Tips for Choosing a Charcoal or Gas Grill

Part of the Grilling For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Because the two most popular grills are vastly different, buyers are faced with a difficult question: Should I buy charcoal or gas? If you're in the middle of this great grill debate, don't worry. The following list, which compares the major features of those two basic types of grills, can help you make a decision:

  • Cost: Gas has a much larger initial investment, from $150 up to $5,000 and more! Charcoal grills, on the other hand, fall into the $50 to $450 range.

  • Flavor: Because taste is so subjective and personal, the debate will continue forever regarding whether charcoal or gas grilling produces superior flavor. Multitudes of taste tests have demonstrated that most people can't tell the difference between the two. However, despite the many advances in the gas grill industry, a charcoal grill still gives a better — or at least, different — flavor than a gas grill.

  • Temperature capabilities: Because consumers have demanded grills that can achieve the kind of searing and light char that has in the past been possible only at professional steakhouses, BTUs and heat have been increased dramatically.

    Charcoal grills, for example, can go above 500 degrees, so they cook food faster and sear better. The only caveat with these grills is that you must watch your food closely. A gas grill usually stays below 500 degrees, and so food takes longer to cook. However, some gas models, including those from Weber, now have embedded burners that can reach 900 degrees.

  • Convenience: Convenience is a major factor for most people. Many folks are often pressed for time these days, particularly during the week, and use a gas grill during the week and a charcoal grill for the weekends.

  • Ease of lighting the grill: Gas grills are a snap to light. You simply turn on the gas, push the igniter button, and adjust the control to high. Wait about 10 minutes, and you're ready to cook.

    Many people would argue otherwise, but charcoal grills are not difficult to light. The fact is that charcoal grills are extremely easy to light and take only about 30 minutes to reach a medium stage of heat. Using a chimney starter can shave another 15 minutes off that time.

  • Ease of maintaining the temperature: Gas grills have adjustable flame controls, so turning the heat up or down is as simple as turning a knob; they also offer a steady supply of heat. Charcoal grills, on the other hand, are more difficult to manage. They usually come with a damper control that allows you to adjust the amount of oxygen and therefore the amount of heat and fire in the grill, but adjusting the heat to your liking takes more attention than a simple turn of a knob.

  • Practicality for cold winter months: Because a gas grill requires so little effort to use, you can grill with it year-round. Building a fire isn't fun when outdoor temperatures drop, so most people are far less inclined to grill out during the off-season with a charcoal grill.

  • Ease of grill maintenance: Gas grills are easy to clean and maintain because they don't have the sooty build-up or the ash deposits left by a charcoal grill. Charcoal grills, on the other hand, require more scrubbing to remove the soot, burned on fat, and ashes.

  • Cosmetic appeal: This one's a tie. You have dozens of attractive grills to choose from, whether you're cooking with charcoal or gas. Grills come in all sorts of styles, including high-tech, contemporary, gleaming stainless steel, or wonderful bright-colored porcelain enamel. Choose from bright red, cobalt blue, or teal. Even painted gas grills come in colors like hunter green or burgundy.

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