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Gas vs charcoal grill - which should I buy?

Gas vs charcoal grill: image of group of people at cookout
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There’s no doubt that barbecue season is well underway but when it comes to the question of purchasing a gas vs charcoal grill, you might have a little more hesitancy over which to go for. So that you can have the best grilling experience possible, we’ll be outlining the hottest models of each type for you to consider and the pros and cons of each variation. 

That includes deliberations on price, the healthiness of gas vs charcoal grilling, and the difference in taste. Of course, the best gas grills are known for their ease of use and consistent results, but smokiness is a specialty of charcoal grills and is a very sought-after feature.

Cookouts in your backyard are sure to be vastly improved with your new purchase no matter which grill you go for, with succulent meats and roasted vegetables for yourself and your guests. To inject more fun into your outdoor space, why not also check out our guides to the best hot tubs and the best fire pits for unbeatable ambiance. 

Gas vs charcoal grill: Price 

For those on a budget, the high initial price of gas grills may be daunting, especially with well-equipped models, like the mega-expensive Lynx L30TRF Professional, proving popular. However, this doesn’t necessarily need to be the case, with plenty of gas options also available for closer to $200 that can still deliver an excellent grilling experience. Charcoal grills may be enticing for their low initial costs, but they are actually not that cheap in the long run. 

Depending on how often you’re going to use it, the option that has the lowest fuel cost is likely to be the best choice here. And to put it simply: a gas grill is far more cost-effective than a charcoal alternative, with the latter having more expensive fuel that will not last as many grilling sessions. Your choice of grill may not be entirely dependent on cost alone, but if you’re looking for the most affordable option, then a gas grill wins out every time. 

Gas vs charcoal grill: image of woman bbqing

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Gas vs charcoal grill: Taste  

Cookout enthusiasts will argue that the most important distinction between gas vs charcoal grills is not price, but how mouthwatering your grilled foods taste at the end of the process. And that succulent taste that barbecues are so revered for is the chief reason for the popularity of charcoal grills; as they are much better at reaching the higher temperatures essential for a flavorful smoky taste. 

Hot coals can reach early 700 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature and crucially, when meats begin to sizzle, will turn dripping juices into flavorful steam that coat all the foods on your grill. On the other hand, gas grills don’t tend to reach these temperatures unless you pay for a more expensive model and secure burners with high outputs, and therefore miss out on this sought-after smokiness.

So, if that classic barbecue taste is essential to your cookout experience, then the sheer temperature of a charcoal grill might be enough to sway you in your decision. However, this uncontrollable smokiness does somewhat hinder the all-around flexibility of your grill, as it coats all other foods in the same steam too. For those chasing different flavors by rubbing or coating their meats or vegetables in other marinades, then a gas grill is more suitable for letting other flavors thrive. Plus, gas grills can have that particular flavor added whenever you like with the purchase of a smoker box, like this one from Amazon.com

Gas vs charcoal grill: image of outside dinner setting

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Gas vs charcoal grill: Health concerns and sustainability  

Barbecues don’t necessarily have to be an unhealthy affair, with plenty of vegetables and salads to complement your meaty cookout if you choose. But if you’re ultra-health conscious, you might already be aware that even the act of grilling meat might be potentially harmful due to the carcinogenic risk.

According to Healthline, there are a few risks associated with frequently grilling meat, including the fact that certain carcinogens are created in the act of charcoal grilling due to the excess smoke. Grilling with gas cuts down (but does not completely eliminate) the likelihood of creating these carcinogens, and therefore wins out when it comes to the question of health. 

With both gas and charcoal grilling, there are steps you can take to be more health-conscious with your food consumption. That includes opting for lean meats over red meats and incorporating more vegetables into your grilling platters. Picking vegetables over meat is also a great way to make a step towards sustainability with your grilling, as well as firing up on gas rather than allowing the charcoal to burn up in the atmosphere. Gas grills emit half the carbon dioxide of charcoal alternatives, and while they’re not totally sustainable choice, certainly perform a little better for the planet. 

Gas vs charcoal grill: image of boiling hot coals

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Gas vs charcoal grill: Practicality  

If you’re going to be using your grill on a regular basis, it’s good to have an idea of how practical each option is to use. Gas grills are the safer bet if you don’t want a fuss, as they usually involve just a simple turn of the ignition to get started and won’t take too long to preheat. Our favorite choice for easy-grilling is the Weber Spirit II E-310 Gas Grill, which also has super speedy cooking times. 

Charcoal grills will take longer to get going, and are more technical, with the need to adequately light up your coals. As with the price considerations though, if you’re a smoky barbecue enthusiast, this ritual probably won’t put you off the whole experience and is part of the fun. The same applies to the fact that charcoal grills are harder work to properly clean, with the burnt charcoals needing to be extinguished and emptied before you can get started. 

Regardless of which type of grill you opt for, maintaining a thorough cleaning schedule is essential to its longevity. If you skip out on giving your grill a good scrub, you could risk ruining your investment, as well as your health due to harmful bacteria rubbing alongside your foods. For more tips on getting a routine together, check out our feature on how to clean a barbecue grill

Gas vs charcoal grill: image of toddler eating from BBQ

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Gas vs charcoal grill: Which should you buy?

In almost every area there is a convincing argument for gas grills being the best choice for the everyday home. Particular triumphs of gas grills include their easy-to-use features and the fact that they will harm your wallet and the environment a little less than their charcoal counterpart. There’s also a great range of gas grills to choose from, including portable options (like this mini Weber Q1200 model) to monster units with huge cooking areas.

However, for those who prefer to follow tradition and their tastebuds, charcoal grills have a certain advantage due to their high temperatures and smokiness, despite the fact they are more difficult to use. In the end, as with what you choose to put on your grill, personal preference is the real deciding factor with this debate, though favor does seem to weigh heavily towards gas grills. 

Molly Cleary

Molly is the Staff Writer for the Home Section at Top Ten Reviews, joining the team after finishing college. When she's not writing she enjoys baking and embroidery, as well as getting stuck into a good book.