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Coal or gas for the outdoor grill

I have long been a propoent of using charcoal or woods for grilling/smoking meats on the outdoor grill, and take great pride in my ability to work a charcoal/wood fire. However, the allure of a simpler set-up and the degree of control one can exercise, not to mention the generally larger cooking area that gas grills (i.e. the larger Webers)can provide, is staring to seduce me.

Coal or gas? Is straying from natural materials going to condemn me to an afterlife in a Dennys?

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  1. bill,

    in my opinion you cant beat charcoal, & wood chips for the best tasting grilled, or bbq food.

    I owned a gas grill in the past, and although it is easier, and quicker to get lit, and operate, I moved back to charcoal, and woodchips for taste.

    I will never go back.

    1. The correct answer is... BOTH.

      Use the coal when you have the time and the gas when you just want to grill up a quick chicken breast or pork chop. If you don't have room, make room. You can't underestimate the importance of meat cooked by flame in your diet.

      1. Why can't you have both? Charcoal grills, like a Weber kettle style are relatively cheap. When you want to do some relaxing cooking on a Saturday afternoon, start up the charcoal grill. You'll get great flavor and have the allure of tending to your fire. Alternatively, if you get home late on a Wednesday, you don't have to worry about lighting charcoal and waiting for everything to get moving - you just light the gas grill and go. IMO, there's no question that if you're a true griller, you should have both gas and charcoal.

        1. Nothing compares to the flavor charcoal or wood creates. I own a gas grill due to space restriction and clean-up issues but readily admit it can't produce the same flavor.

          You might consider getting both. My brother is in the process of thinking it through. He has a Weber kettle but when he saw me use the gas grill (Weber Q) he was impressed with start-up time, clean-up/hassle factor. He's also looking at is the the Weber with the built-in gas starter and and easy ash clean mechanism. Not as easy as gas grill but it does reduce two of the biggest hassles.

          1. I guess both could be an option, I read the question is a one or the other choice..

            however for myself if I cant use the charcoal grill out of time restraints, I will just throw that meat under the gas broiler in the kitchen.

            For me its a matter of taste, not space, I have a home,& a large deck, that easily holds my grill/smoker. & it is the size of a 30 gallon drum on its side with a hinge, and a fire box on the side. If I want to smoke I use the fire box, and if im grilling, just the drum portion.

            I just find gas cooking pretty much flavorless vs the taste charcoal, and woodchips give.. To each their own though..

            good grillin to you all...

            1. For serious tasting food, charcoal with wood chunks can't be beat, but I have both. You will need both for different jobs that you need to do. The quick burger can be done on the gas grill without having to light/wait/waste a cylinder of coals, even though you can shut the damper and save the coals for next time. I roast peppers on the gas grill, which I do all the time, and anything I need for a quick sear, like chicken breasts if they are going into a salad or something.

              Charcoal is superb for rotisserie cooking, and you can even use it like a smoker for short cooks (under three hours).

              1. I think its a bit of a canard that gas grilling is faster. Fill a chimney with real wood charcoal (not hard to find), crumple up some newspaper, and light it. Go have a beer. Come back and start grilling.......I get blast furnace red hot coals in maybe 5 minutes.

                Plus with charcoal the taste is better and the heat is hotter for searing steaks.

                3 Replies
                1. re: chrisinroch

                  I have to disagree about the time factor. 10 minutes at most to pre-heat a gas grill and zero clean-up time (no charcoal disposal or clean-up). All the charcoal chimneys I've used take 15-20 minutes to get the coals burning. Cleaning charcoal ash isn't time heavy but it's a hassle and often a mess..but can take 10 minutes of complete clean up. Charcoal does taste better however.

                  1. re: ML8000

                    The Alton Brown method cuts down start time to 5 minutes, been using this all year. Lay flat two sheets of newspaper, drizzle it with vegetable oil until it's mostly coated. Then ball it up, and you've got in effect an oil candle under your chimney starter

                    The paper doesn't burn up until the oil's spent, and you get a blazing chimney full of coals in 5 minutes! Give it a try.


                    1. re: Professor Salt

                      I too use the AB method - and 5 minutes - 10 tops to get a fire ready in the BBQ -

                2. Maybe my grill is different, but the ash catcher bucket on my Weber is maybe 5 qts. I only dump it maybe every 20 times that I grill. Clean up takes as long as it takes you to walk from the grill to the garbage and back.

                  If I let my chimney burn for 20 minutes (sometimes i forget about it) the coals are too far gone and I usually have to add more to sustain the burn for any length of time.

                  1. To me charcoal or wood cannot be beaten, but the food is absolutely ruined when "starter fluids" are used.

                    Oh, I hear the false claims that if done right, the starter supposidly burns off, and that petroleum taste never happens. Later, they are chuckling their burps taste like WD-40 from their garage.



                    >> "Coal or gas?"

                    BTW- "Coal" (as in the natural earthen mined stuff) is nasty, don't even consider cooking with it. Charcoal is a processed item out of wood.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: RShea78

                      I can't remember the last time I saw real, mined coal on sale in the BBQ secion of any store, so I think we're safe. IMO: Don't use processed charcoal. It's made of sawdust and fillers. Use real, hardwood charcoal and you'll be amazed at the difference in the quality of your food. They sell it at Wal-Mart now, so virtually anyone who lives in a town of more than 500 people should have access to it.

                    2. While I love charcoal-grilled flavor, I have to say that I absolutely love my Ducane gas grill. We had it plumbed and hooked up to the regular gas line so we don't have to fool with propane and it is SO convenient. I use the grill as much as I do the stove and oven for cooking and I know I wouldn't if I had to mess with charcoal.

                      1. Both. Charcoal sears a steak better than any method other than a commercial broiler. As a note, smoking is very differnt than grilling. Low indirect heat. I smoke a lot, and have used both methods, gas and wood/charcoal and chips/wood. I have found several systems that utilize gas with wood. It works very well and you can control the temperature much better than coal or wood. You use less wood or chips. I have converted an offset cooker with the set-up on the first link and "graduated" to the cooker on the 2nd link. However, when I want a great steak, I fire up the Weber.


                        1. Charcoal burns much hotter than gas and you can throw wood chips on the gas to impart a flavor so

                          Charcoal for Grilling (searing under high heat)

                          Gas for BBQing (slow smoking with low heat)

                          1. The choice is charcoal for me. The flavor is just so much better and the trouble for lighting is (as described above) really isnt't that bad.

                            I used to have both, and quite frankly, I have not found anything to taste appreciably better cooked on the gas grill that simply can't be done indoors anyway. So it's just not worth it for me. Use cast iron skillet, grill pan, broiler -the results are similar.

                            One more tip for speeding up the process is to "pre-measure" your charcoal and have the newspaper ready. THis is good if you know you're going to need smaller quantities of fuel regularly for smaller jobs - say - just 4 burgers or something like that. Figure out the amount you need, and make up 4-5 ziplock bags worth, stuff a little newspaper in there with it and you've got the fuel read to throw into the charcoal starter.

                            1. I have never understood the "wood/charcoal vs. gas" debate. Everybody agrees that wood and/or charcoal produces a superior product (as far as taste is concerned), and the consensus is that gas is "almost as good but easier/faster". I don't buy this last argument, because a gas grill isn't much more than an outdoor oven, and I already have an oven...in my kitchen. Fast...easy...and my prep and cooking areas are within five steps.

                              I'm a dedicated 'stick burner'...I have three of varying types and designs, and would love to have a WSM, but Mrs. ricepad thinks I have enough toys.

                              1. If you do want both I think Weber has a new hybrid that allows you to use coal or gas.