The Accidental Locavore knows this is going to ignite (pun intended) a controversy, but since it’s almost Memorial Day and the start of the grilling season, let’s talk about gas vs. charcoal. As it happens, we have two grills, a massive gas one that takes a rotisserie (more about that later) and a smallish Weber kettle.
Most people have the perception that gas is faster. Light the burners, close the lid, and in about 10 minutes you’ve got a nice hot grill. Well, if you think about it, charcoal isn’t too far behind. If you use a chimney, it generally gets all the charcoal (real charcoal, not briquettes) going in about the same time (and without the use of lighter fluid which is not a flavor profile you want to strive for). Yes, you then have to dump them out and wait for the grill to heat, probably another 10 minutes but that gives you a few minutes more prep time.
The one big difference for me is how you cook the food, closing the lid on the gas to generate maximum heat, while leaving the lid off on charcoal to keep it searing. With charcoal, in some ways, you have more control over the heat, direct, indirect, combinations — just not the finesse on the level of heat you have with gas.
If I’m cooking for one, I’ll use the gas grill (or super lazy, the grill pan indoors). Beyond that, it depends on what we’re making. If there are a lot of people, we stick to the gas — it’s a much bigger grill. Same for using the rotisserie — that’s strictly for the gas grill (just because we don’t have one for the Weber). Other stuff, it depends on the mood and the food. Steaks can go either way. Since I like my steaks rare, they don’t usually spend enough time on either grill to make much of a difference, ditto hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages.
When you get into chicken, for pieces or butterflied, charcoal rules! Grilled pizza is much better on charcoal (think wood-burning pizza ovens). Whole birds go on the rotisserie, where they get done to golden perfection. And for something like grilled artichokes, or for that matter, most veggies, charcoal just gives them that much more flavor. I love to grill corn, straight in its husk and since that’s where most of the flavor comes from, gas is fine.
What do you think? Are you a sworn charcoal aficionado? Do you hate getting your hands dirty, so gas is the only way? Or (and you have my sympathy/empathy) are you a city dweller who can only look at all the grilling issues of the food magazines, drool and pull out the grill pan?