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When I first found out about smoking meat, I didn’t really understand the difference between a grill and a smoker. I kept seeing the term smoker grill getting thrown around but never quite understood what that meant. Fast-forward to today, I am writing this article to bring some clarity to the situation.
For starters, this is probably the last time you will hear the term smoker grill. When people talk about a smoker grill they are actually talking about a smoker, but for the purposes of this article, I will use the two interchangeably.
A smoker grill, more commonly known as a smoker, is a cooking device that uses indirect heat at low temperatures (225° – 275° Fahrenheit) to cook meat for extended periods of time. In addition to that, smoker grills also burn wood to give meat a distinctive smoky flavor.
While you might think that a smoker grill has a lot in common with a regular grill, they are actually quite different. Read on to find out why.
What Is The Difference Between A Smoker Grill And A Grill?
While they share a similar name, a smoker grill and grill are vastly different cooking devices. This difference comes down to 5 things: type of meat, cooking temperature, heat source, cooking times, and cooking style.
Type of Meat: Smoker grills are used to cook the tough, fatty pieces of meat like brisket, ribs, and pork shoulder. These types of meats have a lot of fat, collagen, and connective tissue that require the low, indirect heat a smoker grill gives to properly render the meat making them edible. While you can cook leaner meat like chicken and turkey on a smoker grill, smoker grills were initially built to cook the large tough pieces of meat.
Cooking Temperature: While grills commonly run above 400° Fahrenheit, smoker grills operate between 225° and 275°. This allows tough pieces of meat like brisket and pork shoulder to properly render the collagen and connective tissue leaving tender and succulent meat. Smoking meat is all about low and slow.
Heat Source: Smoker grills utilize indirect heat to cook meat as opposed to direct fame as you see on a regular grill. Cooking meat indirectly allows large pieces of meat to cook and properly break down tough pieces of meat without burning the meat. If you tried smoking a brisket over direct heat for 12 hours, you would end up with a blackened hockey puck.
Cooking Times: Because smoker grills run at lower temperatures, the cook times are dramatically increased. Depending on the type of meat you are smoking, most cooks will take you anywhere from 6 to 24 hours. Compare this to grilling which is done in 15-30 minutes and you can see how vastly different these two types of cookers are.
Cooking Style: The most noticeable difference between a grill and a smoker grill is the cooking style and the flavoring of the meat. Unlike grills, smoker grills burn wood to give meat that distinctive smoky flavor. Different woods also have different flavor profiles thus giving cooks a greater range of flavor profiles to use. This added flavor is said to make meat taste better and is one of the largest draws to owing a smoker grill.
How A Smoker Grill Works
A smoker grill is comprised of two main areas, your fire box and your cooking/smoking chamber. Wood and charcoal are burned in the fire box creating heat and smoke. That heat and smoke is then moved through air circulation into the cooking chamber thus indirectly heating the cooking chamber. Once meat is placed in the cooking chamber, it slowly cooks and absorbs the smoke. Now there are many types of smokers and configurations, but all types of smokers will have a fire box and a smoking chamber.
The video below features an offset smoker which has the fire box on the side of the cooking chamber. Many other style smokers have the fire box below the cooking chamber in a vertical fashion but the air flow works the same. Heat and smoke move from the fire box, across the cooking chamber, and out the smoke stack. This cooks your meat while allowing it to absorb the smoke flavor from your fire.
Types Of Smoker Grills
While they share the same name, a smoker grill is completely different than a grill. Everything from the cooking style to the flavor profile is going to be different. Smoker grills are great cooking devices to have if you are looking to take your BBQ to the next level and impress your guests with restaurant quality food.
Offset Smoker: Your traditional style smoker, an offset smoker will give you the most authentic smoky flavor. Offset smokers have a fire box which burns wood splits, attached to the side of the smoking chamber. The smoke flows from the fire box, into the smoking chamber, and out the smokestack located on the opposite side of the smoker giving you optimal smoke flavor.
Pellet Smoker: One of the easiest ways to smoke meat, pellet smokers use cooking pellets and an automated system to smoke your meat. Set your controller to the temperature you want, and the pellet grill will automatically feed pellets into the fire pot to burn, holding that set temperature. Once those pellets are burned, the heat a smoke is circulated through the smoking chamber using a set of fans.
Bullet Smoker: Usually in the shape of a bullet, hence the name, bullet smokers use charcoal and wood chunks to smoke meat. These smokers are situated in a vertical position with your fire being at the bottom. The heat and smoke rise to the smoking chamber situated at the top of the smoker. Add a water pan in the middle to create indirect heat and you have yourself a charcoal smoker.
Drum Smoker: Created from 55-gallon steel drums, drum smokers are incredibly easy to use and offer great flavor. Just like the bullet smoker, this is a vertical smoker with the fire at the bottom and the cooking chamber at the top; however, unlike the bullet smoker, drum smokers do not have a water pan. This gives drum smokers a unique flavor as the fat drippings from the meat land directly on the fire creating more smoke and a unique flavor.
Kamado Style Smoker: Created from ceramic and shaped like and egg, these smokers use charcoal and wood to smoke food. They hold their heat incredibly well making them efficient and can be used as a grill, oven, pizza oven, and more making them more than just a smoker grill.
Gas/Electric Smoker: The “microwaves” of smoking, these plugs and play systems are the easiest to use. Plug you smoker into and outlet, set the temperature, add some wood chips, and let the smoker work. Because you are using electricity as your heat source you will lose some flavor, but for a beginner looking to get into smoking on the cheap this could be an option.
Is Smoking Meat Better Than Grilling
Comparing smoking meat to grilling is like comparing apples to oranges, it is all personal preference. Some people enjoy the smoky flavor that smokers offer while some say it taste bitter. Smoking meat gives a much different flavor than grilling, but in general, most people really enjoy the flavor of smoked meat.
The type of meat you are cooking also plays an important role. I prefer chicken and burgers that are cooked on a grill; however, if I am doing pork or brisket, the results are much better on a smoker. One is not better than the other and both have their time to shine.
Does Smoking Meat Actually Cook It?
Smoking meat does safely cook meat. According to the USDA, meat is safe to eat once the internal temperature has passed 165° Fahrenheit. Smoking meat involves cooking at temperatures at and above 225° Fahrenheit which is more than hot enough to safely cook meat.