Why Charcoal Is Still King Of The Cookout

While each type of grill has its uses, many chefs still swear by cooking over fiery briquettes to maximize the smoky, tender results.

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July 31, 2017 3 min read

When it’s a warm, sunny day, there’s nothing like heading out to the backyard and grilling some delicious bratwurst or chicken. However, each summer brings the burning question: Are charcoal grills really any better than gas? While each type of grill has its uses, many chefs still swear by cooking over fiery briquettes to maximize the smoky, tender results.

Sooner or later, anyone enrolled in a Colorado culinary arts program will have to take a position on the great debate of gas versus charcoal. As you explore various recipes and techniques for cooking out, think about how your choice of cooking method balances efficiency with quality. Here are some key factors to take into account the next time you fire up the grill.

When gas is better

A gas grill has definite advantages under certain circumstances. After all, gas models provide consistent heat, generally ranging between 225 and 600 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Serious Eats. Firing up propane and reaching the desired temperature is much quicker and easier than heating charcoal, requiring just five to 10 minutes.

Gas grills are also much easier to clean up. You don’t have to deal with charcoal ash, and as long as you empty the grease trap every now and then, your gas grill should stay in good shape.

All that convenience means gas is likely the right choice when you just need to cook a couple burgers or a steak as quickly as possible. As Wired explained, you’re not missing out on taste in those situations. The distinctive grilled flavor that people love is produced by drippings from the cooking food burning to create aromatic compounds, which will happen regardless of your preferred heat source.

Why charcoal rules

Nonetheless, there are very good reasons to opt for charcoal over gas if you have the time. While it takes about half an hour to get a charcoal model up to the right heat level, it is capable of hitting extremes in temperature that are not possible with gas. You can pile on the briquettes to deliver an immediate sear or keep the heat extremely low for slow cooking.

That low, slow approach is why many barbecue enthusiasts are so insistent that gas can never match up. When you’re preparing brisket or ribs over indirect heat for hours, it captures the smoky flavor from the burning coals.

If you’re interested in smoking meat, charcoal is clearly the superior choice. You can simply place pieces of wood on the hot coals and seal the top, letting the food soak in that perfect, smoky flavor. With a gas grill, you have to wrap the wood in foil, and achieving a proper seal is a challenge.

For culinary academy students, it’s vital to choose your equipment and techniques to suit the task at hand. Gas grills can be great if you’re enjoying a quick dinner or firing off several orders of cheeseburgers and steaks. Nonetheless, when it comes to capturing old-school barbecue flavor, charcoal still reigns as king of the cookout.

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