Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Great Debate, Gas or Charcoal...

I've been cooking outdoors for more then 20 years and there is one debate that keeps coming up at every cookout or get together I attend, and that is the Gas versus Charcoal debate. This is an example of what not to discuss at a neighborhood or family get together, along with politics and religion. The big three taboos that are the cause of hurt feelings and possibly a short stay in the city slammer.

OK, kidding aside, what is better, gas or charcoal? Both fuels have their pros and cons but perhaps a better question is, what's for dinner tonight? Let me explain, a lot of people, myself once included, confuse grilling with barbecuing. The two are not the same. The act of grilling is to cook on a grate directly over a hot - medium hot flame and cooked fairly quickly at around 500-800 degrees. Examples of this type of cooking are steaks, chops, hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, kebabs, etc.

The act of barbecuing on the other hand is to cook indirectly in a closed pit with a smokey fire, to impart a slow smokey cook at around 250 - 300 degrees. Now we are talking about beef and pork ribs, briskets, butts, whole chickens and shoulders being mopped with a secret sauce and slowly cooked for hours, achieving the beautiful pink smoke ring that competition cooks aim for.

So back to our question, whats for dinner? I am a charcoal cooker, through and through. I preach charcoal to anyone that will listen. (I am a Kingsford fan for life. I also like Cowboy Charcoal, which I'll be blogging about in the not to distant future.) However, gas has a lot of pros going for it, such as clean fuel, easy lighting, quick and constant heat, and last, but not least, safety. You cut it off and close the valve and the grill is cool rapidly. You have no long lasting embers to worry about.

Therefore I could go for gas if I was cooking steaks, shrimp, vegetables, hamburgers, etc. I do think that there is a flavor trade off for the convenience of gas. Your better gas grills will have flavor embers that allow the dripping juices to sizzle and create a smoke like steam to help offset the lack of flavor while cooking with gas. If you are going to cook with gas, that's fine, but some of your cuts might be better marinated for a few hours in advance. When it comes to cooking with charcoal and wood chips, I rarely marinate with liquids. I may brine or use a dry rub before placing it into the smoker and may mop it throughout the cooking process. With charcoal, the smoke imparts such a delicious taste by it's self.

I can picture early man out on the plains, with a nice wood and ember fire pit going, cooking the latest kill. It is like that for me today, tending to my fire, regulating the temperature and the amount of smoke and being the master of my smokey domain. And if you like to drink beer, you can keep plenty on hand for "dousing the occasional flare ups". I recommend a cold case of cheap beer for this, such as Natural Light. See there? Charcoal already has the best pro going for it, beerability. (I'll take credit for the coinage of that word)

While we can't claim that we solved the age old debate here today, we can at least feel comforted that both have their merits. Also, keep a look out for some of the new grills that are showing up for sale, featuring two sides, one for gas and one for charcoal cooking. No matter how you look at it, it's the best of two worlds. (Just make sure the gas side is used for your burgers and dogs).


Inspired by eRecipeCards said...

Hey... greetings and thanks for hunting me down... welcome to the blog world, and have fun with it...

I smoke, so of course, I use coal for that. But, I prefer to grill with gas. I do a lot of multiple items at one time on teh grill. I have a 4 burner grill that I can set at different temperatures. I do use foil packs of soaked wood chips in order to add smoke to my cooking chamber when needed.

I have added you to my blogroll, and will be checking back often...GREAT to see you here.

Lea Ann said...

I play it safe, I have both a gas grill and a charcoal. :-) Both are Webers and I love them dearly. I agree, there are things that finish so much better on charcoal. My gas Weber has those flavor bars that you speak of. Whole foods sells natural wood chip charcoal. I've been using it over Kingsford. I'd like to know if you've ever tried them?

Unknown said...

I have tried the Kingsford version that had mesquite wood processed in it, but didn't care for it because I could not control the smoke. I'm trying to steer clear of Kingsford, but everytime I do, I see some ridiculous sale, like 2 18lb bags for $6 at Home Depot. I bought 12 18 bags last time... I plan on switching over to Cowboy charcoal which I'll blog about soon.

Analise said...

If you are not sensitive or allergic to smoke, charcoal is still the most cost-effective and most friendly way to cook food. The charcoal is cheap or even free if you have time to collect woods in the forest. Although it may not be realistic to cook everything you want in charcoal but you can use it for some time to help reduce the cost and amount of time you cook using gas.