Smokers vs gas grills – which is best?

There's a lot to consider when it comes to smokers vs gas grills

An image showing smokers vs gas grills, a Traeger ironwood 650 on one side and a Weber Spirit II E-310 on the other
(Image credit: Traeger / Weber)

Summer is almost here, and many of us are thinking about upping our grilling game. If you're new to grilling or in the market for a grill, you've likely come across a common dilemma: smokers vs gas grills. 

Smokers are great for brisket and other big meat dishes, whereas gas grills excel at everything. If you're new to the scene, it can be tricky to work out which is best. 

I've tested many of the best grills in my career, so I know all of the positives and negatives of both types of appliance. I've also spoken to grilling experts about which of the two types comes out on top. 

Smokers vs gas grills

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What's the difference?

There's a simple difference between these two grills. Smokers are primarily for smoking meats and other ingredients. They cook low and slow and infuse dishes with complex, smoky flavors. 

Gas grills are primarily for grilling. They cook food over a flame but without smoke. They tend to be cheaper and more compact than smokers. To demonstrate the differences, here's a quick summary of our favorite smoker and gas grill. 

Smokers: Pros

Smoking ribs in a smoker

(Image credit: Getty Images / golubovy)

Smokers simply make better-tasting food than any other kind of grill. When you smoke your food, you give it an incredible depth of flavor that a gas grill can't match. Evan Carter, co-owner of BBQ restaurant Lady Jaye, agrees that smoking is 'a great way to cook larger pieces of meat slow and low and give them extra flavor from the type of wood you choose.'

A smoker means you can slow-roast big cuts of meat like ribs, tenderloin, or brisket and smoke them to perfection. It doesn't just have to meat, other. Once you've mastered the best wood for smoking, you can experiment with fish, chicken, and I've even seen a recipe for delicate smoked cream cheese. 

Smokers tend to be larger than gas grills, so you can usually cook more with a smoker than you can with a gas grill. You can smoke a rack of ribs on one side of the grill and a chicken on the other, as well as heat up side dishes. Dedicated pellet smokers are often easy to use, with built-in digital thermometers and WiFi connection as standard, innovations you're unlikely to see on a gas grill. 

Barbecue recipe writer Nicole Johnson told me that they're also a great option in summer. Nicole says that smokers 'can also serve as big, outdoor, wood-fired ovens during the warmer months when you would rather not heat up your house with the oven.' You aren't limited to brisket or spare ribs; Nicole says that 'your smoker can be used for non-traditional cooks like lasagna, pizza, or even just to keep things warm since smokers can typically hold much lower temperatures than gas grills.'

A headshot of BBQ restaurant owner Evan Carter
Evan Carter

Evan is the business, marketing and numbers guy behind the Lady Jaye, a BBQ restaurant, bar, and butchery. 

Smokers: Cons

Black metal Locomotive grill with a smoker on green grass background

(Image credit: Getty Images / Lucia Kindernayova)

The problem with smoking your food is that it takes a long time. Smoking takes a few hours, so while you can cater to a big crowd, it's not always efficient. A gas grill, by comparison, is much faster. You don't need to mess around with pellets and then wait 8 hours for the perfect smoke. With a gas grill, you just hit the ignition and wait a few minutes - that's it. 

Barbecue recipe writer Nicole Johnson pointed out that smokers also need electricity. That means you need to smoke near an outdoor outlet, and if there's a power outage, you won't be able to smoke. 

Smokers are also less versatile than gas grills. While most smokers can sear, not all smokers can, so if you want to grill burgers or steak, make sure you buy a smoker that can reach these temperatures. Even if your smoker can reach these temperatures, it won't be quite as good as a gas grill. Gas grills can also have different attachments like side burners, which are less common with smokers. 

If you're on a budget, I recommend a gas grill over a smoker. The starting price for most smoking grills is higher than gas grills, and if you want a really impressive appliance - like a top-line Traeger Timberline XL, available at Traeger - you need to spend more than $3000.

Another drawback is that smoke can be a nuisance. Your HOA may have rules about grill smoke because it can bother your neighbors if your smoke blows into their yard, and if their door is open, into their house. Smoke will also stick to your clothes, so while your food will be delicious, you'll smell pretty smoky. Some people don't mind it, but some can't stand the smell. I know this first-hand; I love the smell of wood smoke from a fire pit or smoker, but it makes my partner feel ill. If you know people around you don't like the smell, you may not be able to use a smoker at all.

A headshot of recipe writer Nicole Johnson
Nicole Johnson

Nicole is a food blogger and recipe developer with a strong focus on outdoor cooking including gas and pellet grills as well as gas griddles. Family-friendly recipes, made from scratch made easy. Former restaurant professional with front and back-of-the-house experience

Gas grills: Pros

A gas grill with meat cooking on it

(Image credit: GettyImages)

Gas grills are much more convenient than smokers. Smokers take hours and a lot of planning, but gas grills can be ready in around 10 minutes. If you have a sudden itch for a homemade cheeseburger, you can have one on a random Tuesday night, but you can't be that spontaneous with a smoker. 

This same simplicity makes gas grills much easier to master than smokers. With a gas grill, you don't need to know anything about temperature or the different kinds of wood. Even novices can make pretty good food on a gas grill. 

Smokers are a lot more expensive than gas grills. You can get a good gas grill for hundreds of dollars less than a smoker. 

Though gas grills can't smoke like a smoker, they're often more versatile. Many gas grills have handy bonus features like rotisserie functions, side burners, and warming racks for side dishes. 

Gas grills: Cons

A white propane tank in front of a gas grill

(Image credit: Getty Images / JJ Goulin)

The big drawback with gas grills is that they don't taste as good as smokers. Gas grills are really just big gas stovetops, and they don't give your food any smokiness. Even the best gas grills can't match a smoker, and while they make good food, it tastes a little flavorless by comparison. Gas grills also tend to be smaller than smokers, so you may not be able to cater to big family gatherings. 

Though gas grills are more convenient than smokers in the short term, refilling and storing propane tanks can be a little tricky. Electric smokers just need wood pellets, and you can order pellets online. They're available from a huge range of stores; you can get wood pellets at Walmart, wood pellets at Amazon, and for specialised smoke, wood pellets at BBQ Guys

Consider a charcoal grill

If you want to sear and smoke with a single appliance, I recommend a charcoal grill. It's a little inconvenient and takes some learning, but charcoal grills excel at searing burgers and steaks, but you can also use them for smoking. Just keep a low temperature and add in some woodchips and you have a fantastic smoker. 

Best of all, they're cheaper than both smokers and gas grills. My recommendation is always the Weber Kettle 22, available at Weber, but you can always step it up with a big Kamado grill; I've found great results with the Kamado Joe II, available at Amazon, but it's pretty expensive.  

Buy a smoker if:

  • You want delicious, smoked food
  • You're cooking for a crowd

Buy gas if:

  • You want something easy
  • You want bonus features
  • You don't like smoke

Grill FAQs

Can I smoke with charcoal?

You can smoke with charcoal in a charcoal grill - just add wood chunks on top of a low, slow fire. 

For more advice about grills, take a look at my deep dive into how much you should spend on a grill.

Alex David
Head of eCommerce

As Head of eCommerce, Alex makes sure our readers find the right information to help them make the best purchase. After graduating from Cambridge University, Alex got his start in reviewing at the iconic Good Housekeeping Institute, testing a wide range of household products and appliances. He then moved to BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, assessing gardening tools, machinery, and wildlife products. Helping people find true quality and genuine value is a real passion.