Saturday, June 09, 2007
Grill Power: Gas vs. Charcoal

Weber's $349 Performer uses charcoal but has a gas starter.

By Annie Groer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007; H05

Barbecue season always ignites debates about which type of grill is superior: gas (two-thirds of Americans use grills fueled by liquid propane, according to a 2005 survey by the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association) or charcoal (beloved by food purists for that fat's-in-the-fire flavor). Some prefer hybrids (charcoal-burning with gas starter or dual-fuel models that burn gas and wood or charcoal) or electric grills that plug in outdoors or inside, or pellet grills that burn small bits of wood.

We asked Leslie Wheeler, communications director of HPBA in Arlington, for the pros and cons of each type. There's more information at the group's Web site,


Liquid propane or natural gas


· More convenient, period. Heats up faster, can be regulated easily and turned off instantly. Many models have multiple burners, some even a very high-heat infrared burner.

· It's environmentally cleaner because it releases fewer carbon particles into the air than charcoal or wood chips do, although consumers may not realize it.

· No need to dispose of spent coals -- a messy job and potential fire hazard.

· Lots of extras on higher-end models, including warming drawers, side burners, a wood-chip smoking tray, rotisserie and ample work surfaces.


· Charcoal traditionalists insist gas grills cannot produce the ideal smoky taste (although mesquite chips and other flavor enhancers help).

· Generally more expensive, though the price range is wide: Starting at $100, but a "very decent" model costs $250 to $300, Wheeler says; high-end models are $750 to $1,000 and more.

· Carbon monoxide leaks are a concern; tales of explosions frighten some people.

· Replacing or exchanging bulky tanks is a hassle.



· Wins most votes for authentic grilled flavor.

· Wide price range, from $15 drugstore hibachis to $500 or so for elaborate models. Smaller models are very portable. Over time, however, charcoal and briquettes, which cannot be reused, can cost more than gas fuel.

· Improved accessories: side work surfaces, rotisseries, thermometers, easier ash disposal.


· It takes more time and fussing to get the fire going, even with a chimney starter.

· Trickier to regulate heat, so flame-ups and burned food are more likely.

· Less eco-friendly due to release into the atmosphere of greenhouse gases, ash and chemical fumes from some charcoal briquettes.

· Sparks and smoldering coals present a fire hazard.

Other Options

· Charcoal grills with propane gas starters are easier to light and still offer smoky flavor. In the $300 to $400 range.

· Dual-fuel hybrid grills can cook with either gas or wood. They're expensive: Models start at $6,700.

· Electric grills just plug in and cook but with no real fire flavor; great for small decks or apartments where open flames are prohibited; can be used outdoors or set on an indoor flat surface.

· Pellet grills, not widely used, burn small hardwood pellets fed from a storage hopper into the grill's fuel box. They are expensive, ranging from $600 to $2,500, and pellets can be hard to find.

General Safety

· Never use grills in an enclosed area, including a garage or carport, to avoid fire hazard and, with gas grills, carbon monoxide poisoning.

· Never leave a lighted grill unattended or try to move a hot grill.

· Keep the grill on a stable surface. Use a heat-resistant grill pad or splatter mat to protect wooden decks from sparks and all surfaces from grease and sauce stains.

· Use long-handled utensils to protect arms and hands; do not wear flapping shirttails or loose apron strings near fire.