Gas or charcoal? That debate has gone on for ages and will continue. Most pros wouldn't think of using anything but a charcoal grill, but each type has its merits and steadfast supporters, and sales numbers are about evenly divided between charcoal grills and gas grills.
The one thing both sides of the aisle do agree on is size and the larger the better. A large grilling surface allows you to move the food around from hotter to cooler parts so you can do a fast sear over high heat then move on to a cooler area to finish the cooking without burning the outside of the food.
Here are some pros and cons of each type to help you decide which grilling method best suits your lifestyle and how you cook.
- Cost less than gas grills.
- Can use both wood and charcoal, the only way to get the authentic smoky grilled flavor.
- It's easy to add even smokier flavor by adding to the fire wood chips like hickory, apple, oak and mesquite that you've soaked in water.
- Gives a hotter fire and allows for several heat intensities depending on how many coals you use and how they are distributed in the grill. A hotter fire also means getting a crusty brown exterior when you want it.
- Heat control is more challenging. Some fires burn hotter than others and the longer the fire burns the weaker it becomes unless you keep adding charcoal, a process that is sometimes clumsy to do, what with removing the grill to have access to the coals. Also, adding fuel can produce some nasty smoke until the new charcoal ignites.
- Requires steady attention tending the coals, extinguishing flare-ups and such.
- They're messier than merely pressing an ignition button and turning a knob and you have to wait for the coals to be ready for cooking.
- Convenient and easy to use. You push a button to start the grill and turn a knob to adjust the heat.
- They're cleaner to operate than charcoal grills.
- You can grill for hours on one tank of fuel.
- Some models have an exterior thermometer.
- Indirect grilling is easier on a gas grill provided you have at least two burners. With three or four burners you can easily have multiple heat levels.
- Until you get into more expensive high-end models, some gas grills don't get hot enough for quick high-heat searing.
- Unless the grill has a smoker box (usually on pricier models) it's difficult to get the smoky flavor that grilling is all about. (On grills without a smoker box you can still smoke by enclosing wood chips that you've soaked in water inside a packet made from heavy-duty aluminum foil. The packet is placed directly over a burner set at high heat until the chips start smoking.)
THE GRILL-GRILLER BODY MATCH
Something we don't think about is how that grill we are buying feels when we work with it. Before buying, handle the grill, its rack, and its controls. See what you have to do to start the fire and to clean up afterwards. Decide if you want it elevated so you don't have to constantly bend over. Match your grill to your body structure and comfort zones and you'll get a lot more fun out of using it.