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Maybe you can help us settle a long-running argument around the Toolmonger offices: gas or charcoal?

I’ll admit to being an ardent supporter of gas grills for many years — before I finally converted.  My father always had gas grills, and during most of my young life I lived in one apartment or another and was concerned about fire safety.  (You can’t easily “turn off” charcoal, and I didn’t like the idea of leaving a burning fire on the porch for hours.)  I also liked being able to easily control heat.

But last year, Sean shamed me into going old school.  After my gas grill broke down for the third or fourth time — they only last a season or so without a major rebuild (or a seriously major investment) — and he still had ‘que at his house via his $25 charcoal box, I relented.  Since then I’ve totally become a convert — like one of those guys who won’t shut up about his new Apple computer.  I love the simplicity, the flavor, and even the social aspects of charcoal.  I’ve even learned to control the heat — even in my $45 cheap-o grill.

So what do you think?  Gas or charcoal?  Why?  Let us know in comments.


44 Responses to Hot or Not? Gas Grills (Vs. Charcoal)

  1. Mark Bennett says:

    Definitely charcoal. But only using natural wood charcoal, never briquets.

  2. Abe says:

    If you grill five times a week or more use gas. If you grill twice a week or less use charcoal.

  3. Chuck Cage says:

    Mark: I know some object to the taste of briquettes, but I’ve never really minded it — even the self-lighting kind. Is that why you suggest avoiding them?

    Abe: Interesting. Is your rationale cost?

  4. Greg Smith says:

    I’ve burnt many a steak getting charcoal grilling down. Now that I’ve mastered it, I get raves on how good even cheap meat tastes. As Mark said, only natural wood charcoal, use a charcoal starter can (no lighter fluid) and some patience.

  5. Kurt says:

    I’m with Abe. I grill up to 5 times a week, and a GOOD gas grill (I have a weber silver genesis) is the only way to go. In fact, I have it tied into my house gas line, so I don’t have to deal with gas tanks.

    The reason is easy. Cleanup. To clean my grill, I set it to ‘inferno’ and walk away for about 7 mins. I come back and just use a long handle grill brush to clean up any debris that hasn’t already been turned into a cinder. I then cook on it and just turn it off. No charcoal ash mess to deal with.

    I DO like the taste of charcoal for certain grill items and for that you can get a cheap charcoal grill. I recommend a heat gun for brining those coals up to temp in a hurry. If you don’t have a heat gun, use a hair dryer. It makes a BIG difference. If you don’t want to wait 30 mins to get your grill to temp, a heat gun/hair dryer is the way to go. You can smelt iron in a charcoal grill if you have enough coals and a heat gun, so be careful.

    Still, if I was grilling only once a week, I might go with charcoal more often, but gas offers way too much convinience. I’ve never bought a ‘cheap’ gas grill, so apparently the extra coin is worth it if I’m hearing about how people have bought grills multiple times. I’m on my 2nd grill and I’d still be on my first one if it wasn’t for an accident I had when moving it. (“Do we need to tie this down in the back of your pickup?” “nah, I’ll drive slow.”)

  6. Kimber says:

    We switched to a Trager wood pellet smoker/grill last year. It is far better than either gas or charcoal and is more convenient than either. Pellets are light weight, not messy and won’t explode! They also smell good.

  7. John says:

    My buddy bought a Weber Grill with a propane starter that gets the coals ready in minutes. It does the most amazing things, even with less-than-choice cuts of meat. He also picked up the rotisserie attachment and it cooks the most amazing chicken, turkey and even ham. Of course, the Weber kettle does the actual cooking but the propane start feature cuts down on the prep time considerably. It also obviates the need for lighter fluid, so the food doesn’t inherit any of that “flavor.”

  8. Greg Smith says:

    There are also electric starters for charcoal grills that I understand work well.

  9. Abe says:

    The reason I say that is purely for conveinience. Starting most charcoal grills is kind of a hassle. With gas it’s turn it on,push a button and you are ready to rock. Also, as Kurt says cleanup is much easier than with charcoal/wood. Not much ash and soot to deal with when you are cooking with gas.

    When it comes to taste charcoal is definitely king but if you grill often it just winds up being too much trouble for alot of folks. When it gets to be a hassle you stop grillin’ and that ain’t good.

    John: that grill your buddy bought sounds interesting. Like a hybrid of sorts. Might be fun to try if it isn’t too expensive.

  10. Crispy says:

    Came by to add my vote for heat gun/ hairdryer. My dad taught me that trick and its awesome. I’ve been using brickets, so I might have to check out the wood stuff. Anyone have a good recommendation for a charcaol grill? Look at Weber’s I guess?

  11. Kurt Schwind says:

    A couple more thoughts:

    I’ve seen that hybrid and it realy does look interesting. It can even come with a ‘cart’ around the kettle that houses the gas and a storage bin for the charcoal. I haven’t seen one in use, but they seem interesting.

    I know that I have the rotisserie attachment and I’ve done several thanksgiving birds on there along with other large cuts of meat and there is little finer.

    If you DO go with gas, you can always get a smoke box (little more than a cast iron box to put wet wood chips in) and that adds some nice flavour to foods that aren’t ‘quick cooking’. Steaks and hamburgers aren’t on a grill long enough for a smoker box to affect the taste like say a pork loin is.

    And, for lack of anywhere else to ask this (and somewhat off topic, maybe Chuck or Sean can address this on an upcoming podcast), but does anyone have a recommendation on a good in-food grill thermometer? I want to be able to have a big piece of meat, like a pork loin or a turkey, and put a thermometer in it with a readout that I can see without opening the grill lid and letting all that wonderful, flavourfull smoke out. I’ve been reading reviews here and there and it seems so hit or miss.

  12. Randy says:

    Charcoal tastes good (when started with a chimney) but is a royal pain to wait for and clean up. Gas all the way now. Except for in my smoker. Charcoal and hickory there.

  13. Scraper says:

    I really like my charcoal cooker/smoker. It was not expensive ($150 at Lowes) and works great. I use lump charcoal for steaks, shoulders, roasts, etc. If it is just burgers and dogs for the kids, briquettes are fine. But I am looking at a gas grill to use during the week. It would be much more convienent and efficient.

  14. James says:

    Once grilling season starts, I cook almost everything on the barbecue. I use it *every* day. If I had to deal with charcoal, I probably wouldn’t use it nearly as much.

  15. PaulS. says:

    Sometimes I think I must be one of very few people who grill using only wood as fuel. In my Weber grill I start small twigs on a few scraps of newspaper, then add chokecherry or scrub oak from my back yard, well dried, split, and often with bark on. The small amounts of wood I use are just enough for the meal. My friends and I love the flavor this gives to meats.

  16. Pierce says:

    Right now I have what I consider the best of all possible worlds (at least in a small package): a combination gas/charcoal smoker/grill/fryer made by Masterbuilt (7 in 1 Smoker at http://www.masterbuilt.com/products_propane.htm). It does everything pretty darned well, and I’ll never again have a charcoal grill without a propane starter, I’ll tell you that.

  17. Ron says:

    My Big Green Egg goes from 0 to 600+ degrees in 7 minutes. I’ll never go back to gas again.

  18. JK says:

    We recieved one of those Char-Broil Big Easy combo gas/charcoal grills for our wedding about 4 years ago. While it’s not a particularly awesome grill (read the reviews) it’s a good size, and makes meat hot. I use as a gas grill about 95% of the time. The PITA charcoal is saved for times when I have ribs on, and that’s about it.

  19. Michael says:

    I have been using charcoal ever since I moved out on my own 5 years ago. I have always been eyeing a nice gas grill, but have never made the switch. I think that gas is not worth spending the money on, unless you really do some comparison shopping, and spend some pretty big bucks to get something quality.

    I don’t know about grilling my ribeyes, and not getting that wonderful authentic charcoal taste to them.

  20. ryan says:

    I’ve been lusting after a Big Green Egg for a couple years now. I ended up buying the cheapest gas grill on Thanksgiving rather than rebuild mine, and I regret it now…

    I just have to make the table, (http://www.biggreenegg.com/table-plan.htm) that BGE provides plans for before my wife will let me drop $600 on a charcoal grill….

    FWIW, my constantly rebuilt 2nd hand gas grill was much better than the POS I got from the blue box store.

  21. N I Fisher says:

    i’m a huge proponent of charcoal, but gas certainly has it’s place. I live in an apartment and I just replaced my charcoal grill with a small gas grille and I’m happy with the change if for no other reason then the clean up of the ashes. If/When i get a house, i’m certainly going to go back to charcoal, but for now, gas is the best option.

  22. John says:

    I have a webber kettle charcoal grill. The best addition I bought for it is a gas burner (like sold with turkey frying kits) I have sitting on the ground next to the grill. I load the coals in a chimney and put it on top of the gas burner. Turn on the burner, and 10-15 minutes later they are ready to toss in the kettle and cook. Another addition I plan on adding this season is an air blower to light the coals faster. 1-2 minutes after the chimney is on the burner, the bottom few layers of coals are lit, and the heat starts to help light the rest of the coals. The air blower would be similar to a heat gun or hair dryer mentioned by others. Basically once the bottom is lit, you’d just move the chimney over to the air blower, and that’ll get the coals hot and light the rest faster than just sitting on the burner wasting gas. I’m hoping to bring my total coal prep time down to 5-10 minutes. This would put it in line with the heat up times of gas grills and make weekday use much easier. Prep time for me without a chimney was about 30-40 minutes, with the chimney and newspaper it was about 20-30 minutes, my current setup gets me there in about 15, I’m hoping to be in single digits this season so I can grill more often than on weekends.

  23. Randy says:

    Wood coal grilling makes awesome steaks. We do it every time we go camping, but not so much at home. In college, we used to dig a pit in my buddy’s rent house back yard, burn a few oak logs in it, then use the oven rack as a grill to cook steaks. Drinking cheap beer with smoky steak and baked potatoes is a good memory.

    Clever ideas on lighting and improving charcoal readiness time. I might set my lighting chimney on the side burner of my grill for a few minutes next time I use my smoker. Insured fast lighting and no newspaper ashes blowing around when I dump the coals.

    Gas grills don’t need to be rebuilt every year if they are not super cheap. Weber’s gas tubes are guaranteed for 10 years because they are stainless. If you get one from Orange Depot, their Weber models have porcelain covered cast iron grates for the same price as the same models with porcelain covered stamped steel grates at other stores. I chose to save a few bucks by not getting the all stainless model. Looks awesome, but hurt my wallet more than it helped my grilling or overall backyard appearance.

  24. As a person who has used pretty much everything I have to say that I love charcoal (and yes I typically use a good lump). If you have a decent charcoal grill that lets you control the heat then this is actually a much more versatile unit than most gas grills. My main charcoal grill is a Weber Performer, but I have several. The performer is great because of the gas powered charcoal igniter. A very convenient unit. More than the flavor, the intense heat, and the great versatility, what makes charcoal better in my opinion is that it is a more authentic grilling experience. Gas grills are quick and easy, but after a while it just isn’t as fun as lighting up coals, tending a fire and standing around the smoke while you cook. Charcoal is just plain funner.

  25. Will says:

    I prefer a gas grill. On a weeknight when I get home from work the gas grill makes a quick meal. I do really enjoy the flavor of a charcoal grill, but gas grilled food tastes ok to me too. FWIW, my cheap gas grill has lasted 5 years with no maintenance, but sometimes I have to click the starter a lot of times.

  26. Eric G. says:

    Even on a week night it’s charcoal all the way. With a starter chimney and hardwood lump charcoal you can have a hot grill in 15 minuets, the food tastes better and charcoals grills last longer.

  27. olderty says:

    I’m a charcoal guy. I’d be using my 20+ year old handmedown Weber kettle (it’s gray now!) more often, but the deck isn’t done yet. I’m the guy that ends up grilling in the driveway… I do agree with many above, if you’re going to grill daily, use gas for easy cleanup. Charcoal for weekly’s.

    Also, a good briquet warming technique I’ve seen is to take a heating element out of an old electric oven and either permanently place it in the side of a kettle grill or make an insulated handle for one and take it out of the coals when they’re lit.

  28. Lewong says:

    For my barbecue in my smoker, I use something called Lazy-Q. You can google it.

    For grilling, using the rig I have, it’s easier to use charcoal. I use Lazzari Mesquite Charcoal if that’s your taste. Big hunks, burns hot.

  29. chris says:

    thanks for all the good comments about grills. I’m looking to replace my current POS gas grill after two years of use. I want to go charcoal, but don’t know a lot about cooking with charcoal so I was wondering if anyone had a good ‘starter’ charcoal grill they recommend.


  30. Troy says:

    Nothing tastes Better then A steak slow cooked over a bed of hickory bricks that have been soaked in honey and bacon grease
    Try it its wonderful.
    Kettle Grill all the way! I will never get rid of my webber.

  31. SeanM says:

    Gas… I’m lazy.
    Second hand CharBroil… I’m cheap.

    I never have an igniter, they always die so I just use a lighter. Everything else is dirt-simple on a gas grill, the regulator and hose are the only things you can’t fix/tape/wire together.

    I agree charcoal is better but see point 1 above. I mitigate the loss of actual charcoal by using the cement briquets instead of lava rocks and by keeping a smoker box on the grill at all times. Soak woodchips for an hour, put in box and you have *some* smoke. Goes along with point 1 again.

  32. Fitz says:

    Why decide? I have both, but use the gas more often.

  33. Kurt Schwind says:

    I guess the biggest ‘knocks’ against gas grills is that you really can’t expect much of anything out of a cheap gas grill, but a cheap ‘charcoal grill’ (which is little more than a metal bin with some air vents and a grate to cook on) is actualy a functional device for a long time.

    If someone is looking to go gas, do your homework. 2 burners doesn’t cut it. You need 3 (because you’ll want to do some indirect cooking and that’s too goofy with 2). You’ll probably be spending closer to $300+ for a decent gas grill, not $160.

    A good gas grill is very easy to maintain. I also recommend checking into whether you can get your house gas line run out to the grill. This might change the grill you get (natural gas and propane grills ARE DIFFERENT). I have my gas line tied to my house and I routinely cook things for hours on my gas grill. Thanksgiving turkey for instance. Or a slow smoked rack of ribs. You don’t want to run out of fuel.

    As to taste of food (and this has been mentioned before, even by me): Charcoal tastes better IF the following is true –
    1) You didn’t use lighter fluid
    2) You are cooking for more than 10 minutes. Less than 10 minutes (ala hamburgers) there isn’t enough time for the smoke to really penetrate and make a difference in flavour).

  34. ambush27 says:

    no matter what you may think about leaving charcoal grills “on” for a long time after you’re done cooking gas grills are more dangerous. you should see all the people in the burn unit from clicking their broken igniter repeatedly with the gas on.

  35. Norm says:

    I wasn’t sure myself which way to go but Amazon had the Weber Gold on sale w/ free shipping several years ago so I bought that (since added the rotisserie and the smoker box) and I use it 4 days or more a week. It was helpful for several reasons: Ready to use quickly, cleans easy, never one issue at all, cheap to use (it uses the propane tanks that I also use for the turkey fryer). I also happened to see a Weber 21″ Kettle at the local dump. The kettle was in good shape so I grabbed it, bought a new grate, power washed it and let it burn very hot for awhile. Now I use it for those days when I want to cook with all natural charcoal. I use my grills to cook everything including the usual as well as breakfast (eggs, pancakes), baked cakes, brownies etc. So to conclude this I would say Gas has the preference for me. (I was REALLY close to the Green Egg before I got the gas grill – Someday!!)

  36. Kurt Schwind says:

    Chuck, I just listened to your latest podcast and I have a comment to make. You are the FIRST person I’ve ever heard of that cleaned his grill (charcoal OR gas) AFTER cooking. Weber recommends cleaning gas grills BEFORE cooking, just like you would with a charcoal grill. I always start cooking on any grill by making it as hot as I can. Then I clean the grate and move coals as needed and start cooking. For gas I start as hot as I can get, clean the grate, and then set the temp to whatever I want. I don’t think that it’s good practice to clean any gas grill afterward except perhaps those tiny gas grills used for tailgating/camping.

    Anyone else clean their gas after cooking instead of before?

  37. wvpv says:

    I prefer charcoal, hands down. My wife loves to smell my shirt after bringing in the beef off the grill.

    It’s a family tradition. My granddad, my dad, and I all used cast aluminum Portable Kitchen (http://www.pkgrills.com) charcoal grills.

    If you’re good you can use your charcoal twice.

  38. Bob D says:

    I’ve bought a new gas grill. It did not come with any briquettes nor did the instructions call for the addition of briquettes. The pictures show a completely assembled grill and no briquettes. Perhaps a silly question, but doesn’t every grill require briquettes to hold the heat?

  39. JB says:

    I bought a Webber Smokey Joe used at a garage sale 13 years ago when I moved out of my folks house. I have not up graded since, I can find no reason to. I am an apartment dweller and this grill has served my purposes just fine.
    Charcoal grilling is an art and requires patience above all. Starting is slow but arrange you fuel into a small pyramid shape and let it burn a while, you will be rewarded for your patience with a nice piece of meat. I have used a charcoal grill to eat every night and all it takes is a little planning and the willingness to slow your life down a little(make a week day more like the weekend!). However, if you are the impatient sort than gas will do you right (until it wont light due to lack of servicing).

  40. eschoendorff says:

    I have both a Weber kettle charcoal grill and a Weber gas grill. I’ll give you one guess as to which one gets used more….

    ever since we got teh Weber gas grill, we have been cooking everything on there. That, when coupled with the fact that a tank of gas is cheaper per meal than charcoal…. I gotta say that in this case gas is the clear winner. But we still keep thet charcoal grill around for those occasions when charcoal is the only way to get the flavor “right.”

  41. kif says:

    You need at least two grills, maybe three. Get a gas grill for work nights. My only concern with gas grills is that they are very different from the one I bought 10 years ago, where I have ceramic grids between the flame and the meat to act as a radiant. I wanted to buy a new one last year but wasn’t impressed with any of them. I would suggest picking up one that is being discarded curbside, and spending about $70 for materials to fix it up.

    You also need that full size Weber kettle grill, and accept no substitutes. The Weber is for the weekends and can do a range of tasks, not the least of which is stand-in for a smoker. I like to use wood chunks instead of charcoal. You will soot up your meat if you toss a new charcoal briquette on an ashed-over but dwindling coal bed.

    Get a real smoker too, if you want. Just keep in mind that those R2D2 shaped sheetmetal smokers require constant attention to keep temp in range. I suppose the best are those no-name ones, hand welded and sold roadside in oil country.

  42. BC says:

    Honestly, my favorite grill is the $17 Char-Broil portable – the one that uses torch cylinders! I have both a full size gas and charcoal grill available for the necessary times, but considering the wife and I have no kids, I find myself lighting up the little Char-Broil more often than the others. It heats up quick, cooks burgers and two steaks like a bandit, and if something on it takes a dump, who cares? It’s under $20 for a whole new one!

  43. Chris says:

    I’ve got one of these for my day to day grilling and smoking.
    The small chamber on the side is great for a round of burgers or a few steaks. Or if you want to do a larger load you use the small chamber as a fire box and fill the big chamber with meat.

    But when we really throw down we’ve got a tow-behind that can and has held over 200 lbs of meat for smoking.

    I live just outside Kansas City so barbecue is in my blood.
    Gas grills are blasphemous.

  44. Cdub says:

    I have both charcoal and propane grills, both made by Weber. I use the charcoal grill far more. My lady and daughter both prefer the old school charcoal taste. Sure gas is on the convienent side…nothing beats the hardwood/charcoal smell, taste. I barely use the gas grill, its pretty nice though.

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