Charcoal vs. Gas Grills
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Charcoal vs. Gas Grills

The Great Grill Debate continues even today, and each grilling species -- the charcoal griller and the gas griller -- has persuasive arguments at his barbecue sauce-stained fingertips.

The Grate Debate

Charcoal or gas? The Great Grill Debate continues even today, and each species of griller -- the charcoal species and the gas species -- has persuasive arguments at his or her barbecue sauce-stained fingertips.

A grilling purist might typically insist that an old-fashioned charcoal grill is the only route to achieving true charbroiled bliss; there's simply no substitute for the superior flavor yielded by the old-school, briquette-and-lighter-fluid system. Sure, charcoal grilling takes more time to set up and cook your grub, but the hassle is easily outweighed by the pleasure of spending time outside, tending to the coals, and watching them reach their deep amber glow -- not to mention the rich, smoky food that's the end result.

Of course, this sort of rhapsodizing will probably cause a fit of eye-rolling and impatient toe-tapping among your typical gas grill advocate. For the time-challenged among us there's a faster, more convenient option of outdoor cooking: the gas grill. Requiring only the quick flip of a gas switch and a simple knob turn to control temperatures, gas grill cooking calls for less maintenance and less (although certainly still some) attention. There's no fire to tend or constantly varying temperature to worry about. What about taste? Gas grillers maintain that with the right preparation, the end product is just as mouthwatering.

The direction you choose will naturally depend on what criteria you find most important. The following guide is designed to help you make an educated decision when deciding which type of grill is best for you.

Charcoal Grills: Pros and Cons

PROS

  • Flavor: Distinctive flavor. Food gets infused with notes of wood and smoke.
  • The Ritual: Spending time in the backyard. Piling on the charcoal. Adjusting the heat of the coals. The satisfaction of mastering the art involved.
  • Low Cost: Basic models range from $30.00 to $100.00.
  • Space: In general more compact. Good to use if you have a small outdoor space.

CONS

  • Prep time: It takes time to set up wood chips or charcoal and at least 20 minutes to heat up to the right temperature for cooking. Also manually adjusting the coals and maintaining temperatures requires close attention as heat does not stay consistent.
  • Cleanup: Charcoal grills need a good cleaning to function properly. Cleaning the sticky residue off the grates and grill can be a messy job requiring steel brushes and heavy scrubbing.

Gas Grills: Pros and Cons

PROS

  • Convenience: Quick and easy to set up. Just turn on the gas and hit the ignition switch and you have instant fire. Temperature control is a snap, too: Just use the knob to control low, medium, and high heat. Heat stays consistent throughout cooking. Due to the precise heat control, gas grills are well-suited for barbecuing and grill-roasting. These techniques require low-indirect-heat cooking over a long period of time.
  • Cleanup: With no charcoal there are, of course, no ashes and coals to dispose of. Plus the temperature controls allow you to blast-heat the grill surface after cooking, leaving charred bits that can easily be wiped off.

CONS

  • Flavor: Even though food will get nice grill marks and become charred, it can lack that rich smoky flavor that only a charcoal grill can give.
  • Cost: The gas grill is far pricier than its low-tech counterpart, ranging from $300.00 to $1500.00.
  • Space: Takes up more room and it can be a little daunting to deal with a gas tank.

So which is better? Which one to choose? Some families ultimately purchase both. In the end, there may never be an answer to the Great Grill Debate -- it comes down to space, lifestyle, time, and flavor. But rest assured we can all agree on one thing: Whether the burgers and chicken you're serving were cooked on a charcoal or gas grill, it is vitally important to wear a chef's hat and "Grill Sergeant" apron.

 

Originally published on LHJ.com, May 2008.

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