Gas Grills vs Charcoal Barbecues
There’s nothing like a good old debate to keep you interested in a topic.
One that is decade-old and will most likely still be relevant for years to come is the ever-so-popular “gas vs charcoal” debate.
With both sides having their pros and cons, the outcome will always differ depending on who you debate with.
Novices and chefs will often root for gas grills, while butchers and advanced pitmasters will only swear by charcoal BBQs.
There are tons of different angles to analyse this question under, so let’s try to end the debate once and for all and help you find your own truth in the matter.
Because yes, there is no absolute truth to this question, as the answer lies deep in you and the way you plan on using your BBQ.
I’ve identified 5 key angles under which this debate needs to be tackled on as they represent most people’s concerns.
Ease of use:
A grill is only as good as you make it out to be. Therefore, you first need to asset your level of interest in grilling to see how easy or versatile it needs to be for you to enjoy. If you’re only in this for steaks and burgers, and care about the end-result more than the grilling process itself, a gas grill will always prove to be easier to use.
Gas grills are straight to the point, no fussing around. Open your tank, hit the igniter and you’re ready to go. One of the reasons chefs will tend to prefer gas grill is the heat stability as you can lock your grill on temperature with a simple dimmer as you would with any professional gas stove.
Charcoal BBQs will require you to get your hands a little dirty and some work to properly get started, but there a lots of accessories to facilitate the process nowadays such as the Max Lighter or a good old charcoal chimney.
A charcoal grill is still easy to use but yes, it does require more involvement. You are working with a live flame so you must be mindful of the environment around you as the wind, humidity and other variables will factor in.
Good charcoal bbqs are very stable once they have been properly pre-heated and can become as easy to use as gas grills.
Gas grills will allow you to increase or lower your temperature as you need in very little time. Working with charcoal however makes this harder as your heat is directly related to how much charcoal you are burning.
Gas grills win this round.
There’s a reason why we say gas grills and charcoal bbqs.
When it comes to gas grills, you’re trading ease of use at the expense of versatility. There’s only so much you can do working with directional dry heat. They are good at searing and grilling and your everyday average cookout, but don’t go thinking you can get crazy on these.
Yes, you can find accessories to broaden your options like fumanizer smoker or wood chip trays, but let’s not kid ourselves here, you are nowhere near what a charcoal BBQ can do.
Charcoal BBQs are great because they can do everything. You can sear, grill, smoke, bake, roast, you name it. Knowing how to work the flame opens up a realm of possibilities, which is one of the many reasons why charcoal barbecues have been on a consistent rise for the past years.
Beyond the different techniques you can apply, there are now many accessories on the market to step your game up and really experiment in different ways.
Charcoal barbecues also make for a better option if you plan on doing low and slow, long cookouts. Gas grills will tend to dry out your meat while charcoal will keep it juicy as can be,
What you traded in ease of use, you’ve earned in versatility. Point goes to charcoal for this one.
You’ve heard before and you will hear it again: “Once you go charcoal, you don’t go back”.
There’s a reason for that, and that reason is the very specific taste that a live fire will bring to your meals.
You must understand that there’s a difference between grilling and smoking. You can grill on a charcoal bbq, and you can smoke as well. Cooking with live fire will NOT automatically smoke your meat. It will alter the flavor, yes, but will not pack in that smoky flavor by default. This is why charcoal barbecues are so versatile. You have control over the flavor profile you are going for. Working with charcoal cooks your meal through radiance, which brightens up the flavors and it keeps all of the moisture in your meat.
Radiance is one of the key elements that make roasting on a barbecue so fun and coming out so damn good. Toss in a few chunks here and there to play with the flavor and you will be eating a small slice of heaven in not too long.
Gas grills cook with directional heat, meaning that the temperature travels from bottom to top, with it’s most intense temperature sitting at the bottom, This means that your meal are cooking with a dry heat, forcing moisture out of your meat, and requiring you to flip your cuts more often. Gas grills will not add anything flavor to your cookouts.
Taste point goes to charcoal, again.
I’ve already covered gas grills maintenance in the past , but to sum things up, cleaning a gas grill is fairly easy and it needs to be done at least once, if not twice a year.
Gas grills are made out of more components than charcoal barbecues. This also means that every single part is a liability in itself if not taken care of properly.
A great thing about charcoal barbecue is that they require very little maintenance. As you cook with a live fire, it instantly burns any grease and if need be, can be cranked up for a quick “self cleaning” routine.
The only thing you will need to do is clear your ashtray every now and then, depending on how often you use it. Keep in mind that ash can be used for gardening or compost as it’s coming from food and organic elements.
Charcoal wins this round, again.
Now, this is a tricky one as you only really get what you pay for. With so many options out there for gas grills, it’s easy to get something real affordable. This being said, affordable can also mean cheap.
When comparing oranges to apples, it’s easy to get lost in all of the options.
A decent gas grill will start near the 1000$ range if you ask me. The big upside to gas grills is that propane is easy to come by and is very cheap. You can run an entire summer of cookouts for little under 40$ of fuel.
Charcoal barbecues come in various shapes and sizes. You can find great charcoal barbecues such as the Weber Mastertouch for just under 300$. On the flipside, you will need to invest a little more in your fuel as charcoal is more expensive than propane.
I call it a tie for this one.
Even if the scoreboard shows charcoal as the leading option, I must take you back to my initial statement: How do you plan on using your barbecue?
I’m comfortable saying that you’ll get better results working with charcoal barbecues on a more consistent basis. However, if the ease of use is your priority, then you should invest in a gas grill. It is up to you to be honest with yourself and think about how you plan on using your grill and go with the format that will fit your lifestyle the most.