When you are considering buying a grill, you will generally have two options: charcoal or gas. Both sides have their ardent supporters, but it is good for you to get familiar with the pros and cons of each.
Charcoal grills have been around for ages, so their reputation is somewhat time-tested. Many people only know charcoal grills, and here are some of the pluses and minuses associated with charcoal grills.
Advantages of Charcoal Grills
- Affordability — The first major advantage of a charcoal grill is going to be its basic cost. You can buy a cheap charcoal grill for as little as $25, and some of the pricier options might not be more than $150. Compare that with gas grills, which can easily run upwards of $300.
- Flavor — With direct-heat grilling, charcoal can instantly vaporize food drippings from steak, chicken, or veggies can fall on to hot coals and the drippings turn into flavor-packed steam and smoke that goes right back into the meat, creating smoky, aromatic flavor particles greatly enhance flavor.
- Heat — Unlike gas grills, charcoal grills do not have a maximum temperature setting, which allows you to get a grill as hot as you want. In other words, most charcoal grills have a minimum temperature of 600 degrees Fahrenheit and can easily achieve a temperature of 700 degrees Fahrenheit that would not be possible on a gas grill.
- Versatility — Charcoal could produce either direct infrared heat or indirect heat, meaning you can grill, smoke, sear, bake or even more. Indirect heat will allow for slow-cooked barbecue while direct heat can retain the moisture of your meat so your steaks are cooked without being dried out.
- Dual Zones — The great thing about a charcoal grill is you could feasibly use both direct and indirect heat at once. By pushing all of your charcoal to one side of the grill, direct heat can be achieved on the side of the grill just above the coals while indirect would be done on the side without the coals.
- Features — Kamado grills are ceramic grills that offer exceptional thermal properties. These grills exceed at retaining moisture for slow-smoking efforts. Gravity series grills involve charcoal cookers that have a vertical GravityFed hopper attached to the side of the main body with a grate where charcoal burns at the bottom of the hopper. And then there are rotisserie grills, which involve using poles over charcoal basins.
Disadvantages of Charcoal Grills
- Fuel costs — A 20-pound bag of charcoal simply does not last as long as a 20-pound propane cylinder. The result means that you will have to spend more on fueling your charcoal grill than you would a gas grill. You also have to add more coals to a grill for longer cooking sessions, whereas a gas grill can run on a full canister for several weeks.
- Cleanup — Cleaning a charcoal grill can be something of a chore, with the need to clean out the lids with a brush, cleaning the inside of the bowl with dish soap and a steel wool pad, cleaning the cooking grates with a stainless steel bristle brush, wiping down the lid and bowl, and then finally cleaning out the ash catcher.
- Legality — Even if your city does not have any laws against charcoal grills, landlords may prohibit them in leases. You need to review your own rental agreement to ensure a charcoal grill is allowed where you live before you decide to buy one. As we will discuss later, many landlords have concerns about fires being started by less cautious charcoal grill owners, which is why they are frequently prohibited.
- Heating time — A charcoal grill will probably take up to 20 minutes to reach its optimal cooking temperature, whereas a gas grill can light up instantly and usually be ready within 10 minutes.
- Additional supplies — You may find you need a charcoal chimney, which is a metal cylinder with a grate inside and handles. This helps get charcoal hot and is not terribly expensive (usually costing between $10 and $15 on average), but it will still be another step for some people to take and another piece of equipment on top of buying the grill itself.
- Safety — Charcoal grills simply are not as safe as gas grills. This is what requires charcoal grills to be used at a safe distance from any combustible materials. Also be mindful of stray tree branches over charcoal grills. People using charcoal grills indoors also need to be mindful of the risks of inhaling carbon monoxide, which the clear and odorless gas that is released by the grill. Never leave a charcoal grill unattended, never use gasoline or kerosene as a starter, do not add lighter fluid to coals that are already hot, never touch coals to feel if they are hot, and be especially careful not to wear any loose clothing.
- Starting — Starting a charcoal grill is not as easy as starting a gas grill. It can take some time and practice to master this skill. When using lighter fluid, arrange the coals in a pyramid shape, carefully pour the lighter fluid evenly over the coals, wait 30 seconds for the coals to absorb the lighter fluid, light the coals, and top with the grate as soon as the coals turn white. When lighting a charcoal grill with a chimney, add charcoal to the chimney, place starters under the chimney, light the chimney, pour coals onto the grill as soon as you see flames, and top with the grate when the coals turn white. With an electric starter, arrange your coals in a pyramid shape, place the nose of the starter in the middle of the coals, pull the lighter slightly away when you see sparks, keep lighting until the fire starts, and then top with the grate when coals turn white.