Of the hundreds of cooking appliances that adorn modern kitchens, there is but one that has been almost 100% geared toward men: the grill.
The grill is man’s alter––where we place our hard earned, sweat-of-our-brow offerings.
So the question is, do the grill gods prefer their offering cooked with gas or charcoal? To answer that, we must consider the following:
Diehard charcoal fanatics would profess blasphemy at the thought of propane swirling up through the grill grates. They swear by charcoal: after all, food tastes better with just a hint of smoky goodness, right? However, most people would be hard pressed to detect a difference between food cooked on charcoal or propane.
Why? Because when charcoal reaches the point at which it is ready for grilling, there really is not much smoke left. Some briquettes have been infused with wood to let off a smokey essence, but this is not the case with your standard charcoal. (And let’s not confuse charcoal grilling with smoking meat––an entirely different subject altogether that will be addressed at a later date).
Charcoal does have one advantage over propane: at 700-degree temperatures, charcoal is one hot rock. This level of heat allows you to get a nice sear on the meat before moving it to a cooler part of the grill to finish it off. That sear is all about flavor: brown = good. On the flipside, your average gas grill is going get you to a temperature between 400 and 600 degrees. But listen up: many of the newer, high-end grills have radiant heat burners that will match the same high temperatures of charcoal. A good steak restaurant often employs similar heating elements to reach these and even higher temperatures. The result is crusty but juicy steak perfection. So think about it: if a high-end steak house is using a gas grill to perfect their art (let’s face it…they can use anything they want with the prices they charge), it should say something about the effectiveness of gas.
Your stomach is growling, the game is about to start, the steaks are on the counter, and…you have to wait 30 to 45 minutes before you can even think about eating when using charcoal. Using gas, you will get food in your mouth faster. Optimally, you still have to wait about 15 minutes for a gas grill to heat up properly, but that’s at least half to a third of the time compared to charcoal. Gas also wins if you want to grill in cold weather. Who wants to mess with briquettes when old man winter moves in?
On a gas grill you have multiple zones that can be turned up and down. With charcoal you can create hot and cooler zones, but this is an art that takes time to master.
Charcoal leaves ash after it burns, which then needs to be disposed of. The charcoal aftermath has a tendency to be messy and take things to a place you don’t want to go. Gas does not require the same attention, but you do want to make sure you are not getting any grease or burnt food debris building up on the bottom of your grill. If this happens, you may begin to taste some off flavors in your food.
A charcoal grill is going to cost less than a gas grill for setup and use, but like any tool, the value is in how much it is used. Personally, I look at it this way: if I ever decided not to grill based on time and convenience issues, then any immediate dollar savings is just not worth it.
A good propane grill is hard to beat for convenience, control, and cleanup. If you can purchase a propane grill that has a high-temperature searing feature, you can approach the same type of heat that charcoal can put out. Food will taste better, cleanup will be lessened, and you’ll be in and out of the kitchen much sooner.