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Charcoal vs. Gas Grill: Which One Should You Purchase?

Abt breaks down the defining differences between charcoal grills and gas grills, searing you in the right direction for your next backyard barbecue.
Man Seasoning Meat on Gas Grill

Getting Started

Barbecue enthusiasts and seasoned chefs alike have long debated over the perfect grill. Charcoal grills offer a traditional smoky flavor from smoldering charcoal, while gas grills, which can be either natural gas or propane grills, can be quickly ignited and offer easier cleanup.
Some barbecue enthusiasts hold an unwavering dedication to charcoal grills and the flavors they impart. But the truth is that each has its own unique features and advantages. Choosing which is best could come down to your cooking style or the type of meat you typically grill.
So, should you purchase a charcoal or gas grill? Here, we'll break down the features and advantages of each grill so you can determine which to purchase for your next backyard barbecue.

Overall Taste

As mentioned, charcoal grills lend a smokier flavor from the charcoal alone. But in addition, a charcoal grill offers more heat, which sends the meat juices dripping through to vaporize into flavored steam that then penetrates the food.
However, a gas grill works a bit differently. With a ceramic or metal slab covering the flame, fewer drippings fall through and vaporize. This is not necessarily a bad thing—it might not provide the same flavor boost, but it tends to give your meat more moisture.
Preparation and Cooking

Preparation and Cooking

For those new to barbecuing, it's important to note that charcoal grills take some time to get accustomed to. Charcoal grills need more time to preheat, which is a major consideration if you often don't have much time for cooking. You also have to actively manage the flame and you might need to poke around in the charcoal to get a set temperature. Getting just the right temperature can take longer than you might expect, delaying dinner time.
Charcoal grills can also reach very high temperatures—around 600 to 700 degrees—which is ideal for giving your meat a nice seared edge. Some gas grills can do the same, but you're looking at a high-end model to reach these scorching temps.
In comparison, a gas grill is extremely easy to start up, requiring just the turn of a dial and the press of an ignition button. When it comes to heat, the advantage that gas grills do have is the opposite of a charcoal grill: they can easily maintain low temperatures. Gas grills' adjustable burners give you more precise temperature control, letting you use lower temperatures to cook delicate foods like fish and veggies without the need for constant monitoring. Gas grills are wonderful for that "low and slow" barbecuing style for juicy chicken.
You also don't have to worry about everything tasting smoky, although you can always add that flavoring in with a smoke box accessory.
Cleanup, Maintenance and Safety

Cleanup, Maintenance and Safety

Due to the nature of charcoal, charcoal grills are messier to use than gas grills, leaving ashes that have to be cleaned out on a regular basis. Plus, a charcoal grill has the potential of wafting ashes onto your food.
Cleaning a gas grill is a bit less involved, which just adds to their overall convenience. If you're strapped for time but want to cook on weekday nights, the time saved by not dealing with the mess of charcoal means you can spend more time enjoying the evening with family.
Then, you have the safety aspect. Charcoal grills do require loose lump charcoal briquettes, which you have to manually ignite. This introduces the risk of burning your hands if you're not careful. You'll also have to contend with the possibility of hot embers blowing around in strong winds. These can be a fire hazard, especially on a wooden patio or in areas with dry vegetation. Gas grills, on the other hand, are a bit safer and not susceptible to the wind. You just have to mind the fuel tank with some basic common sense.

Affordability

Because they are more complex machines, with internal parts like sealed burners and electronic ignition systems, gas grills are more expensive than charcoal grills. It's also worth considering the cost of fuel for each type of grill, which can really rack up over the summer. You can calculate how long your propane tank will actually last (based on the grill size and other factors). Expect a bag of charcoal to last much longer than a propane tank, based on the same amount of grilling sessions.
If you're looking for a more affordable barbecuing option, a charcoal grill is a clear winner.
Whether you decide on a new charcoal grill or gas grill, be sure to check out Abt Electronics' Outdoor Grill Buying Guide to discover the features of individual manufacturers. And don't forget all your grilling accessories, too.

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