Charcoal or Gas: The Choice is Yours

To most people, Memorial Day is the unofficial start to the summer season. To others, it’s the official start of grilling season. Around my house, it’s just another day of cross-examination in a continuing heated debate: charcoal or gas. I am purely charcoal. I got that from my dad. My brother grills with gas. (I think he’s adopted.)

Each style of grilling has its pros, cons and staunch defenders. As long as you’re a grill master, you shouldn’t have any problem delivering delicious results. But, if you’re still on the fence about which fuel cooks your burgers, here are some pro and cons of each:

Gas Pros
Speed/Convenience
One of the advantages of gas grills is that they heat up in minutes and you don’t have to stoke or watch the coals. With gas grills you can feed your guests about 30 minutes quicker than if you used charcoal.

Clean Up
Turn it off. Break out the grill brush for the grates. Boom. You’re done.

Temperature Control
Like an oven or stove, a gas grill lets you control the temperature (for the most part). Some detractors claim that these controls can be inconsistent or inaccurate, but you can control the amount of flame you use to grill.

Charcoal Pros
Taste

This is the only advantage that matters. Charcoal grilling adds a delicious smoky, flavor you just can’t duplicate with gas grills.

Less Expensive
Charcoal grills are cheaper than their gas brethren. Even an expensive charcoal grill can be considerably less than a gas grill (And in a pinch you can buy a disposable charcoal grill for less than $10).

Portable
Charcoal grills come in all sizes and styles and many are easy to pack in your trunk and take them to the beach, campgrounds or park.

Gas Cons
Cost

Even the most basic gas grill is likely to be more expensive than a top of the line charcoal grill. Gas grills, like cars, come with lots of options. These options cost more. Gas grills also have more parts; more parts that may have to be replaced over time.

Taste
What taste? Make sure to season your dish to taste, because those grilling rocks won’t add any flavor. Even with smoke boxes, gas grills can’t add the flavor you get with a charcoal grill.

Not Hot Enough
While it’s true you can control the temperature of gas grills, it’s unlikely that you will get them hot enough to get a true, caramelizing sear on your meats.

Charcoal Cons
Clean Up

Ok. You have to empty the ashes from a charcoal grill when you’re done (let the coals cool first!). Just grab a garbage bag (or the empty charcoal bag), wear gloves and it’s fairly easy and mess free. Give the grates a few firm swipes with the grill brush and you’re ready for the next time.

Temperature Control
When first learning to cook out, a charcoal grill can be frustrating. Too hot? Too cold? The easiest way to overcome this dilemma is to buy a thermometer (or a charcoal grill with a thermometer built in the lid) and use it to gauge the heat until you become more familiar with this cooking technique. Most charcoal grillers build hot and warm zones for searing and finishing cooking.

Time
If you’re impatient, charcoal may not be for you. It will take charcoal time to get cook ready. But, personally, I’ve never understood the “charcoal takes too long” argument. You can get charcoal up to heat in 20-30 minutes with minimal effort. I start my charcoal, make sure it takes, then go prep my vegetables and sauces, shell my shrimp and mix a drink in my favorite tumbler. When I’m done, the grill is ready and not 1 minute was wasted “waiting.”

No matter which side you’re on, gas and charcoal grilling do have one thing in common: the great outdoors.  Grab some steaks, burgers and ribs and take the debate outside and let your family and friends decide.  Happy grilling!

PJ Butland