Charcoal vs Gas Grills

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Updated June 27, 2022

The choice between traditional charcoal vs gas grills can be difficult to make, so finding the best grill for your needs requires some thought as to your needs and your budget. Charcoal grills offer great smoky flavor, higher temperatures, and are inexpensive, while gas grills are pricier initially, but fuel costs don’t add up as much as they do with charcoal grills, and they’re more versatile and eco-friendly.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Charcoal grills give food that classic smokey flavor and generally reach higher temperatures than gas grills.
  • Gas grills heat up much faster, are easier to clean, and leave a smaller carbon footprint than charcoal grills.
  • Gas grills are more expensive initially but more versatile, whereas charcoal grills are inexpensive but can be more costly in terms of fuel.

Both have equal numbers of pros and cons, and they’re all important to take into consideration before making your choice. You may also want to look at the health and safety risks of charcoal vs. propane and infrared grill vs gas grill, while you’re comparing their other characteristics.

Is Charcoal Better than Gas?

Both charcoal and gas grills remain popular for outdoor grilling and barbecuing, and a wide range of accessories are available for both. But there are significant differences in what these two types of grills offer in terms of performance, flavor, versatility, and cost. Once you’ve chosen which kind suits your needs, you can look into more specific differences within the class, like 304 vs 430 stainless steel BBQ.

Insider Tip

Gas grills produce cleaner-tasting food than charcoal grills, but only charcoal grills provide smoky flavor without the use of flavor enhancers.

First, however, let’s look at the major differences between the two major types.

Flavor

If you want to get that classic BBQ smoke flavor, a charcoal grill is really your only option. Keep in mind, though, that if you _don’t _want that smoky flavor, it’ll be easier to avoid by using a gas or propane grill. The flipside of this is that some gas grills will give food a slight “gas” flavor, depending on what you’re cooking and how long you’re cooking it for. That’s less of an issue in newer gas grills, however, so overall, for “clean” grilling, gas is the better option.

Temperature

Charcoal grills, for the most part, are capable of higher temperatures than gas grills. However, they take longer to heat up and lack the precision temperature control that gas grills offer. Gas grills, by contrast, can reach desired temperatures in a few minutes, and cooking tends to be more even.

Cost

Charcoal grills are very affordable, and though you could spend upwards of $400 on a high-end model, you can find a perfectly serviceable charcoal grill for as little as $20-30. The downside is that the cost of buying charcoal or wood chips regularly can add up quickly. Gas grills start at several hundred dollars even for budget-oriented models, but their increased efficiency means fuel costs are lower in the long run.

Ease of Use

Gas grills offer precise temperature control, making them easier to use if you’re new to outdoor grilling. You also won’t have to worry about disposing of hot coals. Conversely, charcoal grills offer a more traditional BBQ flavor but are harder to master if you’re using a range and oven cooking. Charcoal grills can also be messier and are generally much harder to clean after use, requiring a bigger time investment and more work overall.

Warning

Charcoal grills are associated with higher levels of carcinogens in food than gas grills.

F.A.Q.S

Is there a taste difference between charcoal and gas grills?

The main difference in terms of flavor between charcoal and gas grills is that only charcoal can give the food the classic smoky flavor associated with BBQing, outside of using liquid smoke or other flavor enhancers.


Is charcoal or gas better?

Really, it’s a matter of taste and depends entirely upon your preferences. Charcoal grills give you higher temperatures, are more portable, and come at lower price points. Gas grills are more expensive but offer more control over temperature, have lower fuel costs, and are easier to clean and maintain.


Are gas grills healthier than charcoal grills?

The answer is somewhat. Food cooked on a charcoal grill tends to have higher levels of carcinogens, which in large amounts can increase the likelihood of various health risks. However, unless you’re eating from your grill every day, the risk is marginal.



STAT: Almost 60% of all grills sold are gas grills. (source)

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