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What’s Best – A Charcoal or Gas Grill?

Along with our quality meats, we’re happy to give you cooking advice to make those meats taste delicious. We’re frequently asked if cooking on a charcoal or gas grill is the best way to cook steaks, chops, burgers, brats, and more. While there’s not really a correct answer to the question of “is a charcoal or gas grill is better”, each grill has its own strengths and weaknesses.

In this post, we’ll help you understand the benefits of owning a charcoal or gas grill, what each grill is good at it, and when you’re buying a grill what you should look for. We’ll also include links to some of our favorite grills as recommendations for you to purchase.

What are the main differences between charcoal and gas grills?

What's Better - Gas or Charcoal Grill

The most obvious difference between a charcoal or gas grill is the fuel source. Both types of grill provide heat to cook food in a contained area, but charcoal grills burn charcoal to create heat while a gas grill uses gas like propane. This is really the biggest difference and almost all of the other differences come from this one fact!

To cook on the charcoal grill, you start charcoal on fire, then control heat by creating more or less air flow in the cooking area. This is controlled by adjusting dampers (and intake and an exhaust) on the top and bottom of the grill. More oxygen through more air flow means the flames will reach a higher temperature, while less oxygen means you’ll be cooking at a lower temperature.

On a gas grill, you turn knobs to allow more or less gas to flow through the cooking burners. By using either a built in electric starter, or some other flame source the gas is ignited. You can then turn the knobs to dial in your heat to precisely where you would like it to be.

Here’s a rundown comparing other factors that are different between charcoal and gas grills.

Set Up Time & Ease of Use

When you’re thinking about a charcoal or gas grill, it’s important to think about your lifestyle. If you like taking time by the grill and cooking is a process, a charcoal grill may be better for you. It takes time to get the charcoal hot and ready to cook, then it takes time to cool and clean up the coals. With a gas grill, you just turn on the burners, heat the grill for a few minutes, and you’re ready to cook!

There is no getting around the fact that gas grills are easier to use than charcoal grills. You don’t need to dial in temperature over time by adjusting air flow, you just need to be turn some knobs, and you don’t need to know how to start the perfect amount of coals on fire. If you’re looking for an “easy” cooking experience and are debating if a charcoal or gas grill is best for you, pick a gas grill.

Flavor

For many people, the flavor of cooking over charcoal is an important part of the grilling experience. Charcoal cooking does impart a smoky flavor to food that gas cooking does not. There are ways to add smoke using a gas grill (see below), but gas just doesn’t add the same flavor to food. However, if you don’t like smoky flavor, then a gas grill may be a better bet!

Versatility & Cooking Abilities

These next points are important as you’re thinking about what you’d like out of your charcoal or gas grill. If you like cooking with very high heat, then you should get a charcoal grill. Charcoal can usually burn to a much higher temperature than a gas grill, which is important if you’re trying to reach 600-700ºF for a sear on a steak. Gas grills typically top out at around 500-600ºF which, while still hot, isn’t as hot as charcoal.

While you can get higher temperatures on charcoal grills, it’s much harder to control exact temperature on the charcoal grill. You have to fiddle with air flow, and it can take time and guessing to get the temperature where you want. Controlling temperature on a gas grill is as easy as turning a knob to adjust the flow of gas and how hot the flame is inside the grill. Much easier!

Many charcoal grills can also easily be used as smokers, which is important if you like BBQ! However, you can still get smoky flavor on a gas grill by either placing a specially manufactured box full of wood chips on a burner to cause them to smoke, or by wrapping wood chips in aluminum foil and poking holes in the packet to allow smoke to escape.

Gas grills often come with a “side burner” that lets you cook some foods directly inside the grill while boiling water, cooking a sauce, or making vegetables on the grill but outside the main cooking area. We particularly like this feature when we’re making bratwursts so we can do all the cooking (boiling and grilling) grillside without having to run in and out of the house!

Both charcoal and gas grilles allow you to cook with a “two zone” cooking setup, which we think is key to being able to make incredible food by cooking over both indirect and direct heat. For two zone setups on charcoal grills, you just create a pile of coals on one side, while with a gas grill you only use one side of the burners.  Neither type of grill has an advantage here! If you want to learn more about how to use a two zone cooking setup, check out our Reverse Seared Ribeye Recipe.

Cost

If cost is an important issue for you when you’re deciding if you’d like a charcoal or gas grill, a charcoal grill will generally cost you less money upfront. You can find good quality (smaller) charcoal grills for well under $100, as well as more elaborate or bigger grills that cost more money. Gas grills generally cost at least $200 for the lower end grills.

However, while the up front cost is less for charcoal, you’ll find yourself going through bags of charcoal frequently and the price of charcoal over the lifetime of a charcoal grill will probably end up being more than the price of gas for a gas grill. We recommend using lump charcoal, which is more money than briquettes (but higher quality and healthier), which also adds extra cost to charcoal grilling.

What should I look for in a charcoal grill?

charcoal or grill - charcoal grill

When you’re buying a charcoal grill, here are the key features you should look at before you make a purchase:

  • How big is the grill? The most important consideration with a charcoal grill is size! Do you want to have huge parties or just grill for yourself and a friend or two? When you know what type of group you’re grilling for, you can then get the right size. Here’s a rough size guide:
    • 26″ wide or smaller, this size will do two steaks, four burgers, or a few sausages. You can generally only cook with direct heat with this size grill, but they’re perfect for camping or tailgating!
    • 27 – 33″, this medium size will work to feed a normal sized family with no problems, and work for larger parties in batches. At this size, you have enough space to do two zone cooking.
    • 34″ or larger, these large grills are perfect for two zone setups, can easily double as a smoker, and make cooking for a family reunion a breeze.
  • How is temperature controlled? You’ll want to make sure your charcoal grill lets you adjust airflow with both a top vent and a bottom vent at the very minimum. There are fancier ways of controlling temperature, but if you don’t have two dampers, you don’t want the grill!
  • What type of quality is the grill built to? Thicker metal construction will help the grill retain heat better, cook more evenly, and last longer…however it will cost more up front! Stainless steel or cast aluminum also stand up to cooking longer, but are more expensive than cast iron or painted steel.
  • What type of grates come with the grill? There are many types of grates available ranging from inexpensive wire grates to heavy cast iron grates. The cheap wire grates work fine in our minds, but we also like a slightly nicer aluminum grates. We see no need to splurge for cast iron grates.
  • What other features does the grill offer? There are so many other features you can find like an easy ash removal system, electric charcoal starters, forced air blowers to maintain temperature and lots more. The list is almost endless, so do your research and make sure the “extras” match what you’ll use the most while cooking.

What charcoal grills do you recommend?

If you’ve decided that a charcoal grill is for you in the charcoal or gas grill debate, now’s the time for us to give you some recommendations on what grill to buy. We have to admit, we are very big fans of Weber grills. They are built to a solid quality standard, have a 10 year warranty, and have withstood the test of time. Here are three recommendations on the best charcoal grills to buy.

Best Portable Charcoal Grill – Weber Smokey Joe

Weber Smokey Joe Grill

I have owned several Weber Smokey Joe grills and they get used heavily. They’re affordable, portable, and don’t take up a lot of space. Even though they have a small size, they’re still built with quality, and can grill enough burgers, sausages, steaks, or kabobs to feed a small gathering. You can buy your own for $47.99 on Amazon.

Best Every Day Charcoal Grill – Weber Original Kettle Grill

Weber Original Kettle Charcoal Grill

The Weber Original Kettle Charcoal Grill is a workhorse that’ll work perfectly well for everyday grilling and all but the largest of parties. Weber makes quality products that will last you longer than a more generic brand, and this grill is easy to operate, lets you do two zone cooking, smoking, and direct cooking.

The 22 inch size is a a good starter size, but a 26″ version is also available. For me, the “standard” version works well, but a premium version is also available with more precise heat control and other features if you’d like to upgrade your grilling situation a little bit!

If you’re really not sure if a charcoal or gas grill is for you, but want a large-ish, quality grill, start with this one.

$119 on Amazon

Best Luxury Charcoal Grill – Napoleon PRO 22-inch Charcoal Kettle Grill

What's Best - A Charcoal or Gas Grill?

Napoleon makes incredible quality grills and they use extra thick porcelain-enameled steel for this premium charcoal grill. The air vents and heat diffuser help make your cooking more precise, and there are multiple cooking heights available for you. This 22″ model is a good size for most normal cooking, but will also work its way through making enough food for a block party if you need it to!

$319 on BBQ Guys

What should I look for in a gas grill?

If you’ve read through all of our points in favor of charcoal grills, and still aren’t sure if you want a gas or charcoal grill, here’s what’s you should look for in a gas grill. Even though you’re deciding if you should use a charcoal or gas grill, you’ll see that many of the features you should be looking for are very similar in both charcoal and gas grills.

  • How big is the grill? In case you didn’t read our charcoal suggestions, here’s a repeat of our size guide. With gas grills, you’re usually looking at a rectangular cooking surface instead of a round cooking surface, but the general size guidelines are the same.
    • 26″ wide or smaller, this size will do two steaks, four burgers, or a few sausages. You can generally only cook with direct heat with this size grill, but they’re perfect for camping or tailgating!
    • 27 – 33″, this medium size will work to feed a normal sized family with no problems, and work for larger parties in batches. At this size, you have enough space to do two zone cooking.
    • 34″ or larger, these large grills are perfect for two zone setups, can easily double as a smoker, and make cooking for a family reunion a breeze.
  • How many burners does the grill have? Unless you’re looking for an ultra-portable grill, don’t get one with just one burner. More burners means more even heat and the ability to cook in different ways (like that all important two zone setup!). I recommend getting at least 3 burners.
  • What type of quality is the grill built to? Just like a charcoal grill, gas grills that use a thicker gauge of metal will retain heat better than a thinner gauge. Stainless steel, or cast aluminum will last longer than a cast iron or coated grill, but will cost you more.
  • What type of grates come with the grill? This is a repeat of our tips for charcoal, but keep an eye on what grates come with the grill. We’re fine with standard wire grates, but aluminum grates are also nice. We see no need to splurge for cast iron grates.
  • What other features does the grill offer? Would you be interested in a grill that you could hook up to a natural gas line on the side of your house? What about an IR sear zone or a side burner? How about a rotisserie set up? These options are all possible with gas grills, so if they’re important to you, get a grill that has the features.

What gas grills do you recommend?

Charcoal or Gas Grill - Gas Grills

One area where I have the same opinion on the charcoal or gas grill debate is that I think Weber also makes some of the best every day gas grills! Just like their charcoal grills, Weber’s gas grills combine a good quality of construction at the price point, as well as nice features and a great warranty. Here are 3 grills for you to take a look at!

Best Entry Level Gas Grill – Weber Spirit II E-310

weber spirit grill

The Weber Spirit is the entry level Weber gas grill. It still has great features like side tables, lots of cooking area, and an open cooking cart. There is a two burner unit available for less money, but I feel strongly that three burners are a much better choice. There are definitely grills available for less money, but if you want a grill to last, get a Weber!

$569 on Amazon

Best Mid-level Gas Grill – Weber Genesis II E-310

Weber Genesis II E-310

This Weber Genesis grill is the gas grill I personally own. It has tapered burners that help keep heat evenly distributed in the cooking area, an open cart, a hook up for iGrill smart technology if you like that, and 3 burners. You can also upgrade to get a side burner or four burners if you’d like a bigger grill. This one works just fine for me!

$778 on Amazon

Best Premium Gas Grill – Blaze Premium LTE 32-inc 4 Burner

Blaze Premium LTE 32-inc 4 Burner

If you want an outstanding grill, packed with features and the ability to add even more cooking gadgets, the Blaze Premium LTE is a great grill for you. Made from 304 stainless steel, this 4 burner grill puts out a ton of evenly distributed heat. Their heat zone separators are a great feature for when you want to cook multiple types of food at once.

You can add on an infrared burner for incredible searing, pick up a rotisserie, and more. I particularly like that the grill comes with an LED illuminated control system and integrated halogen hood lighting for night time cooking. These are some seriously loaded grills!

$2520 on BBQ Guys

Are there other types of grills than charcoal or gas grills?

For the majority of this post, we focused on mainstream gas or charcoal grill styles to give you a good overview if a charcoal or gas grill would be best for you. However, there are other types of grills that don’t neatly fit into the standard descriptions. Here are brief overviews of 4 types of specialized gas or charcoal grills that you can buy.

Flat Top Grills

Blackstone Flat Top Grill

Flat top grills or griddles are gas fueled cookers that have a large, flat metal surface for cooking – like you’d see at a diner. They’re perfect to cook large quantities of foods with even high heat. You don’t need much oil to cook on these grills, and you can do everything from steak to burgers to fajitas to eggs on this type of grill!

The Blackstone is a very popular model – I haven’t cook on one myself – but the people I have spoken to enjoy them. If you like doing a wide variety of foods you may want to check out this type of grill!

Blackstone 4-burner 36″ Griddle – $375 on Amazon

Kamado Grills

Large Big Green Egg

If you’ve ever seen a Big Green Egg, you know what a Kamado grill is, even if you’ve never heard the word before! Big Green Eggs and other similar egg shaped grills are Kamado grills. Kamados are charcoal fueled grills, but with a special oval shape that regulates air flow for even, convection cooking. If you purchase a ceramic kamado, you’ll also gain the insulation and moisture control properties of ceramic cooking.

These type of grills take lots of love and effort to learn, but they’ll give you amazing food. I personally own a Big Green Egg and love it. I smoke, grill, and even bake on it. It’s expensive, but well built, versatile and fun to cook on. If you really enjoy charcoal cooking, a Big Green Egg is a great grill to purchase!

Not sold online – visit Big Green Egg to find a local dealer.

Santa Maria Grills

Nuke Delta 40 inch Argentinian Grill

This is a very specialized type of grill. Sometimes called Santa Maria-style, sometimes called Argentinian or Gaucho-style, these grills use either charcoal or wood fueling and an adjustable cooking grate to cook food over hot coals. You can create incredible heat for a sear, then back the food away from the heat for slower indirect cooking. If you’ve ever been to a wood-fired steak house, this is the type of grill they’ll use!

If you’re into cooking with real wood, check out this Nuke Delta 40-inch Argentian-style Gaucho Grill. $1,449 from BBQ Guys

Wood Pellet Grills

What's Best - A Charcoal or Gas Grill?

Finally, wood pellet grills such as a Traeger (a Pro Series is pictured above) are becoming very popular. These use wood pellets – they’re a charcoal or gas grill, but are closer to a charcoal grill – to create heat then force the heat into the grill. They can cook both low and slow and sear. I don’t own one, and when I’ve cooked on one, I’ve never quite had it figured out correctly. I have numerous friends that enjoy the set it and forget convenience and precision of these grills.

If you’re interested in pellet grills, check out this article from BBQ Guys giving you tips on what to buy, along with recommendations of great grills you can cook with.

Summary

Nick with grill

I hope this post helped you decide if a charcoal or gas grill is the right grill for you. As you can see from the picture above, I am the proud owner of a Weber gas grill but also a Big Green Egg. I like to use the gas grill for quick cooks or larger parties, while I use the Big Green Egg for smoking foods, for occasions where I want a smoky flavor on my foods, or when I need a hard sear on my food.

Do you have a favorite grill or a tip for people that are looking for grills? Are you look for a charcoal or gas grill and have more questions? Just leave us a comment below with your feedback and we’ll be happy to help out. You can also stop by the store and talk to me about your favorite grills. I love talking grilling!

Have a great day – we’ll see you soon at Lake Geneva Country Meats!

Nick

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