A heated debate over the years has been over which makes for a better outdoor grill, gas or charcoal?
In the mid-1950s, LazyMan released the first mass-produced portable propane grill to add fuel to the fire.
Ever since, the debate has raged on—similar to the battle between PC and Mac owners.
Like the PC/Mac divide, there is no simple answer.
BBQ aficionados argue you don’t get the authentic grill taste without the use of charcoal.
Gas grill owners argue propane grills are more convenient and offer more versatility.
At the end of the day, much of it comes down to personal choice, there is no right or wrong. But other considerations can include cost, how much space you have and how quick you want to grill.
Let’s take a look at both types of grill to see which one you should be firing up this summer BBQ season.
We’ll start at the beginning, with the oldest form of BBQs commonly used today, the charcoal grill.
Henry Ford is wrongly credited with creating the charcoal briquette.
The design was actually patented in 1897 by Ellsworth B. A. Zwoyer. Mr Ford was simply looking for a way to reuse scrap wood and sawdust from the Model T production lines.
Backyard grillmasters have long preferred using charcoal, for the flavor it imparts to grilled food.
Charcoal provides a smoky flavor to the food that gas grills, even with a smoke box attached can’t match. Juices which fall from your meats on to the hot coals turn into a flavor-packed smoke for that unique taste.
For a nice sear on your meat, your grill needs to achieve a temperature of at least 600 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is much easier to achieve on a kettle grill full of red-hot briquettes, which can hit up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit. Only the higher end gas grills can normally achieve the same high temperatures.
Charcoal grills tend to be easier on your wallet, at least the purchase of them anyhow. You will find many basic charcoal grills from around $25, with a moderately priced kettle grill costing anywhere from $100 to $150.
Of course you can find higher priced models too, but in general they cost less than your average gas grill which is $150 to $300.
A charcoal grill can also be much more portable. You will often be able to squeeze a smaller version in your trunk with a small bag of charcoal for those impromptu day trips.
The biggest issue of gas grill enthusiasts tends to be the longer heat up time of charcoal grills.
An average-sized charcoal grill will take about 30 to 40 minutes before it is ready to cook on, compared to the instant lighting gas grill.
Personally, I would argue you can use that time to throw together a few delicious sides and summer salads.
Another issue for many grill enthusiasts is that the fuel costs will quickly build up. The average charcoal cookout runs at about $2.50, assuming you use 40 charcoal briquettes per grill.
By comparison, you can fill a 5-gallon propane cylinder for approximately $15 which should give you about 15 cookouts.
At $1.50 cheaper every cookout, that can soon mount up, particularly if you are a frequent grill king.
And finally, when your grill session is over, a charcoal grill will take longer to clean up. A gas grill just needs to cool down before you give it a quick rub down with a cloth or brush.
With charcoal you have to wait hours for the briquettes to burn out and empty out the used ashes before you can start scrubbing.
For the convenience they offer and the extra control of the temperature, gas grills just can’t be beat.
There’s nothing easier than coming home from work and firing up the gas grill for a midweek BBQ steak dinner on the patio.
Although many true grill enthusiasts would argue a gas grill adds little more flavor to your alfresco dining than an indoor cooked meal.
Using a gas grill is quick and clean.
There’s no fiddling about with briquettes and stacking them to light, with no smelly starter fluid needed either. You simply turn on the gas and ignite.
Temperature control is also much easier on a gas grill. Once it hits temperature, usually within 10 minutes, you just turn a dial for higher or lower temperatures.
You could quite simply go from a lower heat for chicken on the bone to a higher searing heat for kebabs or steak.
The gas grill adds much more versatility to your grilling sessions. You don’t have to worry about overpowering more delicate foods like fish or fruit and vegetables with that smoke flavor.
If you do want to add a little smokiness, you can always purchase a smoke box for some wood chips.
Assembly can often take longer with a gas grill.
Not too much of a problem if it is left set up outside, but they can be complicated to assemble and hook up the gas. By comparison, a charcoal grill can be set up very quickly, put the legs on and fill with briquettes.
Whenever fire or naked flames are being used, safety can be an issue. With gas grills in particular, you need to ensure the propane tank is properly connected without any leaks.
Be careful where you place the grill (at least 10 feet from your home), and check the grill is grease free – flare-ups can happen, especially when igniting.
In addition to costing more to buy, gas grills will also cost more to maintain. The gas refills may be cheaper, but costs can mount up in keeping the gas connector, gas lines, ignitor and grates well serviced.
A simple heat plate on a gas grill can sometimes cost as much as $30 to $40 to replace, compared to the few dollars for a charcoal grate.
Choosing the right grill for you and your family is simply a matter of personal preference.
If you are frequently grilling outdoors and want the lowest cost and most convenience, a gas grill is the way forward.
However if you are a hardcore grill enthusiast who wants that smoky flavor and better seared steaks, the only choice is a charcoal grill.
This post was last updated on April 15th, 2019 at 07:56 pm
William Clay is a BBQ enthusiast dedicated to sharing his grilling (and overall cooking) expertise with FireFoodChef's readers.