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Gas vs. Charcoal Grills

by Chris Weiss

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Cooking on a grill

Grilling is a wonderful way to enjoy a delicious, flavorful meal at home. When you're shopping for BBQ grills and accessories, the decision between gas and charcoal is one that every consumer must make. There are several pros and cons to the different types of outdoor grills, and each one is better suited to different types of grillers.

Gas and Charcoal Grills:

  1. Gas grills. Gas grills are the most popular style of grill. These grills are fueled by a hard gas line, or more often, a propane tank. Gas grills often include many convenient features such as electronic push-button starters, adjustable zonal temperature dials and side burners. Gas grills tend to be the larger of the two types and require a decent amount of deck or patio space; however, smaller, portable gas grills are available as well.

  2. Charcoal grills. Charcoal grills are the simpler of the two types and rely on charcoal for fuel. Lighter fluid or chimney starters are used to light the charcoal. Charcoal grills offer a distinct, charcoal flavor that many grillers prefer. Charcoal grills come in a variety of sizes and are usually more compact than gas grills.

  3. Gas pros and cons. The primary advantage of gas grills is their ease of use. Gas grills simply require that you turn them on, allow a few minutes for preheating and begin cooking. It's easy to adjust the temperature with the controls and get a steady, regulated temperature, much the way you do on a stove. When you're done, shut everything off, scrape the cooking grates and go enjoy your meal. On the other hand, gas grills are more expensive and usually bulkier than charcoal grills. Out of the box, they don't offer the same smoky flavor as charcoal, but accessories such as flavor briquettes and wood smokers can help to provide that level of flavor.

  4. Charcoal pros and cons. Though some taste tests have found that gas and charcoal offer comparable flavors, many simply prefer the rich, smoky flavor that is imparted by charcoal. Charcoal grills are also better for smoking and searing food. Generally speaking, charcoal grills are considerably cheaper than gas grills and can be found for as little as $10 or $20. On the other hand, charcoal requires more time and skill to use and isn't a good option for those who just want to make a quick meal. Charcoal needs to be heated until it's grey and hot, which can take 20 to 30 minutes. If you fail to let lighter fluid burn off, your meal will taste as though it's been saturated in fuel. Unlike gas grills, charcoal grills don't offer temperature adjustments past the amount of charcoal you put in and also take longer to put out and clean up. They create more smoke and fumes.

  5. Bottom line. When choosing an outdoor grill, consider carefully how you plan to use it. If you're looking for the least expensive option, charcoal will provide that; however, you will go through a lot of charcoal (and time) if you grill often, so a gas grill may be more cost-efficient in the long run. Charcoal grills are excellent for those who grill occasionally and don't mind spending the time to get the flavor. Gas grills are more expensive up front and can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. However, gas grills are easier to use and are an excellent choice for those who intend to grill on a regular basis and want a quick, convenient source of heat. There's less regular upkeep with gas grills, as a propane tank can last for months. On the other hand, charcoal grills are simpler, and there are fewer components that that can break. Gas grills are a convenient option when hosting barbecues as they'll allow you to get cooking quickly and cook for as long as needed without much further upkeep.

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