Propane & Natural Gas vs. Charcoal
Before we try to clarify the pros and cons of using either gas or charcoal, lets first make one thing perfectly clear; we are comparing only the grilling capabilities of the two fuels, not smoking abilities.
To help clarify the debate we will look at how the two compare in four categories: Cooking, Convenience, Safety and Price.
When grilling there is one major factor that will make or break your meal; HEAT, how much for how long? When grilling, the faster you can sear the outside of the meat, locking in the flavourful juices, the faster you can move the meat to a lower heat to continue cooking without drying out the food. While it is true that all natural hardwood charcoal will impart some flavour to the food, the real flavour comes from the intense searing heat the charcoal embers provide. Gas (natural or propane) often cannot achieve the same intense heat as charcoal and may lose some of the flavour before searing is complete.
In conjunction with this heat issue is the fact that many people, whether using gas or charcoal, will cook on high too long and burn or dry out the food. Remember, sear both sides and continue to cook at a lower heat. Many people will argue that the flavour comes from the dripping juices vaporizing and flavouring the food. While this is 100% true, there are only a few gas grills that can achieve the intense heat of charcoal that seals the juices in. Real wood chips, chunks, pellets, or blocks can be added to either gas or charcoal grills to produce a more smokey southern BBQ flavour.
There are enthusiasts who will claim that lighting, tending, and cooking over a real fire is a ritual that cannot be replicated by burning gas. There is no doubt that charcoal burning conjures up childhood memories of a simpler time when life seemed to move at a slower pace. The reality of today’s world is that of a fast pace, with an emphasis on managing our time.
Enter the gas grill. No time to light, Turn a dial to HIGH, wait 10-15 minutes (some 3 min!) to heat up, cook your meal, clean the grill, and wave to your neighbor who is still tending his/her ritual. The trend has swung so much towards convenience that many feel the propane tank is too cumbersome and natural gas is chosen for an endless instant supply of fuel to the grill.
As far as cleaning goes, the charcoal ash must be cleaned after each use. Although this is not necessary for gas grills, more gas grills are neglected and not cleaned often enough, turning them into a safety hazard.
As we have touched on already, a neglected gas grill can become a safety hazard very quickly. Cracked hoses, grease build-up, leaking connections, and spider webs blocking gas flow are just some of the common problems that can have disastrous results. While a well-maintained gas grill is perfectly safe, they should never be taken for granted and one must remember that both propane & natural gas should be used with care.
Charcoal presents some different safety concerns that are not as foreign to the average person. The bottom line is that you are burning a combustible fuel in which grease is added to the equation. If left unattended a fire may result in which losses exceed the cost of a ruined dinner. As well, charcoal is often used in grills that may not be as stable as gas grills, making them susceptible to being knocked or blown over spreading hot coals over combustible surfaces like a deck.
Many will think that this comparison is obvious; Gas Grills are more expensive right? Not necessarily so. While it is true that when comparing the purchase price of a grill, the gas variety may have a higher initial price, over time buying charcoal may be more expensive than burning propane or natural gas.
The Bottom Line
You can’t beat the taste that a charcoal grill imparts so perhaps for those times when you have time to relax with friends and family – it’s time to fire up the coals. Get the fire started fast with your gas grill for those weekday meals when time and convenience matter most. And just to complicate matters, many gas grills offer optional charcoal and smoker boxes (along with infrared for super hot, super fast heat). So in the end maybe you can have your charcoal taste and eat it too! For a look at those multi-function bad boys, head on over to our gas grills line up and explore.