Smoker vs Grill

Smoker vs. Grill

Smoking and grilling encompass all the best that barbecue has to offer. Whether you’re charmed by the deep smoky flavor of a slow cooked Boston butt, or can’t resist a good char on a medium rare ribeye, the tempting smells emanate throughout the neighborhood and let everyone know that someone nearby is eating well.

So which do you buy?

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Benefits of Smokers

Smoking is a labor of love and in its traditional sense is not something that busy professionals can undertake after a long day at the office.  Smoking involves the use of indirect heat instead of placing the meat directly on top of a flame. Therefore, it’s not a swift and easy process to yield a tender, juicy piece of meat. If time is not a factor, the results are well worth the trouble. Meat that’s smoked, instead of grilled, is more tender because lengthy cooking process allows the collagen chains within the meat to break down and form new chains that loosely hold tender fibers together. Throughout this low and slow process, smoke infuses the meat and brings a new dimension of flavor.

Electric smokers have evened the playing field to some extent with programmable features and set it and forget it capabilities. The consensus is that while not the traditional choice, they generally put out a consistent product that does not have the demands of time that charcoal and propane smokers have.

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Benefits of the Grill

Grilling, on the other hand, can yield a perfectly cooked protein in under 30 minutes, start to finish. A gas unit will typically bring the grill up to temperature in a matter of minutes and leaves very little after dinner cleanup. A grill is fast, convenient and versatile.

Charcoal grills can require a little extra time to preheat, but the time involved is still far less than using a smoker. Grilling in this sense can encompass cooking over both direct and indirect heat, allowing protein to benefit from the chargrilled flavor that’s then finished over indirect heat.

An entire meal, appetizer, vegetables, entrees and desserts, can all be prepared on one cooking surface that’s just as easy to use as the burners on your stove. Many models have additional side burners for simmering sauces. Clean up is super easy – I prefer powder coated stainless steel models because they are so easy to clean with a little Dawn and a steel mesh pad.

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Dual purpose

A grill can be used in a manner similar to a smoker. For that matter, and to the horror of traditional barbecue giants, a conventional oven can even yield similar results. It’s all about temperature control and creatively using what you have on hand.

A smoker can be used to cook a roast at a low temperature, but gas and charcoal powered smokers also allow you to raise the temperature for a good burnished finish during the last stages of cooking.

Similarly, a gas grill can be set to a low temperature by keeping the flame low and relying on an internal thermometer and closed grill lid. Set a tray of wood chips on the grate and place the protein over indirect heat.

Finding the best BBQ doesn’t mean that you have to be fully committed to one BBQ style. Many BBQ aficionados agree that there’s a time and a place for both a smoker and a grill in their back yard. If you don’t have the space for both, however, consider adding a smoker tube to your existing grill set up. The results are similar and this means that you can enjoy both smoked and grilled meat whenever you want.

The best part of preparing food, whether indoors or out, is the creativity you employ in achieving that perfect end result. For me, preparing a meal at sun set as the lightning bugs welcome the stars doesn’t get any closer to perfect.

In another life I would have attended culinary school, competed in every reality cooking competition I could find, and owned a quaint farm to table restaurant. In reality, though, I'm the guy who loves cooking outdoors for anybody who would let me and doesn't let go of any excuse for a party, to fire up the grill and light the smoker.