Charcoal or Gas: Which is the Best Way to Grill?
by Eric Steinman
In the beginning there was fire, and humans learned to cook on this fire and…it was good. Some time thereafter there came choices and then, everything went to hell. The two basic choices were between charcoal and gas, and the opinions are staunch and fierce. Dubbed “the grate debate,” many BBQ lovers swear by one or the other (I have never really known anyone whose door swings both ways on the debate) and will give you a laundry list of reasons why their preferred method is superior to the other.
So seeing as July The Fourth is upon us, I thought this was a good time to end the debate here and now. The absolute best way to grill is…entirely subjective. Obviously, for anyone that has dabbled in the world of gas, gas grills are more expensive, but far more convenient than charcoal grills. They start up like a car (with about 10 minutes to fully heat) and the clean up is minimal. Some swear that the regulation of temperature is far more precise with gas, whereas charcoal grilling requires more finesse and technique to maintain heat regularity. However with the primitive nature of charcoal comes other benefits; namely the taste. Charcoal enthusiasts swear by the superior flavor of food coming off the charcoal grill (some say meat tastes better on charcoal, whereas non-meat items do just fine on gas), and many people do agree. Gas grills, while providing those cool parallel grill marks, just don’t provide that same smoky flavor that people demand from charred flesh (coincidentally, that coveted flavor may also be an indicator of carcinogens). Nevertheless, there is no accounting for taste, but there is accounting for money. While charcoal grills cost significantly less than their gas-fueled counterparts, the price of charcoal is significantly higher than the price of propane, used to fuel gas grills. For gas grills it breaks down to about $1 per hour of grilling (depending on the volume of gas you purchase and where you purchase it) whereas the average price for an hour’s worth of grilling is about double or triple that. And what about the environmental impact of burning six quarts of charcoal vs. an hour’s worth of propane? Well, I think you could figure that one out.
Still, the argument will rage on as long as there are things to grill. What is your feeling about gas vs. charcoal? Is the flavor all that different? Is charcoal antiquated? Is gas a soulless way to grill? Please weigh in and have a safe BBQ weekend.