GrillJunkie – Addiction to Grilling-What Fires YOU Up?

Grilling a Steak With Charcoal versus Gas? What Fires You Up?

Grilling a Steak: Charcoal versus Gas?

Charcoal Grill may infuses a smokier flavor to grilled food.

Charcoal Grills Use Either Briquettes or Hardwood Lump Charcoal. Produces a Smokier Flavor to Gas Grilled Food.

This question is similar to the Grilling versus Barbecue issue we recently wrote about. This one however, albeit an age old question like that of direct versus indirect cooking, may not have quite as clear of an answer. Excuse the pun, but it really is a matter of “taste” or personal preference when grilling a steak. There is, however, evidence that will help shed some light.

The Charcoal “Flavor” Debate

Although debatable, charcoal purists will claim that the use of the common briquette produces better tasting grilled foods most of the time. This is not to say that some things taste any worse, it is just that some claim that things don’t taste any different. Or at least some foods, that is. “Good Housekeeping” magazine recently did a blind taste test and uncovered that most folks could not tell the difference between hamburgers or skinless chicken breasts cooked over gas or charcoal.

Grilling a steak. Charcoal or Propane Gas Grill?

Does steak taste better when grilled over charcoal or on a gas grill?

However, it was found that people could tell the difference with a steak. The conclusion was that the longer you grill something the more the flavor of the fire gets into the food. The mechanism involved here is the smoke. Charcoal, even though it is just smoldering, produces smoke.

The Ease of Gas Grilling

Gas grills use a clean fuel that does not really produce smoke in and of itself. Although some

Does gas grilling produce a better final product? Fast....yes. What about that smoky flavor?

Does gas grilling produce a better final product? Fast….yes. What about that smoky flavor?

Manufacturers will claim that their patented vaporization barriers produce smoke from dripping grease, most folks don’t want the taste of burning grease in their food. The kind of smoke that improves the flavor of food is the kind you get from real smoke, from an intended source.

It’s All About the Smoke – Good Smoke

To get that highly desired smoke flavor, you can add smoker chips in a box to produce smoke. However, in order to pass that flavor to the food you need to saturate the wood chips, (there are numerous species available) in water first in order to produce the desired smoke. Some gas grill manufacturers have designed their grills with a built-in wood smoker box drawer.

A woodsmoking box used to infuse smoke flavor into grilled food.

A wood smoke box is used to infuse smoke into foods and can be used in both charcoal and gas grills.

Since charcoal produces some smoke and heat the two are mixed together. As the food absorbs the heat it also takes in the flavor of the smoke. So if you are a bit of purist and really like to draw out the full flavor of food, particularly things like a good steak cooked over an open flame, then you need to use charcoal.

However it is important to ensure that the smoke you are getting from the charcoal is “good” smoke. There is some weird and unnatural stuff out there so be careful. Commercial charcoals with special additives for easy lighting and cheap charcoals made from petroleum based sawdust and a binding agent do not exactly have the best flavor producing smoke.

There are many wood smoke chip choices out there.

There are many wood smoke chip choices out there. From the traditional mesquite or hickory to those infused with “extra” flavor.

You want to use a good quality charcoal or mix your charcoal with chunks of good hardwood. Or you can buy hardwood lump charcoal that is actually make from real pieces of wood and not just sawdust. It is also very important to maintain a clean grill!. Build-up of ashes, burned up grease and other stuff will make the smoke produced leave a strange and undesirable flavor on foods.

Hardwood Lump Charcoal is a great alternative to  petroleum based briquettes.

Hardwood Lump Charcoal is a great alternative to petroleum based briquettes. Natural, and easy to light.

So in this light, if you choose to use cheap self-lighting charcoal in a dirty, rusted grill then we’d suggest going with gas. If however you are serious about the flavor of grilled foods and are willing to put the effort into the art of charcoal cooking, then a good charcoal grill might just be what you need.


What are your thoughts? What Fires YOU Up? We welcome your comments, healthy debate, and the inevitable disagreement. Leave a reply or comment. It’s OK. Bring it on!

Comments ( 12 )

  1. Replycomo reconquistar

    Hey very nice TEXT!

    • Replygjunkie

      Thank you Hugo! Muito obrigado. We will be grilling some linguica in a few weeks and making pizza with it as well. Stay tuned.

  2. ReplyScott Thomas

    I'm agnostic. Both have their place. I use my gas grill more than my charcoal, but when I go charcoal, I tend to do it for longer cooking sessions. For gas I only grill on infrared grills. Char-Broil's in fact. For charcoal, I only do lump. Rockwood Lump in fact.

  3. ReplyGrill Junkie boy

    Thanks for the comment Scott! Most of the team here at GrillJunkie would agree with you besides our BBQ purists. Strictly hardwood and/or fruitwood. Gas is verboten. As far as Charbroil we agree. One of our test grills is a Charbroil Commercial Series Infrared. Have you seen our Gas Grill Product Review on the Charbroil 3 burner Infrared?

  4. ReplyGrillJunkie Burger Recipes - The Farmer John with Limburger and Bacon!

    Use the gas or charcoal grill for direct cooking over high heat (450° to 550°F). If using a charcoal grill make a two zoned fire!

  5. ReplyGrillJunkie Prime Rib Recipe - Obey The "Primal" Rib Directive

    With this dry rub mixture heavily and evenly and set aside until the coals are ready. Prepare your gas or charcoal grill, or a BBQ Smoker for a high heat of 450°F or more. Soak the wood chips in water, wine or apple.

  6. ReplyGrillJunkie - Addiction to Grilling | Grilled Pizza Recipe: Roasted Tomato, Garlic and Basil

    Using charcoal or gas, the high heat and smoke from the grill will help give your pizza great texture, a crisp crust and smoky taste

  7. ReplyWarren

    I personally am a gas guy myself. I know, if I really cared I would put the effort into charcoal, however, gas is just SO convenient! I just checked out the Jack Daniels pellets though through your link. I had no idea they used the actual wood from the distilling process! Pretty cool, maybe I'll have to try smoking again after all...

    • ReplyGrill Junkie boy

      Hi Warren! Gas grilling really is convenient but there is nothing quite like the smoky flavor of a charcoal grill. We found that you can actually use a smoker box on the gas grill to infuse that smoky flavor. We used the Jack Daniels pellets once as a wood chip substitute and found it great. Sinatra would be impressed.

  8. ReplyGrillJunkie's Grilled NY Strip Steak Recipes

    Gas or Charcoal Grill?

  9. ReplyHebergement web

    But most sear burners are narrow and can only sear one or two steaks at a time, perfect if you're an empty nester, but if you're hosting the graduation party you will want more real estate. A charcoal grill can lay up to 900 F on the surface of a lot of steaks at once. A major reason to go charcoal.

  10. ReplyBob

    Your conclusion is wrong. Yes, burning grease is exactly where the flavor comes from. Read the science:

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