Charcoal versus Gas Grills: The Guide
Which one? Short Answer… Both are a great option!
The debate will never end of which one is better. There really is no right or wrong grill, both are great at grilling. Each grill is better at some things than the other. Friday night burgers and Sunday afternoon pulled pork, cooking on a grill is a wonderful cooking experience.
Short and Sweet
A basic charcoal grill will cost you around $100 and better models $150. Charcoal grills are simple in design. There are not many parts. The basic models will last many years while spending more on a ceramic charcoal grill may last a lifetime.
A basic gas grill will be $300, sure you can get a cheaper one but it may last only a season or two before needing replacement. Gas grills are more intricate with many more parts. Many of the lower priced gas grills are made of very thin sheet metal that is easily bent or damaged.
Gas is simple to start-up, turn a knob and go. Wait for the heat to level off and start grilling food in about 10 minutes.
Charcoal takes a little longer for setup, start the charcoal with whatever your favorite method. This could involve a chimney starter, a small fire starter, or a propane torch. Wait for the heat to level off. Grilling can start after about 20 minutes.
Temperature Range and Control
Charcoal is king for high heat searing steaks and low smoking pork butts. Charcoal has a wide range of temperature control from below 150ºF to well over 700ºF. This wide range of temperature is ideal for long slow smoking and high heat searing. Temperature control can be accomplished in multiple ways using dampers for air flow and the quantity of fuel. The larger the intake damper, the more air flow, the charcoal will burn hotter. More charcoal will produce more heat. Charcoal grills can easily be arranged for a 2 zone grilling setup. Hot charcoal can be set to one side for searing and a cooler side for warming and baking.
Gas grill is best for delicate foods like fish and vegetables. A gas grill, not equipped with a searing or infrared area will produce temperatures of 250- 550ºF. Controlling the temperature on a gas grill requires setting the gas knobs to the appropriate temperature. 2 zone cooking can be set up on a gas grill by adjusting the knobs for each area to a different temperature.
Most grilling will at temperatures somewhere in the middle of these extremes.
Temperature control of either a charcoal or gas grill really takes time to learn your grill. It may take a couple of times using the grill to figure out its hot spots on a gas grill and vent or dial settings to maintain an even heat.
Gas grill itself does not give any flavors to the food. If equipped with some fashion of “Flavorizer” bars or lava rocks the drippings may burn and give off some smoke. This smoke does little to affect flavor.
Charcoal gives a unique taste of fresh fired wood. If grilling with high heat from charcoal there is a minimal amount of smoke given off.
For foods cooked at a high heat for a short duration, there really is no noticeable change in the flavor of the food. The food just isn’t on the grill long enough to grab any flavor from the charcoal or flavor bars.
Flavor can mostly be added on long slow cooks using a charcoal grill where the charcoal and wood smolders. This same effect can be accomplished on a gas grill equipped with smoker boxes or using aluminum foil pouches with wood chips. However, gas grills tend not to be as air tight requiring more wood smolder for the same amount of smoke.
Stay away from self-igniting charcoal and lighter fluid. These are sure to add off flavors.
When using strong flavored rubs and sauces the amount of flavor from a gas or charcoal cannot not be measured when grilling foods over direct heat.
Charcoal Grills collects burnt charcoal as ash that settles in the bottom of the grill. This requires an occasional disposing of ash. Don’t do it on a windy day, or that back patio will be covered in ash.
Gas Grills have a drip pan collection that will need to empty on regular basis. Do not do it when the grill is extremely hot for risk of splashing and causing a fire on your wooden deck or side of house.
Both grills will require the occasional grate scrub down.
Which type of grill gives you the most pleasure? Turn it on, grill it, turn it off? Or set up, enjoy the smoke, and grill?
There is always a time and place for both. Many people have two, charcoal for smoking and a more involved cooking experience, and a gas for the quick impromptu burgers with friends.
The most important thing about a grill is temperature control. Learn your grill. Does it have hot and cool spots? What are the best vent settings for desired temps? Once these are learned for gas and charcoal you will be able to master a perfect steak or Spatchcocked Chicken every time.