Cooking with Charcoal or Cooking with Gas? - The Ultimate Barbecue Question

by Jane Greer
CulinaryEd Columnist
May 19, 2011

"A great deal of words, tears, and possibly blood have been spilled over which makes a better grill: charcoal or gas," says Raichlen. Grilling's popularity means that culinary students have a vested interest in the answer.

Four Uses for Barbecue Grills

You can use charcoal and gas barbecues for live fire cooking, including:

  • Direct grilling (placing food directly over a fire)
  • Indirect grilling (placing food near but not in the flame)
  • Spit-roasting (grilling foods on a rotisserie)
  • Smoking (indirect grilling that includes lots of wood smoke)

What Chef Doesn't Like Playing With an Open Flame?

According to Raichlin, in addition to "the primal thrill of lighting and playing with fire," charcoal grills have the following pluses:

  • Higher heat
  • Ability to burn wood chips (which increase flavor)
  • Ability to smoke food

Charcoal grill drawbacks include:

  • 25 to 35 minutes to reach grilling temperature
  • Messy
  • Requires more attention
  • Less predictable results
  • Restoking with charcoal every hour
  • Ash disposal

Gas Grills--Easy Does It

Gas grilling aficionados cite the following advantages:

  • Push-button ignition
  • 20 hours of consistent heat from one tank of propane
  • Ready in 15 minutes
  • Little cleanup

Disadvantages of a gas grill include:

  • No distinctive charcoal-fire taste
  • No smoking
  • No playing with fire

How does Steve Raichlen solve the charcoal-vs.-gas dilemma? He cheats and uses a gas grill on busy week nights and a charcoal grill for more leisurely weekend barbecuing.

Barbecue Bible
National Barbecue Association

About the Author

Jane Greer is a freelance writer and editor and is also brave enough to teach English grammar at a community college.
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