Charcoal vs. Gas Grills: Which Is Better?
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Charcoal vs. gas grill, also known as the "Great Debate." Our simple pros and cons list will help you decide which grill is best for your family.
Everyone has their own opinion when it comes to charcoal and gas grilling. Which type of grill is the best? Is there a correct choice for whipping up amazing grilling recipes? Rather than guessing which to use at your next cookout, we’ve rounded up the pros and cons of charcoal and gas grills so you can make a well-informed decision for what will be the tastiest choice of the summer.
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According to some die-hard barbecue fans, the only way to grill is with charcoal. Charcoal provides that rich, smoky flavor that, even with an attached smoker box, gas just can’t meet. Learn more about how to use a charcoal grill.
Pros of charcoal grills:
- Typically, charcoal grills reach a higher temperature than gas grills. A grill has to reach a temperature of at least 600 degrees Fahrenheit to achieve a nice sear on your meat. This is no problem for a kettle grill filled with red-hot charcoals as it can reach 700 degrees Fahrenheit. While there are gas grills that can reach higher temperatures, they’re usually on the pricier end.
- You get that scrumptious, smoky flavor. Ever wonder how charcoal grills give so much flavor? Turns out, that higher heat is key. When the drippings from your steak, chicken or veggies fall on the hot coals, they turn into flavor-packed steam and smoke that goes right back into the meat, resulting in the amazingly unique taste of charcoal grilling.
- They are easier on your wallet. A basic charcoal grill will run you about $25, while a moderately priced one can be found for around $150. Of course, higher-end models go up from there, but in comparison, charcoal grills are far less expensive than gas grills which usually cost between $130-$300.
Cons of charcoal grills:
- Longer heat up time. Charcoal grills, on average, take about 15-20 minutes to reach the proper cooking temperature (not including the time it takes to light the charcoal), whereas gas grills instantly light up and take about 10 minutes to reach cooking temperature. There are a few different ways to start a charcoal grill, too.
- Fuel cost adds up. A 20-pound propane cylinder can provide around 25 days of cooking time, whereas a 20-pound bag of charcoal will only yield three grilling sessions. The type of charcoal you cook with can change the way your food tastes as well. Clean-burning hardwood/lump charcoal can go for $35 to $40 for a 20-pound bag.
- The cleanup is a bit more cumbersome. As opposed to the gas grill that only needs a quick scrub with a brush, a charcoal grill has to be emptied of its used ashes before it can be scrubbed. Be sure to follow these grill cleaning tips, too.
Best Charcoal Grill: Our Test Kitchen recommends the Weber’s Original Kettle Charcoal Grill ($109) for its durability and temperature control.
Shutterstock / Arina P Habich
There’s no denying how convenient gas grills are in terms of start-up and temperature control, but that ease comes with a price.
Pros of gas grills:
- They are better for you and the environment. It’s scientifically proven! In regards to your health, The Healthy says opt for a gas grill. Why? Because gas-grilled meats contain fewer carcinogens compared to char-kissed charcoal-grilled meats. As for the environment, it’s been studied that gas grills’ carbon footprint is about one-third of charcoal grills’ carbon footprint.
- Quick start-up and temperature control. With a simple press of the ignition button and a turn of the dial, your gas grill will spark to life. After a quick preheat, you’ll be ready to grill, rather than having to wait for coals to heat up. You can also go from low heat needed for bone-in chicken to searing hot for kebobs or steak without having to worry about moving around hot coals, too. (By the way, here’s the difference between propane and natural gas).
- Versatility. With a gas grill, you can easily cook delicate foods such as fruit and vegetables without the worry of overpowering the food with the smoke flavor that comes along with charcoal grilling. Catherine Ward, Taste of Home‘s Prep Kitchen Manager, recommends using a gas grill for fish and shellfish because you still get that nice grilled flavor without any added smoke. If the smoke flavor is desired, you can easily add a smoke box ($21) or you can learn how to turn your grill into a smoker with these tips.
Cons of gas grills:
- Assembly time. As opposed to the charcoal grill that can be set up in a jiffy, a mid-range gas model is a bit more complicated to assemble and hook up to a propane tank.
- Safety. While there are safety precautions to follow with any form of cooking, you have to be extra careful when cooking with a gas grill. Always make sure that your propane tank is properly attached without leaks, your grill is at least ten feet from your home and deck and that the grill is free from grease. Not sure how to best clean your grill? Follow this simple grill cleaning check-list that’ll leave your grill looking brand-new!
- Portability. Though travel-sized gas grills are available, it would be much too difficult, and dangerous, to tow a full-sized gas grill around to the park or the beach.
Best Gas Grill: Our Test Kitchen staff recommend the Weber Genesis II E-335 Gas Grill ($950) for its durability and top-of-the-line cooking power.
The Bottom Line
Charcoal and gas grills each have their pro and cons, but only you can decide which would be best for your family and lifestyle. With so many delicious grilling recipes to cook up this summer, you can’t go wrong either way.