Gas vs Charcoal grill – What’s the difference

Gas grill vs Charcoal grill – Which is better? Every year, this topic is brought up by many people. There’s a countless number of articles being written where people fight over which type of grill is better. Today I shall remove any doubts regarding this question, the final verdict might be a little surprising to many.

I approach the topic objectively and I have prepared a more comprehensive article for you in which I will present all the pros and cons of gas grills and charcoal grills. I start it with a table that allows you to quickly compare both types and make sure which one is right for you.

Below the table you’ll find much more detailed differences between gas and charcoal grills.

Charcoal

Gas

Price

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    100$+ for a good one
  • 500$+ for a good one

Flavor

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    Rich tasty smoke flavor great for long slow cooks
  • Doesn't generate much smoke like charcoal but great for quick cooks

Temperature

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    From low temperature good for smoking food to high great for searing
  • Usually from 200°F to 600°F ( without special sear box )

Temperature

Control

  • Requires a little bit experience and attention 
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    Very easy to maintain

Fire-Up Time

  • 10-15min to light charcoal ( overall about 30 min to reach proper cooking temperature )
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     Just turn the knob and wait 5-10 min to reach cooking temperature

Smoking

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    Perfect for smoking. Produce really much smoke & allows to keep low temperature
  • Hard to achieve good smoking results, use smoker box to get better smoke flavor

Cleaning

  • You have to clean the grill from ash every time.
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    From time to time just clean the grease trap

Assembly

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    Most of basic models require about 30 min
  • Usually few hours

Maintenance and preserving

  • Simple design, cheap parts (mainly grates)
  • More complicated construction,
    more parts.

Overall Time Required to use, clean etc

  • Required a lot of time to light charcoal then a little bit of time to keep temperature & cleaning
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    Easy to start & use, just push the knob and wait until grill reach cooking temperature.

It all boils down to our needs, the final verdict depends on what we actually need.

The most popular reasons for us to choose charcoal grills is the unique smoky flavor of the food and the ability to reach high temperatures for searing ( it is very important when it comes to steaks or hamburgers ). They are also very good for long meat smoking ( I’m talking about bigger chunks of meat like pork shoulder, ribs or roast ). Last but not least is the longevity of good charcoal grills as well as their low prices. Charcoal grills are among the cheapest grills, for the price of about 100 dollars you can purchase a simple, very good grill for many years. 

Charcoal grills require regular cleaning, charcoal leaves ash. Before every grilling the grill has to cleaned of the ash, better models actually have interesting features that make charcoal grill cleaning significantly easier and faster. 

See buyer's guide for charcoal grills

What attracts us to gas grills?

Convenience, time saving and once again convenience. It is no secret that gas grills are very convenient due to how fast and easy it is to start cooking food. All it takes is to fire up the ignition and temperature is already rising inside the grill. From the moment of starting the grill you don’t have to worry about anything until reaching the right temperature. They’re also easy to clean, gas leaves no ash behind.

Regular gas grills reach much lower maximum temperatures than the charcoal ones. Their price is several times higher for a good model. One great advantage compared to charcoal grills is temperature control, it is very easy to set and maintain the desired temperature.

See buyer's guide for gas grills


difference in price

Price

Charcoal

When it comes to price, the charcoal grill wins against the gas grill. Prices start at as low as about 30 dollars, for 100 dollars you can buy the most popular in United States and worldwide, basic model of the Kettle grill ( like the average model of Weber Kettle or Char-Broil Kettleman). Those are simple grills made of a smaller number of parts. More expensive models cost up to about 500-600$, for that kind of price you will actually get something bigger with additional features. ( See the buyer’s manual and reviews for the best charcoal grills ).

Gas

The basic and least expensive gas grills cost 100 to 300$, sadly at this price it’s hard to find something decent. Truly good gas grills start at about 500$ for the basic versions, whereas the better ones cost  700-1000$+ ( they have a bigger cooking area, are much better built and have plenty of useful features ).


smoke or gas flavor

Flavor

Charcoal

Charcoal while burning generate rich smoke that influences the food’s flavor. Meat gets a distinctive smoke flavor which is the main reason why people choose a charcoal grill. With enough practice, it can be used as a smoker. If you’re planning to prepare bigger chunks of meat then a charcoal grill is definitely made for you, since long smoked meat gains a lot in flavor.
You have to remember that it also makes a difference what type of charcoal you use. Make sure it’s the best quality one such as for example lump charcoal, which is made of actual pieces of wood.

Gas

When burning, it doesn’t generate much smoke, which is simple and doesn’t affect the food’s flavor, making it definitely different than with charcoal grills. You can create smoke that will influence the flavor of your food, how to do that? All it takes is to add wood to a special smoker box.

Flavorizer Bars– when cooking food, all that drips off the meat evaporates upon contact with a source of heat. Then part of that vapor condenses on the meat.

A gas grill works great for cooking delicate food for which the intense smoke flavor may be overwhelming.

You need to know that smoke has a little influence on the flavor of food cooked fast. The difference is big when you use the grill for long, slow meat smoking at low temperatures.

You can learn more about smoke in detail in this huge guide.


lowest and highest temperature grill

Temperature

Charcoal

A charcoal grill wins in terms of maximum and minimum temperature. You can use it as a smoker by searing meat at low temperatures or you can reach high temperatures with it of up to 700 degrees F, such temperature is great for cooking things like steaks or hamburgers. ( To reach temperatures this high you have to use natural lump charcoal ). The type of temperatures you can reach largely depends on the type and quality of the fuel used. Luckily most food requires much lower temperatures. Still, a charcoal grill reaches high temperatures that are great for searing as well as low ones for long, slow meat smoking.

Gas

It has a smaller range of temperatures compared to charcoal grills, most of them reach temperatures of up to 500-550 degrees F. Plenty of cheaper models won’t be able to reach temperatures high enough for searing. It is still perfect for making food that requires medium and high temperatures (preferably within the range of 200 to 450 degrees F. )
There are gas grills equipped with an extra Sear Box, what is that? It’s a perfect tool that allows to reach a very high temperature in a short time.
If you want to reach a much higher temperature ( even higher than in a charcoal grill ) you will have to pay a whole lot of money for a better model of a gas grill.

An important factor when buying a grill is BTU’s. What is that? It’s a measure of the amount of heat the burner can generate. You can read more about what BTU’s is here, also see how important are BTU'S?


Maintenance temperature

Temperature Control

Charcoal

I have to admit that temperature control in a charcoal grill is not the easiest task, for beginners it might be a little hard. One has to learn to properly manipulate the air vents. Remember, the more air you let into the grill, the hotter the grill is. Similarly, if you lower the air flow into the grill, the temperature will start to drop. Obviously, there are other factors making difference such as the amount of charcoal used, its type and quality. Weather can also have an impact on your grill, if it’s windy then temperature shifts can be big. What is most important, a charcoal grill requires frequent control of the amount of charcoal.

Gas

It definitely wins in every regard when it comes to temperature control. A gas grill doesn’t have a single problem present in charcoal grills. You set the desired temperatures and that’s it. You don’t have to worry about weather, the type of fuel or the right air flow. Temperature control is easy as pie here – you set the desired temperatures and you’re done. All you have to do is monitor the gas level.

Plenty of people believe that a charcoal grill makes the true spirit of BBQ. I agree with that, it’s all that fuss about monitoring the entire grill, its temperature, the meat etc that makes us truly participate in the entire grilling process.

On the other hand, it is often a tedious task, which is why the gas grill wins, as in simple words it is convenient and easy to use.


light charcoal and gas grill

Fire-Up Time

Charcoal

It all depends on which method you use, but overall charcoal requires a little more time to start. A crucial and very useful tool for firing it up is charcoal chimney starter (LINK), you should definitely buy it if you own or are planning to buy a charcoal grill. Considering the overall preparation, a charcoal grill may need up to 30 minutes to reach the right temperature to cook.

Gas

Once again it wins, how fast you can start cooking food is incredible in this case. My time is often limited which is why a grill that warms up very fast is great for me. Imagine what it’s like to start a gas oven, it is just as fast and easy when it comes to gas grills. All it takes is to turn the knob and that’s it. In a very short time ( about 10 minutes ) the grill’s temperature will be enough to cook food.


smoke

Smoking

Charcoal

Undoubtedly a charcoal grill is very good when it comes to meat smoking. Of course it requires some knowledge and the right grilling methods. It makes a lot of smoke, which greatly affects the food’s flavor. You can cook food at low temperatures for many hours. It all depends on what grilling method you use, and for that you should learn the best available methods of indirect grilling with a charcoal grill. LINK

Gas

It is possible to smoke meat with a gas grill, but it’s not quite as effective and requires several tools. You will need a smoker box & smoking woods. It will be the best if you check a step by step guide for how to smoke meat using a gas grill. LINK


cleaning

Cleaning

Charcoal

It all largely depends on the grill’s model. More expensive models have interesting solutions that allow to clean the grill of ash in a fast and simple way. On top of that, it is your responsibility to once in a while clean the grates.

Gas

A gas grill’s structure was designed so that all the leaks and grease flow onto a special tray. All that is left to do in the end is to clean the tray or replace it – that’s it. Simple, easy and convenient. Of course, one has to remember to clean the grates with a brush once in a while.


assembly

Assembly

Charcoal

Easy to assemble in a pretty short time, most of the basic models only require about half an hour.

Gas

They are a little complicated compared to charcoal grills, they require several times as much time, usually few hours. Someone to help could be useful during the assembly.


Maintenance

Maintenance and preserving

Charcoal

The basic models are made of a small number of parts, are simple and don’t have any complicated elements. The grates certainly have to be replaced once in a while, but that should not worry you as they are cheap. In much more expensive models there’s a gas burner feature, I think it’s the only potential expensive part to replace in the event of a breakdown. For a little above 100$ you can buy a well-built charcoal grill that will last you for many years as long as you take proper care of it.

Gas

Maintenance of a gas grill is more complicated and much more expensive. One of the more expensive parts in the event of a breakdown is certainly the burner. Of course, as the years go by, the grates may require to be replaced. A good grill that is meant to last for many years costs much more than a charcoal grill.

In both cases, though, it’s a good idea to remember about a cover that will protect the grill from many external factors such as rain or sun. That way you can extend your grill’s lifespan by several years.


overall

Total time required to use, to clean etc

Charcoal

You need a lot of time to get the coal burning and to control the temperature and the amount of fuel consumed. When you’re done cooking, you have to spend time to clean the ash. That confirms that a charcoal grill is difficult to use/maintain and requires a lot of time for all the activities related to firing it up, cleaning it and controlling the temperature and fuel. The temperature in a charcoal grill is affected by many factors which is why maintaining and controlling it takes a lot of time.

Gas

As a whole, a gas grill requires definitely less time than a charcoal grill. It is like an oven, all you have to do is turn the knob and the grill will warm up to the required temperature within about 10 minutes. That’s about three times faster than a charcoal grill, which needs about half an hour. Temperature control is easy as pie here, all it takes is to set the right flame on the burner and every once in a while check the temperature reader inside the grill. When it comes to cleaning, once in a while you have to clean the grates which is normal for every type of grill, you should also clean the burner and the pipes every once in a while.

In the simplest terms, a gas grill will allow you to save a lot of time. For someone who uses the grill several times a week it may make a lot of difference.


Conclusion - Gas Grill vs Charcoal Grill – who wins?

These are two different types of grills, each of them has its pros and cons. If you have the money and a large patio, get both, you won’t regret it.

If you have to choose, however, between them, you should carefully analyze all the points that I brought up.

To me personally, getting the charcoal burning, controlling the temperature and meat the entire time are something that brings me joy. I love this entire process and it is fun to me. I very often cook large chunks of meat at low temperatures for many hours. Meat smoking and the flavor that the meat gains after many hours is phenomenal. That’s the main reason why I’d go for a charcoal grill

A gas grill means convenience and simplicity. I love it for being able to turn it on whenever I want without having to go through getting the coal burning. If you often cook food with a grill, then you perfectly know that feeling when you have to get the coal burning every time. You don’t always have the time and will for those things. There aren’t many things to worry about like with a charcoal grill. It is great for preparing quick meals like sausages, hamburgers or chicken wings.

Quick summary

You care about flavor and meat smoking? Choose the Charcoal

You want convenience and simplicity of use? Choose the Gas

If you have more cash then the best solution will be to buy two grills. Each of them is good for something else and they will definitely be useful for different occasions.

You should definitely check out other types of grills as well as their pros and cons.