Charcoal Grills

The Weber kettle grill has become an American icon

This Big Green Egg, a ceramic cooker, will grill for several hours using only a small amount of charcoal.

Charcoal Smoker


A horizontal barrel smoker can weigh from 400 to 500 pounds; the firebox is set off on the right.

Gas Grills


The midprice Weber Genesis grill has front, middle, and back burners, lots of work space, and an easy-to-use grease evacuation system.

The Weber Summit Gas Supergrill
Barbecue Basics

The Art of Smoking
The Grate Debate—Charcoal vs. Gas
The Grill Guru's Mantra®
Understanding the Difference Between Direct and Indirect Grilling

The Grate Debate—Charcoal vs. Gas

A great deal of words, tears, and possibly blood have been spilled over which makes a better grill: charcoal or gas.

Charcoal grills have at least four advantages:

  • They cook hotter.
  • You can burn wood in a charcoal grill, which gives you more flavor.
  • It's easier to smoke in a charcoal grill.
  • Charcoal gives you the primal thrill of lighting and playing with fire.
Of course, charcoal grills have a few drawbacks:

  • They're fussier and messier. (Some grill jockeys might regard this as a benefit not a disadvantage.)
  • They're less predictable and require more attention.
  • They gradually lose heat and need to be restoked every hour.
Professional pit masters like to dump on gas grills, but actually, 68 percent of American grill owners prefer and use gas, and the number is growing. Gas grills, too, have their advantages and drawbacks. On the plus side:

  • Gas grills offer the advantage of push button lighting
  • Gas grills provide a constant and consistent heat with the twist of a knob.
  • A propane tank will burn for as long as 20 hours.
The chief drawbacks to gas grills are:

  • A slightly diminished flavor in the end product, for unlike charcoal, gas imparts no taste.
  • It's harder and in some instances impossible to smoke on a gas grill (although many new models have smoker boxes with dedicated burners, which, theoretically at least, makes this task easier).
  • Gas grills deprive you of the primal thrill of lighting and playing with fire.
So where does the Professor stand in the debate?

I own both types of grills and use both. I tend to use my gas grill on busy weeknights and my charcoal grill on the weekends, when I have a little more time. I test most of my recipes on a gas grill because the heat is more predictable and consistent. However, if I could only cook on one grill for the rest of my life, it would be the more versatile charcoal grill.

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.
  • Sturdy construction and optional side tables.
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)
  • Side tables (you can never have enough work space)
  • Sturdy construction and a good warrantee
Important tip: 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. Trust me on this: I've seen it happen.

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© 2006 Steven Raichlen | site design Benjamin Wilchfort