BBQ: Charcoal vs Gas – what is best for me?

Not all barbecues are created equal. In fact, considering that the purpose of barbecues is to produce heat, it’s remarkable what a difference the heating method can make. For example, your decision on whether to use gas or charcoal can affect how your food tastes, its impact on the environment, and your overall cooking experience. So which should you go for? Here, we’ll take a look at the different BBQ options, and help you pick the best solution for you.

When you’ve got your food prepared and you’re ready to get grilling, lighting up the barbecue is your next port of call. How fast this happens differs amongst barbecues, though. Gas barbecues are unquestionably quicker and easier to set up than the average charcoal-fuelled alternative. Starting them up is a simple matter of turning a dial, pressing a button or flicking a switch. The only exception comes when the gas runs out — although fitting a new butane or propane cylinder is usually simple enough.

Getting a charcoal barbecue lit is usually trickier. How long it takes will depend to a great extent on the quality of the fuel and the barbecue itself. We all know the dreaded, “Wait until the coals are white!” exclamation every time you look at the barbecue once it’s lit, too. There’s no question here then, that gas trumps charcoal: it’s just that much easier.


BBQ: Charcoal vs Gas - what is best for me?

In the United States, particularly Texas and Kansas, barbecuing is famous for smoky and tender meat. This is generally achieved through cooking with wood and charcoal/gas and indirect heat over a long period of time. It’s generally reserved for big cuts of meat such as briskets, St. Louis style ribs, and pork joints; among many many others.

In the UK, however, this isn’t really something we go for. We tend to just throw on a couple of sausages without really looking at what the temperature is. However, smoking meats are becoming more and more popular thanks to the rise of accessible online cooking videos and the huge array of smoking-capable grills to choose from.

If you’re trying to replicate this — honestly, give it a go if you can — your easiest bet is to use a charcoal barbecue that heats via smoking (unlike gas barbecues). Of course, this process takes time, and you’ll have to make sure there’s enough charcoal throughout the cook to keep the temperature consistent, as well as enough wood to impart flavour. You can also maximise the effect by causing smoke to circulate around the food on the grill, usually by covering it with a lid. If you leave the air vents partially open, clean air will circulate and you’ll avoid dirty smoke. If you don’t do this your food may taste bitter. This flavour profile isn’t as easy to achieve with a gas barbecue, however — to do so, you’d need to add a smoke box and woodchips to the cooking surface.

With that in mind, charcoal barbecues do have their drawbacks when it comes to flavour. As we all know, precise internal cooking temperatures are needed to give certain foods the perfect flavour and texture — something that most charcoal barbecues lack. However, a meat probe isn’t that expensive to invest in. In fact, it’s an essential piece of kit if you’re planning a long cook on the barbecue.

When it comes to flavour on the barbecue, it generally tends to come down to how you want to cook the meat. However, sometimes you can’t beat the flavour profile a charcoal-run grill can give. It’s that which imparts the ‘barbecue-y’ flavour we all know and love.

It isn’t just important to make sure the food tastes great,