The debate between charcoal and gas for backyard grillers has raged for nearly as long as we’ve been grilling. Some grilling enthusiasts tend to have very strong opinions about which way of grilling is better, while others choose to use gas for some kinds of cooking and charcoal for others. Consider the Pros and Cons of Charcoal vs Gas Grill to decide which kind of grill is right for you.
For many grillers, charcoal is the first grill they own, since charcoal grills are generally much less expensive than gas. Some people remain charcoal enthusiasts their whole lives, testifying to the delicious smoky taste of charcoal over the clean and somewhat more tasteless heat source of propane. Propane enthusiastic attest to the clean burning nature of propane which allows you to taste the meat instead of the smoke.
Pros and Cons of Charcoal vs Gas Grill
It can be hard to set aside your preconceptions about charcoal or gas grills to decide which barbecue grill will be the right decision for you. Most people have strong opinions about whether grilling over propane or charcoal is more desirable. Both charcoal grills and propane grills have advantages and disadvantages that must be carefully considered before making a decision.
It is very likely that you may decide to own both a propane and a charcoal grill. Since charcoal grills can be so affordable and made to be portable, they are often the ideal choice for camping trips or cookouts. That said, you can also find very portable and durable propane grills that can fold up as small as a suitcase to go on the road with you.
It is unlikely that a portable propane grill can deliver the same sort of even heat distribution as charcoal and it will certainly not give you the same flavor, but a portable propane grill can be extremely convenient. Whether you are looking for a grill to travel with or a sturdy grill that will become a much-loved fixture on your patio, propane and charcoal grills are both meaningful contenders for your cooking needs.
The ubiquitous charcoal grill is the first BBQ grill that many people use and red hot briskets glowing under juicy steaks and hamburgers is what many of us visualize when we think of a cookout. There is a reason that the invention of propane has not done away with the charcoal grill, but propane does offer some important advantages over charcoal.
Charcoal Grill Pro’s
If serious heat is important to you, charcoal may have gas beat. The best gas grills can go over 500 degrees, but carefully tended charcoal grills can safely reach higher temperatures for the most efficient sear to lock in juices on seared food. If you are trying to sear your expensive cut of steak to the exact blackened outside and rare inside that you are looking for, a high-quality charcoal grill is the most likely tool to get you there.
If slow-cooked BBQ is what you’re after, charcoal can have gas beat as well since charcoal allows lower temperatures for a longer period than is practical for gas. It is simply not economical to run propane at a low setting for 12 hours or more, and it isn’t particularly safe either, even if you are keeping an eye on the grill.
Charcoal grills are much less expensive than propane. You can achieve the same heat and square inches of cooking surface at a fraction of the cost of a similar propane grill. Charcoal is affordable and it does not require very much to cook for hours. Charcoal grills can provide even heat distribution at a much lower cost than the level of quality of propane grill it would require to get the same heat distribution.
Lovers of charcoal grills rave about the wood smoked flavor that infuses a depth and authenticity into grilled foods. Good propane grills like Weber grills are equipped with smoke boxes or other equipment to create smoke from wood or from the juices of the cooking meat to create a similar flavor to that of charcoal, but most propane grills cannot achieve the same flavor that you would get from even a very basic charcoal grill.
Charcoal Grill Con’s
Charcoal takes time to heat up and care to get the briskets into the right state for cooking. You can expect to spend at least 20 minutes or more getting your charcoal grill fired up and ready to cook. Once the coals are on, most charcoal grills require some time for the temperature to equalize across the cooking surface before you’ll be ready to put on your food. Getting the temperature right takes some fiddling as well, and you’re likely to find yourself checking the temperature several times before deciding whether to put the food on or not.
Gas makes it easy for you to achieve your ideal cooking temperature and hold it. Gas grills are less likely to flare up or have uneven heat distribution due to mismanagement of the coals. Expert charcoal grillers can achieve a very even and consistent temperature with even a basic grill, but maintaining temperature and developing the skill takes time and effort. Charcoal makes it very difficult for you to suddenly change temperatures. Accomplished charcoal grillers can create higher and lower temperature spaces on the grill, but this is an inexact science that takes skill to develop.
Charcoal grills are generally more difficult to clean than propane. Because it takes so much time to prepare and tend to the briquettes, you will find yourself needing to be by your grill more often than with propane. This means more time away from your friends and family at your cookout or more time spent out in the elements in cold weather.
Gas grills offer speed and convenience that can’t be found with charcoal grills, but they come at a higher price and you may not like the flavor of food cooked over them as much as charcoal. Gas grills are versatile enough to cook a wide range of foods and can go from a very low temperature to searing temperatures very quickly, unlike charcoal which requires work and skill to provide separate temperatures. Carefully consider the convenience of gas grills against the traditional advantages of charcoal to decide whether a gas grill is right for you.
Gas Grill Pro’s
Gas grills are the clear winners in regards to speed. Gas barbeque grills can heat up fast enough to have you grilling on any average weekday, transforming the grill from an all day cooking affair that is only appropriate for weekends or holidays into an everyday tool that makes it easy for you to cook up a delicious meal for your family any night of the week. Gas grills give you the option of marinating meat in the morning, firing up your propane grill at dinner time, and having delicious marinated chicken or awesome burgers ready in half an hour less. For blackened meals, a propane grill can let you achieve the heat and sear that you want without smoking up your kitchen.
Temperature Control and Versatility
Gas not only allows you to get cooking quickly, it also makes it easy to maintain temperature control. Gas grills maintain temperature within a relatively limited range without you having to fiddle with the briquettes or worry about your fire growing low. You can also rapidly change temperature so that you can slow cook meats one moment and sear them off the next. Such versatility allows you to use your grill for more foods than you otherwise might, making it a tool that will enter into your dining experience more often. You can easily use a Smart thermometer like the I-grill with your high quality gas grill like a Weber grill, to be alerted when food has reached its ideal temperature, allowing you very easy cooking that lets you spend more time with your family.
Gas grills allow you to power up the grill and be cooking within minutes, as opposed to the half hour or more required for charcoal grills. Gas grills transform your grilling experience from something you can only do when you have lots of time to commit to it to something that you can do every night if you like. Gas grills also free up your time when you are throwing a party or barbecue so that you can spend more time with your friends and family and less time tending to the grill. Since gas grills require less time, you will also feel more likely to use your gas grill in cold weather. Gas grills are generally easier to clean than charcoal, only requiring you to clean out or replace the grease catch periodically.
Gas Grill Con’s
Gas BBQ grills cost considerably more than charcoal to purchase. In order to get the same power and even heat distribution that you could achieve from even a basic charcoal grill, you will end up spending many times the cost of a charcoal grill. Even the most basic gas grills start somewhere around $150. Maintaining a gas grill can be expensive as well, as they have complex parts which can be expensive to replace and may require professional assistance.
No matter how elaborate or expensive your smoke box system or flavor infusing bars, it is unlikely that food cooked over a propane grill will have the same flavor as that over a charcoal grill. For some people this can be an advantage, since the flavor of the meat or vegetables will come forward more clearly. Food cooked over propane is cleaner and healthier than food cooked with smoke, but for the majority of people barbecue and grilled food is equated with the taste of charcoal and this layer of flavor is distinctly missing from foods cooked with propane.
You will likely be able to use the same charcoal grill to cook your family dinner at home and for cookouts with your RV or camping. Charcoal grills tend to be lighter and more portable and can more easily provide lots of square inches with a smaller device than with gas. The affordability of charcoal grills, especially portable charcoal grills, may also make it likely that you will choose to own a portable grill and a large standard size charcoal grill for less than what you would have paid for a single gas grill.
Should I Buy a Gas or Charcoal Grill?
If you are on the fence about whether a gas or charcoal grill is the right choice for you, it may be a good idea to experiment before making a more permanent decision. You can get a very affordable charcoal grill that will allow you to experiment and learn some of the basics of grilling and therefore decide whether a propane grill would be worth the additional investment.
If you love the smoky taste of charcoal and can’t imagine grilling or barbecuing without it you may never decide to invest in a gas grill, but if you love grilled food and lots of convenience and speed to cook meals on your grill on weeknights as well as weekends, you may decide to get a gas grill for the convenience and perhaps still keep your charcoal grill around for when you have time to produce smoky taste.
Charcoal vs Gas Grill Health Issues
That delicious smoky flavor that you love in charcoal cooked foods may not be as wholesome and healthy for you as memories of charcoal barbecue at picnics leads you to believe. Char is a known carcinogen that is made as food is cooked over high heat with an open flame. While you can scrape off some of the charred surface, a type of char known as HCA is formed within meats that are cooked at high temperatures and cannot be removed before eating.
It is unknown how significantly foods grilled over charcoal may affect the possibility of cancer developing, but if you are an avid griller who would like to consume grilled foods multiple times a week, the consumption of a known carcinogen, despite the lack of knowledge about safe levels, may make you rethink choosing charcoal over gas.
Charcoal vs Gas Grill Safety
Gas and charcoal both have distinct safety challenges that must be considered when making a decision to grill. More accidents tend to occur with propane grills since so many dangers can occur with the propane tank. You must be careful to not overfill the propane cylinder and always operate your gas grill in an open space since carbon monoxide can quickly accumulate to dangerous levels without proper ventilation. Lava rocks can be prone to catch fire, so use ceramic briskets instead in your gas grill. Always be careful with your cylinders and use them within their expiration period and never store them indoors.
Charcoal has unique safety risks since you will need to use starter fluid which can be very dangerous to use around an open fire and can be caught on fire by burning embers if stored to nearer to the grill. Flare-ups with greasy food can be more likely with charcoal as well. Disposing of coals after cooking can be dangerous, since they take a long time to cool off. You must allow the coals to burn completely or soak them in water before disposal. Ashes can be dangerous too as they are hot and may fall through the vent, so make sure they are cool as well before throwing them away.
Charcoal vs Gas Conclusion
Charcoal and gas grills both have desirable assets and important considerations. If possible it is best not to choose at all. You can get a lot of surface area in your charcoal grill for a very reasonable price and in a portable design so that you can use a charcoal grill on special occasions or while traveling. This will keep your consumption of char down and prevent you from using your grill at times when it would be more convenient to use gas.
You can get a gas grill to cook for your family for casual family meals that will allow you to have the fun of grilling along with the convenience and safety of using a propane grill. If you do not grill often and don’t want to spend too much, decide whether you are willing to invest the time that it spends to master the skill of charcoal grilling as well as the time it takes to tend to a charcoal grill or whether you would rather have the convenience of propane.