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What Barbeque is best, Charcoal, Gas or Electric?

Pixie Muse Jun 19, 2011 09:17 AM

I've been contemplating the whole barbeque buying idea for weeks now, trying to decide between charcoal (food sure tastes better), gas (it's far easier to keep clean and quicker to ignite) and finally electric (oh, this is far less carcinogenic, and less scary!) ..............But I can't decide !

I would love some ideas as to what is best, and if it is gas, what model should I get? I like the Weber Genesis :)

  1. strangemd Jun 22, 2011 03:42 PM

    The general rule of thumb is if you're grilling for less than 20 minutes, there's not enough time for the charcoal to really add to the flavor of what you're cooking. I use a gas grill for a quick steak or if I need to cook for a large crowd, and hardwood lump charcoal for everything else. I think there's no comparison in terms of taste: charcoal tastes like BBQ, gas grill (even with wood chips) tastes like a fancy broiler.

    12 Replies
    1. re: strangemd
      MikeB3542 Jun 22, 2011 06:04 PM

      Getting back into charcoal grilling (long story, but used to have a gas grill, now have an Aussie Walkabout, which, for what it's worth seems to be a pretty darn nice grill), and have a few observations.

      Flavor: the briquettes ought NOT be adding much flavor. Want smoke flavor? Add chunks of damp wood. If you are getting "flavor" it is probably some variation of accelerant or lighter fluid. Which leads me to...

      Charcoal: Good quality briquettes that don't have some accelerants (so called "match light") work REALLY well. What I like is the density and the consistent size. That means a long consistent burn. Lump charcoal is probably "better" but I will choose control any day. I don't mind having a few bucks left in my pocket (which I can spend upgrading the food!)

      Which to choose: As far as which is better, all depends on how you are using, and what your home situation is. There are places where charcoal and/or propane is verboten; electric is your only option. Propane is awfully nice for quick starts. That's especially appreciated in my neck of the woods, where summers get really humid, which can double the time needed to get your charcoal going. Charcoal is probably cheaper: I got my Walkabout, a bag of charcoal and a chimney starter for under $50 at a big box home improvement place. My guess is that it will run you that just for the propane cylinder with a full tank of gas; propane prices have been rising steadily, too, though pretty sure that propane as a fuel is still cheaper to operate than charcoal.(Some could try comparing, but it is too apples-to-oranges.)

      1. re: MikeB3542
        strangemd Jun 22, 2011 07:01 PM

        Most barbecue mavens would take the position below (as expressed by Meathead on amazingribs.com):

        "If you use your grill for long low and slow smoke roasting, there is a more noticeable difference in flavor. The combustion gases from charcoal when mixed with smoke from wood chips or chunks makes a distinctive flavor typical of traditional southern barbecue. On a propane grill, the flavor is a bit more bacon-like. Below you can see two slabs of St. Louis cut ribs cooked at the same temp side by side with Meathead's Memphis Dust only, no sauce. The one on the left was cooked with charcoal with wood chips for flavor. The one on right was cooked with gas and exacly the same amount of chips by weight. The charcoal ribs had a deeper smokier fireplace scent and flavor. "
        http://www.amazingribs.com/images/pix...

        And with regards to briquettes, i find their flavor unpleasant even if purchased without any accelerants. Just do the comparison yourself: cook a pork shoulder over hardwood lump charcoal and next time do it over briquettes. Of course, use damp wood on the coals every hour in both cases. You'll taste the difference easily. Or go to Memphis for the World Barbecue Championships some time. You wont see too many briquettes or gas grills.
        Having said that, I really think it makes little difference for anything that cooks less than half an hour--gas grills are fine for the majority of the things you cook. But anything that needs low and slow--no contest.

         
        1. re: strangemd
          Pixie Muse Jun 22, 2011 07:16 PM

          Very interesting, thank you. My concern with charcoal is all the carcinogenic properties attributed to it, and the ribs on that picture, well.....look scary, if you know what I mean:)
          I have the room for all three, and the budget for all three, but because I mostly cook for "me", it would make little sense to own all three. I dunno, I'm still confused:( I've think I've ruled out electric, cuz it sounds like the results are yucky. Maybe I'll do gas....and use indirect heat to minimize the effects. At least that will keep the summer heat out of the kitchen. I understand charcoal produces better taste, but my ultimate concern is the affect on health. I'm one of those health freaks :)

          1. re: Pixie Muse
            strangemd Jun 22, 2011 07:30 PM

            Ok, now I'm going to put on my doctor hat (I'm a cardiologist--and yes, yes, I eat unhealthy food). There is some data (controversial) that suggests that heterocyclic amines (HCAs) generated by charring can increase cancer risk. Interestingly, one study suggests that grilled well-done beef poses 3 times the stomach cancer risk of medium-rare beef in those who eat it often. The recommendation is to avoid flare ups, and do the majority of your cooking on indirect heat. But.........the char is soooooooo good.

            1. re: strangemd
              Pixie Muse Jun 22, 2011 07:45 PM

              O.K. that's it. Look out "char", cuz here I come :) I'm getting my Weber this weekend.

              Thank you everyone :)

              1. re: Pixie Muse
                MikeB3542 Jun 23, 2011 01:48 PM

                Carcinogens: The point being that the charred meat is the problem -- the fuel is not really the issue. My guess would be that aromatic HC's from the lighter fluid is not too good for you either, so y'all get with the program and use a chimney starter and skip the lighter fluid.

                Briquettes: I've seen the pros (restaurants not the contest folks) use all sorts...briquettes, lump charcoal, hardwood. They get different results, but they can produce good results. My suggestion is to try different brands. Some are indeed sort of nasty, others are just fine.

                I don't have the sort of set that can handle an around-the-clock barbeque. So when I do things like pork butt, I will admit that I cheat to keep the cooking time under control, but the results still turn out really good.

          2. re: strangemd
            thew Jun 23, 2011 04:25 AM

            While good lump will not add a great deal of smokey flavor on its own, it does add some. Food cooked over good lump, with no accelerants or lighter fluid, does not taste the same as food cooked on a gas grill. Even a quick cooked steak.

            1. re: thew
              Bada Bing Jun 23, 2011 10:13 AM

              I tend to agree--even a steak or burger tastes different over coals, it seems. Still, this sounds like something it would be fun to test.

              I remember once having a party where a dozen blindfolded participants drank room-temperature wines, and the only question was: red wine or white wine? Most people struggled to tell the difference, even people who take wine seriously and drink fine wines regularly. No lie.

              1. re: Bada Bing
                c
                chickenbruiser Jun 23, 2011 11:00 AM

                Rosé ;)

                1. re: chickenbruiser
                  Bada Bing Jun 23, 2011 11:19 AM

                  Never thought to try that one in the mix!

            2. re: strangemd
              b
              bagofwater Jun 23, 2011 11:22 AM

              The side-by-side comparison is really interesting. I will say this, though -- there are other variables at play which may confound any conclusions we can draw from charcoal vs. gas. For one, with equivalent amounts of smoke wood, more smoke will get to the meat in most charcoal setups. A charcoal grill is intended to move air through the chamber and out a chimney. A gas grill is not. Therefore, you're going to get a lot more smoke escaping before it touches meat in a gasser. I'm not certain how strong a factor that is, but I do know that I've done ribs in my charcoal grill with little or no smoke wood and the color comes out more like the one on the right when I do. Again, too many other variables to draw any strong conclusions. The only choice is to cook and eat a lot of barbecue in the next couple of months. I owe it to science.

              1. re: bagofwater
                MikeB3542 Jun 23, 2011 01:50 PM

                Any excuse to do MORE barbeque research is good with me!

        2. Coogles Jun 22, 2011 11:08 AM

          I have both propane and charcoal grills (plus an old natural gas one built in to the patio that I never use) and I almost always go with charcoal. It just tastes better to me, but I don't know if that's because it actually tastes better or due to nostalgia because my Dad always used charcoal when I was growing up (except I use a chimney to light the coals instead of dousing them with enough lighter fluid to cause a mushroom cloud over the neighborhood when lit). If you do decide to go with gas, I suggest getting a spare propane tank to keep full and handy in case you run out of gas in the middle of grilling.

          1. ipsedixit Jun 19, 2011 09:24 PM

            I would go with charcoal.

            Why?

            Because I can replicate a gas grill indoors with a grill pan and some combo of the oven or broiler.

            I cannot replicate a charcoal grill indoors.

            3 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit
              Pixie Muse Jun 20, 2011 05:19 AM

              Hmmm..makes perfect sense! Thanks for that

              1. re: ipsedixit
                r
                rasputina Jun 20, 2011 02:03 PM

                Yep, perfect answer.

                1. re: ipsedixit
                  Bada Bing Jun 20, 2011 03:29 PM

                  I also like this response by ipsedixit. I can't think of anything that the gas grill does that cannot be done decently in a good oven, apart from not heating up the house in Summer, and being a bit more convenient for things like burgers.

                  I have a gas grill and a charcoal grill (both Webers, which I recommend), and I use the charcoal grill much more often.

                2. m
                  mikie Jun 19, 2011 07:32 PM

                  Electric may have it's place, but I think that place is a bit limited. Susposidly the taste comes from the juices hitting a hot surface and evaporating, thus you can get a good meal from either gas or charcoal. Many, including myself, have both for different purposes. A gas grill is great for a burger or frankferter, and flexable enough you can cook indirect, to smoke, or slow roast. It's not maintaince free, but it is low maintaince. A charcoal grill is less expensive, up front, but coals are not cheap and frugal use will pay off.

                  Like so many other things, it really depends on what and how you plan to grill and what you are the most comfortable using. There is a bit more of a learning curve with charcoal, although there is a learning curve with all new equipment.

                  Gas or Charcoal, Weber is usually a good bang for the buck and well worth the extra money up front.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mikie
                    b
                    bulavinaka Jun 19, 2011 09:18 PM

                    >>Gas or Charcoal, Weber is usually a good bang for the buck and well worth the extra money up front.<<

                    Parts art a cinch to get at just about any well-stocked home improvement store as well. This is important if you use your equipment regularly as you will need to replace stuff eventually.

                  2. thew Jun 19, 2011 03:40 PM

                    charcoal for me. i use a big steel keg kamado

                    1. s
                      sedimental Jun 19, 2011 03:09 PM

                      I have a weber summit. The smoker box is surprisingly effective for BBQ flavor. I love the weekday ease of firing it up for a quick gilled meal.
                      Disclosure: I also have a wood fire pizza oven that takes an hour to heat up. It is the best thing ever invented. I grill on a Tuscan grill in it (amazing!) ........right over coals or charcoal.........but not convenient in the least! Only on weekends! This is slow food at it's finest.

                      My advice is to think about when you will be using it and for what. You can get good grill flavor on gas these days- with a good smoker box, good technique (soak in coffee) and good wood. If you think you will only grill on weekends, then go for the charcoal.

                      Edit: I have an electric tabletop grill for my outdoor bar area. I only do chicken skewers on it. It gives no flavor...it is just fun. Don't bother IMHO.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: sedimental
                        Pixie Muse Jun 19, 2011 03:23 PM

                        Thanks so much ! Your advice helps...

                      2. c
                        chuck Jun 19, 2011 02:58 PM

                        Charcoal and gas both have their place. If you have the room i would buy one of each. I have a Weber one touch charcoal that I use for indirect bbqing and sometimes for grilling when I want charcoal taste. I use my gas bqq for easy convienient grilling.

                        1. r
                          rasputina Jun 19, 2011 02:26 PM

                          lump charcoal

                          We have 2 big green egg smokers, a lodge cast iron hibachi and a steel grill but that has been relegated to storing the hibachi in since we got the Eggs LOL.

                          I've had weber charcoal grills before and it's a great grill to get your feet wet without a big investment. I don't care one iota about the so called carcinogens of charcoal and I'm cancer survivor. I'm in it for the flavor.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: rasputina
                            Kagemusha Jun 19, 2011 03:16 PM

                            Weber kettles for me. I use mine year-round in S. Ontario's gorgeous/awful weather. Nearby fruit orchards supply wood for smoking. My small Weber takes a large-ish Spanish paella pan perfectly.

                          2. w
                            wattacetti Jun 19, 2011 10:17 AM

                            it depends on your need and what's allowed to you based on where you live (e.g. electric works nicely on apartment balconies).

                            I'm partial to Napoleon myself, but if you like the Weber Genesis, that's what you should get.

                            1. d
                              DPGood Jun 19, 2011 09:37 AM

                              Which is best?

                              They all have their place.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: DPGood
                                Pixie Muse Jun 19, 2011 10:34 AM

                                I guess you're right, but I'd like to stick to 1 choice :)

                                I have plenty of room in the back yard so size isn't an issue, but I cook for 1 most times (me).. In my research they all seem to have a dark side to them. Gas / charcoal get bad rap for their carcinogenic properties. Electric all look flimsy in they way they are built, and the fact you don't quite get any flavor from using them.. well ...: ( I was curious how most people felt about all that, and what choice people make in the end ......

                                1. re: Pixie Muse
                                  r
                                  rasputina Jun 19, 2011 02:32 PM

                                  The bigger question is what are you planning to cook? Just grilling or do you want to smoke real low and slow bbq?

                                  1. re: Pixie Muse
                                    nofunlatte Jun 19, 2011 04:51 PM

                                    I cook for one or two most of the time and I use charcoal. Doesn't take long to light w/a chimney starter. FWIW, I have a Weber Kettle Grill and a Meco Aussie Walkabout grill. I find it pretty easy to do quick weeknight meals. And I just learned a new trick--for one steak or burger or anything like that, you can simply use the chimney starter as a grill (putting the food on a grate over the chimney starter). Learned that on another CH thread.

                                    That said, other friends of mine prefer the ease of gas. I've had delicious food with both. Don't know of anyone with an electric one.

                                2. c
                                  chickenbruiser Jun 19, 2011 09:37 AM

                                  I like these... charcoal
                                  http://bbq.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ...

                                  1. m
                                    Maximilien Jun 19, 2011 09:27 AM

                                    (this thread will probably be moved ... )

                                    I like gas, just for the simplicicity of it; coming from work, light it up, and it's quick to heat and put someinthg on it and be done with it.

                                    with charcoal, you have to think about it and get it going (and it's a mess to clean)

                                    Electric, I don't know, i never experienced with one.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Maximilien
                                      Pixie Muse Jun 19, 2011 10:30 AM

                                      Yes, the thread was moved... Thanks for the head's up and for your comments..:)

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