Gas vs Charcoal Grills

gas vs charcoal grills

Gas vs. charcoal grills – the age-old question indeed. The genesis of this debate can be traced back to the early 1930s when Louis McGlaughlin invented the first-ever gas grill for commercial use. However, it was not until the mid-1950s when portable ones were mass-produced for home use.

Fast-forward to the present day, and this raging flame war draws on. It is a question that continues to plague consumers and grilling experts the world over, with every faction presenting a strong case for why each type achieves the best results.

While there is no right or wrong way to fire up your meats, each has its own set of pros and cons that are worth exploring. Without further ado, here are some of the things you need to consider when picking your next barbecue bud.

Gas vs. Charcoal Grills: Is There a Difference

Before diving into the pros and cons of each, it is important to understand how each one works to get the job done.

How Charcoal Grills Work

Basic charcoal grills have three main components: the grill support, charcoal container, and cooking surface. More sophisticated models have since been developed, with some having additional tiered cooking surfaces as well as a hood to cover the grilling surface.

At the risk of stating the obvious, charcoal grills use charcoal as their fuel source. It is created through an intricate process that heats the wood to high temperatures in an oxygen-free sealed steel or clay box.

You’re probably wondering: Why go through this hassle instead of just burning the wood directly on the fire? Well, the answer to this has everything to do with the moisture content present in freshly cut wood.

Watery wood doesn't make for a very efficient energy source. It also has a host of volatile hydrocarbons which evaporate when it is heated. This explains the smoke you observe when burning wood.

As you can imagine, having to deal with the stinging eye-pain and uncontrollable coughing triggered by clouds of smoke can make the entire grilling affair unpleasant, to say the least. Not to mention the increased risk for respiratory problems that may develop if you make this a habit. Not only does charcoal-fire give off an infinitesimal amount of smoke, but it also burns hotter than wood, which makes it ideal for barbecuing.

Pros and Cons of Charcoal Grills

Most charcoal purists would never dream of using gas to grill their meats. Their reasons for this are valid in their own right. Here are some of the pros and cons of using charcoal grills.

Pros

One of the biggest advantages of charcoal grills is that you don’t have to break the bank to own one. They are inexpensive compared to their gas counterparts and are just as reliable.

Next is the undisputed fact that charcoal burns way hotter than gas. This is important if you’re chasing after the perfect sear. Searing creates a caramelization reaction, which causes a sweet and savory infusion of complex compounds that enhance the rich flavor of the meat. It also gives it a deliciously crunchy crust as well. That is the mark of a perfectly grilled steak.

There’s also the taste difference that comes about when using charcoal grills. Many barbecue lovers have a distinct preference for the smoky, mouth-watering flavor charcoal grills provide to the meat. This is difficult to mirror when using gas grills.

Cons

If you’re not a fan of the clean-up involved after an afternoon of grilling, then you might want to stay away from charcoal grills. There’s no escaping it – charcoal is messy, so cleaning up after is guaranteed to take the wind out of your sails.

There’s also the issue of temperature control. Regulating how hot your grill is isn’t as easy as it is in a gas grill. It’ll take some getting used to before you get it right.

How Gas Grills Work

Gas grills, on the other hand, are more complex in their structure. Even the simplest one has several components that include the gas source, cooking surface, starter, burner, valve regulator, hose, grill body, and hood.

The gas source could either be propane or natural gas, which is ignited to produce the flame which cooks the meat. The valve regulators, which are controlled by knobs, determine how much gas flows to the burner. The higher the amount of gas let through, the hotter the flame will be.

The entire length of the burner contains a series of tiny holes through which the gas exits. The starter provides the spark required to ignite the flame.

Pros and Cons of Gas Grills

If you’re not a fan of the petrochemical smell that comes about when you use charcoal fluid to fire up your grill, then you’ll find gas grills to be just what the doctor ordered. Here are some of the pros and cons.

Pros

Nothing beats a gas grill when it comes to the sheer amount of convenience they offer. They give you the luxury of being able to make a spur of the moment decision to barbecue on a weeknight. All you need to do is turn the knob and voila! You're ready to roll.

Gas is also cheaper than charcoal. The temperature control mechanism and the cleanup process is also a lot easier to deal with. Moreover, if you want that all-elusive smoky flavor in your meat, some gas grills also come with accessories like charcoal smokers and side burners to help you achieve that.

Cons

As mentioned before, gas grills tend to be pricier than their charcoal counterparts. They are also immobile if they use natural gas since the outlet will likely be situated at one point. So, if you’re a fan of outdoor grilling in your local park or while camping, you might have to look for an alternative.

Additionally, charcoal grills out-sear gas grills bar none. This is because charcoal burns hotter than gas and produces significantly more infrared heat. From a safety standpoint, gas grills are more prone to uncontrolled flare-ups, which can be a fire hazard of sorts.

The Verdict

At this point, it is virtually impossible to settle the gas vs. charcoal debate definitively. It’s all a matter of personal preference, your need for convenience, cost considerations, and whether or not portability is important to you.

If you're a fan of grilling in the great outdoors, then owning a charcoal grill is your best bet. If you grill often and are looking for a quick, convenient, and cost-effective option in the long run, then you should go with a gas grill. If you can get your hands on both – even better!

Looking for an affordable grill? Check our blog for the top charcoal grills for 2020!