Charcoal, typically in the form of briquettes, is the classic grill fuel that everyone knows. The concept is simple: light the coals and cook your food. But the execution tends to be more complicated than that. As experts can attest, everything from the placement of the charcoal to how you light it and how long you let it heat up can have a notable impact on your cooking experience. Charcoal is the fuel that rewards you for experience, patience, knowledge and attention.
Keep in mind that, when choosing a charcoal grill, you aren't limited to just one style. Charcoal grills can be open (in traditional BBQ style), closed off, built with deep heating chambers, constructed as smokers and more. It's very easy to find a charcoal grill that matches your unique cooking style.
When it comes to cost, charcoal is in the middle of the road: You can buy many different bags of briquettes at varying prices. However, if you grill frequently or want especially fancy briquettes and wood chips, prices quickly go up. Also, keep in mind the maintenance on your end: Charcoal grills must be regularly and thoroughly cleaned and emptied, which makes them more work-intensive than other grills.
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Propane is the traditional gas grill option, a modern fuel with many advantages. Attach a small tank of propane to your grill, open it up and you have an instant source of heat that you can easily control. Propane grilling is based on burners that channel and light the gas with ignition systems. Some grills have one or two small burners, while larger versions can have much bigger arrays. This makes propane ideal for larger grill stations and parties where you have to cook multiple foods at different temperatures, setting one burner for patties and one for veggies, for example.
Because of the ease of use, propane is a great option when first learning how to grill or when choosing a low-maintenance, easy grill that you can take out on a whim. The grill won't produce the same delicious smokey flavor that charcoal and wood chips can impart, but it gets results fast and grill models quickly scale up with plenty of extra room, advanced sensors and more.
Propane is also quite affordable, albeit slightly complicated to manage. You can buy a 20-pound tank for around $30. When the tank starts to empty, you can take it to a store and exchange it for a full version. Today's tanks are quite safe as long as you practice proper maintenance and protection. However, they are more complex than charcoal grills, which means a greater chance of something going wrong.