Charcoal or Gas: A Griller’s Dilemma

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If you ask my husband, grilling season is any season of the year. He will barbecue when there’s snow on the ground as readily as when it’s 80 degrees outside.

Charcoal vs Gas BBW Grills

He is most definitely the “grill master” at our home and won’t hesitate to take over the grilling duties at anyone else’s home, either. With that being said, I have become deeply familiar with all things barbecue over the years, and I want to share some of my husband’s wisdom with you, as well as some information that I have learned for myself.

For those of you who may be thinking of purchasing a barbecue grill for the first time, the first topic I’d like to discuss is the gas vs. charcoal debate. I know plenty of people who love their gas models, but I know just as many who wouldn’t even think about barbecuing with anything other than charcoal.

Seeing the pros of both types, I bought a gas/charcoal combo model for my husband so we can have our cake and eat it, too!

Now, if you’re a barbecuing novice, for ease of use, you simply cannot beat a gas unit. Even though it takes good bit longer to put it together than a charcoal one, once it’s set up, it’s as easy to fire it up and start cooking as it is to use your stove.

After you uncover the grill, simply turn on the gas supply, turn the control knobs to high, and the light it per the manufacturer’s instructions. Then, it’s as easy as selecting the appropriate cooking heat for your food of choice and letting it preheat for about 10 minutes.

Of course, with charcoal, you have to get them burning, preferably in a chimney starter, then get the coals arranged the right way for what you’re cooking, then let the grill preheat for at least 15-20 minutes.

Once you get it just right, you have to work pretty quickly, because while the gas option gives you consistent heat until the fuel supply is depleted, with charcoal, to cook the most common items like burgers or steaks, the grill will only stay at the appropriate temperature for 10-15 minutes uncovered. You need to have the food ready and waiting so that no time is wasted once it’s ready to go.

This might go without saying, too, but a gas model is a big time-saver as well. Even if you work full-time, it’s no problem to barbecue every night of the week if you want. After you turn on your cooking apparatus, prep your meat while it preheats, and you’re ready for a delicious grilled meal just as quickly as cooking inside.

That’s simply not the case with charcoal, so if time is a big issue with you, gas is the way to go.

As I already mentioned, because of the much larger fuel supply with gas, you get consistent heat throughout your cooking process without having to give it a second thought. In this same vein, it should be noted that it’s also much easier, not to mention faster, to adjust the heat on a gas model. It’s as easy as turning a knob.

Benefits of Gas Grills - Foodal.com
Turning on the flame or adjusting the temperature on gas models is as simple as turning a knob.

Let’s say you’ve planned on roasting some chicken breasts for dinner. With charcoal, you first have to wait for the coals to burn down from a medium-high heat (what you use for burgers) to medium, which takes an extra 10-15 minutes.

Now, while you’re cooking the chicken, your wonderful husband comes home from work and surprises you with some beautiful steaks for dinner. Great, but the grill is no longer hot enough to cook those steaks properly. If you have a gas model, that problem is as simple to fix as turning a knob.

TIP

Not all gas grills are created equal. The cheaper models are often made from flimsy materials but more importantly, their burners are lacking in both BTUs of heat and efficiency. Moreover, their lids do not provide adequate insulation.

Whereas the more expensive units, such as the various Weber models, are better built and provide burners with greater thermal capabilities and heavy duty lids that allow heat to build up to 500 or 600°F very quickly – this allows you to get a proper sear on a steak and to hold in place just long enough to bring the internal temperature up to the recommended point and then to finish it off at the desired end state (rare, medium, well, etc.).

Weber Genesis 6531001 E-330 637-Square-Inch 38,000-BTU Liquid-Propane Gas Grill, Black

Premium gas models such as theWeber Genesis 6531001 E-330 637-Square-Inch 38,000-BTU Gas Grill,  available at Amazon, provide superior heat distribution and retention which allows you to properly sear and finish.

One last point in the gas grill’s favor is clean-up. You really don’t have to put a second’s though into cleaning up after you’ve cooked on the gas option. There are no ash or carbon remnants to get rid of, which is a huge pro if you’re a stay-at-home mother like me and really have no desire to clean anything else after a long day of cleaning and picking up and putting away toys and folding laundry and doing dishes ad nauseam.

You don’t even need to clean the grates after you cook.

The next time you go to barbecue, preheat your grill and merely take a stiff-bristled grill brush and scrub the grates really well to knock off the debris before you put fresh food down, and you’re good to go.

With all of that being said much more in favor of a gas grill, the biggest reason to barbecue food at all, in my opinion, is for the wonderful flavor that it can impart to food. A gas model simply cannot give you that great, smoky flavor.

The Weber 1351001 One-Touch Gold Kettle Grill is considered by many to be the ultimate in charcoal grilling equipment.

The smoke released from the burning coals makes food taste so amazing, and the flavor provided from the gas heat just doesn’t compare. This is the major pro with going the charcoal route, and this is the reason that hardcore barbecue fans would never even think of using a gas grill.

Sure, you can add a little liquid smoke to your steak marinade, but it’s simply not the same flavor.

A smokey charcoal BBQ grill | Foodal.com
The smoke filled goodness of true charcoal is hard to beat!

Another consideration for charcoal is the fact that many models are on the market that afford you the ultimate in portability. Instead of lugging around bulky and heavy propane tanks, you can purchase a small sack of briquettes from the local market and have your barbecue anywhere you would like it.

The other alternative is to purchase a portable gas model that take disposable canisters but this can get expensive real quick.

Of course bulkiness wouldn’t deter some tailgaters and serious campers – these folks often bring the equivalent of complete kitchens with them!

Lodge L410 Pre-Seasoned Sportsman’s Charcoal Grill

The cast iron Lodge L410 Pre-Seasoned Sportsman’s Charcoal Grill and old and classic design, returned after many years of being out of production due to customer demand for the ultimate in tough and portable outdoor cooking devices.

Foodal’s number one pick for a small portable charcoal based model s the Lodge L410 Sportmans as picture above. It’s nearly 800 positive reviews (at the time of this writing) on Amazon is a testament to the quality of this little grill.

One final thing to consider is cost, and in that department you will come out a lot cheaper buying a charcoal model. You can get the most basic option for as little as $20, whereas a gas option will run you over $100 at the lowest end of the spectrum.

That’s a pretty big savings if you ask me, but you could always get the best of both worlds by getting a combination gas/charcoal version for around $200 to $500 (it’s worth it to spend a little extra to get a model that will last a few years). That’s the route we chose, and it has been a great choice.

Dyna-Glo DGB730SNB-D Dual Fuel Grill

The Dyna-Glo DGB730SNB-D Dual Fuel Grill is one of the higher rated dual fuel options on Amazon.

For weekend and holiday cookouts when we have more time, we love using charcoal for the great taste, but it’s also nice to have the ease and convenience of gas for weeknight meals, and the extra money spent was worth every penny.

Have more questions? Take a look at our entire grilling series now!

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About Ashley Martell

Ashley has enjoyed creative writing since she was six years old, when she wrote her first short story. She majored in English literature at the University of Montevallo. After years of professional work, she is now a stay-at-home mom of three, who uses her craft to write about her life and adventures in and out of the kitchen.

32 thoughts on “Charcoal or Gas: A Griller’s Dilemma”

  1. Me and my husband went on a camping adventure this summer and we brought our charcoal grill (that we have never used in our lives) and we tried it for the first time. I have to say that I absolutely love the flavor but we could just not keep the coals hot long enough to complete our whole cooking. We had to halfway through put them over the fire because the coals were no longer very hot. Next year we are going to try again but I think gas is definitely the way to go for us 🙂

  2. I think other important points to mention is that, if you run with gas, you should have a second can of propane at the ready — it happened many times at home that, in the middle of grilling a feast, we ran out unexpectedly! My stepfather also mentions that something could explode if a novice handles this grill wrong, with having the lid on or something when giving gas? He is very thorough in any case, and he cleans his grill after he uses it, every time, to get rid of the meat stuck there.

    With charcoal, it is naturally cheaper and easy to transport. You can even get for a few bucks a small grill over an aluminum tray filled of charcoal, ready to take out for a picnic! You’re right, the smokey flavor is unbeatable! (Too bad that it’s carcinogenic, but shhh, it’s so worth it)

  3. LPG Gas is the most common here in New Zealand. It is alot easier to cook and clean using gas. When using charcoal though you get that charred flavor which you can’t replicate with gas. I would say try cooking with both, and see which one you perfer!

  4. We only break out the BBQ a few times a year – the British climate isn’t exactly friendly to outdoor eating! I’ve used both types, but it’s charcoal every time for me; if we’ve gone to the effort of setting up and all the prep for the food, the extra flavour that you get from it outweighs the time saving for gas. Perhaps it also helps that the clean up is my husband’s department, though!

  5. My husband would never use gas to grill. That would be an insult to him as king of the grill. I have to agree with him on this. Charcoal is much better, it enhances the taste of the meat. Puts a nice crusted seer on whatever is being grilled. Gas on the other hand just hasn’t proven to me it’s worth doing.

  6. Charcoal has always been my preference. I think it has a lot to do with the taste difference. It probably has a lot to do with my past as well & growing up eating charcoal laden BBQ. I suppose I stuck with it because I like the added ‘flavour’ of the coals.

  7. My husband will be upset to learn of another “grill master.” He has given himself that title. lol

    Charcoal all the way, around here. Hubby says it’s an art. When asked about a gas grill, he says, “you might as well just drag the stove outside.”

  8. My dad has always used charcoal. I’ve asked him several times and one time he really gave me a good answer. He told me despite the fact that charcoal won’t save you money in the long run, the taste and the authentic smoky feel of the grilled food doesn’t compare to anything else!

    • I agree with your dad. You can’t even compare the taste.

      There’s just also something about arranging the coals and building the perfect fire and cooking the food just so that my husband (and apparently many other people) enjoy.

      We’ve even tried bigger things, like a ham, on the grill. Trust me, ham on a gas grill doesn’t come close to ham on a charcoal grill.

  9. My husband and I live in an apartment and he actually recently said how he wanted to get a grill so we can have the smokey deliciousness whenever we wanted. However, due to the size issue, I’m afraid we’ll have a hard time finding an appropriate grill that we still love.

    I’ve always used a charcoal grill growing up but from what my husband said, his family has always used a gas grill. I gotta say, after using his family’s gas grill I definitely like it a lot more. Sure, there’s not that much of the smoke where you can associate with a charcoal grill, it is definitely easier (and cleaner)!

  10. As far as I’m concerned, charcoal is always a better option than gas, assuming you know what you’re doing with those coals. They’re harder to get right and grill with properly, but the reward for success is far better compared to using a gas grill. I tend to use a gas grill out of convenience, but I always fire up the charcoal for special occasions because taste is the biggest benefit of using charcoal, if you ask me.

  11. It’s always charcoal around here. My mother in law swears by propane, but I think that’s because it is easier. It’s worth the extra effort for the far superior taste of charcoal.

  12. So essentially, the charcoal grills are easier, portable grills to transport and can accompany your food with a distinct taste, while gas grills are a bit more difficult to get around but can have your food cooked at a much higher and adjustable temperature, not to mention faster. Because of the latter I would choose a gas grill over a charcoal one. It just offers more convenience.

  13. I love the taste that the charcoal gives to the meats but it is a lot more work having to clean it out. That is why I use propane so I don’t have to shovel the used coal out of the bottom. The propane also has a cleaner taste and is easier to maintain.

  14. One thing I love about my gas grill is I can use it all year long! I have it on a nice spot on the cement pad that I can even use it in the middle of winter. I remember my college dorm even had one we used in the winter which opened my eyes on how awesome winter grilling is. Everyone here saying you only use the grill at certain times, please try a winter cookout.
    The only time I use charcoal (I agree it always taste so much better!) is when I am camping. We will bring a bag of the charcoal and a little grill and cook on that all weekend. Something about the combo of camping and charcoal (maybe a beer or two;) ) is just amazing.

  15. I almost feel like this is a universal and endless debate XD.
    I personally work with gas since we never have much time, but I love it whenever I head to a BBQ and the host is running that classic charcoal style.

    By the way, I have to put this warning out there, be careful about your choice of stiff brushes when cleaning. There’s been some recent cases of individuals getting metal splinters or fragments in their meat, and that’s definitely not good for you.

  16. For me, charcoal is the only way! Yes, there are many disadvantages to using coals, but the taste and even the experience is well worth it!

  17. My family are really into barbequing. Whenever the sun comes out, and in Ireland it is quite a rare occasion! we love to light up the grill. We went through a only charcoal grill phase for years because my parents always said it tasted a lot better.
    For a birthday I think it was my mum got my dad a HUGE gas grill which he loved but for some reason he kept going back to our little charcoal grill. Honestly I prefer the charcoal. The taste, the smell just everything about the charcoal for some reason. One comment I saw on the charcoal was never having enough heat to cook everything through. We normally only had three or so at the bbq which we never had any issue time wise however if we did ever have a big party with a few guests we would start cooking the things in the kitchen and just finish them off on the bbq and we never had any issues. Honestly I don’t think I would ever go for anything other than a charcoal grill !

  18. It does seem like better clean up when using a gas grill versus charcoal. At the same time, it is hard to beat that charcoal flavor. Ive always had bbq from a charcoal grill so maybe im biased.

  19. My immediate family uses charcoal. I do not know all of the ins and outs. However, my dad has a great strategy for increasing flavor. He prepares the coal bed and arranges it onto the grill. Then, he soaks woad chips in a watery mix of seasonings, and he lays them on top of the embers. The result is AMAZING. His ribs are irresistable and even a simple burger becomes a creation from heaven.

    • Oh gosh, I am definitely going to try this…it sounds so delicious. I prefer coals to gas because you want something different to cooking as usual on the stove. The smell of the fire and the taste of the meat is very different on a wood fire and that is the whole point of a good barbecue. Also I am not so sure of whether propane is a safe option… I have just never felt safe around it. I feel more in control with the coals.

  20. We have had a definitely dilemma with this aspect of cooking. We have had gas units in the past, but they haven’t had the strength to withstand the weather (they were el cheapos). We currently use charcoal and are quite satisfied with the overall quality of the meat once it’s done.

  21. I’m kind of old-school to say the least in this debate. I think charcoal gives the grill a little bit of appeal, and the taste is also something that you cannot obtain on a regular stove or gas grill. I don’t mind either, but it doesn’t feel like a bbq without that charcoal scent which makes it nice.

  22. I understand the propane units with lava rock approximate the smokey flavour of the charcoal ones. These would of course be the higher end models. I’ve never had a chance to try one either.

    I was tempted though, when we were buying earlier this year. We went for a charcoal one in the end mostly because of the price difference and the guarantee of that wonderful smokey flavour. But the draw of the convenience of propane is strong and getting stronger. It’s just so much work and bother setting up a wood-fired grill, and we like to have a last minute barbecue; living in rainy Ireland we have to make the most of the good weather whenever it arrives!

    Perhaps the answer is really to have both, as you say. One that burns a natural organic fuel for when we have time and want to do things properly, propane for those quick mid-week grilling sessions to take advantage of a good spell of weather.

  23. Ah, the age-old “charcoal vs. gas” debate. While I do agree that propane grills are often much more user-friendly than similar charcoal examples, I think that if one truly wishes to become a grillmaster, it’s go charcoal or go home.

    I’ve always thought of using a propane as opposed to briquettes as akin to using a microwave instead of using the oven.

    Yes, it’s easier to use, and yes, you’ll still create something that’s edible. But in my opinion, nothing beats the taste of meats cooked over a real wood-based fire with all of the smoke and drippings.

  24. I agree with you, the flavor that charcoal gives to the food is just superb. For this reason we bought a charcoal grill, but my hubby is not a master grill like yours, and, of course, I’m completely unexperienced. I’ve bought it two years ago and after the first attempt I stopped using it. I think that with these tips I might try it again soon. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  25. I just can’t help myself. I am a snob when it comes to grilling. LOL I have to have my food cooked over charcoal. I know gas has some advantages, like leaving the grill cleaner, etc. However, there’s just no substitute for the smoked flavor that you get from charcoal, whether it be in veggies or meat.

  26. Interesting points. My family has always used gas grills, and I like how quick easy they are to use. My dad recently got a charcoal grill, because the flavor is supposed to be superior, but I’m not sure he’ll keep up with it. Apparently, it was a hassle to get the coals heated right, and then with them not lasting long enough to cook everything, he had to start that whole coal heating process over again. It just takes a lot of time. With heating, waiting, cooking, and then reheating and cooking more, it just seem like you don’t have time to sit enjoy your meal with everyone, if you are the one in charge of the grill. My husband wants a charcoal grill as well, but I am not convinced he will have the time and patience to deal with all the work they need. Someone did bring up an interesting point though, when they said ‘you might as well just drag the stove outside’, about gas grills. I’ve been cooking our burgers and steaks on the stove, in a cast iron skillet, and they have been turning out well. So why get a gas grill if I can do the same thing on the stove or under the broiler in the oven? Maybe a charcoal grill would be the better buy, to have something that can impart a unique taste to food that we cannot get on the stove or in the oven. Even if we do not use it often, and only when we have plenty of time on our hands. We’ll have to think about it. Thank you for the great points.

  27. This is a great read. I grew up with charcoal but my husband grew up with a gas version. It’s time for us to get new one and we are debating which type to get. I know there are pros and cons of each but I really think he would enjoy this article. Thanks for sharing.

  28. My husband grills a lot (his steaks and hamburgers are awesome, by the way) and I can tell you this: the type of charcoal we buy drastically effects the taste of the meat! This wouldn’t be an issue with a gas fired barbecue. But like you said, Ashley, there are benefits to each one and the best option is to have both if you’re really into grilling.

  29. Personally for me I much rather have a portable grill. They are smaller and more convenient. My husband is the grill master in the house and I enjoy cooking indoors. As a matter of fact….I much rather use a griddle or a grill you place on the stove. I currently use a George Foreman grill…that is about as far as it goes. I love the taste of grilled food..like no other.

  30. Growing up I spent a lot of time watching my uncles grill during family reunions. They ALWAYS use charcoal when cooking. They would never even consider cooking their meats with other things other than the dark messy coal that they stored in their houses, one sack at a time. I never really got it, they say it tastes better, the smell is better, or it’s the “real” way to cook meat. Maybe a manly thing? But I honestly never tasted any difference. The smoke was lesser with gas, and there is also less mess to clean up afterwards because there’s no coal ash scattered everywhere. Just my two cents, I never really understood it. Must be an old man’s game or something.

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