I've always preferred charcoal grilling to cooking on a gas grill, flavor being my main concern. But as we've hosted more and more backyard gatherings over the years, my husband keeps threatening to switch to a gas grill for its convenience. What do you think are the pros and cons of each?
— Nedra R., via email
You're right on target about the flavor of charcoal grilling, widely acknowledged as superior to gas. And charcoal grills initially are less expensive to set up, plus they tend to be more portable.
Because a charcoal grill almost always comes with a lower price tag than a comparable gas grill, a column by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution likened the quality of a basic charcoal model that runs $100 to a basic gas grill running $160. Both, however, have ongoing operating costs.
Gas grills need natural gas or propane, about $30 for 20 pounds, and require refills. Usage can be calculated as one hour of continuous cooking time using a pound of propane. Essentially, that's $1 an hour after purchase of the initial canister.
Charcoal grills need charcoal, six quarts of which cost an estimated $1.70 per cookout. Using lighter fluids, at about $6, brings the grand total for charcoal to $8. If you use a chimney to ignite the fire, the one-time cost starts at about $15.
So over the long term, gas grilling costs less, and it saves time for the cook. It takes about 20 minutes for charcoal grills to be ready, which requires some planning. Cleaning up the ash afterward consumes a few more minutes of time that could be spent relaxing.
With charcoal winning out in some categories and gas in others, the debate could be settled based on personal preference. Or whoever is wielding the tongs.
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