Whether you’re using a gas or charcoal grill, grilling food over an open fire is one of life’s great pleasures. When deciding which of the two to use or purchase there is a lot to consider such as flavor, price, convenience, and ease of use. Hopefully I’ll be able to give you the info to help you decide what works best for you.
Charcoal grills are available in all shapes and sizes and at nearly any price. They take a little more time to light, either with lump charcoal or briquettes, but the rewards are deeply flavorful. All charcoal is made of the same thing: wood burned with little oxygen so that all that’s left is essentially carbon.
Briquettes are the most common form of charcoal. They are uniform pillows of crushed lump charcoal. They burn evenly and last much longer than lump charcoal. They are an excellent choice for grilling food that will take a longer to cook, and as a base for indirect cooking. Adding a handful or two of water-soaked wood chips to the coals is a great way to add smoke to a recipe that calls for indirect cooking.
Lump charcoal contains no additives unlike regular briquettes. They are sold as non-uniform chunks of wood that light quickly and burn at very high temperatures, making it ideal for searing steaks and hamburgers. The downside of lump charcoal is that the high heat doesn’t last very long. If you are cooking with indirect heat, or want to cook something over a direct fire for a long time, charcoal briquettes may be a better choice.
For ease of use, the gas grill is unparalleled. They are powered by propane, which you can buy at most gas stations or hardware stores. A gas grill can cost around $150, although they can cost well up into the thousands. To light one, simply turn the knobs and push the ignition. Maintenance for a gas grill is a little more time-consuming than for a charcoal grill. You may need to repair or replace the supply lines, ignition and grate at some point to extend the life of the grill.
Most grill snobs sneer at gas grills because they don’t deliver smoky charcoal flavor. And perhaps gas grills are not the best grill on which to sear a steak, or smoke a brisket. But they offer excellent temperature control and are extremely convenient. They are perfect for cooking brats, pizzas, seafood, corn, and other fruits and veggies.
Whether you choose to use a gas or charcoal grill, temperature control is one of the most important and hardest skills to master. When you build a fire in your grill, it’s best to do so with zones for both direct and indirect cooking. Even when you’re grilling a steak over high heat, you want a cooler area where you can move it if it is cooking too quickly.
Cooking over direct heat means that food is placed directly over the coals or flame. It should be used for food that will cook through before it burns, like steaks, kebabs, hamburgers and seafood.
Using indirect heat means that food is cooked on a cooler part of the grill without coals or flame beneath it. This is essential for foods that need slower cooking like roasts, chickens, and smoked foods; and for finishing food that you’ve seared on the outside and now want to cook through near but not over fire.
To create the two zones in a charcoal grill, build the fire under only half the grill. On a gas grill, leave oneburner off. If your grill has an upper rack, you can place the food on it for indirect cooking, but remember that heat rises and the ambient temperature at the top of the grill will be high.