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Grilling: Charcoal vs. Gas


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As suggested by one of our fearless leaders in another thread, I'd like to see what others have to say about grilling over charcoal as opposed to propane or natural gas, and most importantly the flavor aspect.

I'm a big fan of grilling over natural hardwood charcoal and, on occasion, seasoned hardwood (and fruitwood) itself. I like to amp up a steak over mesquite, grill a tri-tip over oak, roast a chicken over dried pear and apple wood harvested from my backyard, and even squeeze in an occasional hamburger or hot dog over my (current) favorite hardwood charcoal. Bliss.

My wife, on the other hand, can only take so much "smoke flavor," and almost always prefers any item grilled over gas. She has a point -- I think something mild/neutral like zucchini (for example) tastes great coming off a gas grill, but I personally think anything is better with a hint of "natural smoke." But for her, I caved and bought a a little gas grill a couple of years ago. With my trusty 'ol Weber kettle by its side, it truly is the best of both worlds.

Are you a charcoal zealot? Gas only? Swing both ways?

So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money. But when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness."

So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

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I think charcoal makes a huge difference for hamburgers. For things like a dry-rubbed pork loin or marinated lamb chops the gas grill does a great job.

Professional Scientist (in training)

Amateur Cook

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I swing both ways as you so eloquently put it. Like you, I prefer charcoal for grilling but my wife has the same opinion that sometimes foods get too smoky. She particularly does not like whole chickens cooked over charcoal but she's okay with beef in the most pork dishes cooked over wood.

In order to have the best of both worlds I have a Kamado that I use mainly with charcoal (I also have the gas option) as well as a Broil King gas grill with a spit and side burner. The Kamado works great for smoking and grilling and I can hold temps from 225 to 700 with a problem. Needless to say this is my grill of choice.

Both kinds of grills have a place as long as you use them appropriately.

I've learned that artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

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As suggested by one of our fearless leaders in another thread, I'd like to see what others have to say about grilling over charcoal as opposed to propane or natural gas, and most importantly the flavor aspect.

I'm a big fan of grilling over natural hardwood charcoal and, on occasion, seasoned hardwood (and fruitwood) itself.  I like to amp up a steak over mesquite, grill a tri-tip over oak, roast a chicken over dried pear and apple wood harvested from my backyard, and even squeeze in an occasional hamburger or hot dog over my (current) favorite hardwood charcoal.  Bliss.

My wife, on the other hand, can only take so much "smoke flavor," and almost always prefers any item grilled over gas.  She has a point -- I think something mild/neutral like zucchini (for example) tastes great coming off a gas grill, but I personally think anything is better with a hint of "natural smoke." But for her, I caved and bought a a little gas grill a couple of years ago.  With my trusty 'ol Weber kettle by its side, it truly is the best of both worlds.

Are you a charcoal zealot?  Gas only?  Swing both ways?

Joe, you're a man after my own heart - I personally think everything tastes better with a hit of wood smoke - after all, how much smoke can actually be picked up in the time it takes to grill a slice of zucchini, or a pizza, for that matter.

During my 18 years living in California before returning to NYC and a bbq-less apartment, I had what I considered the ideal set-up. A 22-inch Weber for all my slow and indirect cooking needs and a large Char Broil charcoal fired, cast iron bbq outfitted with a rotisserie (I loved that thing). Fired up with mesquite, there's no way an equally priced gas grill can ever get as hot. There wasn't a gas line or a gas tank in sight. No one ever complained about anything that came off either of those two puppies.

Mesquite, natural hardwood charcoal, briquets, oak, alder, hickory, and even trimmings from friend's fruit trees were all greedily gobbled up by those two units. I even schlepped the Char Broil back to NY, as I initially set up camp at a cousin's house in the Hudson River valley - but it eventually went bye-bye in a yard sale when they sold their house - I hope some intrepid griller is still getting some great use out of it :smile: .

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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.....briquets......

I'm surprised to see that word used positively in a thread where true grilling addicts are discussing their passion! I never use briquettes because of some of the chemicals used in their manufacture and due to the large quantity of ash they create. Do you really use them or were you just talking figuratively?

I've learned that artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

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.....briquets......

I'm surprised to see that word used positively in a thread where true grilling addicts are discussing their passion! I never use briquettes because of some of the chemicals used in their manufacture and due to the large quantity of ash they create. Do you really use them or were you just talking figuratively?

I certainly used them, on occasion, because we're talking over 15 years ago since I had that setup in my backyard. And, back then, it wasn't always easy to find any other type of fuel.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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There is no question that a wood fire or a natural charcoal fire will give you a higher temperature than a gas grill. However, grilling can be done with great success on a gas grill. I have a four burner gas grill with cast iron grates. If I let that heat up for a while my grate temperature is very, very hot. I can sear with the best of them on it.

I also have a charcoal fired WSM I use for smoking and slow cooking at low temperature.

Both gas and wood can be used. The purist insists on wood. I guess I am not one as I am happy with my gas grilled food. If one wants to impart a smoke flavor to their grilled foods a foil pouch of wood chips on the gas grill will give it to you.

Please consider those grilled items you order at you favorite steak house or other restaurant. You think they got a wood fire going back there? Very, very few places do. Even most BBQ -places, even some of the famous ones, are cooking that pork shoulder or ribs with gas, and in some cases electricity.

My only real point here is this. Let us not be snobbish about it. Good quality food can be made using either source. The skill of the griller has something to do with it as well.

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.....briquets......

I'm surprised to see that word used positively in a thread where true grilling addicts are discussing their passion! I never use briquettes because of some of the chemicals used in their manufacture and due to the large quantity of ash they create. Do you really use them or were you just talking figuratively?

Hi,

Not all briquettes are created equal. You can look for (it may take time) "Royal Oak Chef Select 100% Hardwood Briquettes".

These are produced with starch and lump charcoal, no mineral carbon or other chemicals. They do not smell like most briquettes and provide a clean tasting food.

Note that most varieties of Royal Oak Briquettes do include all those faux petro-chemicals that smell like diesel fuel.

Tim

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Hi,

Not all briquettes are created equal.  You can look for (it may take time) "Royal Oak Chef Select 100% Hardwood Briquettes". 

These are produced with starch and lump charcoal, no mineral carbon or other chemicals.  They do not smell like most briquettes and provide a clean tasting food.

Note that most varieties of Royal Oak Briquettes do include all those faux petro-chemicals that smell like diesel fuel.

Tim

I've never seen Royal Oak Briquettes of any kind around here (although I admit I don't look very hard for briquettes) what part of the country do you live in that you can get them? All we ever around here is Kingsford which is junk.

I'm assuming since I have some additives that they still produce more ash, is this true? Is there burning time as long as good lump charcoal? It would be interesting to see how they compare to some of the charcoals evaluated at this site: Charcoal Comparisons

I've learned that artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

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I have no strong opinion on which is better, but I do think people often confuse vaporized grease with wood smoke. When you cook something quickly on a grill, most of the "smoky" flavor comes, I have been repeatedly assured by people I trust, from the drippings hitting the coals, flavorizer bars, what have you, vaporizing and rising back up towards the grill surface. Last year I blind tasted some hamburgers cooked both ways and absolutely could not tell which were which. They both tasted "smoky."

In terms of longer cooking, I was pretty surprised when I learned that Ed Mitchell -- one of North Carolina's leading pitmasters -- uses Kingsford charcoal to barbecue his whole hogs. But the proof is in the pudding: he makes excellent stuff.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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All we ever around here is Kingsford which is junk.

Kingsford is most certainly not junk. Go to any professional smoking contest and observe what they are using. Lots of pros use kingsford. It is a reliable consistant product. Some were apoplectic a few years ago when the "new" Kingsford came out. Just beacuse it is a mainstream commercial product does not mean it is junk.

In terms of longer cooking, I was pretty surprised when I learned that Ed Mitchell -- one of North Carolina's leading pitmasters -- uses Kingsford charcoal to barbecue his whole hogs. But the proof is in the pudding: he makes excellent stuff

Here is proof of my above comments. Lots of money has been won by pros that use Kingsford

Edited by lancastermike (log)
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Hardwood charcoal is essentially 100% pure carbon - any volatile flavoring compounds are long gone. So it doesn't add any flavor of it's own; any smoke flavor is the result of added chips/chunks or drippings vaporizing on the coals.

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All we ever around here is Kingsford which is junk.

Kingsford is most certainly not junk. Go to any professional smoking contest and observe what they are using. Lots of pros use kingsford. It is a reliable consistant product. Some were apoplectic a few years ago when the "new" Kingsford came out. Just beacuse it is a mainstream commercial product does not mean it is junk.

In terms of longer cooking, I was pretty surprised when I learned that Ed Mitchell -- one of North Carolina's leading pitmasters -- uses Kingsford charcoal to barbecue his whole hogs. But the proof is in the pudding: he makes excellent stuff

Here is proof of my above comments. Lots of money has been won by pros that use Kingsford

Thanks - certainly not a pro, but Kingsford was all I ever used, in my Weber, to slow/smoke cook things like shoulder, ribs, chicken and duck. Old Sunset magazines and cookbooks., as well as great books like Rich Davis' The All-American Barbecue Book, always had that technique, even before Chris Schlesinger and Mike Mills wrote their books. 7 or 8 briquettes on either side kept a quite stable 200 -225 temp, iirc. And the handful of wood chips/chunks thrown on every 30 or 40 minutes added the perfect amount of smoke.

Just for fun, I pulled my copy of James Beards' The Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery off the shelf (1955). In it, the big man says "In all these devices for smoking, the principle is the same - a charcoal fire, made in the usual manner, is smothered with a damp, sweet smelling wood..." I'm sure it was Kingsford.

On my grill, however, the fire was pure mesquite or other hardwood charcoals. For a while, Kingsford produced a briquette with mesquite chips in it, but I don't think it took off.

Ed Mitchell, to me, is kind of an enigma. At least at the Big Apple BBQ Block Party, I didn't see any obvious pure wood, not charcoal, logs, chips or chunks. Only Kingsford - and lots of it! And, while his pork is sublime, it doesn't taste nearly as smoky as Mike Mills' or Big Bob Gibson's.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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While I appreciate the notion of real hardwood charcoal, in my experience I have found it to be somewhat difficult to get started and then it burns hot and fast. OK for steaks and other things that cook quickly, but hard to use for longer cooking items. Perhaps I tried the wrong brands or did something wrong, give me your tips.

I have had good success with Kingsford, both in the grill and the WSM smoker and not noticed any bad taste from it. That Royal Oak sounds interesting.

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Hi,

Not all briquettes are created equal.  You can look for (it may take time) "Royal Oak Chef Select 100% Hardwood Briquettes". 

These are produced with starch and lump charcoal, no mineral carbon or other chemicals.  They do not smell like most briquettes and provide a clean tasting food.

Note that most varieties of Royal Oak Briquettes do include all those faux petro-chemicals that smell like diesel fuel.

Tim

I've never seen Royal Oak Briquettes of any kind around here (although I admit I don't look very hard for briquettes) what part of the country do you live in that you can get them? All we ever around here is Kingsford which is junk.

I'm assuming since I have some additives that they still produce more ash, is this true? Is there burning time as long as good lump charcoal? It would be interesting to see how they compare to some of the charcoals evaluated at this site: Charcoal Comparisons

That's an interesting comparison. I have to admit, I have never factored in moon phase in my grilling calculations! :laugh:

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While I appreciate the notion of real hardwood charcoal, in my experience I have found it to be somewhat difficult to get started and then it burns hot and fast.  OK for steaks and other things that cook quickly, but hard to use for longer cooking items.  Perhaps I tried the wrong brands or did something wrong, give me your tips.

Have you tried using a starter chimney? You stuff the bottom of it with wadded of newspaper, fill it with charcoal and you have coals in about 10 minutes. You then dump them into your cooker, cover with more charcoal and you're ready to go! I've also had pretty good success with electric starter for smoking when you don't want such a hot fire.

As for burn time and temperature control, I don't have an issue at all with my Kamado. I just close the top and bottom vents down and I can hold whatever temperature I want. For smoking I told 225 and use about 4 pounds of charcoal in 12 hours. Of course the Kamado and others like it (Big Green Egg, etc.) are quite airtight and you can actually put out a charcoal fire by closing down the vents. This may not be possible with a Weber or grill of that type.

I've learned that artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

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FYI: Royal Oak produces charcoal briquettes for several different retailers, e.g. Ralph's/Kroger's store brand briquettes. I switched to that brand for my low-and-slow after the last Kingsford reformulation (that now produces voluminous mountains of ash :angry:).

If you're unsure that your store brand briquette is Royal Oak, look at the label to see if it's made in the U.S. If it is, there's a very strong likelihood that it's Royal Oak, as they're the second largest briquette manufacturer in the U.S. (and Kingsford doesn't do private-label).

So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money. But when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness."

So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

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The Virtual Weber Bullet site recommends Kingsford. I was skeptical at first, and purchased both Kingsford and natural lump charcoal for my first sparerib smoke in the WSM. The lump charcoal indeed burned hotter and faster, causing the temperature to surge and then spike, after which I needed to add some more hot coals to keep it in the 225 - 250 degree range. The Kingsford-based efforts never suffered from this problem. Each time I have used it, with just a few natural wood chunks thrown in here and there (along with some hickory and apple wood), I have not had to replenish the coals during a roughly 6-7 hour smoke. Temperature changes could be altered by merely opening or closing the vents. It really works like a dream. The WSM is known for being well built and maintaining very even temperatures, so the only variable thus far has been the type of charcoal I used in it. I also have noticed no difference in flavor between meat smoked with natural wood and with Kingsford.

That having been said, I wouldn't mind trying the Royal Oak Chef Select Briquettes. I have yet to see them.

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Hi,

Not all briquettes are created equal.  You can look for (it may take time) "Royal Oak Chef Select 100% Hardwood Briquettes". 

These are produced with starch and lump charcoal, no mineral carbon or other chemicals.  They do not smell like most briquettes and provide a clean tasting food.

Note that most varieties of Royal Oak Briquettes do include all those faux petro-chemicals that smell like diesel fuel.

Tim

I've never seen Royal Oak Briquettes of any kind around here (although I admit I don't look very hard for briquettes) what part of the country do you live in that you can get them? All we ever around here is Kingsford which is junk.

I'm assuming since I have some additives that they still produce more ash, is this true? Is there burning time as long as good lump charcoal? It would be interesting to see how they compare to some of the charcoals evaluated at this site: Charcoal Comparisons

Hi,

The Royal Oak Chef Select 100% Hardwood Briquettes are available in Chicago at Berger Brothers Charcoal.

The Naked Whiz charcoal comparison really shows the advantage of the better lump charcoals. We used to get the extrudedcharcoal, at Wally World, and loved it.

Tim

Tim

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While I appreciate the notion of real hardwood charcoal, in my experience I have found it to be somewhat difficult to get started and then it burns hot and fast.  OK for steaks and other things that cook quickly, but hard to use for longer cooking items.  Perhaps I tried the wrong brands or did something wrong, give me your tips.

I have had good success with Kingsford, both in the grill and the WSM smoker and not noticed any bad taste from it.  That Royal Oak sounds interesting.

Are you soaking the wood before you add it to the grill? I always soak wood for a few hours before use. Using them dry they just ignite and fail to produce any smoke at all. Rapid vs. smoldering combustion. Think about a match when it's lit and then when you blow it out; it's the same fuel burning at different temperatures. Soaking, and even splashing the fire with water occasionally, does a pretty good job of slowing things down, makes the heat a little more even and predictable, and adds some steam to the mix which is also a good thing in my experience.

I thoroughly disapprove of duels...If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet retired spot...and kill him. ~Mark Twain

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For all those interested, this is an outstanding site featuring just about everything you could ever want to know about the Weber "Smokey Mountain" (WSM) smoker. I own one, and can't speak highly enough about it.

The site also speaks very highly of the Kingsford briquettes, which I use with great results.

http://www.virtualweberbullet.com/

Peace,

Steve

"Tell your friends all around the world, ain't no companion like a blue - eyed merle" Robert Plant

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My husband has always used gas and I've always used natural lump charcoal, but have tasted several cuts of beef & pork, plus some whole chickens, made on a gas grill.

So what did we just purchase? A Charbroil Red - the big one - all infrared cooking with the feature that I like best, the self cleaning button.

We'll be using it this 4th of July weekend so I'll report on how it all comes out by Monday.

Sandra

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As FG stated, "the proof is in the pudding". Have you ever watched a barbecue or grilling cook off? I can say without a doubt that I do not recall ever seeing anyone competing in one of these competitions who didn't use wood burning or charcoal grills and smokers. I have a charcoal/wood grill that I can smoke in, but I also have a charcoal/wood smoker as well. I use Gas to heal boil and fry pots, maybe for a outdoor wok as well.

I usually use Kingsford as well, but just as a starter. I add wood and let it turn to coal as well before cooking.

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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so... just as my membership is approved so I can finally post, this thread starts to lose its steam, errrrr heat :)

well, imho, for grilling, the best source is naturally aged hardwood which imparts a unique, smokey wood flavor! mesquite and oak are great for beef, fruitwoods for pork/chicken or whatever combination suits your unique tastes!!! Heck, why not even use a harsher wood like hickory with pork if you are gonna later slather a sweet fruit bbq glaze on it? You can create your own combinations. The flavors imparted by natural hardwood are far more distinctive than the generic "smokey" flavor from the drippings vaporizing. And yes, you can reach the same grilling temperatures with natural wood, just use some forced air through the combustion point and you'll hit whatever temperature you desire; I cook my ribeyes no more than 3 mins per side to achieve med rare (1.25" thick cut).

imho, even reg charcoal (or better yet lump charcoal depending upon brand) does a superior job of getting a great grill flavor than gas, which usually lacks the sizzle. and please give me some flare ups too :) outdoor grilling means alternate fuels! otherwise you may as well just use the grill pan in the kitchen...

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