The good weather and holidays are always an excuse to cook up a storm outdoors and enjoy some food with friends and family. We’re talking succulent steaks, sizzling sausages and scrumptious salads under the summer sun.
But when it’s time to invest in a new barbeque, are you going for the reliability of gas or the delicious flavours provided by charcoal? Both offer great benefits for summer grilling, with the best option ultimately depending on personal preferences.
And that’s why we’re weighing up the pros and cons of each to help you make more informed decisions and pick a side in the great debate surrounding gas and charcoal cooking. Here’s what you need to know:
What’s the Difference Between Barbeque and Grilling?
It may surprise you to learn that barbeque and grilling are two different cooking methods—even though these terms are used interchangeably by most, and both are performed on the same outdoor cooking appliance regardless of a charcoal or gas fuel source.
According to cooking blog FoodFireFriends, Barbequing refers to cooking large items, low, and slow, typically covered for roasting and smoking. Grilling refers to cooking smaller foods hot and fast over high heat and without a cover.
You may have heard the terms direct heat and indirect cooking. They relate to the differences between barbecuing and grilling. The indirect method sees the food placed between or over the flames. This is best suited to slower cooking and is the no-peek method. Keep the heat low, the food off the flame and let it cook slowly.
Direct infrared heat is for smaller food that goes directly over the flame or burner and should be monitored.
We’re using both barbequing and grilling as general descriptors for cooking food outdoors. But the more you know, the more cultured you sound while hosting weekend lunches on the deck or by the pool.
Now, on to the gas and charcoal debate!
The gas barbeque is the most common form of outdoors cooking appliance used in Australia. We love these BBQs for their convenience and ease of use. Open the valve, press the igniter, and you are moments away from having a hot surface with steady, even heat for your culinary creations. Just remember to turn off the gas between uses!
The gas barbeque comes in many shapes and sizes, with two and four burner models suitable for most Aussie homes. Deluxe models include features like a built-in rotisserie and side burners suitable for woks. Here are the benefits and potential drawbacks of cooking with a gas grill:
Gas barbeques are easy to use and provide reliable heat. Temperature control is managed by simply turning a dial. They reach cooking temperature in minutes, and you can expect even heat distribution across the hot plate. This means cooking and prep time can be kept to a minimum and once the heat source is switched off, the plate cools down quickly.
Cheap to Run
You can score a 9kg LPG gas bottle refill for around $25, and Elgas estimates that one of its Swap n’ Go gas bottles provides 15 hours of cooking time. That’s 15 or more barbeques for $25 or $1.66 per BBQ. Alternatively, using your home’s natural gas supply as a fuel source could further decrease this price.
Hot coals will indeed burn for significantly longer, but they are also inefficient. Therefore, when comparing fuel costs, You will get more value for money from an LPG gas bottle than a bag of coals.
Easy to Clean
BBQs are difficult to clean, even at the best of times. But gas barbeques are by far the easier of the two. The gas itself leaves no visible trace once burned. It’s only the hot plate that requires cleaning for grease and food scraps, and a wire brush or heavy duty cleaner will do the trick.
Limited Gas Supply
There’s nothing more frustrating than being halfway through cooking some snags only for the gas bottle to run out. Without a built-in gauge, it’s a lot of guesswork determining the remaining quantity of fuel. Plus, gas bottles are heavy. So, having to lug one around can be a real hassle.
The workaround is having a barbeque connected to the home’s natural gas supply. This can be achieved with a conversion kit and having an outdoor gas line installed by a licensed gas fitter.
To complain over the taste of delicious food is the definition of a first world problem. Still, owners of a gas barbeque miss out on additional flavours and smokiness that are ingrained in foods when cooking over coals and wood chips.
Unpleasant Fuel Smell
This one’s a stretch, but should some gas escape, you could be dealing with an unpleasant smell. LPG companies add in that prominent smell to make gas easily identifiable. Unfortunately, it is easy for some of this gas to leak before cooking, and you’re left with an unwanted smell.
There’s little danger in a small quantity of gas, but you do need to exercise caution when using gas and open flames. However, you can rest easy knowing a Michael Bay sized explosion is highly unlikely.
Cooking with charcoals is a time honoured tradition dating back thousands of years. We continue to use this technique today despite more modern methods because it taps into something special; something primordial. It’s part nostalgia, part wanting to get back to nature and part desire for food that tastes incredible.
Today, charcoal grills come in the round kettle style made famous by the Weber brand. They feature a central cooking surface with trays beneath for holding hot charcoals and an ash catcher at the base.
Here are the benefits and potential drawbacks of charcoal grilling:
Cook with a charcoal grill, and you can expect your food to possess superior, mouth watering flavours. It starts with the smoke. To get scientific, hot coals produce an aroma compound called Guaiacol. According to Gavin Sacks, a food science researcher at Cornell University, “It has a smoky, spicy, bacony aroma.” So, foods cooked on charcoal grills pick up bacon tastes.
But wait, there’s more! BBC Good Food says drippings also heat, then smoke back up and over the food enhancing flavour. Plus, optional wood chips are specially designed to imbue particular flavours into food. So, there’s a lot of potential for cooking over hot coals.
Cheaper to Purchase
Charcoal cookers are generally more affordable than gas grills. For example, take a look at Bunnings, where a small charcoal BBQ is priced at $20 while reasonably sized models can be purchased for under $100. Alternatively, the cheapest gas BBQ at Bunnings is $99, while a decent sized one could set you back at least $300 – $400.
The gas barbeque is more expensive because additional parts are required, including burners, igniters, and gas values.
Most charcoal grills are portable. This goes beyond possessing wheels, as the units are smaller and constructed from just a few solid components. This makes them safer to transport and more travel friendly. So, take one of these to the beach, camping or to a friends house for grilling sessions. Just be sure to clean out the ash before placing it inside a car.
Time Consuming Cook
It can take up to 30 minutes to pre heat charcoal and make it suitable for cooking. So you need to allow additional time to cook, which can be inconvenient if looking to feed a table of hungry guests.
Arranging the coals is your responsibility, so it’s easy to achieve uneven heat across the grill. Unfortunately, this results in some areas cooking foods quicker than others, making it tougher to monitor progress.
Tough to Clean
Natural gas and LPG are clean burning fuels. Charcoal, however, is messy. It blackens everything it touches, and you’re left cleaning surfaces and disposing of hot ash afterwards. The charcoal can remain hot for hours, so you may not even have a chance to clean the charcoal grill until the following day.
Gas Barbeque vs. Charcoal Grill: The Verdict
There’s no clear winner or superior BBQ in this debate. The best barbeque or grill is the one that best suits your preferences and budget. Are you always short on time? Then go with gas. Do you enjoy weekends exploring culinary creations? Charcoal could be right for you.
Weigh up the pro and cons of each, and you should be well on your way to cooking up a storm outdoors for friends and family.