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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 what the perfect grill looks like, from construction to fuel source to minute differences like grate size. But one of the largest differences between grills is their fuel type: what backyard chefs use to cook foods with. 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 can offer easier cleanup.
Some barbecue enthusiasts hold an unwavering dedication to charcoal grills and the smoke-filled flavors they impart. But the truth is that different cooking methods have their 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 tends to bring more heat than traditional gas models. Those searing temperatures send succulent meat juices dripping down below the grates. Here, it vaporizes into flavored steam that then penetrates the food for the best in taste.
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 the result leads to meat with more moisture.
Grill Preparation and Cooking Graphic

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. Achieving just the right temperature can take longer than you might expect, delaying dinner time if you're in a hurry.
Charcoal grills can also reach very high temperatures—around 600 to 700°—which is ideal for giving your meat a nice seared edge. Some gas grills can do the same, but you'll need to look at a high-end model in order 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, gas grills can easily maintain low temperatures—a win over their charcoal compatriots. 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. And when it's time to kick up the heat, just spin the dial.
You also don't have to worry about everything tasting smoky, although you can always add that flavoring in with a smoke box accessory.
Grill Cleanup, Maintenance and Safety Graphic

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. A charcoal grill even has the potential to waft ashes up and onto your food, especially if the cooker hasn't been cleaned in a while. And don't forget to scrape any grease off the grates with a brush after the grill has cooled.
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. Keep in mind that a gas grill still needs cleaning though: juices, fats and marinades drip down to catch in the drip tray, while the grates themselves need to be scrubbed on the regular.
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. Don't forget that you have to mind the fuel tank with some basic common sense.


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. If you're looking for the most easy-to-use, fast and versatile model, gas fuel might be for you.
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 latest features and ways to cook. And don't forget all your grilling accessories, too.

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