Which is Better: a Gas Grill or a Charcoal Grill?

Dan Cavallari

The debate over which type of grill is better, a gas grill or a charcoal grill, depends largely on what type of cooking one wants to achieve. Both types of grill have pros and cons that will affect the way foods get cooked, thereby making each one valuable and detrimental for certain cooks. But as a general assessment, if heat control is important to the cook, the gas grill is preferable. For a more even heating surface, however, the charcoal grill is the way to go.

A grilled steak.
A grilled steak.

With either a gas grill or a charcoal grill, the cook will find immensely different pros and cons. Critics of charcoal grills cite difficulty in controlling heat fluctuations and a lack of control in heat levels, whereas a gas grill allows for easy adjustment of flame intensity. This becomes helpful when cooking different types of food at the same time – meat on one side of the grill and vegetables on the other, for example, or red meat on one side and fish on the other. A charcoal grill is the same temperature throughout the entire grill, making it more difficult to avoid burning certain foods unless the cook pays very close attention.

Hot charcoal briquettes in a grill.
Hot charcoal briquettes in a grill.

The charcoal grill has its advantages, as well. Because coals can be spread out evenly, heat distributes more evenly than a charcoal grill, which relies upon flames, causing hot spots and cool spots depending on the location within the grill. Charcoal grills do not rely on flames, but rather on heated coals that distribute heat evenly and less harshly – no flame means less chance of directly burning your food.

Some people prefer the taste of meat that has been cooked over charcoal briquettes.
Some people prefer the taste of meat that has been cooked over charcoal briquettes.

If you are trying to decide between a gas grill or a charcoal grill, one of the biggest deciding factors is the method of starting the grill. While the gas grill requires a propane tank easily refilled at gas stations or other refilling stations and lights with the flick of a match or built-in switch, a charcoal grill relies either on lighter fluid – which can affect the taste of the food – or a charcoal chimney, which can be difficult to light and keep lit.

Whether you choose a gas grill or a charcoal grill, you will be forced to consider these starting methods and decide whether you want the convenience of an easily-lit propane tank or the more even heating of a charcoal grill at the cost of a more difficult starting method. Either a gas grill or a charcoal grill will produce well prepared food if used correctly, but there are important drawbacks to consider for each.

Propane tanks can be filled or exchanged at most gas stations.
Propane tanks can be filled or exchanged at most gas stations.

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Discussion Comments

I live alone, but I love to grill. It seems silly for me to use a charcoal grill and to start a tiny fire to cook my one or two burgers or kabobs. It would be a waste of my time and of a lot of resources.

It just makes sense for me to use a gas grill. I can fire it up and it is ready in seconds. I can cook small portions and then turn it right off. It is so much more convenient.


I swear by a Weber grill. They are the industry leader and for good reason. They have been making quality grills for years now.

I have used gas grills in the past but I could never get into them. There is something so ordered about them that it is almost like cooking on a stove. You feel like there is really nothing being grilled.

A charcoal grill feels like a real fire and it puts some skill back into the act of grilling. It feels more natural. I will never switch.

This is one of the oldest questions in the book, and it will probably persist for as long as their are the two kinds of grills. The basic fact is that both methods are good and each has its pros and cons.

Charcoal gives the food a better flavor but it takes longer to start, requires charcoal and lighter fluid and creates an ashy mess. You sacrifice convenience for flavor which is worth it for a lot of people.

Gas does not have as strong of a grill flavor but the grill is ready immediately and there is very little mess. Of course, you have to buy propane and gas grills tend to be bulkier.

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