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Cooking with Charcoal vs. Gas Grills

Perhaps the greatest BBQ debate of all time is Cooking With Charcoal vs Gas Grills.

I am sure you have heard it discussed before and if you are an avid griller, chances are you have been right in the thick of it at some point.

Bring this topic up to any seasoned griller, and you will be met with some very strong opinions.  I have friends who swear by one and who absolutely refuse to use the other.  Charcoal enthusiasts scoff at the idea of using gas and ridicule anybody who would even suggest it and vis versa.

The war between charcoal grill and gas grill users has been raging for years and will spark many a lively discussion right up there with other BBQ debates like “beef or pork,” “sauced or rubbed,” “vinegar-based vs. tomato-based” sauce, and Blondes vs. Brunettes.

Ok, that last one has nothing to do with BBQ, but it is a great debate regardless. 🙂

But what are the differences and which option is better?

Well, we are talking about different rules, different skills, a whole different ballgame really.  The end results may be similar, but getting there requires different techniques.

No matter which side of the fence you are on, I am here to tell you that there are pros and cons to each option, and depending on your situation, either or both can work for you.

By the end of this charcoal vs gas grill showdown, you’ll be armed with the pros, the cons, and the facts about both charcoal and gas grills to help in your decision-making.

Spoiler Alert: There is something here for everybody, no matter which fuel you choose.

Gas vs Charcoal Grill Direct Comparison

Let’s take a quick look at the differences in the chart below before we really dive in…

Charcoal Grills vs Gas Grills

Cost
Charcoal Grills
Tends to be less expensive
Gas Grills
Are generally more expensive
Flavor
Charcoal Grills
Traditional, wood fired flavor
Gas Grills
Lacking traditional smoky flavor
Convenience
Charcoal Grills
Requires much more hands-on attention
Gas Grills
Minimal monitoring while cooking
Heat
Charcoal Grills
Wider temperature range
Gas Grills
Smaller temperature range
Clean up
Charcoal Grills
Messy ash to clean
Gas Grills
Minimal cleanup

Charcoal vs Gas Grills

Today I am going to give you enough information for you to decide what is best for you.  Let’s jump right in with the pros and cons of each.

Barrel Shaped Charcoal Grill

Charcoal Pros

Flavor | Heat | Cost | It’s More Challenging | Portability

Charcoal grills have many features that BBQ enthusiasts love with the number one favorite being…

Flavor

It’s no secret that grilling with charcoal or wood will give you a deep, smoky flavor, especially with slow-cooking meats like ribs, brisket, and pork shoulder on indirect heat.

Real wood fired flavor that you just can’t get from a gas grill.

To me, nothing says BBQ more than the mouthwatering Smokey goodness of a slow-cooked piece of meat on a charcoal grill.

I can go on and on about the flavorful advantages of natural charcoal, but I will save that for another article.

Heat

Charcoal creates a hotter flame, generally way hotter than a gas grill can achieve, which can be great for the initial sear of meats like steak.

Intense and fast heat is what is needed to get your meat charred on the outside while keeping it a nice juicy pink on the inside.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you can generally achieve lower temperatures with charcoal than you can with gas which is perfect for slow cooking and smoking meat.

A charcoal grill can easily reach a temperature of up to 900°F or as low as 225°F and even lower.

Many gas grills can typically only reach up to the 500°F range with a low of a 250°F-275°F range.

Cost

Because there is a lot less involved in a Charcoal grill, they tend to be less expensive than gas grills.

On the extreme low end, you can get something like a small Weber “Smokey Joe” for about $25.  A tried and true “Weber kettle” can be had for about $150, while a “higher end model” can be had for about $600.

It’s More Challenging

Cooking with natural charcoal can help bring out the inner “Manly Man” in all of us.

It is tricky to master the fire and requires much more involvement and attention, but the first time you nail it, the feeling of accomplishment is second to none.

Portability

Dragging a gas grill to a tailgate party, beach, or park is not really an option.

You can easily bring, set up, and use a charcoal grill almost anywhere it is permitted.

Charcoal Kettle Grills

Charcoal Grill Cons

Time | Cleaning | Temperature Control | Season\Weather | Can’t be Used Everywhere | Smell

Just like any grill, cooking with charcoal has its cons too.

Time

For starters, a lot more patience is required when cooking on a charcoal grill.

It can take up to 30 minutes just for the fire to get up to the proper cooking temperature (check out these awesome charcoal lighting techniques) compared to about 10 minutes for a gas grill.

Of course, this is only a con if you don’t have your favorite beer in hand to help ease the wait.

Cheers!

Cleaning

You will have to clean out the ash often and scrub the grates every time you use the grill.

Cleaning out the ash is messy, time-consuming, and overall a pain in the a$$.

Temperature Control

It is much harder to control and maintain the heat when grilling with charcoal.

It takes some experience and a lot of trial and error to master the art of temperature control with a charcoal grill.

The outside weather can play a major factor in this too.  Too much or not enough wind can affect airflow which is the key to temp control.  Weather that is too hot or too cold can keep you from getting to the desired heat.

Season \ Weather

I know people who will get outside and grill no matter what mother nature can throw at them, myself included.

Not everybody will want to be out grilling in the extreme elements, especially those who live in areas where it snows.

Obviously, it will be harder to light and keep your fire going in windy and wet conditions.

Can’t Be Used Everywhere

Due to fire and safety concerns, some apartment complexes do not allow charcoal grills, and in some areas, local fire codes ban them all together.

You should always check your local codes and laws ahead of time.

Smell

If you grill with charcoal, people will know.

There is no hiding the smoke and aroma caused by the briquettes or wood that sticks to your clothes, hair, and skin after you’ve finished fire grilling that juicy rib-eye steak.

Luxury Gas Grill

Gas Grill Pros

Speed | Ease of Use | Temperature Control | Versatility | Ease of Cleaning

Just like a charcoal grill, gas grill supporters can point out many pros that make grilling your favorite cut of meat an awesome experience.

Speed

A gas grill gives you instantaneous heat and takes only about 10 minutes to fully come up to the desired temperature.

When you need dinner on the table fast and with minimal fuss, a gas grill is your huckleberry.

Ease of Use

Perhaps the biggest selling point for purchasing a gas grill is the convenience they provide when compared to a charcoal grill.

Gas grills can easily and quickly be started with a push of a button.

There is no worrying about getting those coals to stay lit, wondering when they’re going to be ready, or having to shut down the fire when you are done.

Propane tanks can provide enough fuel for 16 to 20 hours of cooking time.

Temperature Control

It is much easier to control the temperature with a gas grill.

It is as easy as turning a dial to your desired setting of low, medium, or high in most cases.  For the most part, the heat produced is even and consistent.

No worrying about adjusting vents or airflow.  You can even close the lid without putting out the fire while maintaining the heat.

When you close the lid on most charcoal grills, you will be decreasing the oxygen flow and putting out the fire unless you know how to use your vents properly.

Versatility

Your gas grill can quickly be used year-round with minimal work.

If you need to get food on the table with little planning time and you’re in a hurry, firing up a gas grill can be the ticket.

Ease of Cleaning

Cleanup on a gas grill is easier with no messy ash to worry about.

Drips most often vaporize while cooking and most gas grills come with a drip pan to catch anything that doesn’t.

When you are done cooking, a quick brush down of the grate will normally do it.

A Propane Gas Grill

Gas Grill Cons

Costs | Maintenance | Flavor | Smoking

Gas grills have their fair share of cons, especially if you fall into the charcoal grill camp.

Costs

Because there is a lot more involved, gas grills tend to be more expensive, and assembly could be difficult.

You can pay for assembly at many places you purchase your grill, but this will add another factor to the total price.

Prices start around $129 to $299 for the most popularly priced (but cheaply made) gas grills.  A mid-range gas grill can run around $800 with the top of the range premium gas grills can cost as much as $5,000 and beyond.

Maintenance

You will need to check the gas connections and lines from time to time.

Parts can also rust or fail or wear down.  You will also need to take trips to refill your propane tank when it is low.

A good Grill Cover can help minimize the exposure to the elements and is recommended.

Flavor

Gas burns relatively cleanly and has no order or taste, so you won’t be getting that wonderful Smokey wood flavor.

This doesn’t matter as much for foods that cook quickly, where the flavor can be as good as charcoal, but indirect cooking and smoking won’t give you the same flavor.

Smoking

While you can still technically smoke meat in a gas grill, no matter what anybody tells you, it is not the same.

Some of the higher-end grills have built-in smoke boxes that you could add wood chips to, but for most, you will need to add homemade foil packets filled with wood chips and put them directly on the burner.

There are a few other options for added smoke flavor you can find out there as well.  The biggest issue when trying to smoke is that most gas grill lids do not seal well (a built-in safety precaution because of the gas), so a lot of the smoke is lost.

Final Verdict on Our Cooking With Charcoal vs Gas Grills Showdown

Ultimately, your final choice on the debate of Charcoal vs Gas Grills will come down to cost, how much time and effort you want to put into it, convenience, and flavor.

I’m lucky enough that my wife allows me to own three grills (gas, charcoal, and pellet smoker).

I use each for whatever the circumstance calls for.  Sometimes it just depends on how I am feeling on any given day. Other times I use more than one option simultaneously.

I am a bit of an extreme case (head case some might say) though, and more than one option is not needed.

There is no question that great-tasting BBQ can come from either gas or charcoal grilling but no matter which you choose, I would always recommend that you read the owner’s manual before the first use, so you know exactly what you need to do to get the most out of your grill.

Now It’s Your Turn

Now I want to hear from you:

Which outdoor Grill have you used before?

Do you prefer a Charcoal or Gas grill and have any tips to share?

What features do you typically like to see in a grill?

Are you going to be purchasing a smoker in the future?  Or do you plan on looking at a pellet grill, built-in or standalone gas grill, or charcoal model?

Let me know by leaving a quick comment below.

If you still have questions, please feel free to send me a message.

Cheers,

Patrick

Disclosure

At The Grilling Life, I am committed to researching and writing thoughtful, informative and editorially independent reviews of the best products for your outdoor cooking needs.  If you like what I do, you can support me through my chosen links, which earn me a commission.  This allows me to continue sharing with you my love for all things barbecue.  Your support is truly appreciated.

Patrick Ginise

A backyard warrior, certified carnivore, lover of good whiskey, grill master and I’m Living The Grilling Life!

I have a passion for cooking with live fire and smoke, no matter the weather. I’m a real person just like you, who loves outdoor cooking and BBQ. Food, fun, and time spent with family and friends are what it’s all about! It is my mission to take my passion and knowledge for outdoor cooking and all things BBQ and share this expertise in techniques and grilling equipment with you. In other words, Living The Grilling Life!

I have personally tested over 150+ Grills and Smokers and hundreds of grilling thermometers, temperature controllers, grill brushes, grilling tools, fire starters, and other BBQ products.