Smoking, simply put, is the slow cooking of a piece of meat at a very low temperature by burning hardwood in the form of chips, chunks or logs. For tough pieces of meat, this process breaks down the fat and connective tissues leaving the meat so tender and soft. When buying a smoker we are faced with a choice, whether to choose an electric smoker or a charcoal smoker. It would be inappropriate to regard one as better than the other as both has their advantages and disadvantages.
The main difference between a charcoal smoker and an electric smoker is that the latter keeps the fire away from the meat. An electric smoker keeps the temperature low enough to cook meat at temperatures of around 200-250 F. A charcoal smoker is designed to cook hot and fast, the trick is to keep the fire small and while cooking. After all, that is the secret of real barbeque. Electric smokers are easier to run because they require little tending to.
They come with a temperature control system so that the temperature does not drop too low or get too high. They have the advantage of being generally lightweight. However, while electric smokers are very good at keeping the meat moist, they never get hot enough to change the color of the meat to brown. There are, however, different types of electric smokers that can get hot enough to get the meat to have that desired color.
A charcoal smoker also has its advantages. For starters, if you want to experience some good old fashioned grilling than a charcoal smoker looks like a valid option. It is not much different than the electric smoker but it does require a little bit more work. Keeping a low temperature or the right temperature requires extra work and vigilance, but with practice, it can perform the task fairly well.
Other than that, a tricky step is to find the proper arrangement between coals and meat since we want the meat exposed to even, low heat. That does sound like a lot of work but it is a very popular belief that the truer the barbeque the more time you will spend tending to fires and watching temperatures. The downside, however, is that the charcoal smoker is at the risk of huge fires and explosion.
Unlike an electric smoker, a charcoal smoker requires you to work with fire directly. Then again, charcoal smokers are traditional and provide a more authentic flavor to your cooking. An electric smoker is convenient and does all the work itself but it lacks the right flavor a barbeque is supposed to have.
Another factor that discriminates the two smokers is price. Generally, you would find charcoal smokers to be cheaper than electric smokers but this is not always the case. Some charcoal smokers can have prices that go higher than an average electric smoker.
So while choosing a smoker the important thing is to set a budget and keep in mind how often you will have to use it. If you do not throw huge barbeque parties every other day then a charcoal smoker may be the best choice.