Last Updated on August 24, 2022
When cooking meat for a large family barbecue or picnic, the pellet grill and offset smoker models are both fantastic options.
Nothing beats the taste of charred, freshly cooked chicken breasts or braised brisket. Both these grill styles produce juicy and flavorful meat, from smoky pulled pork to well-rounded, succulent lamb chops.
However, there are also quite a few critical differences between a pellet grill and an offset smoker. Before you rush off to buy either of these models, it’s crucial to consider these differences and to make sure you’re investing in the grill design that’s perfect for you.
Here, you’ll find a breakdown of the differences between the pellet grill and the offset smoker, from the contrasting cooking methods to the distinctions in running costs and fuel efficiency.
Pellet Grill vs. Offset Smoker Overview
Pellet grills and offset smokers are two distinctive types of barbecues that offer something different in terms of fuel source, cooking method, and meat flavor.
An offset grill is a traditional model for smoking meat. It has two connected, barrel-shaped containers and smokes meat across a horizontal plane. One barrel is smaller than the other called the firebox, and it sits a little below the larger barrel.
You fill the firebox up with charcoal or wood chips, set a controlled fire, then close the lid. The smoke from the fire rises and moves into the main cooking container, where it moves horizontally across the meat. This smoke cooks and flavors the food before leaving through the chimney at the far end of the oven barrel.
Offset models produce rich, smoky meats because they tend to take a while to heat up and operate at a leisurely pace. For that reason, these smokers are perfect for slow-cooked meats. They’re also ideal for cooking large, fatty hunks of meat. The slow-cooking method helps to tenderize the cuts over time, while the extra fat works to keep the meat from drying out.
Pellet grills take specialized hardwood pellets as their fuel source. You feed the pellets into the firebox on the side of the cooking container. An electric motor then pushes them into the small fire burning right underneath the cooking container’s center.
You can easily manage the grill’s temperature; you simply have to set the temperature at which you want to cook the meat. The auger automatically feeds the pellets into the small firebox at a reasonable rate to reach and maintain this temperature.
The smoke from the small fire moves up into the cooking container, where it circulates in a convection heat pattern, before escaping through the chimney in the top corner of the oven.
As you might imagine, pellet grills cook meat more quickly than offset smokers do: they also tend to barbecue meat more evenly. That’s because the electric motor in the firebox tightly regulates the main chamber’s temperature, cooking all the pieces of meat equally.
Photo by Camp Chef (@campchef)
People often consider the pellet grill an upgraded version of the offset smoker. While this is a debatable point, it’s difficult to dispute that a pellet grill is easier to use.
- Easy to use and control – The pellet grill’s most significant advantage is the ease of use. You don’t have to stand over the barbecue and keep checking whether the meat’s cooking correctly or whether the temperature’s at a suitable level: you adjust the temperature function on the hopper and let the auger motor and combustion fan operate. You can keep an eye on the cooking process by checking the LCD screen on the front of the side container or hopper.
- Adaptable – These grills are also highly versatile. They can broil, braise, smoke, bake, and roast meat to a high standard. The evenly distributed smoke and well-regulated temperature create perfect conditions for most forms of meat cooking. Some pellet grills even contain a built-in smoke control function that allows you to change your meat’s smokiness.
- Quick at cooking meat – The pellet grill also tends to be faster than other grill and smoker models for cooking meat.
- Offer high fuel-efficiency – The combustion fan helps create a convection current of heat that cooks the meat evenly, wasting very little fuel.
- Relatively easy to clean – These grills make a lot less mess than charcoal-run smokers, which tend to leave mountains of ash to clear out at the end of a grilling session.
- Cook meat evenly – The wood pellets’ standardized shape means that the motor can feed them uniformly into the firebox. This steady rate of feeding allows for a constant burn rate, providing a continuous, smooth cooking process.
- Require electricity to run – These grills need electricity to run because of their electric motor and LCD screen. This energy consumption can be an issue if you don’t have a power outlet or generator available.
- Grill covering – Because of its electrical features, you’ll need to invest in a substantial grill cover for the pellet grill to protect it from the outside weather.
- Don’t produce smoky meat – If you’re a fan of smoky beef or chicken, you may be a bit disappointed with the pellet grill. The built-in smoke and temperature regulations mean you don’t get an intensely smoky flavor. You also won’t get sear marks on your meat.
- Expensive initial and running costs – Because of their innovative technology and versatility, these are some of the most expensive grills on the market. In addition to the initial cost, you’ll be paying for the cost of upkeep. You need a hefty bag of wood pellets to fire up the convection chamber, and these can be costly. Once you’ve filled up the hopper, it’ll burn through between 0.5 and 3 lbs of wood pellets per hour, depending on how high you need your cooking temperature. That means a single standard bag of pellets is sufficient for 6½ hours of cooking. So, you may need to use more than a single bag of pellets for extended barbecuing sessions.
Photo by Broil King (@broilkingbbq)
If you love the subtle, woody taste of properly barbecued meat, then an offset smoker is perfect.
This traditional way of smoking uses a flavorful fuel source to cook meat slowly at lower temperatures, infusing the joints and cuts with a smoldering, rich flavor.
- Create a delicious barbecue flavor – Because the offset smoker uses wood or charcoal as its fuel source, it produces meat with an incredibly delicate, smoky flavor. The smoke rises into the cooking container relatively unregulated, moving across the meat and cooking it slowly and thoroughly. Offset smokers can create an intensely full-bodied, slow-cooked brisket.
- You can also use them as a grill – An offset smoker can double up as a grill. Bypass the firebox and add charcoal to the bottom of the main container. Put a grill rack above the charcoal, and you’re ready to grill. Grilling cooks the meat faster than smoking does and ensures that you produce the juiciest possible result.
- Don’t require electricity – These smokers are old-school. They don’t need any electricity to operate, so you can also barbecue almost anywhere you want. You’ll also save on any electricity costs you’d be paying with other grill options.
- Tend to be cheaper – These smokers’ initial cost tends to be less expensive than some other, electricity-operated options.
- Can cook a lot of meat at once – You can fit a lot of fuel in the firebox of an offset grill, allowing the cooking container to retain a high temperature over a long time. There’s also plenty of room in a traditional offset smoker, so you’ll be able to lay out several large chunks of meat with no problem at all.
- Easy to source fuel – The charcoal and wood fuel sources are easy to find at various stores.
- Need to check on the temperature frequently – You’ll need to keep manually checking on the temperature of your firebox and the cooking container to make sure that your meat is cooking correctly. Whenever you open up the large container’s lid, you run the risk of losing heat and smoke from the barbecue, so try to avoid doing that too often.
- Very difficult to use in adverse weather conditions – These grills are difficult to use in rainy, windy, and cold weather. Poor external conditions can make it even more challenging to control and retain the smoker’s internal temperature, and wet weather can dampen the fuel source.
- It takes a long time to cook meat – It can take time to heat the fuel source and the barbecue. Afterward, the smoker’s slow-cooking style means that you’ll be waiting a while for your meat to cook properly.
- It’s more challenging to get an even cook – Sometimes, the area of the smoker nearest to the firebox is the hottest, meaning you’ll have to keep rotating meat to make sure it gets cooked evenly. This problem is significantly more likely to happen with a traditional offset smoker model.
High running costs – Traditional models tend to be less fuel-efficient than other options, meaning they have higher running costs.
Pellet Grills and Offset Smokers Go Head to Head
There are several factors to consider when deciding whether to get either a pellet grill or an offset smoker. Both types of barbecues produce tasty and flavorsome meat, but there are some critical differences between them.
Cooking Style & Flavors
Each model has a different style of cooking, and, in each case, this affects the taste of the meat. The pellet grill works like a convection oven, cooking meat with a well-rounded, juicy flavor. This meat will also taste less smoky than that from an offset model.
The offset barbecue burns through charcoal and wood to smoke the meat through a horizontal plane, so it tends to excel at slow-cooking meat at a low temperature. This model produces meat that has more of a traditional barbecue flavor. It’s smoky and succulent and tends to feel more tender than the meat from a pellet grill.
It’s worth noting that many pellet models don’t double up as grills. It’s often difficult to get their temperature high enough for effective grilling. This problem doesn’t occur with offset smokers, since you can put down a grate and grill directly over the firebox if you want.
The pellet grill’s calling card is its unrivaled level of control when it comes to temperature. The built-in automated temperature regulation ensures no significant fluctuations in the heat-levels within the cooking container. This regulation means that the meat cooks evenly and quickly.
The offset grill has no automated temperature regulation system. You have to manually do this by lifting the firebox lid to gauge the fuel source’s temperature, raising the cooking container, and checking the meat itself. This regulation method takes practice. Some grillers love being in complete manual control of the cooking process while others prefer the mechanical design.
The precise temperature regulation and convection fan method of the pellet grill means that it’s very efficient for fuel usage. This efficiency is due to a lack of fuel waste wasting from unnecessary and unpredictable internal temperature fluctuations. Pellet grills also tend to be well insulated and resistant to external conditions, meaning they retain heat well, and you’re not wasting fuel trying to keep them hot enough as you cook.
Offset smokers take longer to cook meat, and in that respect, they’re less fuel-efficient. This more traditional mode of smoking doesn’t tend to cook meat as evenly as the pellet grill: you’ll sometimes find temperature disparities within the cooking container itself, depending on which cut of beef is nearest to the firebox.
With an offset smoker, you also have to check up on your meat more. Whenever you open the lid, you’re subjecting the cooking container to a potentially drastic temperature change. This means you’re likely to waste fuel trying to maintain a suitable internal heat level.
Affordability & Cost of Upkeep
Generally, a pellet grill costs more upfront than an offset smoker. The automated regulation and convection fan features drive up the starting price.
Both the pellet and offset grills have relatively high running costs. However, while the offset model has a higher cost of upkeep, it’s not as fuel-efficient as the pellet grill. On the other hand, you’ll be paying electricity costs with the pellet model.
Wrapping It Up
Both the pellet grill and the offset smoker are great options when it comes to buying a high-quality barbecue for large family events and parties.
If you want to produce meat with a classic braised and smoky taste and don’t mind waiting, go for an offset grill. If you prefer a less smoky, more well-rounded flavor, then opt for a pellet model.
If you like being in charge of your barbecue and enjoy standing over it and keeping track of the cooking process, then an offset grill is your best bet. If, on the other hand, you’d rather let the grill do most of the work while you go off and catch up with your friends and family, then consider a pellet model.
There are lots of reasons to buy these two types of grills. Carefully consider the features you’re looking for in an outdoor meat cooker, you’ll find a model that suits you and your family perfectly.