Summer's back and the grills are out.
Chances are you wanted to treat yourself to a new grill this year—we all do. But with the wide selection of grills, BBQs and smokers out there, which should you choose?
Which is more expensive?
What are the differences?
Truthfully, you can use a grill to smoke your food. But if your dinner guest is a smoked meat enthusiast, he may not feel like there's enough flavor to it. And sure, you’ve also got the pressure of not wanting to waste money on something useless.
So, if you're in need of some help choosing between a smoker or a grill, look no further.
For the next few minutes (depending on how fast you read), I'll be taking you through some questions you may need to answer to find the perfect fit for you.
What Are the Differences?
Unless you know your grill facts, chances are you may not be aware of the difference between smoking and grilling.
Yes, the names give it away, but there is a bit more to it.
Many people fail to understand the key points when it comes to smoking and grilling. But when choosing between these two, it's essential to have some basic knowledge, beyond smoke and fire.
This will also help you enhance your cooking skills. Knowing the tricks of the grill will only benefit you.
First of all, we can agree that there are three different names used: a grill, BBQ, and a smoker.
Grills and BBQs are basically the same, so to avoid overcomplicating things, we'll just use the name grill.
Smoking is a very delicate and time-consuming cooking process.
The amount of time it takes depends on how big the piece of meat you're cooking is, as well as how much flavor you're looking to achieve.
Smoking requires a low temperature, to make sure you don't get that seared crust which keeps the juices in and the smoke out. While smoking, ideally you should be looking at a heat of 140 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
This means, to get that rack cooked, you'll need to spend at least a few hours on it.
But that smokey flavor will be worth it.
After you've finished smoking the meat, to be sure it's cooked through nicely, it is generally recommended to sear it off on a higher heat.
Types of Smokers
There are numerous types of smokers.
They vary according to how they’re fueled. Some are electric, others use old-school charcoal.
Electrical smokers are very easy to use.
They eliminate the need for a gas tank, and—not to mention—the fear of running out of fuel while cooking.
However, as many smoked meat enthusiasts would say, electrical smokers are cheaters. They’re cheating your meat out of that authentic smoked flavor. But, unless the process matters to you, an electrical smoker is perfect for the hobby chef.
One drawback would be that you'll need to have a steady stream of electricity to power it. Which means you can't place it in the back of a large yard or take it on a road trip.
Propane or natural gas is just as convenient as electricity.
It can be fired up during any type of weather. Just make sure you’ve got a backup tank of propane for more extensive cooking processes.
Pellet smokers take you one step closer to that pure smoked flavor.
They are generally very easy to maintain. However, these tend to be more expensive.
Charcoal is the purest of the pure smoking fuel you can get.
These will give you the best taste. However, they take more time to get started, which is not ideal for a quick meal.
Grilling is a quick and convenient way to get tasty food on the table.
When grilling, you're generally using direct heat, almost like a pan on the stove.
The temperatures are typically much higher, in order to get the meat sealed, which keeps all the flavors and juices inside. But this also prevents smoke from seeping in and infusing the meat.
While grilling, your temperature will most likely reach above 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and it'll only take minutes before you're ready to eat. It's also very convenient when cooking smaller pieces of produce.
You could also use your grill as a smoker.
To do this, you can simply fill a chimney starter with briquettes: about half to one-third full. Light them, and pour them onto your grill when they're ready.
Leave them to one side to avoid direct heat while cooking. Opposite, you'll want to place a disposable pan filled halfway with water.
Leave it for about 30 minutes to one hour before you add any wood chips.
Once the temperature has fallen to a more forgiving heat, you can place your meat on the grates and smoke away. Take a look every hour or so to make sure it's still warm.
Types of Grills
Similar to smokers, there are also various types of grill available on the market. Here are a few.
A gas grill is probably what you'll see in your neighbor's backyard.
These are very easy to use and quick to fire up. On a negative note, as opposed to a wood-fueled grill, you can't really get a dense smoked flavor.
Just as the smoker, charcoal is excellent for grilling.
It may be more time-consuming to get started, but will give you a more significant taste of smoke than the gas grill above.
Many would argue that an electric grill isn't the real deal.
Nonetheless, it's great for people who live in big cities.
You’ve got the option of buying a smaller model and placing it in your kitchen. Then during the snowstorm, you can still enjoy a grilled steak.
A portable grill is excellent for anyone who spends time on the road or enjoys a good tailgate party at a football game.
These usually come as either charcoal or propane gas. They're small and easy to manage, but this also means you can't cook a giant rack of ribs in one go.
Your Cooking Goals
Now that we know the difference, it's time to consider your cooking goals.
What do you want to cook? How many people are you usually grilling for?
These are questions to ask yourself. As you saw above, there is quite a difference between the cooking processes.
What Do You Cook?
Think about what you usually cook, or aspire to in the near future.
Is it big pieces of meat? A whole animal? Burgers—or just vegetables?
If you enjoy cooking a whole lamb leg or a chicken, a smoker would be ideal.
This way the meat can tenderize during the long cooking process while all the delicious, smoky flavors infuse the meat.
The indirect heat is perfect for the pieces which require an extra flavor boost. Just make sure there's enough moisture to avoid a dry texture.
You can also get creative with a smoker, and smoke your own bacon or fish. Nothing's better than a slice of smoked salmon on a bagel with cream cheese on a Sunday morning. If only that smoked salmon was homemade.
Of course, it requires a bit of reading up on some tips and tricks, but once you know the fundamentals, it's fairly easy.
If you intend to cook smaller pieces of meat, a grill would be better.
The direct heat is ideal for when you're preparing items which only require some grates and a steady temperature.
Meats like steak, lamb chops, halved chicken, and even vegetables and side dishes, such as garlic bread, are great and quick on the grill.
How Many People Do You Cook For?
How big is your cookout? Or how big do you aspire to make it?
Whether you're cooking for your wife and kids, or a whole football team, you'll want to get a smoker or a grill that has a larger capacity.
This way you can grow into it. Plus, it's always good to have some extra space around you while you're cooking.
Both grills and smokers come in different sizes.
There are smokers large enough to fit a whole cow. And grills fit for cooking a king's banquet.
Smokers are great if you're catering for many people, as it's easier to fit large amounts of food inside. On the downside, it might take more time. Especially since most of the time, you'll have to cook it through after smoking.
A grill is a perfect complement to a small family get-together or a guys’ night with your buddies. But you can, of course, also get a more generous grill which accommodates a whole pig.
If you’re looking to host big grill parties, make sure the cooking surface of the grates is large enough to accommodate all the food. A compatible lid is also essential if you're planning to slow cook a rack of ribs, for example.
You can also invest in a pair of grill racks. You can easily place these under the lid and fit more food in at once. This might be ideal if it's your turn to cook for the whole extended family at the Fourth of July celebration.
Again, it's essential that you get a lid which has enough vertical space between the top and the grates.
Is Space a Concern?
Where are you planning on having your grill or smoker set up? Is it under a roof or the stars?
These are more questions you should ask yourself. Again, you can get small or large smokers and grills depending on your budget.
Many smokers come in compact, barrel-like shapes.
Other manufacturers took to eggs for inspiration and created an "egg" smoker. These are easy to fit in the corner of your yard; so is a classic charcoal grill.
A portable grill is classic for that summer evening at the beach with a few of your friends or close family. Don't worry, unless you want to, you don't have to wheel it down the street.
These grills are usually small and compact, or easy to take apart and place in the car. Just make sure you bring the charcoal.
You can also place a small smoker in your car and take it on the road. However, it's not every day you see a man smoking bacon in his home-smoker in the park.
It might not be the ideal tool to take along for a tailgate party. Nevertheless, it'd be great for that campout during late summer by the lake.
The majority of the items we buy are influenced by how much we have to spend.
This includes grills and smokers. Like anything else, prices vary, depending on brand, size, and extra features.
If you're a hobby griller, chances are you don't want to spend thousands of dollars on a grill which will only feel the heat a few times a year.
In contrast, if you are an aspiring home chef, a smoker with various features and functions may be more your thing. These are going to be more expensive but worth the extra cost if used regularly.
When looking at your budget, consider which additional features you need, or don't need. Many modern grills and smokers come with side burners, infrared heaters, side and warming tables, even digital add-ons.
These are for, obvious reasons more pricey, and if you're an average home cook, they might not be necessary.
Home grills or smokers are a treat to have in your backyard.
Which to choose can be tricky. If you must select one or the other, consider the questions above.
Which foods do you expect to cook and for how many people? Is budget an issue and do you need any additional features?
To conclude, we all have different expectations when it comes to our cooking equipment.
But in the end, many of us prefer to buy a charcoal grill and master the art of smoking on it.
This way, you can have the best of both worlds without spending too many dollars on something you may not use more than a couple of times a year.