Comparing Charcoal and Gas Grills

Grilling peaches

 The Spruce

There seems to be a long-standing debate about whether charcoal or gas grills produce better tasting food. The answer is hard to determine and may come down to personal preference and some of these details.

pros and cons of charcoal grills versus gas grills
Illustration: Emilie Dunphy. © The Spruce, 2019

Charcoal vs. Gas Grill Debate

People likely have their own opinion on how to barbeque and what type of grill achieves the best result. There is also a lot of personal preference involved, both with taste, ease of use, and cost of both the grill and the fuel (charcoal or gas). It's best to pick a grill that you like using.

Gas Grill Benefits

A major benefit of a gas grill is grilling in less time and being more efficient. You don't have to wait for the charcoal to ignite and get to the desired temperature. A gas grill is extremely convenient. Turn it on, set it to the temperature, and get ready to grill. In addition to convenience, gas grills are usually easier to clean up and gas is less expensive than charcoal.

Gas Grill Drawbacks

Gas grills tend to be more expensive than charcoal grills. They are often bigger, heavier, and harder to move around. Even with a propane tank, a gas grill is often very big, heavy, and clunky and not good for tailgates or camping. Food cooked on a gas grill often produces less smoke, which could impact the smoky taste of the food.

Benefits of a Charcoal Grill

The major benefits of a charcoal grill are that they tend to be much less expensive and much more portable than a gas grill. The charcoal fire can get much hotter and the risk of flare-ups is much less. Some people also prefer the taste of food cooked over charcoal.

Drawbacks of a Charcoal Grill

A charcoal grill requires a lot more tending to and work to establish a fire. Since there is no temperature dial, it's up to the griller to create temperature zones on the grill. The grilling process often takes longer to set up, keep going, and also produces a bigger mess than a gas grill. While the lure of the charcoal grill smoke can be appealing, be ready to put in the work for a good grilling experience.

Making Good Smoke for a Charcoal Grill

Even with a charcoal grill, it's important to produce good smoke. Commercial charcoals with special additives for easy lighting and cheap charcoal made from a little sawdust and a lot of glue don't have the best flavor producing smoke. Use good charcoal or mix the charcoal with chunks of good hardwood. Another option is to buy lump charcoal that is made from real pieces of wood and not just sawdust.

Grilling Rules

No matter what type of grill you use, a few simple tips will help make sure your food tastes good. Always keep the grill clean after every use. The buildup of ash, burned up grease, and other gunk will cause the smoke produced to impart an unusual flavor in your grilled food. Regular cleaning should be a standard part of your grilling routine. Your grill and your guests will thank you for it.