An important question when you’re choosing a barbecue is whether to go for charcoal fuel or gas. At the end of the day, if you can’t make up your mind, you can always hedge your bets and buy the Chameleon which runs on either. But most people will land on one side or the other. Of course, there’s no right/wrong side of this debate, just different advantages and disadvantages to be weighed up. Here are some tips to help you choose the barbecue which is right for you.
Temperature Control and Timing
One issue that’s worth considering is control. A charcoal barbecue takes a while to heat up and then, once the coals are glowing, you have a limited time period in which to cook your food. If you use too much charcoal then your food may cook too quickly, too little and your food will dry out as it sits on the low heat. A gas-fuel barbecue, on the other hand, is hot within minutes when you need it to be, and you can adjust the temperature easily as you need to.
It’s the smoke that charcoal produces which gives the food that distinct smoky barbecue flavour. But it goes without saying that charcoal is a messier fuel. While for some people getting your hands dirty is part of the romance and the barbecue experience, for others, it adds a fair bit of unnecessary work to the whole affair. Gas barbecues leave no residue, no dust and produce very little smoke.
Another important factor to consider is that when you have finished cooking on your gas barbecue, you can extinguish the gas immediately and the CO2 emissions end right there. With charcoal, however, the fuel is going to keep burning until it’s all gone, whether you need to keep cooking on it or not. Gas-fuel barbecues use the minimum amount of fuel needed for your cooking requirements.
Unless you want to keep a stock of charcoal in your house somewhere, cooking on charcoal does require a little more planning. You’ll need some fire-starters too and perhaps also a fan to coax the flames along at the beginning. Gas, on the other hand, is always at the ready when you need it, unless of course you run out in which case it’s time for a hasty bottle exchange.
Flavour is where the charcoal barbecue comes into its own. As a general rule, the cleaner the fuel, the less flavour is added to your food. Wood fuel, albeit the least convenient fuel source (who wants to go out and cut down trees before lunch?) adds the most smoky flavour, followed by charcoal, then gas, then electric grills. For meat purists, this means that charcoal adds something unwanted to their food, but for those that prefer the traditional smoky flavour, charcoal is the only way to go.
In the short term a charcoal barbecue has cost advantages. There is no need to be a gas regulator or pay a deposit on the gas bottle. However, the running costs for a charcoal grill do add up over the years. While a single cooking session using charcoal might cost $2.00 in fuel, the cost of gas for the same session might only come to $0.20.
Clearly, a gas barbecue needs more space than its charcoal equivalent because of the gas cylinder. On the other hand, the smoke produced by a charcoal grill means that it’s really only practical to use it outdoors in a well ventilated area. A gas barbecue is safe to use indoors as well as outside and requires less space for ventilation.
Finally, it’s important to consider the safety aspects. You need to make some safety precautions with a gas bottle because it contains combustible material under pressure. Make sure you use a good quality gas regulator and keep the hose protected from flame. Charcoal is never going to explode. However, in practise the handling of hot coals and gusts of wind escorting red-hot embers where they shouldn’t be is a much more common cause of minor burn injuries than those that come from using gas.
Taking all those factors into account, it’s a personal choice at the end of the day whether you want the romance and the smoky flavour of a tradition charcoal-fuel grill or the convenience, control, cleanliness and long term cost savings of a gas barbecue. Either way, you’re making the right choice!