There were many years of grilling before gas grills hit the scene for the average American. Dealing with charcoal, lighter fluid, and inconsistent temperatures was a nightmare we all had to deal with.
Suddenly, in the 1960s the outdoor gas grill was invented in Arkansas by William G. Wepfer and Melton Lancaster. This all came about because they worked for the local power company and had to come up with ways to sell more natural gas to their customers. Voila!
That’s enough about history. What’s important to know is how gas cookers benefit the outdoor cook, and what has happened in the charcoal world in an attempt to keep up.
That’s right, the charcoal grill world didn’t just sit back and give up. They took notice and today there are some options that should get you very, very excited. But for now, let’s run down what you get with your gas cooker.
Whether using Liquid Propane (LP) tanks, or a direct Natural Gas (NG) hookup with your grill, you get some benefits that have contributed to a major preference for gas over charcoal.
Key Benefits of Gas Grills
Convenience – Charcoal is simply messy. In today’s society, we are accustomed to freezing dinners and microwaves. They’re simple. Just push a button. Gas is just as simple because you turn on the tank, press the igniter, and boom! You’ve got fire.
Alternatively, you can drag out a bag of charcoal, attempt to get it lit while covering your hands in black dust.
Time – We are a society obsessed with immediate gratification. There is no more enjoyment of the process because we simply don’t have the time anymore.
With a charcoal grill, it’s more about the process. It takes time to get the coals lit and running at just the right temperature. Most people just don’t want to spend that time. They decide what to eat at the last minute, and they want it in their stomachs five minutes later.
Location – There are simply some places that won’t allow an open flame from charcoal. It’s even becoming a standard at tailgating events. Gas is safer in many ways because the flame can be extinguished immediately by turning off the fuel source. Not so with charcoal.
What you can’t do with gas grills?
Many backyard chefs simply don’t know what they’re missing because they’ve grown up with the convenience of gas cooking. With a gas grill, you will generally be cooking with medium to high heat. Unless you’ve spent thousands of dollars, it’s highly unlikely your grill has been engineered to run at lower temperatures required for a traditional barbecue.
So don’t call your food barbecue! It’s been grilled!
No Low and Slow – You won’t be able to smoke a brisket which can take 8-14 hours. First, your grill will almost surely run much hotter than the 225-250° F required for low-temperature slow cooking and smoking. In addition, you will find your $30 propane tank empty after (or during) your slow cooker. Not very efficient!
No Smokey Flavor – Yea, you can get smoke trays (or they’re built-in) for your gas grill, but it’s just not the same, trust me. Have you ever tried smoked ribs or chicken is done right? Don’t fool yourself or your friends. It’s just not the same on gas. Look for the pink smoke ring, is it there?
People too busy to truly learn the differences, or maybe just too busy to spend the time cooking, will never go back to a charcoal grill. But there are some new(er) units out there they you should know about, and why they may be a good compliment (or replacement) for many of the gas grills out there today.
Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker – This unit is a well built, moderately priced, and hugely popular charcoal grill and smoker. While it uses charcoal, you can pretty much set it and forget it. It will run on a load of charcoal for 12 hours. And the results are hard to beat.
Let’s face it, if you feel the need for a traditional barbecue, you can’t beat this guy. Many of the competition BBQ’ers out there use the WSM successfully to put out great chicken, ribs, pork butt, and beef brisket. It’s an unbelievably well-engineered unit.
The Big Green Egg ceramic cooker is truly incredible. A similar vertical concept to the WSM, it has far better heat retention, meaning less fuel is used. These guys are very expensive, but they are very effective too.
Imagine what it would be like to have one of these on your deck. It’s not only going to put out some incredible food, it’s a conversation piece as well. Once you get this thing lit, you can pretty much forget it until the food’s done.
To sum it up, I’ve started my move back to the charcoal world. I still use my gas grill, but I’ve grown very attached to the style of cooking that can only be accomplished on a well-designed charcoal grill and smoker.