Friday, December 19, 2008

BBQ: Charcoal vs Gas?

“Nearly everyone wants as least one outstanding meal a day.” - Duncan Hines (Cookbook author, 1880-1959)

Some people will argue gas vs charcoal cooking as passionately as they debate religion. I use charcoal since I'm personally uncomfortable with propane and the (very slight) risk it poses for explosions. Still there is no beating propane for ease of use and getting started quickly. I hate waiting for charcoal to heat up.
The following is summarized from


  • Charcoal grills cook hotter than gas and you can burn wood or wood chips in a charcoal grill for more flavor.
  • Charcoal is fussier and messier than gas, is less predictable, and gradually loses heat unless restoked every hour.
  • Each briquette will produce about 40 degrees of heat. If you are baking bread, for example, and need 400 degrees of heat for your oven, simply use ten briquettes.
  • Don't use starter fluid; get a chimney style canister instead. They’re about 10 bucks and will last through 2-3 grilling seasons. Fill the upper section of the canister with briquettes, stick a crumpled sheet of newspaper in the bottom section, and light. Your coals will be ready in less than a half hour without starter fluid flavor.
  • Charcoal is the least expensive fuel per BTU that the average family can store.
  • Charcoal will store for extended period of time if it is stored in air tight containers. It readily absorbs moisture from the surrounding air so do not store it in the paper bags it comes in for more than a few months or it may be difficult to light.
  • Fifty or sixty dollars worth of charcoal will provide all the cooking fuel a family will need for an entire year if used sparingly.
  • The best time to buy briquettes inexpensively is at the end of the summer. Broken or torn bags of briquettes are usually sold at a big discount.


  • 68 percent of American grill owners prefer and use gas. Gas grills offer push button lighting, constant and consistent heat with the twist of a knob, and cooking times upto 20 hours.
  • If you have flare-ups on a gas grill, NEVER use water to extinguish the flames. Just turn the burners off, move food to another area of the grate, and re-light the grill.
  • When lighting a gas grill, always open the lid before you start the flow of gas. Failure to do so can result in a gas build up and explosion.
  • Propane can be used indoors. It produces carbon dioxide (not carbon monoxide) as it burns and is therefore not poisonous. It does consume oxygen so be sure to crack a window when burning propane.
  • Propane stores indefinitely, having no known shelf life.
  • The storage of propane is governed by strict local laws. Some apartment complexes (especially in NYC) prohibit propane.
  • A hazard in using propane is that it is heavier than air and leaks will "pool" in low areas. Your hot water tank could ignite an explosion if leaked propane filled in the basement.

What to look for when buying a charcoal grill

  • A tightly fitting domed lid so you can do indirect grilling
  • Vents on the top and bottom for adjusting the airflow and, thus, the heat.
  • A hinged grill grate, which makes it easy to add wood chips to the coals
  • Front loading charcoal grills are good when you want to smoke a lot of food or grill over wood.

What to look for when buying a gas grill

  • At least two heat zones, so you can indirect grill.
  • A built in gas gauge and thermometer.
  • An easy to empty and clean drip pan.
  • A smoker box with a dedicated burner (optional, but a nice feature)
  • A rotisserie attachment with a dedicated burner (optional, but a nice feature)
  • A side burner (optional, but a nice feature)

Bottom Line
When buying any grill you want:

  • Sturdy construction and a good warranty
  • Side tables if possible (you can never have enough work space)

Never use a charcoal burning device indoors. When charcoal burns it is a voracious consumer of oxygen. It also produces vast amounts of carbon monoxide which is a deadly poison. If you try to heat your home or cook indoors by burning charcoal it could prove fatal to your entire family.

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Blogger Bruce said...

I have a funny story about gas grills.

In 1987 I lived in Linton, Indiana. I owned a VW Microbus ... with NO heater. (Yeah, yeah, I know ... I bought it in the Spring without asking if the heater worked... DUMB!)

I had the great idea of bolting a propane grill to the floor of the van to heat it that Winter.

Now, I knew to leave windows cracked so I didn't die of carbon monoxide poisoning, but what I FORGOT was that one of the products of combustion is WATER VAPOR!

The first sub-zero morning I cranked up the stove, cracked open the appropriate windows and went back inside the house to wait for the van to heat up.

When I came back out to drive to work, ALL the glass was covered with frost from the water vapor the grill put out. There was no way I could drive!

I called in sick that day....

December 20, 2008 at 7:02 AM  

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