Grilling Over Gas vs. Charcoal

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Which is better, grilling over gas or charcoal?

Charcoal purists will try and tell you that their preferred fuel leads to better flavor. This is, well, nonsense.

Your food doesn’t know what’s creating the heat below it, and once charcoal is hot, there aren’t any aromatic compounds left in the coals. According to the food science bible Modernist Cuisine, “Carbon is carbon; as it burns, it imparts no flavor of its own to the food being grilled.”

The characteristic flavor of grilled food comes from the drippings, not the fuel. When those drippings hit the heat source below, the oils, sugars, and proteins burst into smoke and flame. That heat creates new complex molecules that rise in the smoke and warm air to coat the food you’re grilling.

Nothing in that process relies on charcoal.


  1. Brian in the Desert says:

    I’ve used both. There is no discernible difference in flavor that I can detect. However, the 20-30 minutes taken to stack and light briquets and wait for them to all become hot enough to grill is something to think about. Time to light and grill on gas is about 1-2 minutes (or less but I like to let the grill get a little hot before starting). I smoke my meat and have a gas smoker which I also find much easier to use than wood burning or charcoal smokers.

  2. For me, there is a definite flavor difference that I’ve been able to discern without prior knowledge of how the meat was cooked. I have a preference for charcoal but the convenience of gas tends to win out.

  3. Alrenous says:

    I’ve seen assertions like this be proven wrong way too many times. E.g. the surface properties of charcoal may lead to different reactions. Also catalysis. Also the coals can trap drippings which might survive somewhat to later grillings.

    MBTI S’s and J’s focus too heavily on single aspects sometimes. He doesn’t know 90% of what he’s talking about. Of course his conclusion might be right anyway, but it’s luck.

  4. People take a wee bit too much pleasure in proving that other people’s subjective experience is an “illusion,” especially if the supposed negation of the illusion lines up with their own subjective experience.

  5. Dan Kurt says:

    Griller for 47 years: Hibachi → Weber Kettle → Gas Grill → Traeger (wood pellets) → really expensive Weber Gas Grill.

    They all work but I keep coming back to a 22″ Weber Kettle for hamburgers and steaks. I have developed techniques using briquettes and/or real charcoal that gets the heat higher than even with the expensive Weber Gas Grill with the searing feature. Super heating a steak on the Weber charcoal grill and finishing a steak 2 inches or more in a 450° F oven gives me the best results.

    I would love to use a grill that uses an infrared (gas powered) heating source. These heating sources are used in area heating for outdoor or factory applications and the temp is circa 1800° F.

    Try a Ruth’s Chris Steak to see how Super Heating works.

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