A Barbecuer’s Dilemma: Charcoal Or Gas?

I love to barbecue. There, I said it. For those of us who aren’t chefs, barbecuing is a perfectly acceptable cooking method, and one that is preferred for some things (no matter what the real chefs say). Like steak for instance. Oh, I can make a mean steak in my kitchen with my trusty cast-iron pan, but grilling outside on a charcoal or gas grill just…feels right. But which will it be? When I was young and poor I didn’t have a choice. It was a tiny kettle and cut-rate briquettes. Then, as my pay check grew, so did the size of my grill. And the next logical leap was into hardwood charcoal or, and this was the really fun part, hardwood itself. Then I moved to the suburbs and left behind many things, not least among them was good bars and restaurants just around the corner, but that is a different post. But I also left my trusty Weber kettle, and moved on to a neat, and expensive, Weber gas grill.

But I have grill envy, and the rightness and the truth of cooking over charcoal was driven home the last few weekends. The first was a chilly evening during which we built a roaring charcoal fire in one of those new Weber kettles with the integral ash keeper. That is a very, very nice feature. No more ash blowing every which way as I clean the grill in preparation for another evening of carcinogen laden food. Yeah, it’s true, barbecuing produces a small amount of bad stuff, mostly, I think, in the fat. But risk is relative, and I’m going to concentrate on the large risks that are easily managed — like wearing a seatbelt, and not sharing needles, and not smoking cigarettes — and enjoy the absolutely delicious trade off for a six hour decrease in my lifespan. [Climbing down from soap box]

Anyway, the fire was fantastically hot, much more intense than anything I can produce on my gas grill. And the steaks were better for it! On the same grill just a few weeks later I cooked some lamb rib chops on a fire that might have been even hotter. The chops cooked in seconds, and they were great! I realized that I could not come close on my gas grill, but even with the new designs, charcoal is still more trouble. But just because I am not a chef doesn’t mean that I am going to take the lazy way out, especially if it means sacrificing flavor. So I will soon have two grills on our patio. And if I have my way, there will be a smoker somewhere too. But that will be hidden from view, because my wfe will probably get a bit irritated if our patio turns into a barbecue pit.

5 Replies to “A Barbecuer’s Dilemma: Charcoal Or Gas?”

  1. And of course you are correct. Grilling, or cooking over high, direct heat, is distinct from barbecuing, or cooking over low, indirect heat, and usually with smoke. But the appliances are interchangeable in many cases, and I think that most people interchange the terms.

    And when was the last time you had people over to your house for an outdoor event and you invited them with the phrase, “come over for a grill?”

  2. i agree that the average person has no idea what “BBQ” means and misuses it. which is why people who *do* know shouldn’t perpetuate the ignorance.

    you’re not talking about a party: you’re talking about a cooking method. so your lax language is even more egregious. you can invite me to your house for a “BBQ”, and I won’t be offended if I don’t see smoke and wood. However, if you then tell me that you’re going to”BBQ a hamburger”, well then I’m just going to have to leave, but not before drinking all of your beer.

    our mission, is a noble one.

  3. Dear Tommy,

    Please join me and my wife for a barbecue this weekend. We will be serving barbecued hamburgers,barbecued 21-day-aged porterhouse, and grilled brisket.


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