Charcoal VS. Gas | The Great Debate

charcoal_vs_gasThe history of grilling food over an open fire can be dated back to Paleolithic times of the caveman.  While there is no real concrete evidence of who invented the barbeque in the States, the debate between charcoal and gas is one not to be taken lightly.  The preference between the two ultimately comes down to convenience and taste, although grill masters will defy the art of grilling with charcoal as one of the highest status.

The invention of charcoal was patented in 1897 by a man named Ellsworth Zwoyer after World War One.  There are circulating debates that Henry Ford invented the briquette in 1920, although he just invented a more efficient way to make the briquettes out of left over sawdust from the process of milling wood.  It was mixed with various binding agents and  then formed into neat little cubes that ignited with the assistance of lighter fluid.

Purists will proclaim that there is some residue always left over and that it can alter the flavor of whatever is being grilled.

For the proclaimed home pit masters, charcoal is the only option.  The authentic smoky flavor off the fire is the strongest with wood or charcoal and generally requires the most work keeping the grill’s flame consistent. That’s why beginner grillers, who have not had much experience cooking over an open flame, opt for the ease of temperature control of gas fueled grills.   There tends to be less fire or smoke with gas grills which is ideal for smaller spaces.

Convenience and experience are both important factors when purchasing a new grill.  Charcoal grills can be less expensive when buying a barbeque, although the briquettes cost more than gas fueled grills in the long run.   Starting the briquettes is considered to be an art to those who firmly believe in using charcoal.  There are some options to starting charcoal, the most common way is to pile the charcoal in the center of the grill, pour lighter fluid over the top, and light.  For the novice briquette user there might be a temptation to pour an excess amount of lighter fluid if the flame immediately dies out, although this is not required because the charcoal will ignite itself after the lighter fluid has burned off.  When buying charcoal, be advised to avoid the brands that already contain lighter fluid in the briquettes or “burn the bag” types.  These two have a very distinct after taste that can be detected in cooked food.

If mounding charcoals sounds a little too much, then using a chimney starter is great for a couple of reasons.  One, no chemicals are used to start the coals and two, if you are preparing ribs or any other long grill time dish then you can start a back up set of embers when the first are close to dying out.   Charcoal grills are designed with function as well as unique styles and sizes that can accommodate any lifestyle or space.  If using charcoal during the winter months it is wise to store the briquettes at room temperature, this will help with the start up of the charcoals.

Gas grilling the ease of starting up the barbeque with little effort or time and it also emits less carbon.  This is essential if you live in an area that has quality air issues or outside burning bans.  Space can also be a big factor when choosing a gas grill, as well as proper storage of propane tanks.  If a large outdoor kitchen is in the future, then installing a proper natural gas line will be needed.

In the end I think both sides of the debate will agree that any type of food prepared on the Barbie is a good thing.  There is nothing that can be compared to the aroma of meat searing on the grill and the char-grilled essence of a perfect burger.  Both styles of grills are ideal to enhance the outdoor living space, provide another cooking method, and the ultimate way to gather friends and family for any occasion, just be sure to keep the gas versus charcoal debate out of discussion.


Jennifer Boukather has been in the culinary arts as an executive chef for over 10 years.  She specializes in the Pacific Northwest cuisine with global fusion and has worked with some of the most credible pit masters in the States.   She has a vast knowledge in barbeques and prides her caveman instincts with all types of grilling techniques.

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