Any barbecue enthusiasts will be more than happy to show off their grill. And more often than not, it will be a gas or propane model on display. It’s no secret that newer barbecues are outselling older charcoal versions by a landslide these days. People prefer the convenience and fast cooking that gas offers, and they’re willing to pay a price to get the best products on the market.
But there is still a segment of barbecue fans who hold true to tradition. You would have to pry their charcoal barbecues out of their cold dead hands before they turned to the “dark side”.
Is there really a difference between using charcoal and gas?
It depends on your personal tastes but purists would definitely say yes. It’s just a matter of physics and science since the two are different methods of cooking. Certain chemical reactions happen with charcoal that don’t with gas, and vice versa. And on a culinary level, gas simply doesn’t infuse your food with the same type of flavor because different elements are at play. Of course if you use generic ingredients and ordinary recipes, then they might end up tasting the same no matter which method you use. But for certain dishes and classic BBQ favorites, there’s definitely a difference.
You Have to Know What You’re Doing
Charcoal comes with its downsides as well, and perhaps the biggest one is it represents more of a challenge. Rookies are more likely to burn their food when using charcoal because there’s no way to control your temperatures. On something like a Weber Genesis Grill however, you have three separate dials that control your butane burners. You can reach precision temperatures and know exactly what’s going on at all times. With charcoal, you really have to be intuitive and keep an eye on things to prevent burning and flareups.
Patience Versus Speed
Charcoal also takes a bit longer to warm up since you can’t just jump into the action right away. You have to wait around 20 minutes for your coals to turn gray because putting on your food too soon can make things unwieldy. And if you are a slow cooking something over several hours, it’s going to consume a lot of fuel. You’ll have to keep replacing your coals on an older grill, but one tank of propane probably won’t have to be replaced at all. So when it comes to overall convenience, gas makes a more sensible choice.
It’s All About Taste
Now we have that intangible matter of flavor. Something inherent in coals enhances quality cuts of meat way better than a gas model. This method is also more conducive to adding woodchips for an even smokier and deeper flavor. And when it comes to heat intensity, it’s a lot easier to get that charbroiled effect when you’re dealing with actual flames. With a bit of experience, you can get a much better handle on things while coordinating a creative menu. All it takes is proper planning and the ability to maintain your grill while multiple things are cooking.
The Final Choice
There is no doubt that gas is a great way to barbecue and there are some wonderful models out there. And no one is telling you to convert to charcoal completely. A great option would be by a smaller traditional grill and have it on the side to add to your cooking routine. You can still have the convenience of a large cooking space and gas efficiency. But for those special dishes where you need a touch of authenticity, you’ll also have charcoal available for use. You might just surprise yourself with how you can enhance dishes while making your homemade marinades and spices come to life. There’s really nothing wrong with going old-school, and it can be a secret weapon in your overall repertoire on your quest to becoming the best barbecue master in the neighborhood.
Mark Walsh is a contributor at Gas Grills and BBQ where all grills are celebrated and barbecue food is explored. If you’re interested in finding a new charcoal barbecue, there are detailed reviews for a wonderful selection here.