The Summer Question: Gas vs Charcoal

There are the sounds right now.

Birds are singing in the mornings. The drone of lawns being mowed permeates the afternoons.

There are also the sights right now.

Couples tooling around town in convertibles with their tops down. My kids in tank tops and their caramel brown skin that is soon to be chocolaty as the sun does its annual work.

Summer is coming and summer is the time to live it up!

But for me, the telltale sense of this wonderful season are the aromas. There is no better indication that summer is here than that of food being cooked on a grill with smoke wafting out of backyards for all to envy.

And this creates the eternal quandary of which is better: Gas or charcoal?

The differences between the two are easy to define. With a gas grill, the fire is ready instantly. Just get the meat and let the feast begin. With a charcoal grill, the smoked taste is unrivaled but you must wait for the briquets to be just the right temperature. But alas, the answer to this age old debate no longer is confined to which is more convenient or which tastes better. Because we are now a more advanced society with more science designed to help us live longer, we have certified medical evidence that exposing meat to high heat creates carcinogens as the meat drippings fall back onto the heating elements. 

The consensus is that charcoal briquettes create more HCAs and PAHs, both compounds that universally have been determined to cause cancer. The National Cancer Institute have linked HCAs and PAHs to breast, colon, skin, lung, prostate, rectal, and pancreatic cancer cells. What is interesting here is that the HCAs and PAHs are also created from meat drippings onto gas grill heating elements as well as charcoal briquettes. Charcoal just seems to produce more. (As an aside, PAHs are also found in cigarette smoke.)

I have owned both. I have appreciated both the immediacy of my gas grill but infinitely enjoy the taste of actual charcoal smoked flavor on my NY Strips and burgers. I once, after trying all of the aftermarket wood chips and oils on the market designed to add “smoke flavor” to a gas grill, gutted all of the gas burners, sealed off the bottom holes of the gas grill and converted it into a charcoal grill because those chips and oils, quite frankly, DID NOT WORK.

So here comes the apology. If you have read this and thought that I had finally solved the equation that has plagued backyard chefs for decades? I am sorry. I do not have the answer. The answer is a personal choice: Health over enjoyment. Unfortunately, this is the dilemma of life in almost every facet of our time on this earth. While I do not have the answer of which choice that you should make? I do have MY choice. Charcoal.

My truth is “What is the point of life if you didn’t enjoy it? If I lived to be 128 years old but never had a good drunken night out that ended with a sobering up by a charcoal flamed grilled hamburger and then a bunch of smooches by my equally inebriated partner? Then what was the point of those 128 years of life?”

But then I may feel differently if I get a cancer diagnosis at 59 and may regret ever buying lighter fluid. The choice is very much a personal one and very much yours to decide. Me? I will buy bags of Kingsford until I get that diagnosis. Maybe you will choose to only smoke broccoli via propane?

Either way, here is a list of samples of the best of both worlds that I have personally compared at length and either way there is one undeniable truth…We WILL grill!!! So whichever you decide, leave us a comment below letting us know what side of the fire that you fall on and…

Bon Appetit!!!

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 Digital Charcoal Grill Plus Smoker in Black ($471)

Weber Genesis® II E-335 Gas Grill ($899)

Weber Master Touch 22-Inch Charcoal Grill With Gourmet BBQ System Cooking Grate ($219)

Coyote C-Series 34-Inch 3-Burner Propane Gas Grill – C2C34LP + C1C34CT ($2,400)

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11 responses to “The Summer Question: Gas vs Charcoal”

  1. Currently, I have a dual fuel system. I use the gas side a lot because it is convenient. But at the end of the day, I prefer charcoal (limp) and wood. They impart way more flavor.

  2. Is this really debatable? Charcoal is synonymous with GRILLING or as the hood says BARBECUING. Lighting those coals is EVERYTHING. I know the male species “thinks” they are all that, but I’m the QUEEN of open flame grilling! Period(t)😊

  3. There is NO contest in my world. Charcoal is the ONLY way to grill. I have owned both. That propane taste is awful! I need the aroma of the charcoal and maybe some wood chips. But there is nothing that compares to the flavor of a burnt hotdog or a hamburger cooked on a charcoal grill. Period. 😊

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