That age old question, “which is better, charcoal or gas?”
It’s a question that comes up time and time again, whether at food festivals or during chats with friends looking to buy a BBQ, and opinions are strong! In the UK there is definitely a strong sentiment that charcoal is where it’s at for taste and flavour, however gas barbecue sales actually lead charcoal sales so it seems opinions may be softening, at least in some areas of the country.
Charcoal has the nostalgia of creating fire, tending fire, cooking over fire in the great outdoors, and providing nourishment for your family. There’s something about working with live fire that when you get it right gives you a huge sense of achievement. For some turning a dial and igniting gas simply cannot fulfill that basic instinct.
Gas grills are definitely more plug and play, and get you up and cooking within minutes. The size options are simply staggering, from the smallest of camping grills to the biggest of built-in multi-burner barbecues with endless accessory options. The technology that goes into the higher end gas barbecues is astonishing, hence the price-point, but there really is a grill out there for everyone.
Where the rubber hits the road though is flavour! This is where some have the biggest internal struggle of wanting the size of a gas barbecue while also wanting that authentic flavour of charcoal. In the 80’s when gas grills were first introduced many manufacturers tried to soothe peoples concerns with the introduction of lava rock as a way to create that authentic barbecue flavour. In recent years manufacturers have largely dropped lava rock. As someone who once owned such a BBQ, I know lava rocks are ineffective at turning dripping fats into aromatic smoke. They simply don’t get hot enough, and can give this evenings dinner the smells from last weeks grilled seabass…
For me it comes down to what will encourage someone to cook outdoors more often. I want people to see the BBQ as a real and relevant piece of cooking equipment. Where traditional cooking appliances live in the kitchen, the BBQ’s natural habitat is beyond the kitchen door.
Gas grills really have come a long way since they were introduced over 40 years ago. From lava rock to flavour bars and infra-red elements, the innovation and drive to create as close to an authentic grilling experience as possible is staggering! By comparison the area of innovation on charcoal grills has really come in the space around the fuel and cooking grate. The first covered charcoal grill was introduced in the 1950’s creating the iconic kettle, but since then developments have largely been limited to handles, lid holders, ash catchers, thermometers and whether the wheels are hard plastic of rubber.
I think there are great brands that provide a product to satisfy even the most discerning outdoor cook. There are BBQ’s of varying sizes and configurations to suit different cooking styles. There are even products that are design icons and immediately recognisable to the average guy on the street.
These are all fantastic but if you are only inspired to cook on your grill a handful of times a year, has your BBQ really made life easier? What has to be the most important thing is whether a BBQ best fits into your lifestyle and allows you to create food that’s simple, delicious and convenient no matter the day of the week, or month of the year.
I want people to see how easy and achievable everyday BBQ is. If lighting a chimney starter of charcoal floats your boat then go for your life, but if your home life requires the convenience of turning a dial and pressing the ignition switch to cook a mid-week dinner for two then more power to you. I have never told anyone which BBQ they should buy, but given the choice of a carefully chosen shortlisted it’s easy to point out the pros and cons.
Ultimately it’s important to be well informed. That is why I would always suggest doing your homework on BBQ’s and the companies behind them. Start by asking yourself what you want to cook, how often you want to cook, and for how many people you’d like to cook. The answers to these 3 questions will greatly help guide your final decision on a BBQ that can help make life easier and more enjoyable with healthy, fresh food for you and your family.