People tend to often argue over what is better, a charcoal or a gas grill. To me the answer is clear – that depends on what you expect and what is your cooking style.
For example, if I have time and want the food to have the characteristic smoky flavor, I pick charcoal. If, on the other hand, I’d like fast and convenient, yet at the same time delicious food, I go for gas.
Of course that’s not all there is to it, there are many more reasons why people choose charcoal or gas.
In this article I am going to compare charcoal and gas, listing their key upsides and downsides.
The guide includes as many substantial arguments as possible so that you can make a clear decision on what is better for you (unless you can buy both grills).
Charcoal vs Gas Grill - Comparisons
Gas and charcoal are two different types of fuel – this much is obvious. But do you actually know what that really means to you? What makes charcoal stand out, and what makes gas, and what are their upsides and downsides?
Both types of grills have many shared characteristics, but what makes them stand out matters more, read more about that below.
A lot depends on whether you cook fast or rather long, or even if you smoke.
Charcoal produces valuable smoke, which adds an authentic smoky flavor to the meat. For it to be really noticeable, though, the meat has to spend some more time on the grill.
When it comes to fast grilling of wieners or burgers, the flavor may not be very noticeable. The more time the food spends on the grates, though, the more additional flavor it has, the difference is particularly significant when it comes to smoking.
Charcoal also impacts the meat’s color.
On the other hand, gas doesn’t produce any added flavor value for the meat, which doesn’t mean that it isn’t tasty. One has to admit, though, that cooking with gas alone deprives the food of the smoky flavor.
Ease of Use
There is no doubt that convenience and ease of use are the key arguments that make the gas grill the most often bought type of grill. All you have to do is turn the knob and after about a dozen minutes you can start cooking, I don’t think anyone could come up with anything simpler.
When it comes to cooking with charcoal, the situation looks way different. First and foremost, you have to spend a lot of time to get the charcoal burning and reach the right temperature for cooking. Then you have to worry about temperature control, the amount of fuel, adjusting the air vents etc. – that is quite problematic for someone just starting their adventure with cooking.
In a gas grill the control is not among difficult tasks. You just have to get to know your grill well in order to learn how much burner power to use to maintain a particular temperature. You can’t learn that by reading a guide as cooking on a grill is influenced by many factors (outdoor temperature and wind).
In practice, it requires getting to know your grill, just try to cook a lot and over time you will figure out the grill perfectly.
When it comes to charcoal, the situation looks similar here but there is a significant difference. The burner power can be adjusted any time, with the response being instant. You can turn off the burner whenever you want, which will cause the temperature to start to drop, only to restart it after a moment.
When cooking with charcoal, you have to get prepared for plenty of failures if this is your first contact with this type of grill. You need a lot of patience as lowering or raising the temperature with charcoal isn’t quite so fast and simple.
On top of that, you have to constantly take into account weather factors and most importantly, the air vents, which are a nightmare to many beginners.
This will be the easiest for me to explain using a practical example. Imagine you’re coming home late from work, you are very hungry and want to get yourself a quick meal as you’re about to leave the house again.
What you can do in such situation if you have:
A charcoal grill – you need a lot of time to get the charcoal burning, and just as much to reach the temperature, cleanup, control the temperature etc. The conclusion is simple, you have no time to cook with charcoal in such situation as it consumes too much time.
A gas grill – You start the burners, close the lid, in the meantime you prepare the meat etc. After about a dozen minutes you can start cooking, when you’re done you turn off the burner, clean the grates and that’s it. That way you have saved a lot of time while still being able to prepare delicious food from a grill.
The gas grill is phenomenal for quick, hot and convenient grilling. Unfortunately, it isn’t even half as good when it comes to smoking. It is still a versatile grill due to a large number of interesting accessories but in my view it has nothing on charcoal.
The charcoal grill is phenomenal for quick and hot grilling as well as smoking. It works great for both options although it requires several accessories for comfortable and effective smoking (they’re cheap). As a result, for a small amount of money you get two in one, as in a great grill and smoker.
When it comes to the construction itself, gas grills offer slightly more interesting accessories like a side burner, rotisserie burner, smoker burner or sear burner. On top of that, additional accessories are to a large degree similar to those from other types of grills (griddle, smoker box, baskets etc).
When it comes to the charcoal grill, one of the most interesting features in my view is a burner that makes it possible to quickly get the charcoal burning as well as all kinds of multipurpose removable grates. On top of that, you can expect a large number of different additional accessories.
The most affordable among all types of grills is the charcoal grill. For as low as a little above $100 you can get an efficient and durable grill with a warranty of up to 10 years. For a price of about $500 you can buy a really great grill with a lot of features and working area for cooking.
When it comes to the gas grill, you’re going to need 300-400 dollars for a simple yet efficient grill. If you care about quality and functionality, you’re going to have to prepare even nearly a thousand dollars.
Instead of a middle-tier gas grill you can buy a big and solid charcoal grill covered with 10 years of warranty (weber kettle). You will still have money left for many useful accessories that allow to turn the grill into a smoker (slow’n sear deluxe etc).
Ash removal never feels like something nice to anyone, although these days there are plenty of solutions that turn this task into something simple. I’m talking about different kinds of ashtrays and ash removal systems that make it possible to remove it in a breeze.
However, it might still be a downside to many people.
Burning gas doesn’t leave any trace behind. Once you’re done cooking, all that is left to do is the task that is present with all types of grills, which is cleaning the grates and the grease box.
In theory, both grills are mobile if you have a lot of room and a car to bring them along on the road. In practice, however, if weight makes a difference then charcoal is definitely the winner.
In both cases there are great portable versions of the grills available, but only charcoal is characterized by incredibly low weight and simple construction, making it possible to bring such grill along on a hiking trip.
A portable gas grill will actually have to be transported by car when it comes to longer distances.
In both situations you can expect a great warranty, the Weber manufacturer for example offers 10 years for gas and charcoal grills.
Overall charcoal grills are characterized by great durability and reliability. Taking the construction into account, there are actually no elements that could make it impossible to cook when broken. On top of that, these are mechanical elements that don’t need a power source etc. so the only thing to worry about is rust.
You can often hear stories about some kettle grill being kept in a great condition for a dozen or even a few dozen years (of course a lot depends on your care and the conditions you store the grill in, as well as on how often you cook).
On the other hand, a solid gas grill is also an investment for years to come when in good hands. The only difference is the fact that sooner or later one of the burners may malfunction which will require to replace it with a new one.
It isn’t anything complicated or expensive, plus good burners are characterized by really great durability so in that matter there is no problem (provided that you buy a solid grill).
As you can see, in both cases technology and progress are in a place where manufacturers can create truly solid and durable grills that will serve for many years.
For many people this might be a disappointing reply, but the truth is that both grills (charcoal and gas) are great. I recommend buying both if it is possible to you as they work great in many situations.
If you have to choose one of them, though, follow the above tips, among others:
You want fast and comfortable grilling of steaks, wieners, burgers, fish or vegetables? Then the solution is a gas grill, which has won over millions of people with its comfort, simplicity and speed.
You have more time for cooking and value the smoky flavor while also loving smoking, in such case a perfect choice will be a charcoal grill.
I still recommend buying both grills, though, as each of them serves different functions. When having a charcoal and a gas grill, you are ready for everything when it comes to grilling and smoking.