family grilling food on barbeque grill

Charcoal Vs. Gas Grill: Which Type Of Grill Is Right For You?

Kim Porter5-Minute Read
February 25, 2021

Everyone’s got their own opinion when it comes to America’s favorite summer pastime: cooking up food on the grill. Charcoal and gas tend to dominate the grill scene – but with so many options out there, it’s hard to choose the best cooking station for your housewarming party or weekly get-togethers. We’ve rounded up the pros and cons of charcoal vs. gas grills, along with a few extra choices. 

Charcoal Grill Vs. Gas Grill: Key Differences

Die-hard barbecue fans usually gravitate toward charcoal and gas grills. While charcoal delivers better heat control and a smoky flavor, gas is convenient because it starts instantly. But when it comes down to it, the best one for you depends on your preference.

Temperature Control

When you’re cooking meat, it’s important to get the heat just right. Not only do you need to reach a safe temperature – about 165 degrees Fahrenheit for some meats – you want to capture that perfect sear on the outside and juiciness on the inside.

Some say charcoal grills are best for searing because they reach higher temperatures and produce more direct infrared heat than their gas grill counterparts. But no matter which type of grill you have, it’s a good idea to use a thermometer so you can monitor the food while it cooks.

Smoke Flavor

Charcoal grills impart a smoky flavor that’s hard to replicate on a gas grill. Here’s how it works: As the food heats up, it releases drippings that hit the hot charcoal. Those drippings vaporize and rise back up, building more flavor as the food cooks. Grilling with wood chips in a charcoal grill works best for foods that need to cook a while.

Safety

Charcoal grills are hard to light, and the flare-ups could be a health risk. On the other hand, gasoline is inherently more dangerous to handle while cooking. When using a gas grill, check for leaks in the propane tank, keep the grill at least 10 feet from other structures, and clean up any grease.

Cleanup

Charcoal grills are generally harder to clean up because you’ll need to empty the ashes and scrub down the grate. Plus, there’s a chance the grill will leave soot all over your food. Gas grills are much easier to keep clean.

Average cost

Charcoal grills typically range from $25 up to $150. In comparison, gas grills usually cost $130 – $300.

Charcoal Grill Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Higher temperature range: Higher heat is key to achieving that smoky flavor when searing meat. Charcoal grills can typically reach 700 degrees Fahrenheit, which is higher than most gas grills.
  • Cheaper price range: Charcoal grills are at least half the price of gas grills.
  • Portability: Charcoal grills are usually smaller and lack the gas tank, so they’re easier to bring to a tailgating event, local park or campsite.

Cons

  • Longer heat-up time: It might take up to 30 minutes to arrange the charcoal, light up, and wait for the heat to reach a proper cooking temperature.
  • Fuel costs: You’ll need to buy charcoal every time you cook on the grill – and it doesn’t last very long. A 20-pound bag of charcoal yields about three grilling sessions and costs up to $40, while a 20-pound propane cylinder might give 25 days of cooking time.
  • Cleanup: After cooking on a charcoal grill, you’ll need to empty the grill and scrub it down. A gas grill only needs a quick scrub with a brush.

Gas Propane Grill Pros And Cons

Pros

  • A healthier option: Meat that’s prepared on gas grills may contain fewer carcinogens compared to charcoal-grilled meats. Their carbon footprint is lower, too, by about one-third.
  • Quick startup: Gas grills light up instantly and take about 10 minutes to reach cooking temperature.
  • Versatility: You can cook just about anything with a gas grill without overpowering it with a smoky flavor.

Cons

  • Longer assembly: A midrange gas grill can be complicated to set up and hook to the propane tank.
  • Not as safe: While you need to take precautions anytime you’re cooking with heat, gas grills require extra safety precautions.
  • Not portable: You might find some travel-sized gas grills, but most types are too large and dangerous to tote around.

Other Types Of Grills

Before spending time and money on a grill – and dedicating precious space on your patio or kitchen counter – you should understand all your main options. Here are some to consider:

Electric Grills

Made popular by George Foreman in the ’90s, electric grills offer a healthy, no-fuss way to cook up a piece of meat or simply press a sandwich. Instead of lighting up the grill with fuel like charcoal or gas, you plug the grill into an electric outlet. They come in all shapes and sizes in indoor, outdoor and combo models and tend to be more portable than their gas and charcoal counterparts. Some models go for as little as $25 – but when you’re ready to splurge, you could spend $1,000 or more.

Kettle Grills

A kettle grill is probably what most people envision when they think about the basic grill setup: a spherical top with removable lid that sits on a wheel-mounted tripod. They’re usually easy to assemble, cook with and move around if you need to. Plus, these require less charcoal to work. It’s a classic setup that works for most of your grill needs.

Kamado Grills

With their rounded top and elongated bottom, it’s easy to see why kamado grills sometimes go by the nickname “egg grill.” The kamado is fueled by charcoal and comes with a little more heft (they’re made from ceramic) and a higher price tag. There’s a lot to love about this type of grill: It’s long-lasting, easy to clean and cooks pretty much anything. One key benefit is the steady heat retention, which helps with fuel-efficiency and a dead-accurate temperature reading. But you’ll need to get this grill started long before you’re hungry – it takes about an hour to preheat.  

Pellet Grills

This type of grill burns wood pellets to give your food a smoky flavor that’s hard to replicate elsewhere. You can even play around with different types of wood – hickory, oak, cherry – to achieve the flavor you’re looking for. It’s easy to regulate the temperature through the grill’s electronic thermostat (some even connect to a smartphone app), helping you maintain a low, steady temperature for hours on end without needing to make adjustments. Two major drawbacks: Pellet grills tend to be expensive (good ones start around $400) and max out at around 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

How To Choose The Right Grill For Your Home

With so many options, it’s important to choose the right grill based on your space and cooking style.

  • Power source: If you plan to cook outside and want to use an electric grill, you’ll need a source of electricity. No outlet or extension cord? Then a kettle grill works best in a small space, or a gas grill if you don’t mind the subtle drawbacks.
  • How much you’re cooking: If you’re feeding an army of friends and family members, then consider a gas option with lots of cook space and side burners for keeping side dishes ready to serve. But if you typically cook an item or two, then a small electric grill (indoors) or a kettle grill (outdoors) might be best.
  • How much space do you have? Outdoors, a kettle grill takes up much less space and is easier to move around than kamado grills or gas grills.
  • How quickly do you need to get cooking? If you want to grill at a moment’s notice, the kamado option isn’t the best for you. The quickest methods are gas grills and electric grills.

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Kim Porter

Kim Porter is an experienced personal finance writer who focuses on mortgages, credit cards, student loans, debt and more. She has a B.A. in journalism from the University of Florida. You can find her on Twitter at @kimsavesmoney or on LinkedIn.