Whether you’re upgrading your BBQ island into a full outdoor kitchen or adding a brand new cooking to your home, the appliances you choose will impact the design. For many, the grill is the center of their outdoor kitchen, but there are a few other cooking appliances worth considering, most notably the smoker. So, you have an important decision to make: should you go with an outdoor grill or smoker? Or, do you choose both?
While many may assume that these two types of cookware perform the same basic functions, grills, and smokers, and their benefits and uses are actually quite different. Here are the major differences between a grill and a smoker.
How They Work
As the name suggests, smokers use actual smoke to cook food. While smokers can be charcoal, gas, wood or electric, the gas and electric varieties are generally much easier to use and require less adjustment. Smokers use indirect heat and work through the combination of a water basin and a wood chip basin placed in the bottom of the smoker chamber. The wood from the wood chip provides the smoky flavor and produces the smoke, while the water helps keep the internal temperature stable.
Grills, on the other hand, offer the flexibility to cook your food in many different ways. Grills may be powered by electric, charcoal or gas, but gas and charcoal grills are generally preferred to electric grill models as they produce a better flavor. (Check out this guide to more about the different types of grills.)
What’s great about grilling though, is that you can use direct heat (placing your food directly over the open flame) or indirect heat (placing your food next to the open flame) to cook your food. By using indirect heat, you can slow down the cooking process and cook thicker cuts of meat without burning the outside.
In addition to indirect and direct heat. Another type of grilling called infrared has gained popularity. With infrared grilling, the heat source is made up entirely of infrared technology. Many people have started to invest in these types of grills because they can produce higher temperatures much faster than normal grills. For instance, they can reach over 700 degrees Fahrenheit in around 7 minutes. With grills, not only is there the flexibility to cook your foods with different techniques, but your meals will be ready to eat in no time.
One of the biggest differences between grills and smokers is that they use very different temperatures to cook food. In general, the internal temperature of a grill will be very hot – getting as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit or more to cook food.
In contrast, the internal temperature of a smoker will range much lower – anywhere between 160 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Meat smokers also tend to take a lot longer to complete the cooking process, but that is also part of the appeal.
For many, grills are easier to use and produce results more quickly. Cooking on direct heat means your food will be done quickly, but conversely, it can also burn quickly if the food is left unattended. Whether foods are grilled at high or low heat, they will finish cooking with relative ease and less room for creativity in the process (unless you’re a marinade master). And with a grill, you’ll be able to cook a large amount of food in a relatively short period of time, which may be better for entertaining or cooking for large groups.
With smoking, the goal is to cook meats for an extended period of time and at a low temperature to infuse the flavor into the meat. The process is much slower (can often take hours), but requires less tending, since the meats do not have to be turned or adjusted as frequently as with a grill. However, one drawback of using a smoker is that, without a meat thermometer, it can be difficult to determine whether or not the meat is fully cooked.
For large cuts of meat, like roasts, ribs, briskets, and ham, or dried foods like jerky, smoking is the preferred option. However, small cuts of meat such as chicken, steaks, and fish are better cooked on the grill.
When you use a smoker, you can expect the signature authentic “barbecue” flavor that comes from smoking meat (especially with charcoal and wood smokers). Through this method of cooking, foods take on a smoky, barbecue flavor.
Grilling your meat won’t give it that same smoky flavor that you’ll get with a meat smoker, but there are some flavor perks. For example, with a grill and if cooked well, foods stay more moist and flavorful than with a smoker. In addition, grilling is usually a healthier option, since it burns off fats, and vegetables and meats also retain more vitamins through grilling than with smoking.
Grill vs. Smoker… or Both?
At the end of the day, whether you choose a smoker or a grill for your outdoor stainless steel kitchen will depend on the type of food you want to cook, and your food preparation preferences. Do you want grilling hardware that works quickly and can feed large groups in a relatively short amount of time? Or do you prefer to enjoy the process, and relish the flavor of a well-barbecued meal?
Keep in mind, you don’t have to choose one or the other. Many BBQ aficionados have both a grill and smoker as part of their outdoor kitchen. Many of the outdoor kitchens we design include ceramic egg smoker – a unique and popular grill/smoker.
Ready to create your own stainless steel outdoor kitchen? Call our design team at 203-269-2300 or visit our website for more outdoor kitchen ideas.
This article is based on industry knowledge and research by outdoor kitchen design professionals, including our in-house experts and engineers with decades of experience.
Our goal at Danver is to provide factual information on relevant topics to help readers make informed decisions about their outdoor living spaces.
This article uses trusted sources with references hyperlinked to the source material.