A Gas Grill Or A Charcoal Grill At Your Next BBQ?
Before we get started, it needs to be said that some people believe the word BBQ should only be associated with charcoal grills. To them, gas grills are for grilling and smoker grills are for smoking. While this may technically be true, here at BBQGrilling Basics we see a BBQ as more of an event for bringing together family, friends and loved ones, rather than simply what you choose to cook on.
Having said that, what you choose to cook on at your next BBQ will have a big effect on how the food will taste, how long it takes to cook the food, how long it takes to clean up afterward and lots of other things. There are a number of differences between the three types of grills. In this article we will examine the differences between charcoal grills and gas grills. If you are interested in smokers, then you should check out our Smoker BBQs page.
There have been many heated debates over the years as to which type of grill is better, gas grill or charcoal grills. The answer to the question is solely based on what you are looking for in a BBQ grill. They are a number of differences between gas grills and charcoal grills but these pretty much fall into four distinct categories; cost, convenience, safety and flavor.
Cost - Charcoal Grills vs. Gas Grills
Cost is always a consideration when buying something and BBQ grills are no exception. Charcoal grills are, by far, the cheaper alternative. You can get a basic model for around $30 if you happen to catch one on sale. You shouldn't expect good quality at such low prices though. The quality charcoal grills, ones that will last you for years to come, are usually about $70 to $100. There are even charcoal grills that cost as much as $300 to $400. These charcoal grills are for serious fans of charcoal grills and BBQs in general.
Gas grills are comparatively much more expensive. Where the top models of charcoal grills leave off, the lower quality gas grills begin. You can expect to pay about $300 for a low quality gas grill but unlike cheap charcoal grills they should still last you for a long time to come. When it comes to gas grills, the price difference has a lot to do with the size of grill and the extra features it includes. Features such as side tables and built in hot plates are nice to have but they will cost you. The top model gas grills cost upwards of $1500 but you can expect them to last 15 years or more with a little bit of maintenance.
Perhaps the most important consideration when deciding how much to spend it on a grill, whether it be a gas grill or a charcoal grill, is size. Buy a grill that best suits the type of BBQs you plan on having. There are a lot of high quality BBQ grills on the market that are just right for small family BBQs which are also very reasonably priced.
Convenience - Charcoal Grills vs. Gas Grills
When it comes to convenience, gas grills have a huge advantage over charcoal grills. Gas grills offer push button ignition which means they are very easy to get started. You can easily control the temperature by simply turning a dial which means you can more or less instantaneously lower or raise the heat. Gas grills also allow you to cook for longer periods of time without having to replenish charcoal in the middle of cooking a big meal. Keep in mind though, if the gas runs out the grill will cool very quickly and you will not be able to cook anything else unless you happen to have a spare container of gas handy. Another feature which makes gas grills more convenient is that they are far less affected by wind since the flames come from the bottom of the grill. Gas grills also heat more evenly across the entire surface of the grill. Lastly, they are easy to clean up after you are done. Most only require you to heat the cooking grates up and then brush them off with a metal brush.
Charcoal grills usually require about 30 minutes to get to cooking temperature. By comparison to gas grills, they are harder to light and a lot more difficult to clean up afterward. You will have to dispose of the ash after the coals have burned up and cooled down. Also, you will not generally have enough heat left in the coals after you are done to burn away the residue left on the cooking grate so you may have to use some sort of cleaner and a lot of "elbow grease" to get it clean. Aside from clean up, most people feel the biggest problem with charcoal grills is the lack of good temperature control and this does take a while to get used it. You will have to rotate the food around the grill as you cook moving the food from hot spots to cool spots and vice versa in order to get everything done at approximately the same time.
There is really nothing about charcoal grills that is more convenient than with gas grills but convenience is not everything and many people argue that the ritual associated with charcoal grills is simply part of having a BBQ. The best tip when considering convenience as a factor is; consider how you plan to BBQ. If you want to come from work and have a quick BBQ then a gas grill is probably the best way to go. But, if you like to have weekend BBQs then perhaps the extra time required for a charcoal grill isn't really a big concern.
Safety - Charcoal Grills vs. Gas Grills
Safety is also an important consideration but many people are divided about which type of grill is actually safer. More accidents actually happen with charcoal grills than with gas grills but serious injuries are more likely occur if something goes wrong with a gas grill.
Because charcoal grills are generally much smaller in size and lighter in weight than gas grills, they are at greater risk of tipping over. There is also a greater risk of flare ups but gas grills can flare up as well. Both should be kept well away from structures that could potentially catch on fire. Most injuries from charcoal grills however happen during the use of starter fluid. People often put way too much on the charcoals before they light the fire and the result is a big flare up which could end up BBQing you instead of the food. The greater risk of using starter fluid though is after the charcoal is burning. You should avoid using starter fluid after the coals have been lit. It's dangerous and your food may end up tasting like starter fluid. Never ever use gasoline in your charcoal grill. The taste and smell last a long time and gasoline is also more combustible than starter fluid. We recommend buying charcoal that has been presoaked in starter fluid. Matchlight is the most common brand and it works quite well.
You will never have to use starter fluid if you use a gas grill but you must be careful to follow the instructions which come with your grill on how to start it. Leaving the gas on too long before you press the ignition button will cause a flare up. Also, proper maintenance of your gas grill is very important. Check the hoses and the gas container closely before you start the grill to ensure they are not leaking.
All this talk about safety may be a bit unnerving to read but actually charcoal grills and gas grills are quite safe when used properly. A little common sense and a watchful eye, especially when children are around will prevent almost any accident before it happens. Far too many accidents occur simply because the person who is operating the grill has been drinking and becomes careless. Drinking and BBQs often go hand-in-hand and there is nothing wrong with that but save the drinking until after you have finished cooking and you will have gone a long way towards preventing an accident.
Flavor - Charcoal Grills and Gas Grills
This is perhaps the most important factor when trying to decide which type of BBQ grill to buy. There are a lot of die-hard charcoal grill fan around and they will insist that gas grills can not compare to the smoky flavor of charcoal grills. There are also a lot of die-hard gas grill fans who will tell you that you can not taste the difference. In a way, they are both correct.
It all depends on what you are cooking. A while back a study was done where people were asked to taste hamburgers and steaks cooked on gas grills and charcoal grills. No one could tell the difference between the hamburgers but they could tell the difference between the steaks. The steaks grilled over charcoal had a more distinct smoky flavor.
In recent years, gas grill manufactures have added ceramic "flavor" bars to certain models of gas grills. These bars catch grease as it drips off the food and vaporizes it, which creates more smoke and a smokier flavor.
While none of this has ended the debate, one thing is for certain. Taste is a subjective thing. Our best advice is to try both and see which, if either, you like more. If you are considering buying a gas grill, then consider getting a charcoal grill too. Charcoal grills are a real bargain by most people's standards and then you will have the best of both worlds and you will be prepared for almost any situation.
Hopefully the information in this article has been useful to you and will help make your next BBQ a big
success no matter what type of grill you decide to use.
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