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Charcoal or Gas: Which is the Best Way to Grill?

Charcoal or Gas: Which is the Best Way to Grill?

In the beginning there was fire, and humans learned to cook on this fire and…it was good. Some time thereafter there came choices and then, everything went to hell. The two basic choices were between charcoal and gas, and the opinions are staunch and fierce. Dubbed “the grate debate,” many BBQ lovers swear by one or the other (I have never really known anyone whose door swings both ways on the debate) and will give you a laundry list of reasons why their preferred method is superior to the other.

So seeing as Memorial Day is upon us, I thought this was a good time to end the debate here and now. The absolute best way to grill is…entirely subjective. Obviously, for anyone that has dabbled in the world of gas, gas grills are more expensive, but far more convenient than charcoal grills. They start up like a car (with about 10 minutes to fully heat) and the clean up is minimal. Some swear that the regulation of temperature is far more precise with gas, whereas charcoal grilling requires more finesse and technique to maintain heat regularity. However with the primitive nature of charcoal comes other benefits; namely the taste. Charcoal enthusiasts swear by the superior flavor of food coming off the charcoal grill (some say meat tastes better on charcoal, whereas non-meat items do just fine on gas), and many people do agree. Gas grills, while providing those cool parallel grill marks, just don’t provide that same smoky flavor that people demand from charred flesh (coincidentally, that coveted flavor may also be an indicator of carcinogens). Nevertheless, there is no accounting for taste, but there is accounting for money. While charcoal grills cost significantly less than their gas-fueled counterparts, the price of charcoal is significantly higher than the price of propane, used to fuel gas grills. For gas grills it breaks down to about $1 per hour of grilling (depending on the volume of gas you purchase and where you purchase it) whereas the average price for an hour’s worth of grilling is about double or triple that. And what about the environmental impact of burning six quarts of charcoal vs. an hour’s worth of propane? Well, I think you could figure that one out.

Still, the argument will rage on as long as there are things to grill. What is your feeling about gas vs. charcoal? Is the flavor all that different? Is charcoal antiquated? Is gas a soulless way to grill? Please weigh in and have a safe BBQ weekend.

Related:
9 Tips for a Healthy BBQ
5 Marinades for Grilled Vegetables
6 Surprising Things You Can Grill

Read more: 4th of July, Eating for Health, Following Food, Food, Holidays, Other Holidays, , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

52 comments

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10:21AM PDT on May 16, 2013

I like wood chips on a charcoal grill. More flavorful food that way. thanks

2:38PM PDT on May 13, 2013

I think it probably is down to taste, and a certain amount of conditioning, based on what you're used to... I have gone to barbeques and absolutely loved the taste of the food, which when combined with the atmosphere, or the occasion, which is part of it, makes you feel quite rural, and special in a way...

4:36AM PST on Feb 4, 2013

Thanks.

11:42AM PDT on Oct 20, 2012

Not fond of the flavor of food cooked on gas grills (I cook well on a gas stove but it isn't cooked directly over the gas, there is a pan or pot inbetween), but i am fond of wood and charcoal BBQ's and grillings.

8:22AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Love to BBQ and have had food from both wood, charcoal and gas. Since one can't BBQ on the balcony due to fire regulations had to get rid of my gas BBQ after moving...am considering purchasing a small one to lug around to the picnic area or other sites and will likely have to use charcoal for that purpose. Like wood, coals and gas, probably wood as first, coals second and gas third. What ever the method, BBQ tastes delicious!

6:56AM PDT on Jun 27, 2012

Nothing like the smell of lighter fluid to get you started! Charcoal if your Barbecuing! Gas if your Grilling!

7:30AM PDT on Jun 21, 2012

Charcoal gives the best flavor.

7:30AM PDT on Jun 21, 2012

Charcoal! If you use gas, you might as well cook inside.

7:07AM PDT on Jun 21, 2012

thanx

4:40AM PDT on Jun 21, 2012

gas is gas and if you have bottles of gas around and not store those gas bottles properly KABOOMMMMM so I opted for Charcoal and there is no ethane whatever in your food...its all good and I cook on a Weber type Kettle BBQ which fits into my courtyard perrrrrrrfectly

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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