Pellet smokers are a great addition to your outdoor cooking equipment!
Whether you’re a smoking rookie or an experienced meat curer, a pellet smoker can help you ease the process of preparing your food.
Pellet smokers work by ensuring a constant feed of wood pellets into the device, allowing for a controlled cooking temperature.
Unlike a traditional barbecue or grill, most pellet smokers are designed with the express purpose of smoking in mind.
However, some types of pellet smokers can double as a grill in a pinch.
So, how do you decide what kind of pellet smoker best suits your needs? Read on to find out!
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What is a Vertical Pellet Smoker?
A vertical pellet smoker is just what it sounds like- a pellet smoker that is taller than it is wide. These typically stand around two times as tall as they are wide.
Vertical pellet smokers usually operate at quite a low temperature range when compared to a standard barbecue or grill.
This is perfect for smoking food, but less ideal if you want to try and use this as a substitute for a grill.
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What is a Horizontal Smoker?
A horizontal pellet smoker is the counterpart to the vertical product, i,e. a pellet smoker longer than it is tall!
Horizontal pellet smokers can operate at slightly higher temperatures than their vertical counterparts.
A Deep Dive On Horizontal vs Vertical Pellet Smokers
We now know what defines each kind of pellet smoker.
Both smokers share their main purpose of smoking meat, and are both fed automatically by pellets.
But what makes the two different from each other?
Vertical pellet smokers are often seen to perform better than horizontal pellet smokers when being used for the primary purpose of smoking.
In a vertical pellet smoker, all the food is held on racks directly above the flame, allowing excellent smoke circulation through every layer.
This ensures that the smokey flavor is well-distributed across everything cooked in the smoker.
However, in a horizontal pellet smoker, the fire is often located on the side of the smoker. This means that the smoke does not spread as evenly as in a vertical smoker.
There are many different designs of horizontal smoker, and some combat this issue better than others. It’s a good idea to look at the specifications of your particular model.
For example, some horizontal smokers have no traditional chimney at all, opting instead for holes in the side of the smoker.
This further causes a decline in the quality of smoking, as the smoke is free to leave the smoker without necessarily fully circulating within the chamber.
Other horizontal pellet smokers attempt to combat the issue by placing the fire centrally, rather than on the side.
Overall, vertical pellet smokers typically perform better than horizontal pellet smokers at smoking, but both are acceptable. Depending on the design, a horizontal pellet smoker can begin to compare to a vertical pellet smoker in terms of smoking ability.
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Both vertical and horizontal pellet smokers are available at a range of pricing options to suit your budget.
To get an idea of the pricing options, Pit Boss sells a vertical pellet smoker with 1513 square inches of cooking surface for $659.00, while Camp Chef sells a vertical pellet smoker with 2408 square inches of cooking surface for $799.99.
As you can see, a vertical pellet smoker generally gets you a better value in terms of cooking area.
The lower extremes are similarly different. Pit Boss offers a horizontal pellet smoker at $399.00 with 482 square inches of cooking area, and a vertical one at $289.00 with 684 square inches of cooking area.
However, if you’re not planning to cook up a big feast regularly in your smoker, and instead just want to use it for smaller meals, you might want to consider a horizontal pellet smoker instead.
Vertical pellet smokers naturally take up a smaller area, with their taller design and more confined footprint.
However, they might not be a good choice if you are using them under a canopy of some kind, such as on a roofed deck or in a gazebo. In this case, a horizontal pellet smoker might be a better choice.
You should also consider how you will transport and install your pellet smoker. Although each kind of smoker can, of course, be rotated for transport, it will be easier to maneuver them in their correct orientation.
Deciding on which kind of pellet smoker to choose is heavily influenced by the amount of space you have and how easily you will be able to transport and install a particular type- so make sure you consider this before you buy!
Something to note is that vertical pellet smokers cannot act as regular grills or barbecues.
So, if you plan to also use one of these in your outdoor area, you will need to make sure you have space for both appliances.
Heat does not naturally travel sideways. Instead, it rises vertically.
As a result, vertical pellet smokers have a natural advantage over their horizontal counterparts in terms of energy efficiency.
Because the food is arranged in layers stacked on top of each other in a vertical smoker, less energy is required to cook all of the items.
In a horizontal smoker, energy must be purposely directed to the whole shelf, and so typically these are less energy efficient than their vertical counterparts.
This is where horizontal pellet smokers come into their own. These smokers are also commonly referred to as horizontal pellet grills.
This is because they have a higher maximum temperature and so can be used as both a smoker and a standard barbecue grill.
However, vertical pellet smokers do not have this higher temperature maximum and so are not suited to the role of a grill.
Furthermore, the shelf arrangement of meat in a vertical smoker is much more awkward than the flat surface of a horizontal smoker when trying to use it as a grill.
Additionally, the upper shelves of a vertical smoker will receive less heat than the lower ones if you are using it as a grill and regularly opening the door- meaning that your meal will cook less evenly.
Horizontal smokers typically have more moving parts than their vertical counterparts.
In order to distribute the smoke well within a horizontal smoker, there is often a fan or similar mechanism included in the appliance.
As a result, horizontal smokers typically have more points of failure and are, therefore, less durable.
When comparing the two kinds of pellet smokers, it is clear that at a similar price point, the vertical pellet smoker has a much greater cooking capacity on average.
However, it’s also worth looking at the extremes. For those with a large budget to match their large appetite, a horizontal pellet smoker may still work out, as demonstrated by Weber’s 987-square-inch offerings.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the cooking capacity of a vertical pellet smoker is split across several smaller shelves.
This means it may be difficult or even impossible to put larger items in the smoker, which is a problem that horizontal pellet smokers don’t have.
However, this, of course, varies by model, and it is worth carefully examining the specifications of the pellet smoker you are looking at to ensure it meets your needs in this regard.
How To Choose Whether To Buy A Vertical Or Horizontal Smoker
As we have discovered above, horizontal and vertical pellet smokers both have their merits and disadvantages. So, which is right for you?
If you’re looking for a purpose-built smoker, it’s hard to go wrong with a vertical pellet smoker.
These are generally superior in terms of flavor, ability to cook large quantities of food, energy efficiency, and footprint.
All of these factors are important considerations for a full-time smoker, as it will often be in use for a large period of time. Additionally, you’ll want to be getting the best possible flavor out of your food!
If you’re looking to start out on your smoking journey or need something more general-purpose, it might be better to go with a horizontal pellet smoker.
These can double as standard grills, saving you from having to get a separate appliance.
The other reason you might want to get a horizontal pellet smoker is to ensure you can cook large cuts of meat or other large food items.
Vertical pellet smokers can sometimes struggle to fit larger portions, so if you’re looking to regularly smoke large items a horizontal pellet smoker might be a better bet.
The Final Verdict On Horizontal vs Vertical Pellet Smokers
Vertical pellet smokers are more energy efficient than their horizontal counterparts, have a smaller footprint, a larger overall cooking surface, and have better durability.
Horizontal pellet smokers, on the other hand, can also be used as grills and can better fit large items.
Which kind of smoker you choose will ultimately depend on what’s best for your situation.
Think carefully about your requirements and the best possible outcome for your smoker use before making your decision.
Consider the amount of space you have, whether you want a purpose-built smoker, and what you want to smoke!