The debate between charcoal vs gas grills gets so heated (pun intended!) that many people choose to own both. What do you do if you don’t have space or the cash for both grills though? You may find yourself in the dilemma of picking between the two. Charcoal grills and gas grills both have their benefits and give food a distinct and delicious flavor. Which is better? Let’s examine what makes charcoal and gas grills different from each other.
Charcoal Grill Vs Gas Grill
Grilling is a major part of food culture in America, but the war between charcoal vs gas grills fanatics has raged for years. Charcoal purists rave about the taste. Gas grillers love convenience and control. Keep in mind when purchasing a grill that the only “best” type of grill is the grill that best suits your needs. To learn what works for you, take a look at the several factors that set charcoal and gas grills apart.
When it comes to price, gas grills tend to be more expensive than charcoal. This is due to having mechanisms that are more complex and having more parts than charcoal grills. Charcoal grills can typically be found for fairly cheap. However, keep in mind that whether the grill is charcoal or gas, you can expect the quality you pay for. Low cost is typically the equivalent of low quality. You don’t have to pay an outrageous sum for a grill, but you should also pick a grill that won’t require replacing within a few years.
Operating your new grill often has hidden costs you might not have considered. These costs should also factor in with the original grill price.
Fuel prices can contribute to the overall running cost of a grill, though both are inexpensive. Charcoal is relatively inexpensive and often on sale in the spring. When stored properly, charcoal can last for years, so stock up while it is on sale, and you will be grilling all summer long. As for gas, propane will fluctuate in cost with petroleum prices. Propane can often cost a little more during the summer, so keep an eye on the price of petroleum to know when to stock up.
Also worth considering are the maintenance costs. Charcoal grills are very low maintenance. Replace the grill grates every one to two years, but with proper care, a charcoal grill should last for many years. As we said before, gas grills often have more parts than charcoal grills. If individual parts rust or ruin, they will require more frequent replacing. You also have to maintain the upkeep on the burners, drip tray, and ignitors in order to ensure that they are clean and long-lasting. If you decide to use natural gas instead of propane for your gas grill, you will also have the added maintenance of installing the grill in a permanent location to hook it up to the natural gas line of your house.
Though they don’t cook over an open flame and most would say that are no comparison to gas or charcoal, electric grills are worth mentioning. Electric grills beat both gas and charcoal for the most cost-efficient to operate. At a cost of 16 cents per kilowatt hour, you can have a cookout with an electric grill for an hour and the cost is only about 26 cents. Charcoal and propane fuels will both run you roughly a few bucks per barbecue.
You have probably heard plenty of charcoal grilling enthusiasts raving about the superior flavor of charcoal. The thing is – they do have a point. Gas grills are not capable of reaching the same temperatures as charcoal unless they use an infrared burner. High temperatures are essential to searing, which locks flavors and juices into the meat.
Charcoal also gives off a stronger smoke flavor which can become more prominent the longer the meat cooks. That smoky flavor can really make a difference when it comes to the taste. However, using self-igniting charcoal or charcoal lighting fluid can result in an unpleasant, chemical-like flavor penetrating your food. This is why charcoal chimneys or starters are highly encouraged.
Gas grills have adapted to meet the challenge of charcoal’s flavor. Upscale gas grills now come equipped with an infrared burner (or are capable of having one added aftermarket if you are handy with a set of tools). Infrared burners are the reason why some of the greatest known steakhouses grill with gas. Infrared can produce a superior sear that locks in all of those delicious flavors.
Many gas grills also come with smoke boxes, though you can also add (or even make!) your own. Smoke boxes give you the delicious, smoky flavor of burning wood chips without the need for a full-size smoker unit. Some smoker boxes are designed for use with both gas and charcoal grills, so this flavor booster can be added to either type of grill.
Max and Min Temperatures
Gas grills tend to have a temperature range of around 200-600 degrees Fahrenheit. That may sound impressive, but then you have to consider a charcoal grill. Charcoal grills can reach temperatures over 650 degrees. A gas grill would require an infrared burner to hit those temps.
A word of advice when considering your grill’s temperature – do not trust the dome thermometer. Often, you will see at least a 50-degree difference in the temperature between the dome and the cooking grates. Whether you are using a charcoal grill or a gas grill, do yourself a favor and invest in a good digital thermometer. Digital thermometers give you a more accurate reading of both your food temp and the temperature inside of your grill.
Here is where charcoal loses its leg up in regards to temperature. While you can easily hit high temps using charcoal, you have less control over raising and lowering that temperature. To create areas of high and low heat, you have to learn to make these zones using the charcoals for direct and indirect heat.
Gas grills ignite easily and heat up quickly. Though the temperature gauges may not always be totally accurate, gas grills excel at holding a steady temperature. In comparison to charcoal, you have far more control over the temperature of your grill. Creating direct and indirect heat zones is as easy as the turn of a dial.
Once again, it is important not to rely solely on the thermometer installed in the hood of your grill. It doesn’t matter if you are using a charcoal grill or a gas grill. Often they are inaccurate when measuring the temperature. A good oven thermometer would give you a far better idea of the temperature inside your grill at any given time.
Grill Start-Up Time
This is another category where gas grills triumph. When you finish a hard day’s work and your stomach begins to growl, there’s nothing better than a grilled dinner to fill you up. If you have a charcoal grill, that dinner may come a little later than you would prefer.
Charcoal requires a little bit of technique to get lit. You may use a chimney, charcoal starter, or another device to light the coals, but it will still take several minutes to come up to temperature. One thing we recommend NOT doing is using any kind of chemical starter to light your charcoals. While this may seem like a quicker method, it can also cause dangerous flare-ups and give your food an unpleasant smell and taste.
When it comes to the question of charcoal vs gas grills, gas grills are much easier to start up. Simply twist the knob or press a button, and your grill ignites. Maintain the grill temperature by adjusting the dials. You can close the lid and let them come up to temperature in a matter of a few minutes. Simple as that! No mess and no fuss.
The smoke produced by burning gas is not the same as the smoke produced by burning charcoal. Charcoal gives off far more smoke than gas, which is why you hear a lot of people say they prefer charcoal because of the smoky flavor it gives the food. Gas doesn’t smoke much on its own. But if you add woodchips in a smoker box to your gas grill, you can produce some smoky flavors in your food.
What’s important to keep in mind here is what kinds of food you are most likely to grill. If you prefer hot dogs, hamburgers, and other foods with a quick cook time, smoke isn’t going to have much of an impact on the flavor. Gas works well for this.
Foods with longer cook times like thick steaks have more time to soak up the flavor molecules from the smoke. They are more likely to taste better on a charcoal grill unless you have a smoker box for your gas grill. A smoker box or wood chips can also exponentially increase the smoky flavors of a charcoal grill, giving you an overall flavor of good ole fashioned Southern barbecue.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Let’s face it – no one actually likes cleaning their grill. It can sometimes be a real undertaking. In the battle of charcoal vs gas grills, both can be a pain to clean in their own regard. When it comes to charcoal, the fuel itself can cause a lot of mess. Charcoal produces copious amounts of ash that has to be frequently disposed of. It’s easy to get ash everywhere and make a bigger mess. Charcoal grill cooking grates also require more vigorous cleaning.
As for gas grills, cleanup is far easier. Turn the heat on high, and let the flames do the work for you. By quickly burning off remaining food particles, cooking grates are easily wiped clean. However, gas grills have a few more parts than charcoal grills, and those can require additional work. Once every few months, you should take your gas grill apart to deep clean the grates, burner protectors, and burners. A pressure washer can make quick work of this. But you should also check the tubes and jets for any clogs or invading insects.
Gas grills should also be regularly checked around once a month for leaks. To do this, run soapy water along the gas line while the propane is on. If bubbles form, you may need to replace the line. While charcoal grills are harder to clean, gas grills require a little more maintenance over time due to having more parts. Regardless of gas or charcoal though, you should always keep your grill covered and protected from the elements to ensure it keeps working for years to come.
Charcoal wins by a landslide when it comes to assembly time. They are ready to start grilling almost immediately out of the box. They have very few parts, unlike even the most modest gas grills.
Gas grills are a little more complex in their setup. Having so many parts makes the assembly a little complicated. You also have to hook up the propane tank. To further complicate things, if you decide that you want a direct natural gas line hooked up to your grill, assembly will take much longer. This will require your grill be set in a permanent location and a certified contractor should complete the installation.
Natural gas doesn’t run out like propane and also costs less to use, but this part of the assembly will be labor intensive. It requires a professional installer to ensure that your grill will be safe to use, as natural gas is extremely volatile and flammable. Many gas grill users prefer to stick to the simplicity of propane instead.
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Charcoal Grill Pros and Cons
We have given you a lot to consider in the debate of charcoal vs gas grills. Let’s break it down for a quick guide to the pros and cons of each. A longstanding favorite of grilling enthusiasts everywhere. First up is the charcoal grill:
Price – We have found charcoal grills as low as $30, sometimes even cheaper on sale!
Assembly – Many charcoal grills are ready to go mere minutes after unboxing.
Smoky Flavor – Charcoal gives an incredible smoky flavor the taste of any meal.
Higher Temps – If you want a perfectly seared steak, charcoal is the way to go.
Less Temperature Control – Changing the temperature requires the addition or subtraction of coals, which can often be complicated during cooking.
Longer Startup – Chimneys and charcoal starters can speed up the process of lighting, but you will still have to wait for the grill to come up to temperature.
Messy Ash – Make sure you frequently clean out your ash catcher of you could end up with particles of ash in your food.
Gas Grill Pros and Cons
Known for their convenience, gas grills have a lot of perks. The majority of all grills sold today are gas grills, and it is easy to see why.
Quick Startup – Lighting is just as easy as turning a knob.
Easy to Clean – Quickly burn off food particles after cooking. Monthly maintenance requires a little more effort but is overall fairly easy.
Temperature Control – It’s incredibly easy to create direct and indirect heat zones by simply adjusting the temperature knobs for each burner.
Accessories – Gas grills are constantly improving and many accessories such as rotisserie spits, smoker boxes, and infrared burners can up your gas grilling game.
Price – Due to having more parts and more complicated mechanisms, gas grills cost a little more. You also get what you pay for in regards to quality.
Assembly – Those extra parts require a little more time and consideration when assembling your grill.
Less smoky flavor – While gas grills produce some smoke while cooking, it doesn’t add much flavor to the food.
Requires an infrared burner to reach higher temps – Infrared burners come standard on some gas grills, but those grills are usually at the higher end of the price range.
So, who ends up winning in the battle of charcoal vs gas grills? In the end, the best grill for you is the one that best suits your needs. To different people, that may mean different things. Personally, we like using both gas and charcoal grills for different reasons. Thick cuts of red meat can’t be beat on a charcoal grill. But when we want to cook a quick dinner with no mess to clean up, we use a gas grill. Having both charcoal and gas grills gets you the best of both worlds.