What Is The Difference Between a Grill and a Smoker?

In Grill Guides & Buying Advice by marketninjas

When I was making some purchases to fill up my backyard recently, I came across the option of a BBQ grill and a smoker. Not too sure what the difference was or which one I needed, I decided to do some research to get all of the details on each one.

What is the difference between a grill and a smoker? The main difference between a grill and a smoker is where the fire is kept. To be more specific, a grill has fire directly underneath the meat that is being cooked. A smoker, on the other hand, has the fire in a separate location.

In addition to the placement of the fire, smokers are designed to cook meat slowly at lower temperatures, whereas grills get the job of cooking the meat done quickly. Finally, smokers are used to achieve a certain taste, while grills are not necessarily used for the same purpose.

Whether you are a passionate summer griller or you are trying to learn the ropes for an upcoming backyard BBQ, you have probably considered using a smoker at one point or another. While it is true that grills and smokers both use fire to cook meat, they are more different than you might think.

Most people would be surprised to learn the distinct separation between grills and smokers, because the two are so commonly confused with one another. In this article, we will be going over the characteristics of both a grill and a smoker, along with what makes each one unique.

The Difference Between a Grill and a Smoker

Grills and smokers are two completely different pieces of equipment that might seem like the same thing from the outside looking in. In fact, the average person does not know the real difference between the two objects.

Both of these tools are used to cook meats outdoors and give them that smoky grill flavor, but what are the real differentiating factors?

Those who are not familiar with the art of grilling or have never actually used this equipment themselves will probably not be able to tell them apart. This is why I put together a quick and easy comparison of a grill and a smoker, which we will discuss in-depth throughout this section.

Take a look at the lists down below, where you will find the characteristics of a grill, followed by that of a smoker. These combined with the rest of the information to follow will give you everything you need to know about this outdoor kitchen tools.

These are the characteristics of a grill:

  • Fire is kept in same compartment as meat, directly cooks it from underneath
  • Designed to cook the meat all the way through quickly, instead of giving it a certain taste

The grill is probably the BBQ tool that you are most familiar with. When you think of any kind of outdoor BBQ party that you might have had growing up or current day, the grill is the main component that makes everything happen.

You might have a gas, electric, or charcoal grill. Depending on the type of grill that you are using, you might have to turn a switch to ignite the fire or use lighter fluid to spark up the flame in the pit yourself.

Either way, all grills are fundamentally the same as they compare to the average smoker.

To be more specific, the fire in a grill is kept in the same compartment as the meat. Think of using a traditional BBQ grill. You place the meat on top of the grates and the fire comes up from directly underneath them.

When it is time to let the meat cook, you close the lid or the hood and allow it to reach the correct temperature. Therefore, the fire and the meat are kept in the same enclosed location while you are cooking with a grill.

The grill itself is designed to cook the meat all the way through quickly, very similar to how it would be on a normal stove. Once you light the fire and place the meat on the grates, you will wait a certain amount of time until it is all the way cooked through and the process will be completed.

In addition to quickly cooking the meat, a grill is not necessarily designed to give off a certain taste when the food is done. Of course, you can choose to go with a charcoal grill for a smokier flavor than you would get with a gas grill, but it still won’t be a slap in the face as far as smoke goes.

This is where the smoker comes in, which will be outlined throughout the rest of this section.

Now that you have gotten a pretty good idea of what makes a grill special while you are using it to cook your food, we will move on to the next topic of discussion, which is the smoker.

Smokers are much less common in the average backyard BBQ party. You might consider this to be a specialty or top-tier kitchen tool that is only purchased for a particular purpose.

Before we get into more detail on what a smoker is, take a look at the list down below to find some good answers through the characteristics of this type of outdoor kitchen tool.

These are the characteristics of a smoker:

  • Fire is contained in a separate space from the main compartment (Where the meat goes)
  • Heat is generally lower (cooks meats to 250-255 F range)

The main difference between a smoker and a grill is that the smoker holds the fire kn a separate space from the main compartment where the meat goes. As mentioned previously, the grill will hold both in the same section, covered by the hood or the lid.

This design of the smoker allows the smoke from the fire to reach the meat and coat it in closed quarters, as opposed to the fire directly touching it. The result of this method will not be quickly cooked meat, since the fire is not in contact with the meat or food that you are trying to smoke.

Instead, the heat will be a lot lower, and the meat will cook from the heat of the fire all around it, along with the smoke that is trapped inside.

The heat inside of a smoker usually cooks the meat anywhere from the 250 to 255 F range as far as temperatures go.

If the information in this section interested you about smokers, then you will really get all of the information that you want to know about the topic in the next section. Keep reading to get all the details about the purpose of a smoker and the results that you can achieve when you use one.

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What Is The Purpose of a Smoker?

As you can see, smokers are valuable tools for any outdoor BBQ extravaganza. While it is true that they can be considered a specialty item, it is for good reason.

Smokers provide much different results from the average grill that serves the purpose of quickly cooking meat to serve. Instead, it is a much slower and more detail-oriented process.

In this section, we will be touching on the purpose of a smoker, or in other words, what you will get when you use this tool over the traditional grill.

The list down below will give you an idea of the results that you will find when you use a smoker.

The Purpose of a Smoker:

  • Cooking meats low and slow
  • Achieving tender texture
  • Giving off an extra smoky taste

The first purpose of a smoker is to cook the meats low and slow. This is a desirable method when you are trying to get extra flavor on your meat, instead of cooking it quickly in the direct fire.

As a result of slow cooking without a direct flame, you will be able to achieve a very tender texture with a smoker, instead of the tough meat that you might be used to with the traditional BBQ grill.

Last but not least ,the final purpose of a smoker is implied right in the name: to give off that extra smoky taste. While it is true that you can get somewhat of a smoky flavor with a grill, it is extremely concentrated when you use the tool that is meant to give you that result.

Do I Need a Grill or a Smoker?

So, now that you have learned almost everything you need to know about the differences between a grill and a smoker, you might be wondering which one will be the best for you.

This decision will be different for each individual, and should be based on need and desired outcome. However, to help you out in making the correct choice for yourself, I have put together a list of important factors that must be considered before you make your purchase.

The organized list down below will give you a brief outline of what you should think about before you make that final decision.

Here are some factors to consider while deciding between a grill and a smoker:

  • What kind of cooking experience would you like to have?
  • What are the desired results that you would like to see in your food?
  • How often will you use this piece of equipment?
  • What is your price point for your purchase?

First and foremost, you want to think about what kind of cooking experience you would like to have. Are you having a BBQ party where you will need to quickly serve up plates of cooked food. Or, on the other hand, will you be using it for your weeknight meals where you have time to wait for the smoker?

What are the desired results that you would like to see in your food? Do you want a quick cook and char on a steak or do you want to taste the smoke in every bite?

Before purchasing, you should think about how often you will actually use your grill or smoker, as well as how much you will be spending in order to get it.

When it comes to making the choice between a grill and a smoker, the ultimate decision will be up to your own preferences as well as your desired results. Regardless of whether you choose a grill or a smoker, just make sure that the product that you choose will be exactly what you need and what makes sense for you.

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