Charcoal Or Natural Gas: Which Grill Is Right For You?

Learn how to determine which type of barbecue grill is best for you - the old favorite charcoal, or the convenient natural gas.

There are several factors involved in deciding whether to buy a charcoal or natural gas grill. It really boils down to how you would use it, your lifestyle. Some people like the process of starting a fire, putting on the coals and tending it during cooking. Others prefer the convenience of turning on the gas grill and starting to cook within a couple of minutes. Some feel that charcoal-cooked food tastes better, or is more natural than gas-cooked. Other factors include how much space you have for the grill, whether the grilling area is covered, how many accessories you want included at your cooking station, and cost. We'll categorize these advantages below, discuss the issues involved, and follow with some specific questions to help you decide.

Charcoal - Primal

Working with a charcoal grill can be a primal experience - starting and tending the fire, adding and managing the charcoal, even disposing of the ashes. Some people enjoy these activities and consider them part of the process. In addition, what could be more natural than food cooked over a wood/charcoal fire? And, let us not forget cost - a charcoal grill costs less than gas initially (approximately half, and sometimes much less), although in the long run, gas usually turns out to be cheaper over the product's lifetime. These are some of the advantages to a charcoal grill, and why plenty of people still use them.

Gas - Modern

A gas grill is convenient - push a button or strike a match, and the fire is burning. There are no ashes to dispose of, and it can be operated where a charcoal grill cannot, for example, in an enclosed but well ventilated spot. Some studies have shown that there is no effective taste difference between food cooked with gas vs. charcoal (I'm not so sure myself). Gas grills also have lots of accessories: multiple burners, side burners and rotisserie kits for special cooking or large groups.


Here are some specific questions to help you decide:

Do you like to be able to BBQ at a moment's notice? If this is your primary concern, then a gas grill is the obvious way to go.

Do you like to vary the temperature when you grill? If you do, a gas grill offers finer control of the heat applied to the food. You can get a rough degree of heat control on a charcoal grill by raising or lowering the cooking surface, but gas gives a much finer and easier way to control.

Do you mind starting a fire and working with the charcoal and ashes? For some people, this is part of the experience. If so, more power to you, choose charcoal.

Do you like the flavor of a charcoal grill? Studies have shown that, in general, there is no taste difference between charcoal and gas-cooked food, but I'm not so sure, especially if special woods such as alder or mesquite are used to "smoke" the food.

Do you have a wood supply? Necessary for a charcoal grill, unless you use fire starting fluid or an electric charcoal starter.

Is your barbecue are limited in space, covered or enclosed? If so, gas is probably your best bet.

Is the cost of the grill a factor? Gas grills are initially more expensive (approximately twice as much) as charcoal, although generally the cost evens out and gas may actually become cheaper in the long run.

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