Written by adam on Apr 20, 2006
A Treatise on Grilling, Part 7: Gas Vs. Charcoal
As a primary cook of the household and self-proclaimed grill master of the house, I am often asked the eternal question: Gas or Charcoal? Letís just get it out of the way right now. I prefer charcoal. But that is not to say that gas grills donít have their place in the realm of the holy fires. My opinion is the same as Doctor Barbeque: Cook on whatever you like and can afford. Itís all good.
Iíll go one step further and say that if you limit yourself to one heating method or the other, youíre really just showing the limitation of your skills and imagination. For both gas and charcoal have their strengths and weaknesses, and each can provide you with some great food if you know how to do it right.
I have said that the gas vs. charcoal question is the eternal question, but that is just a little bit of exaggeration (as if you couldnít tell). In fact, the eternal battle is only a few decades old. Propane wasnít even discovered until the 1920s when oil workers were trying to find a way to store refined oil. Even then, propane as a household item didnít appear decades later.
I did a lot of searching of the web, and I couldnít find anything telling me what company made the first gas grill and when that was, but I have a feeling that might have been in the 1950ís, around the time Weber began manufacturing its kettle-style charcoal grills. Ever since then, the battle has raged unabated between men around the holy fires, both on and off the field. Tongs and spatulas are our weapons, and the meat we cook be our spoils of war.
Charcoal, on the other hand, has been around for centuries. Humans have been burning charcoal in some form or another since the bronze age. In the seventeenth century, regulations were put into place to restrict the making of charcoal from mature wood, to conserve timber for European battle ships. The modern charcoal briquet came into being in the 1920's, when Henry Ford discovered a way to use scrap wood from the creation of the Model T cars. Later, the Kingsford company was formed when a relative of Henry Ford found a new site for the charcoal manufacturing plant. And the rest is history.
The pros and cons of Charcoal and Gas tend to be pretty obvious, but I'll just run those through really quickly.
Gas Pros: Cleaner burning. No smoke, no carcinogens. Gas grills light faster and heat up faster. They also turn off in a hurry and cool off faster than charcoal. With gas grills, there is no messy clean up or annoyting ashes to scoop out.
Gas Cons:You just never hear anyone waxing poetic about "that great gas flavor." There is no smoke. You cannot properly barbeque on a gas grill.
Charcoal Pros: Great flavor. Ability to create a variety of smoke flavors by adding wood chips to the coals.
Charcoal Cons: If you are not a fan of carcinogens or free-radicals, then charcoal is not for you. Some medical studies have shown that eating foods that have been smoked or cooked over coals or wood can increase the risk of certain cancers. Charcoal can be messy and expensive, and you have to clean out the ash all the time.
I am not a purist when it comes to grilling over one type or the other. I will use both ... it all depends on what I'm cooking and where I am at the time. My in-laws have a very large gas grill that I love to cook on when I'm over there, but my baby is this totally sweet number called "Black Diamond" from New Braunfels Smokers.
I'm sorry that there is no definitive winner on gas vs. charcoal. Each has pros and cons, but each cooks meat. And that, my friends, is the ultimate goal.
Sources: Cornwall wildlife Trust, Kingsford
Check out the previous articles:
Grilling Treatise, Part 1
Grilling Treatise, Part 2
Grilling Treatise, Part 3
Grilling Treatise, Part 4
Grilling Treatise, Part 5
Grilling Treatise, Part 6