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 a 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.
Charcoal vs Gas Grills
Today I am going to give you enough information for you decide what is best for you. Let’s jump right in with the pros and cons of each.
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. 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 post.
Charcoal creates a hotter flame, way hotter than a gas grill can achieve, which can be great for the initial sear of meats like steak. 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 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 or even lower. Most gas grills can typically only reach up to the 500°F range with a low of 250°F-275°F range.
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 “Smokey Joe” for about $25. A basic “Weber kettle” can be had for about $150, while a “higher end model” can be had for about $600.
Cooking with natural charcoal can help bring out the inner “Manly Man” in all of us. It is tricky to master and requires much more involvement and attention, but the first time you master it, the feeling of accomplishment is second to none.
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.
A little more patience is required when cooking on a charcoal grill. It can take up to 30 minutes for the fire to get up to the proper cooking temperature (check out some great charcoal lighting techniques here,) 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!
You will have to clean out the ash often and scrub the grates every time you use the grill. Cleaning out the ash can be messy and time-consuming.
It is much harder to control and maintain the heat you desire when grilling with charcoal. It takes some experience and a lot of trial and error to master the art of temperature control. 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.
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 in the extreme elements, especially those who live in areas where it snows.
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. You should always check your local codes and laws ahead of time.
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 are done.
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 with minimal fuss, a gas grill is your huckleberry.
Ease of use:
Gas grills can easily and quickly be started with a push of a button. No worrying about lighting coals, when they are ready or shutting down the fire when you are done. Propane tanks can provide enough fuel for 16 to 20 hours of cooking time.
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. For the most part, the heat produced is even and consistent. No worrying about adjusting vents or air flow. 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.
Your gas grill can quickly and easily be used year-round with minimal work. If you need to get food on the table with little planning time and in a hurry, firing up a gas grill can be the ticket.
Ease of cleaning:
Cleanup is easier with no ash to worry about. Drips most often vaporize while cooking. You can just do a quick brush down of the grate and off you go.
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 gas grills. Mid-range can run around $800 with the top range from $1600 and beyond.
You will need to check the gas connections and lines from time to time. Parts can also fail or wear down. You will 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.
Gas burns relatively clean and has no order or taste, so you won’t be getting that wonderful Smokey wood flavor. This doesn’t matter as much for short cooking foods, and the flavor can be as good as charcoal.
While you can technically still 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 too, 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 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.
Wrapping it Up:
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.
If you ever need any feedback or support regarding your next barbecue, I would be more than happy to connect. If you have anything interesting you would like to share or any opinions on any of the content above, please speak up. I love feedback and honest discussions in any form.
I hope this information on Cooking with Charcoal vs Gas Grills was helpful to you and you are one step closer to joining me in the “Grilling Life”!