Charcoal, Gas + Grills?

To Gas or not to Gas – is that the question?

Although there are almost as many different types of BBQ grill as there are days in the year, perhaps the most fundamental question in buying a BBQ is whether to go for charcoal or gas. Today this choice is both easier and more complicated than it was even five years ago, when the choice of grills was quite limited and the market was dominated by charcoal, with gas grills mainly being quite expensive. Now there’s probably more gas grills around than charcoal and the cost has come down dramatically.

So, to gas or not to gas what’s the answer, well simply there isn’t an easy one. Originally most people entered the market by way of a simple charcoal grill, but now with gas grills costing under £50, this has all changed, so is it gas or charcoal, or even both?

Charcoal Grills

BBQ purists would argue that you can only really get that true BBQ taste from charcoal as charcoal adds flavour and depth to food, whereas gas simply cooks. Certainly, charcoal imparts a smoky style, which can be enhanced by the addition of wet wood chips or herb branches. However, whilst charcoal adds flavour, for some lighting charcoal can be a tricky business. For even expert grillers there remains the set-up time; and you can also control the heat by varying the depth of charcoal across the grill from thin/low to thick/hot. The addition of a natural charcoal lighter, such as coconut gels also helps, and you can now even get coconut charcoal.

Gas Grills

On the other hand, modern gas grills are now so much easier and user-friendly and are perfect for both impromptu, or ‘after-work Barbi’s as well as for more sophisticated alfresco eating and outdoor dinner parties. They also get up to cooking speed quicker and are so much more controllable, especially the multi-burner grills, or those with a hood or smoker attachment. Many gas grills now come with a rotisserie, hobs, griddle plates, or woks, as well and warming plates. Certainly, unless you’re only going to BBQ very occasionally, it pays to have a hooded, multi-burner grill, with a minimum of 3 burners. Gas grills with lava-rock beds are perfect as you can even get a charcoal smoke effect by throwing wet on wood chips or herb branches. Even gas canisters have changed with either lightweight see through styles or those with gauges to ensure you don’t run out of gas.

So, What’s the Answer?

Well the easiest way to choose is; Charcoal for Taste & Gas for Ease!

And now to the Grills!

There are many, many different types and styles of BBQ grills, as well as prices, so what’s the easiest way to choose;

Disposable BBQ’s

We’ve never been a big fan of disposable BBQ’s, especially after the recent widescale moorland fires! Essentially the simplest form of BBQ, the disposable, is an aluminium tray filed with charcoal and covered with wire mesh. Although seemingly a good idea, they can be both flimsy and dangerous. It’s difficult to cook food properly and they can be a potential fire hazard unless disposed of safely. On balance we say;

2/10 – “Ditch the Disposable!”

Potable BBQ’s

Much more environmentally friendly. Mainly bucket or round style charcoal grills, costing as little as £10 they may have a limited life, but are much better than disposables and can be safely cooked on and moved. We say;

7/10 – “A good choice for BBQ’ing away from home!”

Charcoal or Gas Tray Grills

The most basic form of BBQ, these grills consist of a ‘tin tray on legs’ with a separate, detachable hood or not, no cooking height variation and powered either by a single gas burner or charcoal. Our view is;

6/10  – “A good entry choice!”

Larger Tray or Kettle Grills

The majority of charcoal and gas grills fall into this category. Most will have adjustable grill heights with gas grills being 2 or 3 burners and some will have a ‘hinged’ hood. We say go for the hooded versions and;

7/10 – “If you’re moving up in the Barbi world, a good choice!”

Barrel BBQ’s

Originally based on a ‘halved’ oil drum, these Barrel BBQ’s are only available in charcoal format and are great for large scale grilling, or if you want to remain true to ethos of pure BBQ, although they equally need more management. Our view is;

9/10  – “A perfect choice if you know what you’re doing, BBQ-wise”

Multi-burner Grills

Great for control and many will come with a separate griddle and gas hob, all will have hinged lids or hoods. The minimum number of burners is 3, the maximum 6-8! We say;

8/10 – “A great, but expensive choice allowing maximum flexibility & control!”

Ceramic Grills

Possibly slightly odd-looking, these broadly egg-shaped ceramic BBQ’s are now becoming increasingly popular and come in either charcoal or gas variants and can be used as a grill, BBQ or smoker. Our view is:

9/10  – “Great to work with, reasonably forgiving, allows more flexibility, so if you want to be different A great, but can be expensive choice allowing maximum flexibility & control!”

Duel-fuel Grills

A relatively new type of BBQ is the dual-fuel grill which combines the best of both gas and charcoal in one grill. Our view is good, but arguably, not really necessary, and expensive;

5/10 – “Reasonably expensive and ensure you get a grill with equal cooking space but does allow increased & control!”

Smokers

A relatively new phenomenon, part of the Lo&Slo trend, ‘smokers’ are now available in many outlets and on-line. Using a separate indirect heat source, these allow a slower and different style of BBQ. We say;

8/10  – “A great, although time-consuming way to enjoy real BBQ!”

Plancha Grills

A new grill option, originating from Spain. Basically, consist of a thick metal sheet, ideally cast-iron, which allows even cooking, including delicate foods. Latest versions are gas driven. Our view;

7/10 – “Possibly more of a novelty, but does work well, especially if you like Tapas!”