Battle of the BBQ: Charcoal vs. Gas Grill

Updated: May 15, 2023

Charcoal versus gas grills, also known as the "Great Debate."

Charcoal versus gas grills, also known as the “Great Grill Debate.” Our simple pros and cons list will help you decide which is best — gas or charcoal — for your family.

Everyone has their own opinion when it comes to charcoal and gas grilling.

What is the correct choice? Is there a correct choice? Rather than guessing which to use at your next cookout, we’ve rounded up the pros and cons of charcoal and gas grills so you can make a well-informed decision for what will be the tastiest choice of the summer.

Once you do make your choice and are ready to buy a new grill, we have recommendations for gas and charcoal grills.

charcoalShutterstock / C Levers

Charcoal Grills

According to some die-hard barbecue fans, the only way to grill is with charcoal. Charcoal provides that rich, smoky flavor that even with an attached smoke box gas just can’t meet. Learn more about operating a charcoal grill here.

Charcoal Pros

Typically, charcoal grills reach a higher temperature than gas grills. A grill has to reach a temperature of at least 600 degrees Fahrenheit to achieve a nice sear on your meat. This is no problem for a kettle grill filled with red-hot charcoals as it can reach 700 degrees Fahrenheit. While there are gas grills that can reach higher temperatures, they’re usually on the higher end.

You get that scrumptious, smoky flavor. Ever wonder how charcoal grills give so much flavor? Turns out, that higher heat is key. When the drippings from your steak, chicken or veggies falls on the hot coals, the drippings turn into flavor-packed steam and smoke that goes right back into the meat, resulting in the amazingly unique taste of charcoal grilling.

They are easier on your wallet. A basic charcoal grill will run you about $25, while a moderately priced one can be found for around $150. Of course, higher end models go up from there, but in comparison, there are far less than the gas grills that usually cost between $130-$300.

Charcoal Cons

Longer heat up time. Charcoal grills, on average, take about 15-20 minutes to reach the proper cooking temperature (not including the time it takes to light the charcoal), whereas gas grills instantly light up and take about 10 minutes to reach cooking temperature.

While you’re waiting for the grill to heat up, toss together some of these delicious summer salads.

Fuel cost adds up. A 20-pound propane cylinder can provide around 25 days of cooking time, whereas a 20-pound bag of charcoal will only yield three grilling sessions.

The cleanup is a bit more cumbersome. As opposed to the gas grill that only needs a quick scrub with a brush, a charcoal grill has to be emptied of its used ashes before it can be scrubbed.

grillShutterstock / Arina P Habich

Gas Grills

There’s no denying how convenient gas grills are in terms of start-up and temperature control, but that ease comes with a price.

Gas Grill Pros

Easy Temperature Control. Adjusting a grill’s temperature is as easy as turning a dial. This means you can go from the low heat needed for bone-in chicken to searing hot for kebobs or steak without having to worry about moving around hot coals.

Quick Start-Up. With a simple press of the ignition button and a turn of the dial, your gas grill will spark to life. After a quick preheat, you’ll be ready to grill, rather than having to wait for coals to heat up.

Versatility. With a gas grill, you can easily cook delicate foods such as fish, fruit and vegetables without the worry of overpowering the food with the smoke flavor that comes along with charcoal grilling. If the smoke flavor is desired, you can easily add a smoke box that is available with some gas grills.

Gas Grill Cons

Assembly time. As opposed to the charcoal grill that can be set up in a jiffy, a mid-range gas model is a bit more complicated to assemble and hook up to a propane tank. Here’s how you can know if there is enough gas to grill in the propane tank.

Safety. While there are safety precautions to follow with any form of cooking, you have to be extra-careful when cooking with a gas grill. Always make sure that your propane tank is properly attached without leaks, your grill is at least ten feet from your home and deck and that the grill is free from grease. Not sure how to best clean your charcoal grill? Follow this simple checklist that’ll leave your grill looking brand-new!

Portability. Though travel sized gas grills are available, it would be much too difficult, and dangerous, to tow a full-sized gas grill around to the park or the beach.

meatShutterstock / Lisovskaya Natalia

The End Result

The charcoal and the gas grill have their pro and cons, but only you can decide which would be best for your family and lifestyle. With so many delicious grilling recipes to cook up this summer, you can’t go wrong either way!

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