Charcoal vs. gas grilling: Which is better?

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Charcoal vs. gas grilling: Which is better?
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It seems as long as there have been summers, debates have been held over what’s the best way to grill.

Is it charcoal with its flavor or is it the convenience of gas?

Which is the safest and most economical?

Just about everyone has an opinion…

Read more: Best gas grills starting at under $200

Charcoal: A favorite of grill masters everywhere

First, let’s talk about the charcoal.

Charcoal has long been the favorite of the backyard grill masters for the taste that it adds to food. Many folks report that burgers and hot dogs are just more flavorful coming off a charcoal grill. That’s because the charcoal and fire lend a smoky taste to whatever is being grilled.

Of course, there are detractors but, in an informal poll, it was found that more people than not prefer foods like hamburgers, steaks and hot dogs grilled over charcoal.

That’s easy enough. Or is it? A charcoal grill takes more time and more preparation to use. So, for convenience sake, it’s not your first best choice.

In terms of cost, a large bag of charcoal costs anywhere from $6 and up. (Editor’s note: Check out this find from ClarkDeals.com: The Home Depot has a great deal on 2-packs of Kingsford charcoal briquettes for just $9.88!)

Then there’s the cost of starter fluid, which will usually be a few more dollars. It costs, on average, about $2 dollars just for the supplies needed to get a charcoal grill going!

Let’s look back at that starter fluid for a moment. A flammable and poisonous substance like starter fluid releases a very large amount of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere and the particulates from the charcoal also add to air pollution.

So, charcoal cooking may be tasty but it’s not very environmentally friendly. You also have to wait for the fluid to burn off so it does not contaminate the items you’re grilling.

Another aspect to charcoal is the potential for trouble. From adding too much starter fluid to unattended grills, many afternoons grilling in the backyard have ended in fire.

So, with the time to prepare the grill, the starter fluid issues and the fire potential, you may be thinking a gas grill might be the only way to go. But is it?

Propane is low pain and hassle

Gas grills are simple to use because they require so little in the way of set-up. There’s no starter fluid and no charcoal. All that’s needed is a tank of propane that is readily available at most home centers and supermarkets.

Quick and convenient is nice but fewer people polled preferred the taste of hot dogs, hamburgers or steaks cooked with gas.

As for the cost of gas, propane containers for gas grills generally cost anywhere from $15 to $30 (after a deposit) and provide up to nine hours of grilling time.

An interesting side note to this is that some people reported that gas is far superior to charcoal if you tend to use lots of sticky BBQ sauce because the temperature control is so much easier and results in less burned sauce.

Conclusion

So, what’s the better way to go? Follow your taste buds!

There’s no one better way to go, but if you are a frequent griller and the lowest cost and convenience are your priorities, then gas is the way to go.

But, if you’re a hardcore griller who is really attuned to taste and flavor, then charcoal can’t be beat!

BONUS: There are lots of ways to get that charcoal nice and hot without adding starter fluid. Try using a large (think institutional sized) can with both ends cut out. On one end, use a punch bottle opener (think of the kind your mother used to open Hawaiian Punch cans) to open the side all along the bottom. Place that can in the grill with balls of newspaper on the bottom with the charcoal on top. Light the newspaper through the holes on the bottom edge, let sit 10 minutes, and you’ve got a hot fire with no petroleum products.

Read more: 5 mistakes to avoid when installing a natural gas grill

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David Lardner About the author:
David Lardner is a volunteer at Team Clark Howard's Consumer Action Center. He is also an active board member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association.
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