour. You just set the temperature, put some chips into the smoke box, and let it go. They have some major deficiencies most electric smokers are single use appliances. You will not be able to bbq, or sear meats. The only thing they can do is smoke. With that said most electric smokers can operate at very low temperatures which allow you to cold smoke and dehydrate (make jerky) meats and other things. You will not get any smoke rings because the lack of combustion of fuel.

Next is charcoal, I have the most experience with this type of grill. I even developed my own charcoal temperature controller. Depending on how much you want to spend cost of entry can be cheap or it can be very expensive. Right now I have a Kamado Joe big Joe ceramic grill. I love this grill. I have owned many charcoal grills over the years. What you get with more expensive grills are the ability to reach higher temperatures, or better construction. If I were only allowed to have one grill it would be a ceramic charcoal grill. Charcoal grills are not as easy as electric or pellet grills but they are not as complex as wood offset grills. What I like best about charcoal is it’s versatility. The more money you are willing to invest the more you can do with a charcoal grill. For example you can get a Weber kettle and put a slow and sear in it. You can smoke a steak low and slow then give it a nice sear by just moving the steak. Then the next day you can put a rotisserie on the kettle and make some awesome smoked whole chicken. You don’t have to spend a huge sum of money to get good results. Charcoal will not give you the best tasting results, but it will give you great results, and it can do it consistently. The con of charcoal is the preparation and time it takes for a charcoal grill to heat up. It is also expensive to operate, charcoal is not a cheap fuel, it can cost anywhere from 1.00 per hour to 5 dollars per hour to operate one depending on grill temperature, and charcoal type. Also charcoal grills can be dirty, and they require some method to ignite the charcoal. I use a cheap heat gun from harbor freight it’s the quickest cheapest easiest way I have found. There are several features I will always look for in a charcoal grill. First you need a removable ash collector. You will be wise to avoid any charcoal grill without a removable ash collector. Second feature is the accessories, the more there are the better I like the grill. The best starter grill for charcoal is hands down the Weber kettle. It has a accessory to do everything from temperature control, to rotisseries. The only thing the Weber kettle doesn't have is endurance, you will not be able to operate a kettle for more than 7 hours without adding more charcoal. If you want endurance you get a kamado.

Gas grills, are the most popular, grills in America. They are simple to use, quick to heat up, they are great at mid to high temperatures. They make very poor smokers, and very great daily driver grills. Keep your grill clean, and it will give you consistent results. You can add smoke with a wood box or soaked chips in aluminum foil. You can get every accessory known to grilling on a gas grill from sear burners, to rotisserie’s. These grills are great at most tasks except for low and slow smoking. However with that said you can do low and slow with some patience and ingenuity. Gas grills are relatively cheap to operate depending on how many btus you want to put out per hour. I am currently rocking a Monument grill with a side sear burner, and side burner. I picked it up at Lowe’s for around 399.00. This price is an epic value for what this grill does. Some features I look for in a gas grill are easy cleanup, removable grates, and stainless steel construction.

The new kid on the block is the pellet grills, these grills super simple to use. They give great results on the low and slow to mid temperature ranges. I have a pit boss vertical smoker, it is great at smoking meat. It gives me the best results consistently, most people prefer the smoked meats off my pellet grill than my offset or charcoal grill. These grills make great beginner grills also. They are a bit more expensive than electric or charcoal grills. I don’t have much experience yet on my pellet smoker. With that said the product coming off it consistently beats the results off every other grill so far. The negatives to pellet grills are the fuel can be expensive. Cheap pellets will give you mixed results, good pellets will give great results. I like my pellet grill so much I am going to design a control board for it. I can see a lot of things I can do to make a great design even better. Cleanup on a pellet grill will require a vacuum to remove ash from the burn pot. So keep that in mind when purchasing a pellet grill. You might also need a pellet tray or tube to get more smoke flavor into your meat. Pellet grills can burn pellets so clean the smoke flavor can be weak.

Finally the offset grill, I have done about a dozen cooks on my offset, and let me say it is a labor intensive process. This grill is not for inexperienced smokers. You need to learn a lot to make great BBQ on this type of grill. You have fire management, smoke management, and temperature management. If you are into sitting by the grill for hours on end fiddling with vents, stoking the coals and feeding wood into your grill then this is your grill. Another thing this grill is great for low, and high temperature cooking. There is no middle temperature on this grill. To do high temperature just install a grate in the firebox, and you can sear on direct flames. I have reversed sear steaks like this and they come out great. In my opinion the offset grill is to fiddly for my tastes. I have made the best brisket ever on this grill but I have also made bad briskets on this grill. It is too easy to mismanage the fire so I cannot recommend this grill when you can take a pellet smoker and a pellet tube and get nearly the same results without the headache. However when you get this type of grill working good the results are out of this world. This is also the one of the most expensive grill to operate per hour. You will need about 1 cubic foot of wood for 12 hours home depot sells 1 cu foot of splits for 20 dollars. I won’t fire up the offset unless the meat costs more than the fuel.

With all this said I have a stable of grills so I can use each one for it’s specialty. I will use two grills for a cook. If I do a reverse sear cowboy steaks. I will smoke them low and slow on the pellet smoker to 120 then sear them on the gas grill’s sear burner. OMG talking about some tasty steak, nice smoke flavor with a great crust, and nice pink center.

The best and first accessory you must buy is a good temperature probe kit. Knowing the temperature of your cooking food and grill temperature is essential. It doesn’t mater what grill you have a great probe kit will take your results to the next level. It will give you the control over what your cooking, and how you are cooking.
 
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1MoreFord

Meat Mopper
187
75
Joined Jan 4, 2020
Dr., I don't know what type of offset you have but mine will run from 250° to 350° simply by adding more wood and opening the intake damper. It actually runs better at 275° or so. Once up to temp it burns so clean you can hardly see the blue smoke. I don't have a cooking grate in the firebox. At those temps I use a dedicated grill. If I need a cooler cook there's always charcoal for fuel. There are ways to make an offset do most everything Except be a set and forget cooker.

To lower your offset fuel cost you need to get away from big box stores and find a firewood supplier. Check with tree trimmers. Look in the yellow pages. Check Craig's List. You should be buying in some portion of a cord of wood instead of a CF at a home improvement store or grocery.
 

Dr. Dobbins

Fire Starter
47
75
Joined Dec 18, 2018
I am in Arizona and have looked at the wood supplier, I can get better pricing if I buy a larger amount of wood. I just don’t cook enough on it to really go that route. My offset is a cheapo Oklahoma joe, and it is smaller which makes it difficult to control temps.
 

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