Charcoal and gas grilling each have their own devoted followers. But despite what die hard barbecue fans may tell you, neither are objectively better than the other. Both gas and charcoal offer benefits depending on what you want to cook and when, as well as your available space and budget. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, it’s best to get an objective breakdown of the pros and cons when you’re choosing between charcoal vs gas grill.
Grills have two prep times: firing up for cooking and cooling down for storing. Most gas grills win in both respects. Charcoal grills take 30 minutes at the least to get a good temperature going, because you have to light and stoke the coals first. Plus, once coals are lit, you would want to get cooking right away. You can’t waste time retouching your BBQ sauce or performing some last-minute prep you forgot. Those red hot charcoals won’t stay searing hot for long, unless you’ve got a wealth of charcoal. On the other hand, gas grills instantly light and be turned off just as quickly. All it takes is a twist of a knob. You can stop cooking and start back up again at will, with just a quick preheat in between.
Controlling the temperature
Just like with prep time, the gas grill also wins in this category because of the fact that a simple tweak of the knob is all it takes to adjust temperature. Hence, you can easily cook delicate foods without worrying that it might get burnt especially when you get the best gas grill.
With a charcoal grill, temperature control is trickier. The temperature of a charcoal grill is ultimately dependent on the type of charcoal used. Lump charcoal is usually composed of larger pieces that burn more slowly and smaller ones that burn quickly. It can also produce particles that can snuff the flames a little.
That being said, there are other temperature control aspects to consider:
Open or closed lid?
Whether or not you should open or close the lid varies between gas and charcoal grills. For a gas grill, opening the lid is likely to lower the heat. A charcoal grill, on the other hand, will get hotter if you open the lid. Burning charcoal relies on oxygen intake. If you’re going to be grilling somewhere there are a lot of flammable objects nearby, you may want to opt for gas grilling instead of charcoal grilling, since a charcoal grill needs good airflow to ensure proper cooking temperature.
Much heated debate surrounds this factor, but the important thing to consider is the fact that charcoal grills output more BTUs or British Thermal Units than a gas grill can. The hottest gas grills can reach cooking temperature of up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, handily beating out the maximum temp most charcoal grills reach, 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. But charcoal grills are simply more effective at delivering their heat to the thing you’re cooking . Hot coals have a naturally high heat flux rate, and thus gives a charcoal grill a quicker cooking time than gas.
For the truest grilling enthusiasts, the flavor that a grill can impart is of paramount importance. Because of how convenient gas grills are, with their ease of burning fuels like liquid propane, they don’t generate much smoke—this is especially true with the best indoor grills. Charcoal grilling is the kind that’s most often associated with smoking. Smoke is simply matter than does not fully burn, and hence rises with the hot air. As fuel burns, it releases water vapor and carbon compounds as smoke. This reaction results in flavor packed steam that gives BBQ its amazingly unique taste.
But this isn’t necessarily unachievable by a gas grill. Even a simple propane grill can infuse foods with smoky flavor. Some modern gas grill models come with a smoke box and a dedicated burner, but it’s easy enough to buy one yourself and set it up on the cooking surface. Simply add in the wood chips of your choice. It’s not quite the same, but you’ll be able to enjoy that beloved smoke flavor without a charcoal grill.
Since it burns solid fuel, a charcoal grill is notoriously messy, and it gets messier the longer your BBQ sessions drag on. All it takes is a small gust of wind to blow the wrong way, and dust will fly out of the ash collection tray and into your surroundings. Some modern charcoal grills have measures in place to prevent this, but a basic charcoal grill is not going to be easy to clean up after. Not to mention, charcoal grills’ carbon footprint is about 3 times that of a gas grill, because of all the carbon dioxide and other fumes they emit.
Apart from burning cleanly, gas grills also have a lot more inbuilt measures to prevent messes from occurring, such as grease channels and deflectors. Cleanup can be as simple as scrubbing the grates every once in a while and removing the grease tray when it’s full.
Health and safety
Rogue gusts can also blow sparks or cause flare ups. As part of your safety precautions, you’d want to situate your charcoal grill at least ten feet from something that can catch fire. There’s no such danger with gas. Gas jets are designed with safety in mind, so there’s rarely any need to worry about catastrophic failure. Gas also has fewer carcinogens compared to charcoal.
When it come to price of admission, charcoal beats gas by a wide margin. Even a mid range gas model can run you $300 on average, and $100 at the least. Whereas a kettle grill can go for as low as $20 and still serve you well for decades. You can also get a good Weber model for about $170 on average, plus a little more if you want all the bells and whistles.
However, fuel cost is where the gas grill wins out. On a single propane tank, you can have about a month’s worth of use, assuming you BBQ for a few hours nightly. Given that the average propane tank is 20 lbs in weight, the same weight of charcoal will give you only three grilling sessions, if we account for a little headroom. Your average single-use pack of charcoal briquettes will cost you about $3. Comparatively, gas will only cost around 60 cents per use. Charcoal and gas grills have their own pros and cons, but fuel cost adds a hefty consideration for those concerned with long-term usage expenses.