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BBQ - Propane vs. Charcoal, Advice please

Good Day Chowhounders. I'm in the market for a BBQ and i'm on the fence as to what to get. Propane is clean and easy to use, but charcoal adds more flavour.

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  1. Do you have any interest in smoking??

    DT

    8 Replies
    1. re: Davwud

      depends what you mean.lol. yes but you can smoke on both.

      1. re: jiminy

        Gas for convenience (just push a button), temperature control (turn it up or down instantly), maintenance (no ash to clean out), and safety (we live in the city and use ours on a wood-framed front porch). Smoking is easy with chip trays and very effective - our three-burner Weber Genesis makes it simple to cram all the wood chips we want over one active burner (put them under the grill grates, directly on the gas jet covers), place the food over the other 2/3 of the cooking area, and maintain a steady indirect heat as low as 200° for hours without futzing. Let me tell you, I turn out a MEAN batch of ribs! But that is not true of all gas grills, I've heard from others out here that cheaper models can't hold a steady low heat as well.

        Before the charcoal aficionados jump in and roast me for my heresy, I will add that charcoal has advantages too - it can get hotter, especially if you use real lump charcoal (as you should), not briquettes, thus giving a better char to things like steaks, and it does add some flavor to some foods. But this is far from a black-and-white issue as the charcoal devotees would have you believe.

        1. re: BobB

          Interesting. I've never had ribs that were "smoked" on a gas grill. You'll have to explain your technique someday. I'm curious though, have you ever tried to do larger cuts? Shoulders, Packers, Turkeys, etc.?

          For the record, I'm a multi-fuel user: lump, briquette, and assorted hardwoods. It all depends on the flavor I'm looking for and the flesh I'm cooking.

          1. re: MGZ

            I haven't done anything larger than a whole brisket, but I keep meaning to do a pork shoulder one of these days. What I do most is Memphis-style baby backs. The technique is simple:

            Dry rub the racks of ribs and let sit a few hours or overnight.

            Fill the chip trays (I have two large ones, but you can make disposable ones by folding up heavy foil) with hickory chips to measure how much they'll hold, then dump the chips in a bowl of water and soak them for a half-hour or more.

            Put the wet chips back in the trays and position them on top of the front burner, below the grill rack and directly on top of the "flavor bars" (Weber's name for their triangular burner covers).

            Position the ribs toward the rear of the grill over the inactive burners. I have a metal rack made just for this that holds up to four rib racks on edge.

            Close the grill, ignite the front burner and turn it to medium low heat. Wait for the chips to start smoking, then turn the heat to low and adjust until it gets to a steady temp of about 220° - 230°.

            Watch passers-by on the street begin to drool as the savory smoke fills the neighborhood (best to invite your immediate neighbors in to share in the bounty from time to time).

            Check every 1/2 hour or so just to make sure that you haven't run out of gas (this happened to me once so now I'm wary of it).

            In about 4 - 5 hours, check for tenderness and when they're almost done, mop the ribs with a finishing sauce a couple of times during the last half-hour of cooking..

            Remove the ribs to a carving board, mop them one more time with the finishing sauce, cut 'em apart and serve. With LOTS of paper towels!

            One last caveat: do not attempt this technique with Niman Ranch ribs - I did once, and they came out dry as sticks because the meat is so lean. Stick with standard supermarket stuff like Swift's Premium and they'll come out fine.

            1. re: BobB

              Thank you. I often find myself "guest grilling," and this might be something I could try. (I still can't get my mind around 13, 14 pounds of packer sitting on a gas grill and not covering a burner. Did you set it vertically?)

              1. re: MGZ

                I had to google the term packer but see that it's a full brisket. The Weber Genesis has a pretty large cooking surface with three rows of burners running side to side - if I turn on just the front burner I have an indirect heat area of about 12" x 24", so yes, I can do a packer unless it's an unusually large one.

                I have noticed though that on my friend's new three-zone Weber the burners run front to back, so they might not have the width to do it. My own is about eight years old, it looks like they changed the layout at some point (or maybe different models have different burner alignments - I believe his is the model above the Genesis).

                If you're doing a guest grill you'll need to investigate what you'll have to work with. And as I mentioned above, I've heard from others that not all gas grills can hold a steady low heat like a Weber.

              2. re: BobB

                Agreed. Smoking ribs or a pork shoulder isn't a challenge on a Weber gas grill, for example, using wood chips or a combination of chips and chunks. After all, the point is to get wood smoking, and get that smoke applied to the meat for a few hours. They are then "smoked."

                Packers are more of a challenge because of their footprint. I've attempted a packer on a gas grill, and my grill is relatively enormous, but clearly something of that size is best served in a smoker like the 22 inch Weber kettle (still pushing it), or a gravity feed like mine, which can easily hold the beast. The question to my mind isn't really gas vs charcoal, but rather can you add smoke to the cooking environment. The answer is clearly "yes" with a gas grill. In fact my old Weber Genesis held 225 perfectly with the front burner on low. Balls on 225. Put the shoulder over a pan of water and you're in business.

          2. re: jiminy

            I have both and find it much better to smoke on coals than on gas. If that's of any help. Personally, I see room for both in my life but not everyone can afford that.

            DT

          1. re: rasputina

            + 1 on charcoal , I've got the best of both, I modified my gas grill to use charcoal, now I light the charcoal with the gas then shut the burner off and spread the coals out.

          2. I'd be curious if anyone has experience with ceramic grills like Green Egg or Primo.

            3 Replies
            1. re: David11238

              i use the big steel keg, which is an insulated metal kamado - has the same heat/moisture retaining properties of the ceramics. i love it.

              1. re: David11238

                Yes, I have 2 Big Green Eggs. We use lump charcoal with it.

                1. re: David11238

                  I have the Big Steel Keg also and it works great! It lets me smoke foods at a low temp without much temp drift.

                  I like that it is insulated which is the reason its good at maintaining low temp and as a bonus it works well in the winter.

                2. Between the two...Charcoal hands down!

                  Enjoy!

                  1. Depends on your priorities, of course.

                    I actually have both set-ups--Weber grills in each case--and I find that I mostly use the charcoal kettle. Unless it's not affordable, I suggest you get Weber equipment. It just works best and lasts longest.

                    People talk a lot about gas being more convenient, but there is only a modest difference in the matter of heat-up time. It probably takes 10 minutes to preheat a gas grill, whereas you're looking at maybe 15 minutes to get a chimney of coals going, and then another 5 minutes or so to heat the grate. But then there is clean-up with the charcoal grill. If you get a Weber kettle, I strongly advise going at least high up enough in the line to get one with the ash-catcher underneath, which really simplifies the clean-up.

                    I can't think of any context in which I prefer the flavor from the gas grill, so it's really just convenience and temperature regulation that recommend the gas grills.

                    1. if you have space, get both.
                      i have both and I love it. Charcoal grill isn't that expensive anyway and it can be stored too.

                      1. I live on the beach in a wood board house. The almost constant wind makes charcoal too much of a fire hazard for me so I use an electric grill. With the top down and sealed, the meat juices provide a great smoke for quick cooking but for smoking, steaks, ribs, etc., I moisten hickory or mesquite chips and place them in contact with the heating element. This provides a great smoked flavor and is very easy to do. I tried a gas grill before the electric one, but the salt air caused too much rust and corrosion even in the brass fittings that I had to stop that.

                        I've been cooking on grills for 50 yrs now and I would not change back to charcoal or gas if I left the beach.

                        1. I agree with those that say both. Spend as much as you can afford for a proper good quality gas grill then spring for an inxpensive weber kettle. You will not regret either. i did that for years. My gas grill is still going strong afer 13 years. I replaced the kettle with a green egg a couple of years ago.

                          1. Like so many things where we have choices, it depends a lot on what and how you prefer to cook. I'm another one that has both, a Weber Smokey Mountain for charcoal smoking meat of all sorts, and a gas grill (formerly a Weber Genesis that went about 15 years) for just about everything else. For smoking large amounts of meat, be it pork, beef, or turkey, the Weber Smokey Mountain is hard to beat for the money. The one drawback is you can't really "grill" on it without making some modifications.

                            The advantages of gas grilling for smaller quantities and the shorter learning curve give it an advantage in my opinion for just general grilling, such as a braut, burger, chicken breast, or a piece of salmon and some shrimp. Goes back to the convenience thing.

                            One needs to keep in mind, much of the flavor comes from the drippings hitting a hot surface and smoking back up into the meat, so you can get flavor with either type of grill. It really comes down to what you cook and how you like to cook it and just how much convenience you want. Just because it's a gas grill doesn't mean it's maintaince free, but you can cook for a month or more before you have to tear it down and clean it.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: mikie

                              I agree that there's room for both types of bbq'ing. We have a gas grill that we use for a quick dinner (though truthfully it only takes 1 minutes to get a chimney full of charcoal or lump fully lit and gray), a weber 22 inch kettle and a 22 inch WSM. I did smoke a pork shoulder on my gas Weber last year but truthfully, I used almost an entire tank of propane. I also smoked a shoulder and a brisket on the 22 inch Weber kettle (not at the same time) and that worked beautifully. I bought the smoker this year because I wanted to smoke larger quantities of meats. Good luck in whatever you decide.

                              1. re: jnk

                                My son smokes on the Weber kettle, but it seems a bit more work to me. The WSM is just so darn easy to set up and let rip for however long you need to smoke that anything else is just more trouble than it's worth. My son-in-law bought a horizontal two chamber smoker, used it once and is getting a WSM for father's day. I use the 18.5 inch and you can get a lot of meat on that thing. I typically smoke two pork butts, one on each rack, but I think I could get two on each rack, they're about 8 lbs each.