Comparing a charcoal bbq with a food smoker for ability to smoke meat, and price

The sky might not be exactly what you would call picture perfect right at this moment (late May), but it won’t be too long before summer is in full swing and we can have the family out in the garden, enjoying some activities together.

And what better activity than to show off your cooking skills over some open flames, and providing them a delicious meal in the process?

You have a lot of options when it comes to cooking outdoors. You could opt for a chiminea, a fire pit, or one of the many different types of BBQ that are available these days.

Then there are smokers. No, I’m not talking about your Auntie Mary and her 20-per-day habit, I’m talking about the cooking devices known by that name.

Many of the most modern BBQs have built-in smokers, but most of them aren’t that good, and certainly can’t compare with a proper, dedicated smoking device for some cooking jobs. Having said that, there are some areas where charcoal BBQs shine over smokers too.

Today, we will compare charcoal BBQs with food smokers to see which offers you better value for money, versatility, and of course-which smokes meat better. So, read on and you’ll soon producing food like this-

What is the difference between grilling and smoking?


Grilling and smoking are quite separate practices and will deliver different results, but what is the difference between them? The main thing that distinguishes them is the heat that is used, and the proximity of the food to the actual heat used for cooking.

Grilling is usually done on high heat, around 325 degrees Fahrenheit and over, and the food sits directly over the heat source for the most part. It is best used for cooking food quite quickly, and that’s why they are popular with most people for the occasional garden cook-out, although gas BBQs have become as popular in recent times.

Smoking is done at much lower temperatures than grilling, and the food is not usually so close to the fuel source (wood). When you smoke meat, the food is enclosed in a chamber so that it takes on that lovely smokey flavour from the wood over a long period of time- around six to eight hours is common.

Fun fact- many people confuse the term barbecuing with grilling, but they are not the same thing, and again it has something to do with how the food is cooked. Barbecuing is a process of slow cooking over an indirect heat source, and so smoking, and using a rib rack on a BBQ grill, are both types of barbecuing. Grilling, as we already explained is much faster and over higher temperatures and should never, technically, be referred to as barbecuing, although most of do and still will, even after knowing the truth.

Here’s a short, yet informative video explaining the difference between grilling and smoking.

Which is cheaper- a charcoal BBQ or a food smoker?

Charcoal BBQs can vary in price from model to model, and brand to brand, just like smokers. With this in mind, it is actually quite difficult to compare them price-wise. I would probably say though, that the really high-end smokers would be comparatively more expensive, reaching prices in the high hundreds of pounds, although it is possible to buy them much cheaper.

I would avoid buying a BBQ or a smoker that is going for under a hundred pounds, as you will probably find problems with the overall cooking performance on these cheap products. Having said that, I will admit that you don’t have to bankrupt yourself to get something decent either.

Another thing to consider is buying things like side tables and BBQ shelters which will drive up the cost of your overall barbecue or smoker set up.

Then again, when you’re seeing results like in this photo, I would say its worth paying for-

Which is better for smoking meat?


Without a doubt, a smoker is the best option if you really want that smokey flavour, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, the clues right there in the name. Not only do smokers infuse the meat with a smokey taste, but they also slow cook it, and this results in nice, moist, and tender steaks, chops, ribs, and anything else you can think of.

Charcoal BBQs will also give your food a smokey taste, and although it won’t be as intense as when cooked in a smoker, it is still much more flavourful than an electric BBQ or gas BBQ. The meat will cook a lot faster on a BBQ grill, but this also makes it lose some of its moisture in the process. However, you can help to keep the meat moist by using marinades.

There are plenty of videos like the one below that tell you how to smoke meat on a charcoal grill, and you can get some very good results with the right methods and some practice and patience.

Cold smoking

One advantage of owning a smoker is that you can ‘cold smoke’ things. This method allows you to smoke things like cheese and also pre-cooked meats, so you can create things like smoked ham and other similar delicious foods to stock your fridge up with, or cook on your BBQ later.

Which is healthier?

Due to the higher temperatures involved when cooking meat on a BBQ, more of the fat is burned away and fewer nutrients are lost in the cooking process. For these reasons, I would say that cooking on a BBQ is healthier, but that doesn’t mean that using a smoker is necessarily unhealthy either.

If you’ve got a few minutes to spare, check out this short clip on if grill food is healthy or not-

Which is easier to use- a BBQ or a smoker?

Neither of these two pieces of equipment is what I would call difficult to use. There might be some niggly things that happen when you assemble them out of the box, but after that, things are quite straightforward.

The one thing that I will point out is that with BBQs, you do always have to be hovering around them and keeping an eye on things. Not only for the sake of not burning your food but also for safety reasons.

With a smoker, you will spend more time setting up the cooking process, but once that’s completed, you will only have to check on a couple of things every 45 minutes or so, and the rest of the time you can relax in your favourite zero gravity chair, or get on with some other tasks. This person took six hours to smoke his tasty lunch-

Which has the most accessories available?

Charcoal BBQs take the win in this department, and we are not just talking about BBQ cooking tools and kebab skewers either. There are a lot of different accessories available when it comes to BBQs and cooking specific types of food, such as BBQ mats, fish baskets, rib racks, and more.


If you really want the purest form of that coveted smokey flavour on your meats, then you can’t get any better than a food smoker. Please be aware though, that the smoking process in one of these machines is very slow, so make sure you have at least half a day free to cook with. On the plus side, you can fill up your coolbox with cold ones and make the ost of your hammock or sun lounger while you wait.

If you don’t like waiting, and you’re quite happy to have a less intense smokey taste on your burgers and steaks, then you’ll be better off with a charcoal BBQ. Electric BBQs and even gas BBQs won’t give you the same type of flavour, even when you use smoke pellets or other techniques.

About Terry Smith

I’m Terry Smith from, a professional landscape designer, hobbyist gardener, and barbecue fanatic with 20 years experience building and restoring. So as you go through my site you'll watch me document some of the professional garden installs I make as well as the major projects I take on at home. While sharing those experiences and guiding you, I'll be recommending some great tools I use to enable this along the way so you can really buy in confidence. Always feel free to pop me a message:

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