Home » Charcoal vs. Gas Grills: A Definitive Way To Decide

Charcoal vs. Gas Grills: A Definitive Way To Decide

Some debates will never be settled and charcoal versus gas in the world of grilling is one of them.  But that is okay.  I’m not here to decide once and for all which type of barbecue everyone needs to use.  I am only interested in helping you settle the debate for yourself so that you can buy the right grill and get to cooking.

Obviously, each type of grill has its pros and an assortment of cons.  And you can bet we will take a look at what makes each type of barbecue worthy of your backyard grilling space.  However, I am going to take it one step further and do what no one else is willing to do.  I’m going to help you definitively decide between a charcoal grill or a gas grill.

It’s a tall order and one that takes a fair bit of consideration.  Having extensively used both types of grills, I understand that there is a lot of personal preference behind this decision.  By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly which grill is right for you.

A quick comparison of charcoal and gas grills

What good would this guide be without a simple comparison chart?  It’s always nice to have a quick visual that highlights the distinctions between grill types.  Some differences are obvious, while others are more subtle and easily overlooked. 

Grill TypeGasCharcoal
Average Grill Cost$200-$450$100-$250
Fuel TypePropane, Natural GasBriquettes, Lump Charcoal
Fuel Cost Per Use$0.30 – $1.00$0.80 – >$2.00
Fuel AvailabilityAnywhere propane is soldMost grocery or
home supply stores
Health ConcernsLowModerate
Start Up Time5-10 minutes20-30 minutes
Cooking Temperatures250°F to 550°F200°F to 1200°F
Best Used ForGrilling meats and veggiesGrilling, searing and smoking

Key differences

Now that you have a general idea of what features separate gas grills from charcoal grills, it’s time to take a deeper dive into the most critical features.  By doing so, you’ll get a sense of what you do or don’t like about each kind of BBQ.  

Fuel source:

  • Charcoal – Charcoal grills, as the name implies, use charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal as the heat source.  The main drawback of using charcoal is the startup time and mess.  It takes a charcoal grill about30 minutes to reach an even burn that is ready for cooking.  Charcoal is also messy to deal with and requires more space to store.  On the flip side, charcoal grills allow for superior temperature control when cooking and reach much higher temperatures than gas. 
  • Gas – Gas grills utilize propane or a natural gas connection to operate.  It’s a fast and convenient fuel source for grilling but it does have its limitations.  Gas grills start up instantly and take only a few minutes to heat up the grates.  However, gas grills don’t have as wide a range in operating temperatures as a charcoal grill.  Getting a good sear on a steak requires temperatures approaching 500°F.  That is tough to efficiently achieve with gas.  Yet, gas is cleaner to store and is much easier to transport, making it a great fuel source for portable BBQs.   


  • Charcoal – Charcoal grills are consistently less expensive than gas grills.  Owing in part, to their simple design.  Yet, as more features and higher quality materials are added, the price starts to climb.  You can get a decent charcoal grill for $100-$250.  But there are portable grills for as little as $25 while premium models soar above $2,000.  However, the charcoal itself is slightly more expensive than gas or propane.  A 20 pound bag of briquettes will cost around $10 and lasts about 10-15 quick cooks (depending on desired temperature).
  • Gas – Gas grills, on the other hand, demand a higher price.  On average, a typical residential gas grill costs around $400.  Some budget models start around $100 but use poor quality materials that have a shorter life span.  Premium gas grills with all the top features will easily cost over $2,000 with some even hurtling past $5,000.  Propane fuel is a bit cheaper than charcoal and provides more cooking time for a similar cost.  Refilling a 5 gallon propane tank averages $10 worth of gas but will provide nearly 15 hours of cooking time on high with a 30,000 BTU grill.

Health considerations:

The science is pretty conclusive on this one.  Gas grills are the healthier choice.  Charcoal grilled foods contain higher levels of carcinogenic compounds than foods cooked on gas grills.  Dripping fats that vaporize on hot coals create harmful polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and are deposited on food via smoke.  Flame charred meat also creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs), another dangerous carcinogen.  

Gas grills don’t generate the same level of heat or smoke so fewer carcinogens make their way onto your grilled meats.  That’s not to say gas grills are risk free though.  You can still char meat with direct contact on a gas flame.  But gas produces a virtually smoke free burn that significantly reduces health impacts from charcoal smoke.  Not to mention, charcoal puts off more coal ash and soot that inevitably makes it onto your food.

Keep in mind, that the majority of us likely only grill a few times a month throughout the year.  At that level, charcoal grills are still reasonably safe to use.  

Ease of use:

  • Charcoal – As you might expect, a charcoal BBQ is not nearly as easy to use as a gas grill.  Lighting a charcoal grill requires some sort of fire starter like a Royal Oak Tumbleweed or lighter fluid.  Once lit, it takes 20 to 30 minutes to get the coals nice and hot.  When time is limited and your stomach is growling, that’s a long wait.  It also takes practice to master the air flow and temperature control on a charcoal grill. 
  • Gas – Gas grills ignite with the push of a button.  After just a few minutes, your grill is ready to go.  It’s also significantly easier to control temperature in a gas grill.  A simple adjustment on the gas flow knob is all it takes.  Gas grills are significantly easier to use than charcoal grills which makes them ideal for casual backyard cooks.


  • Charcoal – When it comes to versatility, all props go to charcoal grills.  By controlling the number of briquettes and air flow, you essentially can cook at any temperature.  So, everything from a low and slow cook to a super quick sear is possible.  Plus, throwing a few wood chunks on the coals turns your charcoal grill into a smoker.
  • Gas – With a gas grill, you are much more limited.  While temperature control is simple with gas, you don’t get the same low or high end extremes.  There are gas grills with indirect heat control and even some with radiant heating.  Even so, it’s tough to get the same kind of versatility out of a gas grill as you can with a charcoal grill.  Also, converting a gas grill into a smoker produces mediocre results in my book.  It can be done but the end product pales in comparison to charcoal.

Clean up and maintenance:

  • Charcoal – By far, charcoal grills require the most amount of maintenance.  Burning briquettes leaves behind ash that needs removing before using the grill again. Charcoal also leaves behind way more creosote than gas.  More creosote equals more clean up to keep it at bay.  Not doing so usually end with a dusting of black soot on your food.
  • Gas – Gas burns much cleaner and leaves less soot and creosote build-up behind after each use.  You also don’t need to worry about disposing of briquette ash.  However, both gas and charcoal grills need to have their grates cleaned regularly along with the grease traps.

Who should get a charcoal grill

We could spend all day comparing gas and charcoal grills but is a charcoal grill really right for you?  At some point, listing out features won’t help you decide.  It takes a more practical approach.  So, who should actually get a charcoal grill?  Answer the following questions to find out.

  • Do you enjoy the entire process of grilling?
  • Do you like spending a significant amount of time prepping and cleaning a BBQ?
  • Can you honestly tell the difference between meat cooked on charcoal versus gas?
  • Will you use your grill as a smoker?
  • Do you want to refine your grilling skills to cook any cut of meat?
  • Would you rather spend less on a grill and more on quality fuel?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, a charcoal grill might be right for you.  Just bear in mind, what you think you want and what ends up being practical may be two different things.

For instance, most people who buy charcoal grills end up not grilling as often due to time constraints.  You may have time one or two weekends each month during the summer but the long process of lighting up the grill for a quick dinner during the week is hard with charcoal.

Also, do you have frequent burn bans where you live?  If so, charcoal grills are often prohibited during burn bans.  That can be disappointing since burn bans and grilling season often coincide. 

Before pulling the trigger on a charcoal grill, you definitely need to check out my article about burn bans and barbecues first. 

But here is the bottom line.  

You should get a charcoal grill if you truly enjoy the art of grilling.  When grilling becomes a passion and the process of refining your skills and versatility is just as important as the delicious final product, then a charcoal grill will help you get the most out of your time.

Who should get a gas grill

There is a fair chance that you are still unconvinced that a charcoal grill is what you need.  And that’s okay.  For all intents and purposes, I actually think a gas grill is a better fit for the vast majority of backyard chefs.  But don’t take my word for it.  Let’s take the practical approach again to see if you should get a gas grill instead.  Consider the following questions:

  • Do you like grilling frequently but have limited time?
  • Do you prefer an easy-to-use grill?
  • Are burn bans frequent where you live?
  • Is smoking food something you only do on rare occasions?
  • Is propane readily available near you?
  • Are you willing to spend a bit more on a grill to get all the features you want?
  • Are you grilling in an urban area or multi-family dwelling?

Answering yes to even one of these questions means a gas grill is probably a better fit for you.  Especially, if you had a hard time saying yes to my questions about charcoal grills.  Truth be told, a gas grill probably will do everything most people need.  You can get near restaurant quality grilled meats from even a modest gas grill and you can achieve your cooking goals with some practice.  

Keep in mind though, that a gas grill eventually ends up being just the first stepping stone for those who develop a refined taste for grilled meats.  When sirloin steaks and grilled chicken gives way to smoked brisket and pulled pork, you probably are going to out grow your gas grill.

With that in mind, let me summarize who should buy a gas barbecue.

You should get a gas grill if enjoying grilled food more often is paramount to the process of grilling itself.  For casual grillers that want to enjoy a grilled meal anytime of the week without the fuss of charcoal, gas is tough to beat.

Don’t miss my guide to the best BBQ’s actually worth buying once you decide what is right for you! 

Still not sure?

Choosing between a gas or charcoal grill might not be an easy decision for you.  But think about this.  There is nothing that says you can’t have both.  I know many avid BBQ aficionados that have an assortment of gas and charcoal grills.  Including myself.

Some days all you want is a simple way to grill up a few hotdogs and burgers.  Other days, you want to devote your time to serving up the perfect rack of ribs.  Having the option to switch between gas and charcoal is handy.  

It’s also entirely possible neither gas nor charcoal is right for you.  If you made it to this point and are still not sure, you’re not alone and that’s where the beauty of a pellet grill comes into play.  Pellet grills offer both the versatility of a charcoal grill and the easy use of gas grills.  Add in some smoky goodness and you have the makings of a perfect grill.  

Want to learn more?  Take a look at my popular article to see if pellet grills are still worth buying.