Both smokers use wood but the difference between them is worlds apart. While wood smokers run on wood lumps or chips, pellet smokers create smoke from wood pellet fuel (compressed wood dust) with the use of electricity.
I've owned the Pit Boss pellet grill ever since I came out of cooking school. I've also worked on and seen how wood smokers work since I was a kid. So I know how both systems work. In this article, I’ll provide an in-depth comparison between a pellet smoker and a wood smoker. You’ll also see how each one works so you know which one is better for you.
In almost all cases, wood pellet smokers are better than wood chunks or wood log smokers. They have better burning efficiency, are easier to start, and have better temperature control. Wood chips burn quicker than wood pellets but they’re not as multifunctional as pellets. For example, you can use wood pellets in a wood, charcoal smoker, or pizza ovens but you can’t use wood chips in a pellet smoker.
Overall, choosing a wood pellet smoker will give you the best value for money as you'll get better burning efficiency, easier starts, and more versatility.
First, here's a pellet smoker vs wood smoker comparison so you can see how they differ:
Pellet and electricity
Wood chips, wood lumps, charcoal and pellets
Up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit
Up to 400 degrees
Temp required to smoke
225 to 250 degrees
570 to 750 degrees
Smoke production and flavor
Not as strong as wood smokers
Strong smoke flavor
Price and accessibility
$300 to $1,000
The main difference between the two types consists of the fuel and operational mechanism used.
Wood smokers use wood lumps. However, most people like to combine it with charcoal for cooking efficiency. If you can't find wood logs, cooking with just charcoal on the actual wood-fired smoker is fine. So, this is what makes wood smokers really versatile.
Pellet smokers use wood too but they are first ground into sawdust and then compressed into bullet shapes.
As mentioned, pellet smokers run with electricity while using the pellet fuel as a smoke flavor source as well as fuel.
Just pour some wood pellets in the hopper, flip the power switch on and your smoker is running. It's not the same with a wood smoker. After placing the wood logs, you'll need a propane torch to get the wood smoker tank hot and burning.
Wood smokers are more suitable for recipes that need low and slow smoking. These include pulled pork, pork butt, briskets, baby back ribs, whole chickens, prime ribs, sausages, or fish.
Because it combines the features of modern and traditional smokers, a pellet smoker is also versatile. I use my pellet smoker to smoke, roast, grill, bake and even sear food. It's even easier to start the fire.
As I said earlier, wood smokers are more suitable for low and slow cooking with a lot of smokey flavors. Pellet smokers beat wood smokers hands down if you're looking to crank up the heat of the burners.
Also, the wood in a wood smoker requires a lot of heat to start smoking. With pellets, you need as low as 250 degrees and you'd have a good smoke.
Most pellet smokers have a range of 150 degrees up to 600 degrees. One of the great things about pellet cookers is the range of temps you can cook at. It holds heat within plus or minus 5 degrees of where you have it set. So it's a lot like cooking inside.
That's why wood smoker users think it's cheating when you use a pellet smoker in the competition world. Know that these pellet smokers can cook meat and other food at really precise and high temperatures!
This is an electricity-fed smoker that cooks off of compressed wood. A pellet smoker has a hopper where your fuel goes and is fed into the smoker.
The actual pellets used always reminds me of rabbit food but these are just compressed pieces of wood. You can get them in all kinds of flavors. They are also available in different combinations of wood, from oak to apple, mesquite, and hickory.
I personally like the BBQrs Delight Wood Smoking Pellets. They sell a variety value pack that includes apple pellets, pecan pellets, hickory, cherry, mesquite, and Tennessee whiskey pellets. I'm happy with the consistency and the smoke flavor and they burn really well.
A pellet smoker has a control panel on the front. All you need to do is turn the unit on and the induction fan automatically drives air into the cooking chamber. It also notifies the auger to start spinning so the pellets loaded in the chamber can roll into the smoker.
At the bottom of the pot of pellets is the auger motor that feeds it into the burner inside. The pellets go from the auger under the racks and the deflector.
As the auger motor feeds pellets down into the fire burner pot, the little heating unit heats up. It stays on just for a couple of minutes, long enough to get the fire going. Then, it turns off and your fuel source keeps burning.
Now you can set your temperature on the control panel, just like with your oven.
If you think pellet cookers are right for you, let's talk about some of its advantages.
The first one that comes to my mind is that they're simple to use. It's just like cooking in your oven at home. There's no fighting a fire like with the wood smoker. No having to go out and add charcoal or wood every few minutes. Just make sure you have pellets in the hopper and that's it.
One of the things I like about pellet cookers is the price range. You know you can find them anywhere from three hundred bucks all the way up to $800. So there's always something that's going to fit your budget!
Thirdly, they're versatile. You can cook at any temperature range on a pellet grill. So you can smoke down to low temperatures like with an electric smoker or wood smoker. You can cook at high heat or you even bake on them. It's just like using outdoor ovens.
Also, the pellets are a clean fuel source. Most commercially available pellets in the US are safe. All you need is to ensure you get a food-grade pellet pack.
They almost completely burn up so you have really low ash and they produce heat and smoke at the right amount. So, you're not going to over-smoke anything on a pellet grill. Just remember, pellet smokers require electricity.
This smoker works traditionally with wood lumps or chips. You need to find a way to manually get the woods to start burning. You will need a coal bed or use a blowtorch to light a wood smoker.
A wood smoker is just like a charcoal smoker. The difference here is that wood lumps are used. However, you can mix wood chips and charcoal briquettes like in offset smokers if you want. That gives you a good mix of burning efficiency and smokiness.
The wood smoker is used for low and slow-cooking methods and other recipes where you want the food to have that smokey flavor.
Commercially, you don't often find smokers built only for wood. Maybe except for the Meadow Creek TS250 wood smoker. Even the Meadow Creek Wood Smoker is sold as a barbecue smoker trailer and costs around $10,000!
You can just head over to Amazon and find a wood-fired smoker solely designed for wood lumps or wood chunks. You'll walk past a lot of pellet, propane, and charcoal smokers without finding one designed solely for wood.
However, you can use a charcoal smoker and burn wood in it. In most cases, you can use wood, and charcoal briquettes, or mix and match both pellet and wood.
A traditional wood smoker can be a makeshift smoking house built on campsites or backyard grillers. However, one big downside of wood smokers is the health hazard from wood smoke.
Wood smokers are less efficient than modern wood pellet grills. So, more wood has to be burned to get the same efficiency.
According to the W.H.O, around half of all people worldwide (about 2.4 billion people) still cook with solid biomass like wood.
Accordingly, a growing number of studies link solid fuels to poor health. Around two million people die every year from the effects of wood smoke; half of them children under the age of five.
Wood smokers are versatile. Like offset smokers, you can burn wood lumps, charcoal, and even pellets in them. A pellet smoker doesn't give you that luxury. However, a pellet smoker gives you more options in terms of the type of food you can make.
Smoking meat entirely with wood is also not great for your health, especially if you live in a place where you can't get commercially sold food-grade wood. Perhaps this is why wood smokers are mostly off the market. A pellet smoker is best in this case. It's a great alternative to propane smokers and you can prepare food using any cooking method with it.