It’s almost summertime, and the grilling is easy. But what’s not as easy is choosing the right grill for you. Should you go classic with a charcoal grill for that rich, smoky flavor, or more modern with all the bells and whistles propane grills come with these days? To help you with this difficult decision, we’ve broken down the key differences between each grill and which one could take your grilling game to the next level.
In terms of overall cost, both gas and charcoal grills cost almost the same in the long run. A charcoal grill is less expensive to purchase, but more expensive to run, and the reverse is true for propane grills. However, once you factor in all the additional add-ons you can buy for your propane grill, like rotisserie poles, side burners, even an iPod player, charcoal grills narrowly win the prize for most cost-effective option.
When it comes to convenience, propane grills are the clear winner. They heat up faster than charcoal grills, can more easily regulate temperature, and are far easier to clean. Charcoal grills create a lot of smoke, and that smoke can get in, and on, everything. Especially if you have a smaller enclosed area to cook in, a gas grill is a better option.
There are opportunities for dangerous accidents with both gas and charcoal grills. Propane grills operate on gas which is of course extremely flammable, but charcoal grills have hot coals that can fall out if not handled properly. You need to exercise caution with both options, but gas grills may be slightly safer since it’s easier to just turn a knob on the grill rather than try and contain a stray hot-burning coal.
There is a lot of debate as to which grill creates a better tasting food. Many charcoal enthusiasts swear by the rich smoky taste charcoal imbues into their meals, but there are smokers and other accessories you can add on to your propane grill to get that same taste. In 1988, Good Housekeeping magazine did a blind taste test that discovered the testers could not tell the difference between burger patties cooked on gas or charcoal grills. But a seasoned chef (excuse the pun) can generally maximize the sear (crunchy outside layer) of a piece of red meat better with charcoal than gas. In general, it seems red meat can taste better on a charcoal grill since that sear is important to getting a rich, meaty flavor. Lighter foods like chicken, fish and veggies can taste better with gas since it’s easier to control the temperature and cooking time.
Once you take in all the variables, both gas and charcoal grills are pretty equal when it comes to environmental impact. Some environmental groups advocate gas grills because they are cleaner burning, but they still produce smoke and release gas into the atmosphere. You can buy sustainable charcoal made from all-natural, sustainably harvested wood, but charcoal grills still contribute to air pollution at a higher rate than gas. Your best bet either way is to limit your grilling and buy sustainably whenever possible, including the foods you grill and cleaning products you use.
So, who’s the winner? Either way, it’s you! For most people, the choice of gas versus charcoal is a personal preference and almost entirely depends on your cooking style. If you want it quick, easy and slightly better for the Earth, go gas. If you want that smoky flavor that comes out best with charcoal, go that route. Maybe even buy one of each for the best of both worlds.