Charcoal vs Gas Grill: All the Info You Need

When it comes to barbeque, the most frequently debated topic is whether to cook on a gas grill or a charcoal grill. What do the homeowners and BBQ lovers say? It is a widespread discussion in American homes for decades. Until now, we fail to define a final answer.

By theory, there is no correct answer. People have different preferences when it comes to taste, convenience, and efficiency. Today, the debate also boils up with ecological considerations as global warming gets worse. So, instead of asking which is better, we ask how the gas and charcoal grills differ.

In this article, you will find the areas in which one is better than the other. When you choose, tick off the essential factors that you want to consider. By doing so, you will be able to get the answer according to your reasons.

The Basic Thing to Consider

Aside from charcoal and gas grills, there are other types of grills, such as grill-smoker combo, electric, pellet, and infrared burners. Whatever selection you have, the primary considerations are the types of cooking you prefer, or your food requires. There are two types of cooking method that you can do on open-fire cooking:

1. Direct heat

direct heat on charcoal

As the term implies, direct heat refers to cooking food directly over the flame. There is no lid used over the meat. Direct heat grilling is the most suitable for fast-cooking foods such as vegetables, shrimps, and hotdogs. It is also the best method for cooking steaks, barbeque, and burgers if you want legit grill marks, color, and crispy skin. Barbeque fans go for the direct heat open-fire cooking.

People usually prefer charcoal grills for direct-heat cooking. They create beautiful sear marks and authentic great smoky flavor and aroma.

2. Indirect heat

indirect heat

The campfire, aside from giving off heat to warm you up outdoors, is also a practical method of cooking food. You won’t have to get hungry outdoors- you can opt for open-fire cooking. Most campers do it by wrapping the food to be prepared, such as potatoes or meat, in foil and nestle them to the burning coals.

Indirect heat refers to the area created next to the flame. You cook on the grill, but with something between the food and the fire. The food does not get in contact directly with the flame. Examples of food cooked under indirect heat are roasted chicken and other slow-smoked meat such as smoked sausages.

Gas grills are suitable for indirect heat cooking because they have a consistent temperature that cooks the food evenly.

Gas or Charcoal: What are the Differences?

If you face the choice of whether to buy a gas grill or a charcoal grill, you have to differentiate them. In what areas do they differ? How does charcoal-grilled food taste compared to the food prepared with a gas grill? In this section, we will enumerate the areas where these two grills differ and discuss them further.

 Gas GrillsCharcoal Grills
Searing temperature500 degrees Fahrenheit900 degrees Fahrenheit
Smoke compositionComplex taste moleculesSimple byproduct of water and carbon dioxide
Temperature controlYesNo
Start-up10 minutes15 to 20 minutes
Clean-upEasyA bit cumbersome
SafetyRequires extra precautionSafer than the gas grill
Impact on the environmentEmits less greenhouse gasesEmits twice as much carbon dioxide as the gas grill

Searing

seared meat

Searing is a cooking technique done under an extreme heat that cooks the surface of the food, usually meat and fish until they achieve brown crusts. You do it on a temperature that exceeds 300 degrees Fahrenheit to lock in the moisture for flavorful beef with a well-browned coating. You can achieve the coat by proper caramelization and the so-called Maillard reaction that form rich and savory taste.

Most steakhouses use gas grills to sear prime beef. It has nothing to do with affordability or convenience because they can afford any grill anyway. So, why do they choose the gas grill among the others to cook their steaks? Can a typical household use a gas grill too?

The steakhouses serve dark-all-over sear, the perfect one for steaks. They can only achieve it with a very high temperature. Gas grills specially made for steakhouses can reach this temperature from 800 degrees to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that is hotter than standard gas.

However, you can’t achieve the same restaurant-quality steaks with a regular backyard gas grill. This kind of gas grill can get up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit only. Some gas grills which have rotisserie kits and side burners can only sear up to two slices of meat at a time, which might not be enough if you throw a party or meals with the whole family.

Nobody needs to get high-end gas grills used by the steakhouses. When throwing a barbeque picnic or any outdoor cooking, you can achieve the same result with the charcoal grill. Such a grill can reach higher temperatures of up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit. It can help you achieve that complex, savory steak texture on several steaks at once.

Smoke

bbq smoke

Smoke is a result of combustion. When it comes to open-fire grilling, the smoke produced by the charcoal grill is different from the one emitted by the gas grill. Charcoal grill smoke is composed of many tasty molecules and compound organic molecules such as lignin and cellulose. These elements are the secrets of the charcoal grill to improve the flavor and aroma of the meat.

On the other hand, gas grill smoke is a simple byproduct of carbon dioxide and water. It emits an unpleasant petrochemical smell that is not good for any food. Some homeowners improve the smoke by putting pieces of wood or pellets. The drippings that come from the meat further enhance the smoke.

On either gas or charcoal grill, the drippings improve the smoke. Drippings from the meat combust and condense back into the meat. It can enhance the flavor because it contains meat protein, fat, water, and added flavor, such as the marinate you used.

Temperature control

To keep the flame at its optimal temperature, you need to move the burning charcoals. This scenario happens when you grill with coals. A charcoal grill doesn’t have a dial that helps the user adjust or maintain the temperature. With gas grills, you can turn the dial quickly to the required temperature. It ranges from low heat for slow-cooked rotisseries to high heat for searing steaks or kebabs.

Start-up

charcoal-vs-gas-startup

Concerning temperature control, starting up a flame is much quicker in gas grills. You ignite the fire with one push of a button and turn the dial to the desired temperature. The gas will then flicker quick and easy to light. It pre-heats to the set temperature in as fast as 10 minutes.

However, if you consider the time spent for set up, the gas grill is a bit more complicated. You need to hook it up to the natural gas or propane tank. It is the typical case for the mid-range price gas grills.

When it comes to starting up a fire, the charcoal grill has a different story. You need to light the charcoals up and wait for about 15 to 20 minutes to reach the required cooking temperature. You also have to fan the burning coals to heat the cooking environment and keep their flame. Some homeowners prepare the barbeque or toss in some greens for salads.

Clean-up

charcoal-gas-grill-cleanup

Aside from quick start-up and temperature control, a gas grill is pretty easy to clean up. We can say that gas grills are more convenient to use. You only need to wipe the surface or brush the deep-seated dirt off.

On the contrary, the charcoal grill is a bit challenging to clean. You have to empty its ashes before you scrub the remaining dirt. A lot of people complain about it, but it’s worth it if they’re after the rich, flavorful taste and aroma.

Safety

Although you need to observe and perform precautionary measures when using any grills, you need to be extra careful when using the gas grill. The assembly is the most important. Every time you start a flame, make sure that the gas line tightly and properly connects the tank and the grill. Avoid leaks at all costs, and place the rack away from any obstructions and flammable materials.

Charcoal grills are safer to use. However, you might want to place it in an open-air area too. You don’t want the smoke to stick to your house interiors or the clothes hanging nearby.

Cost

It is cost-efficient when you collect the dry woods from the forests, burn them by yourself, and stock up the charcoals for future use. However, most people don’t have the time to do it or live far away from the wilderness. If this is the case, the charcoal grill can take a significant portion of your budget.

If you buy a 20-pound bag of charcoal, it will only last for three seasons. Whereas with the gas grills, the 20-pound propane tank can provide up to 25 days-worth of grilling time. However, this is not always the case. In spring, charcoals are often in a sale; and the price of propane gas often swings with the cost of petroleum.

Environmental impact

charcoal-vs-gas-emission

Cooking with charcoal and gas grills produce smoke and gases that have an undesirable environmental impact. However, scientists say that burning charcoal has more severe implications for the environment compared to the propane gas. The charcoal pieces contain a high amount of carbon. When you combust these pieces, they emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

When it comes to the effect on the environment, the difference between gas grills and charcoal grills is significant. Every time you grill with charcoal, you emit 11 pounds of carbon dioxide. On the other hand, cooking with propane gas produces approximately 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide. Take that ratio into account.

Charcoal Grill Pros and Cons

charcoal grilled meat

To summarize the text above, here are the advantages and disadvantages of the charcoal grill.

Pros
  • A charcoal grill can reach higher temperatures than gas grills.
  • Charcoal grilling is more suitable for cooking steaks. It creates excellent sear marks and authentic smoke flavor and aroma that barbeque fans love.
  • Charcoals are relatively cheaper than propane gas.
Cons
  • Charcoal grills take a longer time to pre-heat.
  • Cleaning after using the charcoal grill is not that easy.
  • Burning charcoals contain a significant amount of carbon dioxide that harms the environment.

Gas Grill Pros and Cons

gas grills

Gas grills are better than the charcoal grills in some ways. Here are the pros and cons of gas grills.

Pros
  • Adjusting and maintaining the temperature is easy on gas grills. Turn on the dial, and you start the fire. It is a lot more convenient to clean too after using it.
  • With just one push of a button, the fire will spark up to pre-heat the cooker in a few minutes.
  • Gas grills have fewer environmental impacts than charcoal grills.
  • Gas grills are more flexible than charcoal grills. They can cook a wide variety of food, including slow-cooked meat, vegetables, and more.
Cons
  • Gas grills require more sensitive handling to prevent any gas leaks and explosion.
  • Barbeque and steaks cooked over a gas grill are not as smoky as the ones cooked over a charcoal grill.

Frequently Asked Questions

A lot of people also ask some questions related to the two selections. Salespersons share some of these questions that the buyers often ask.

Is charcoal grill terrible for you?

charcoal smoke

Unfortunately, the charcoal grill may pose threats to health. According to the American Cancer Society, charcoal-grilled meat may contain carcinogenic compounds (cancer-causing). Examples of these are heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The latter forms when the fat meat drips onto the burning charcoal and condenses into the food. The HCAs occur with more extended cooking activity at very high heat.

The charcoal grill is not only harmful to health but also the environment. It adds up to air pollution. A study from Rice University found out that the atmosphere in Houston is very unclean. They found tiny pieces of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the atmosphere, the elements emitted from cooking meat. It means that many households in Houston cook meat in their backyard grills.

Does charcoal grilling taste better?

charcoal grilled meats

With all the disadvantages of charcoal grilling, a lot of homeowners still prefer it over the gas grill. As described above, charcoal smoke contains a compound that adds up flavor to the food. That is why it tastes better than gas grilling. Another reason is the charcoal burns a lot hotter than a gas grill can. It cooks meat and turns up to be authentic and great tasting.

Do gas grills need charcoal?

Gas grills can cook the food through the heat produced by the burners. They are designed this way and don’t require charcoals. It is something to think about when choosing between the two grills.

A standard gas grill doesn’t work with charcoal. It other words, you can’t add coals onto the heat up burners. Otherwise, the charcoal and ashes will get into the gas grill that can turn up into a messy cooking space. Also, it is not safe to have burning coal falling out of the grill.

The best reason why you shouldn’t use charcoal on gas grills is that it may damage the parts of the gas grills. Users who did it reported broken components that they had to replace. However, there are the latest gas grill models that work with charcoal as a secondary fuel source. They come at a higher price but are worth it if you consider cooking to come up with the best results.

Which is Better?

gas-grill-charcoal-grill

There is no single answer to the question, “Which is better between charcoal and gas grill?” Both types of grills have pros and cons, and only you can decide which would be best for you and your lifestyle. If you have a family that loves steak and barbeque with great flavor, buy a charcoal grill. However, it takes time and effort to cook with the charcoal grill.

If your schedule is too cramped up, you will find the gas grill more convenient. It takes a few minutes to pre-heat and can maintain a stable temperature. You can cook a wide variety of food too. If you love slow-cooked pork or chicken, the gas grill is more suitable for you. Place the food to be cooked inside, turn the temperature to the lowest setting, and wait. You can do other chores while waiting or spend quality time with your family during the outdoor picnics or camps, so you don’t waste time.

Conclusion

If you have a budget to spare, you can purchase both a gas grill and a charcoal grill. Doing so will increase your options and make your life more comfortable. But if you are starting, no fuss, buy the charcoal grill because it is cheaper, and it cooks authentic barbeque.

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