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Grill Vs Smoker Vs Griddle: Which is Right for You?

WriterAcademy Staff
10 min read
Man cooking barbecue over the fire for a group of friends
It’s grilling time!

The backyard barbecue serves as the centerpiece of the American cookout, and while you may put extensive thought into your menu plan and where you source your food, when’s the last time you’ve made a conscious decision about the outdoor cooking equipment it’s prepared on?

Whether you’re looking to become a first-time buyer of a grill, smoker, and/or griddle, or you’re in search of a replacement for your old barbecue, this outdoor cooking buying guide can help you find the right backyard cooking apparatus and accessories to suit your barbecuing style.


Pit Boss 1250 Competition Series Pellet Grill on display
Pit Boss 1250 Competition Series Pellet Grill

No matter your size or budget constraints, there are plenty of grills available that can help kick your cookouts up a notch. Here are some things to consider when purchasing a new grill.

Fuel Types

While gas and charcoal grills are the most common grill types, electric and wood pellet grills are also available. Below, we break down the features and benefits of each.

Thanks to their convenience and ease of use, gas grills are regularly found in backyards across the nation. These types of grills are fueled by either a propane tank or a direct hookup to natural gas. Most gas grills feature an ignition button for easy lighting and temperature dials that control the heat produced by the burners in various temperature zones.


When looking at gas grills, consider each model’s British thermal unit (BTU) ratings, as these numbers indicate heat output.

Charcoal grills, on the other hand, are known for the smoky flavor they impart on grilled foods. These types of grills use charcoal briquettes, wood, or a combination of both, and require a fire starter to light the charcoal.

While charcoal grills produce a tantalizing flavor, they take longer to start than a gas grill and can be harder to keep at the ideal temperature. Nonetheless, many models come with air vents or dampers to make controlling cooking temperatures a breeze.

Pellet grills work in much the same way as charcoal varieties. That’s because they both use wood as fuel. But while charcoal grills utilize char, which is basically half-burnt wood devoid of volatile compounds and water, wood pellet grills use pellets of pure wood for quick ignition and high-temperature cooking.

It’s important to note that pellet grills run on standard household electrical current, making them less portable than their charcoal grill counterparts. However, these grills maintain their temperature just as well as gas grills thanks to precise temperature controls, making even the most novice chef look like a bona fide grill master.

Man preparing burgers over the fire for his family
Man preparing burgers over the fire for his family


Before you can decide on the type of grill you want, you need to consider size constraints:

  • Does your grill have to tuck neatly into a shed, or do you plan on leaving it outside and covered all year round?
  • How much room do you have on your patio or deck?
  • Is it large enough for my cooking needs?

Take measurements and consult each grill’s dimensions. You don’t want to purchase a grill that’s too big for your backyard, and you also don’t want to buy one that’s too small if you’re planning a neighborhood cookout!


If you’re an avid camper, picnicker, or tailgater, one of the most important factors to look for in a grill is portability. Compact, portable grills come in charcoal and gas varieties and are a suitable option for those with smaller decks and patios. Most small, mid-size, and large grills come equipped with casters, so even if they can’t accompany you to the campsite, they can easily be moved into and out of storage.

Other Grill Features to Consider

As you move toward the more expensive side of the grill spectrum, you’ll enter the territory of added features. For instance, some gas grills are available with side burners, prep shelves, warming shelves, tool hooks, and wireless temperature gauges that turn your backyard BBQ into an all-in-one cooking center.

Sure, you can grill up good smoked meats on a charcoal grill or gas grill, but to get the smoky, falling-off-the-bone succulent ribs, flavor-packed pulled pork, and juicy brisket you’ve been craving, a smoker is your best bet.

Meathead Goldwyn, author of the New York Times Best Seller, Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling, declares, “With a high-quality modern barbecue smoker, and a little practice, you can make food better than the ribs, brisket, etc. holding in the warming ovens of restaurants.” If you’re ready to start making better-than-restaurant-quality meals, keep reading for the lowdown on smokers.

Types of Smokers

Like grills, smokers come in four varieties: electric, pellet, gas, and charcoal. To operate an electric smoker grill, all you need to do is plug it in and select the temperature. While electric options offer the greatest level of convenience, the flavor they produce is considered inferior to that of wood, charcoal, and even gas.

Pellet smokers, on the other hand, use a combination of electricity and wood pellets to smoke foods. A rod inside the unit ignites the wood pellets and gives you control over the smoke production and temperature.

Charcoal smokers are similar to pellet smokers in that they use wood as fuel. However, like charcoal grills, these types of smokers utilize charcoal briquettes and are ignited using a starter. With charcoal smokers, it can be difficult to control the temperature, but the end certainly justifies the means – these smokers produce a classic, smoky flavor that’s hard to beat.

Last on the list of smoker grill types is the gas smoker. These convenient smokers are reliable, easy to use and portable. Just set the temperature, add your food and step away. You won’t need to make adjustments as the meat cooks.

Ribs cooking in the Oklahoma Joe's Hondo Offset Smoker
Ribs sizzling up in the Oklahoma Joe's Hondo Offset Smoker

The Most Important Factor to Consider

No matter what type of smoker you settle on, the most important thing to look for is temperature control. Because smoking is a preparation method that involves flavoring, browning, and cooking food by exposing it to smoke over a significant period, it’s crucial for the smoker to maintain a consistent temperature.

As you browse the selection of smokers on, look for smoker grills with thick metal, insulation, and seals. If you’re looking into a charcoal or wood smoker, make sure to focus on options with dampers that let you control the heat by adjusting the oxygen supply.


Couple preparing food on the Blackstone 36 in 4-Burner Griddle Station
Blackstone 36 in 4-Burner Griddle Station with Hood

If you're looking for an appliance that lets you cook a wider range of meals, an outdoor griddle provides great value for the backyard chef. Combining the convenience of a traditional grill and the versatility of a frying pan, your griddle can be an all-in-one solution for everyday meals and special events.

No matter what's on the menu, some chefs take extra care to manage grease across the surface and minimize smoking. High-temperature cooking oils, such as flaxseed, avocado or canola, help keep the smoke low, while an integrated grease tray catches the excess and ensures easy cleanup.

No matter what's on the menu, some chefs take extra care to manage grease across the surface and minimize smoking. High-temperature cooking oils, such as flaxseed, avocado or canola, help keep the smoke low, while an integrated grease tray catches the excess and ensures easy cleanup.

Key Griddle Features

Pancakes cooking on a griddle top
There’s nothing better than pancakes served right off the griddle!

Outdoor griddles are designed with burners just beneath the cooktop that ensure quick, even heating. Much like a grill, the surface temperature can be adjusted with precision using dial controls. Many models allow you to heat specific zones independently or the entire surface – whichever works best for your main course and side dishes.

The cooking surface is often made from steel, cast iron, or aluminum. Seasoned cast iron enhances the flavor of your food, while steel and aluminum offer lightweight options that conduct heat well. Nonstick versions are also available, making it easy to plate your food and clean up when you're finished. Some outdoor griddles boast rust-resistant finishes but applying a thin layer of oil before and after each use can help keep the cooktop in good condition.

Griddle Sizes

The right outdoor griddle can provide enough room to help you feed the few people in your household or a large group of friends and family. From 2-burner griddles that are easily portable to 6-burner griddles with spacious cooktops, several sizes are available. Depending on how much room you have on your patio, a full-size griddle may serve as your primary outdoor cooking appliance.

If you're an avid adventurer or sports enthusiast, a portable griddle will be easier to take with you to campsites and tailgating events. Tabletop griddles use smaller fuel canisters than full-size models and can be placed on a picnic table alongside your other camp cooking equipment. However, griddles with folding legs can provide greater convenience away from home.

Specialty Griddles

Do you think you'll miss those classic sear marks on your steak or the taste of flame-finished burgers? Choose a model that comes with a set of cooking grates. A griddle/grill with a combination surface or removable cooktop lets you enjoy the versatility of this appliance without sacrificing the traditional grilling experience.

If you're in the market for a modular outdoor cooking system, brands like Camp Chef can deliver. These may come with a barbecue grill box, artisan oven, griddle surface, and other accessories that suit a broad range of recipes.

Helpful Griddle Details

Just like a grill, your outdoor griddle can come with everything you need to keep the essentials nearby. Many larger models come with prep surfaces, bottle holders, a paper towel bar, as well as a hinged lid that seals in heat and moisture. And with a sturdy base on wheels, it's easy to maneuver it around your patio.

Griddle Meal Planning

Breakfast foods often spring to mind with a griddle. The smooth top surface is perfect for making pancakes, French toast, bacon, fried eggs, and other dishes. However, an outdoor griddle can be used to prepare other foods, such as:

  • Fajitas
  • Shrimp Skewers
  • Crab Cakes
  • Steak
  • Fish Filets
  • Hamburgers
  • Chicken Breasts
  • Hot Sandwiches
  • And more…

BBQ Accessories

Man grills up food for his friends at a cookout
The cookout is always more fun with family and friends!

Grill, smoker – whichever you decide on, you’re going to need the right tools to get the job done. From grilling utensils to marinades, here are the BBQ must-haves.


Protect your big investment with a grill or smoker cover. Most covers are crated of heavy-duty polyester, nylon, or vinyl to withstand all sorts of weather conditions. For even more protection, look for covers with waterproof and UV-resistant materials.

Tools and Utensils

Make sure you’re ready for any family cookout with these essential grilling tools and utensils:

  • Aprons
  • Basting Brushes
  • BBQ Tongs
  • Burger Press
  • Grill Brush
  • Grilling Wok
  • Heat-Resistant Gloves
  • Marinade Injector
  • Meat Claws
  • Meat Tenderizer
  • Platters
  • Rib Rack
  • Skewers
  • Spatula
  • Tool Holder
  • And more…

You should also consider purchasing a grill thermometer, especially if the grill or smoker you land on doesn’t come installed with one, in order to ensure the perfect grilling temperature.


To cook on your grill or smoker, you’re going to need fuel. Make sure to keep your propane tanks full, and don’t forget to stock up on wood and charcoal. Depending on your grill type, you may also need fire starters and lighters.


Say goodbye to bland meats, seafood, and veggies with marinades, spices and seasonings. Look for rubs that complement the type of meat you’re grilling, whether it’s beef, pork, chicken, or seafood. You can also pick up injectable marinades to really give a zing to your meal.

Take Your Grilling to a Whole New Level

Beef and veggies searing over the barbecue pit fire

It’s a tradition that’s as American as apple pie! Backyard barbecuing is made easy with grills, smokers, and BBQ accessories available at Academy Sports + Outdoors.

Browse our outdoor cooking assortment online and in-store to find the right gear for your everyday meals and big family cookouts.