It’s grilling time. I’d be willing to bet that the majority if you have probably grilled something in the past few weeks. I know I have! But inevitably, the polarizing argument of gas vs. charcoal will probably come up at your summer cookout. Forget what your neighbor has or what Food Network tells you to do. What realistically works for YOU?
What’s your lifestyle?
I ask this question first because I think it’s the most important of them all. Are you constantly running around in your busy lifestyle? Are you the kind of person who just needs to get dinner on the table and not worry about taking your time and embracing the ritual of being outside? Do you even like grilling that much, or do you just like the semi-smoky flavor and the convenience? If you’re one of these people, get a gas grill.
Does your idea of a perfect Friday night consist of a warm, sweet summer evening, with a handful of your best friends or family around lawn chairs on your deck, sipping drinks, listening to tunes and talking about life? Do you savor flavor above all else? Do you enjoy the ritual of starting a fire and feeling the elements with your hands? Do yourself a favor and get a charcoal grill.
What’s your budget?
Are you the kind of person who doesn’t have to worry about money, and could drop a substantial amount without problems? Do you like to make long-lasting investments, purchasing higher quality things that last longer? Gas grills can range from $100-$10,000, though most people spend between $400-$600. The decision may come down to: Can you afford it? If so, gas may be a great option.
Note: Don’t buy a cheap gas grill. You’ll regret it. They’re terrible.
If you’re pretty rooted in your home, gas is fine- but what if you live a semi-nomadic lifestyle? Do you really want to dish out $500 for a huge, obnoxious dirty thing you have to lug around with you for all eternity?
Are you on a tight budget? Do you live paycheck to paycheck and don’t have the luxury of dropping your mortgage payment on a cooking apparatus? Charcoal may be your best bet. Although it tends to be a little bit more costly in the long run (because of the cost of charcoal over the years), you pay for the charcoal grill over a long period of time. A bag of charcoal here, a bag of charcoal there. No big whoop.
…but which one is cheaper by-the-hour?
It takes about $18 to fill up a tank of gas, which gives you an average of 20 hours of cook time, resulting in a cost of about $1 an hour.
To fill up a chimney of charcoal, about 6 quarts, which would give you about an hour of cook time, the cost of the charcoal is anywhere from about $1.50-$3.50, depending on the cost of your fuel.
So yes, charcoal is a bit pricier by the hour.
Where will you put it?
Let’s be realistic. If you have a tiny apartment with a 3×3 patio, you may not even have the option to get a charcoal grill. Most apartment complexes have rules about these things, so check with them before you invest. Charcoal can sometimes have more smoke which could be annoying for your neighbors, but they also have less flames and flare-ups, which is technically safer for your building. However, you’ll probably be stuck with a gas grill if you’re in one of these types of places.
Got a nice back deck or back yard with wide open spaces? Either one will do, but you’ve got an ideal place for a charcoal grill (I’m not biased).
Do you feel like maintaining it?
In the short run, gas grills are a piece of cake to clean up. Give the grates a little scrubby scrub and you’re done. In the long run though, gas grills can take a lot of work. You may have to replace the gas connections, fuel lines, the briquettes, ignition and grates. You have to keep the burners, ignitor collector boxes and drip trays clean, and obviously refill the propane tanks regularly. Not cleaning it is not an option. Dirty, gunky gas grills are so disgusting.
In the short run, charcoal grills appear to be more of a pain, only because you need to empty the ashes out after each use. But remember, get a charcoal grill with a removable ash holder and you’re golden. Every 2-3 years you may need to get a new grate, but that’s about it!
A few months ago, 1 of my 5 roomates and I split the cost of a $35 cheap charcoal Walmart grill. We did that for several reasons. 1) We didn’t want to spend the cash on a gas grill. 2) We have no idea how long each of us will stay at this house. I don’t need a huge grill to worry about when I move out. 3) We love the taste of charcoal-grilled food. 4) We live in a house that has guests over regularly, and we thoroughly enjoy sitting on our lovely back deck in lawn chairs, sipping wine, staring at the stars and talking about life. For us, a crappy charcoal grill was more than logical.
And may I say that the first time we used the grill, we cooked some of the best New York Strips I’ve ever had. Side note: Try to figure out a way to protect your cheapo-grill from rain. Ours keeps filling up with water. Also, I should’ve invested a little bit more for a cheapo that has an ash remover. It gets really disgusting when the rainwater, ash and critters all mix together. Yuck.
Remember, if you get a charcoal grill…
- Use natural, hard lump charcoal if you can. Tastes better and you don’t have to use lighter fluid.
- Designate a place in or outside your house for recyclable paper that you can use to light your charcoal.
- Get a chimney charcoal starter. (Or make one out of a coffee can.)
…and if you have a few extra bucks…
- Get one with a removable ash holder.
- Get one that has a hinged grate, so if you need to add charcoal at any time, you can just lift the grate up. This is more important than you may think.
- Get one that has an option to lower the coal down into the grill or bring it up closer to your food so you can control the temperature more.