Can You Add Charcoal to an Electric Smoker?


Smoking food is an old craft that has been turned into something almost luxurious. Electric smokers have made the process even easier, but many wonder if they can get the perfect job done with a system that combines the future with the past. 

Can you add charcoal to an electric smoker? Yes, you can add charcoal to an electric smoker. Most electric smokers contain a tray within them that is intended to hold wood chips, but charcoal can be added to the tray as well. The purpose of the electric smoker is to add flavor to your food while also promoting lower maintenance and a faster cooking process than alternative smokers. 

If you are someone who loves their electric smoker but misses the flavor infusions that charcoal and pellet smokers are able to produce, adding charcoal to your electric smoker could get you that much closer to a more robust flavor. Continue reading to understand the functions of electric smokers, reasons behind adding charcoal to your smoker, and alternatives to electric smoking if your needs change.

How does an Electric Smoker Work? 

Electric smokers vary in their methods of cooking from their charcoal and pellet-burning counterparts in that they utilize electricity itself to accomplish all your smoking dreams. Now, this may seem like a bit of a confusing concept considering most individuals’ ideals of what the process of smoking actually looks like. However, electric smokers offer an innovative way of smoking meat that is a bit more portable and user-friendly than more traditional smokers. 

Pellet smokers are not completely separate from electric smokers, in that both of these machines must be plugged into an electric outlet in order to function. The use of electricity is quite different though. Electric smokers use that electricity to heat the food you intend to cook rather than using combustion in order to smoke things up. 

What is so great about electric smokers is they offer the advantage of temperature control through the use of either a rheostat or a thermostat. With these controls, the temperature is more easily regulated and the fluctuation of heat is mostly nonexistent whereas other smokers can fluctuate. 

So you have your methods of heating, but how do you go from an electric heat to a smoked dish? This transformation sounds like an impossible feat, but the magic exists in the underbelly of the electric smoker. Within most electric smokers there is a small tray that holds wood pellets. Once the controls are in action, either the rheostat or thermostat, they heat up a coil which in turn heats and smolders the wood pellets. 

By doing this, smoke is created and the smoke is able to permeate the item that you have so carefully chosen to cook in your electric smoker. The production of this smoke is what helps to give your food the smokey taste that so many people crave.

Why add Charcoal to an Electric Smoker? 

The great thing about electric smokers is the ease the machine offers. Unlike charcoal or even pellet-burning smokers, an electric smoker is a cooking mechanism that you are able to turn on, walk away from, and let do its magic. Because of its reliable temperature control, you do not have to continuously check whatever it is that you are cooking to ensure that all things are going according to plan. 

However, because it is electrically run, some chefs miss the rich smoky flavor that other smokers are able to produce through either charcoal or pellets. Although the wood pellet tray produces smoke that helps to flavor the meat, sometimes the flavor can be relatively understated rather than one that makes a bold impact on consumers. 

Because of this, many have wondered if adding charcoal to their electric smoker could add a little extra zing to their recipe. You are somewhat limited in how much you can add to your tray, but many have found success in adding a few charcoal bricks in their tray to create a potentially stronger smoke flavor to their dish. Sometimes the charcoal does not light as well as wood chips, so in this case, break apart a few charcoal bricks and add them as an addition to your wood chips. 

Charcoal has a distinct flavor that many people want when grilling and even more so when smoking. Charcoal tends to have a bolder flavor than most wood chips and can create a much smokier taste when heated at high temperatures. 

Because of the relatively small tray within electric smokers, this can be a great option to increase flavor without having to overseason your food items or go out and purchase a different type of smoker. The addition of charcoal will not damage your electric smoker and can be added just the same as if you were placing wood chips within the tray. 

If you want to add a little something extra to your electrically smoked dishes, fear not! Charcoal can join in on all your electric smoking fun and you do not have to sacrifice flavor for ease and speed. 

Does Adding Charcoal Make a Huge Difference in Flavor? 

Now you know that you can, in fact, add charcoal to your electric smoker and potentially fulfill all of your smoking dreams. As noted previously though, the smoking tray that exists within most electric smokers is relatively small which means there is not an excessive amount of room for wood chips or additional charcoal. The biggest goal of electric smokers is to quickly smoke food, making that smoky flavor not less important, but secondary. With this being the case, it would be valid to ask how much of a difference adding charcoal makes when it comes to the flavor of your dish. 

Overall, many individuals report noticing a slight difference in flavor after they added charcoal to their wood chip tray within their electric smoker. However, the flavor is not one that knocks your socks off, blows you out of the water, or leaves you running to tell all of your neighbors about your newest discovery. Because the addition of charcoal has to be so small, its effect on food is faint, but many have noted its flavor addition regardless of its minuteness. 

Outside of flavor, many electric smoker users want the smoke ring on their own meats that charcoal and pellet-burning smokers are able to produce. The smoke ring occurs because charcoal and pellets are able to heat at extreme temperatures for extended periods of time. 

At its essence, electric smokers go against this sort of cooking as they can reach only relatively high temperatures and are not intended to cook items for hours on end. Unfortunately, adding charcoal to your electric smoker for this purpose will result in defeat, as meats need that high heat and lengthy cooking times in order to produce a proper smoke ring. 

Charcoal Smoking Options 

Yes, electric smokers are fantastically user-friendly, are the kings of speed when it comes to smoking your most favorite meats, sides, and even desserts, and they are portable enough to take from spot to spot without having to uproot an entire grilling station. 

If you find yourself wanting a more prominent smoky flavor and adding charcoal to your electric smoker is not doing the trick, other options do exist out there and offer their own appealing advantages. Charcoal smokers are your next option for adding that fantastic flavor that only charcoal is capable of creating. 

Going from electric to a charcoal smoker may seem intimidating because a bit more involvement is needed in the cooking process, but have no fear, a well-made charcoal smoker can hold temperate well on its own without you having to tend to it every hour. 

A bit more interactive than electric smokers, charcoal smokers require you to heat your coals and ensure a good burn throughout the coal before getting cooking. Once that is completed, you simply pour the coals in, add wood chips to enhance smoke and flavor, and either add water into a water tray or go straight to adding your food items to the grill. 

After you have completed your prep, the charcoal smoker should be able to maintain its temperature without much more interaction from the cook. The advantage of a charcoal smoker is that you are able to commit the necessary time to infuse your dishes with that smoky flavor because the smoking process is much longer than an electric smoker takes. By taking this time, your meat will be more flavorful than what an electric smoker is able to produce due to that extended time as well as the high temperatures that charcoal smokers are made to reach. 

If you desire a more prominent smoky flavor in your recipes, then charcoal smokers could be the answer. However, if you are happy with just a hint of charcoal taste in your cooking, adding charcoal bricks to your electric smoker will do just the trick. 

Ann Driskill

Ann Driskill is a freelance writer with a passion for anything involving the outdoors, has an undying dedication to good food, and loves to spend any free time chatting with good friends over a great glass of wine.

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