Discover the key feature differences that you need to consider when comparing charcoal vs gas grills, explained by BBQ experts.
Are you tired of friends or family hogging the grill at summer BBQs? Make this summer the year you invest in a grill of your own so you can man the tongs at your next outdoor gathering.
If you’ve never purchased a BBQ grill (an extensive article on grills we recommend) before, you may not know what you want or even what kinds you can buy. Not to worry. You don’t have to confess this shameful secret to your mates.
Check out the awesome breakdown of gas grills vs pellet grills vs charcoal grills and their key features below to help you make a decision. Relax, we won’t tell!
Table of Contents
Gas grills are one of the most common types of outdoor grills. They come styled like a movable cart or get permanently installed into an outdoor kitchen space.
Gas grills use both liquid propane and natural gas. Most people choose liquid propane because you can use it with the cart-style gas grills for more portability.
Natural gas grills cannot move and you must install them permanently in your outdoor cooking area. However, it burns cleaner, costs less to use, and connects to your house’s natural gas line so you never run out.
Pellet grills first appeared on the market around 30 years ago. They work as both a smoker and a grill and use electricity for power.
Pellet grills feature a special compartment on the side called a hopper. You fill the hopper with food-safe wood pellets and ignite them by pressing a switch and setting the temperature. The pellets fall into a burn pot where they smoke to give the meat flavor.
A charcoal grill is the classic grill. They come in a multitude of sizes and shapes. Common examples of charcoal grills include:
- Barrel grill – shaped like a barrel. The original way to make these grills was to cut a 55-gallon barrel in half lengthwise and add grates, handles, and legs.
- Brazier grill – the kind of open grill you see in public parks.
- Kettle grill – A round (the classic version) or square on a tripod with a lid and two wheels. Uses only small vents to control the temperature.
- Portable grill – A smaller, stouter kettle grill that easily packs up to take to the beach or camping.
All these grill types operate the same way and use the same kinds of fuel.
Gas Grills vs Pellet Grills vs Charcoal Grills: What’s Right For You?
Still can’t decide between gas, pellet, or charcoal grill? Check out the following features to decide what’s most important to you.
Gas grills range in price from close to $100 to several thousand dollars depending on the make and model. Many big box stores have cheaper versions for frugal buyers. Or you can also check out local classifieds in newspapers or online.
Charcoal grills also vary widely in price from $50 to over $1,000. You don’t need to spend a fortune to get a decent kettle charcoal grill. You can often find decent ones for $50 or less at a big box store.
Pellet grills cost the most off the bat. Don’t expect to find a decent new wood pellet grill for under $500. Many of the most popular models start at $1000 and higher.
Fuel and Operating Costs
A gas grill only needs propane or natural gas (Source) to operate. If you have your grill connected to your house gas line, it’ll get added onto your monthly gas bill. You never need to worry about running out.
If you use propane with your gas grill, you need to buy the initial propane tank. This cost ranges from $50 for a 30lb tank to $150-200 for a 100lb tank. You’ll also need to refill it, which can cost you between $20-$50 depending on where you go.
A pellet grill requires electricity and wood pellets to operate. So depending on how long you run your grill and your local utility fees, the cost of electricity can add up. You also need to consider any repair costs or part replacements that come with the more complicated machine.
The hotter and bigger your fire, the faster the wood pellets burn. The cost of a bag varies between brands. But a higher price usually also means a higher quality pellet.
A charcoal grill only needs charcoal to operate and maybe some wood if you want to create a smokey flavor. Certain brands of charcoal briquettes cost more than others, but overall they cost much less.
Lump charcoal costs more per pound than briquettes. But it also burns faster and hotter. So it’s better to use for grilling rather than smoking.
Gas and pellet grills operate more similarly than compared to a charcoal grill.
Gas grills ignite when you open the propane and spark it. Pellet smokers turn on with a switch. As soon as you fill the hopper with pellets, it’s ready to go.
A charcoal grill requires much more time and effort. First, you must use a charcoal chimney or lighter fluid to ignite the charcoal. It then takes between 20 and 30 minutes for the fire to get hot.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Clean up also varies between the three types of grills.
A gas grill comes with a special section to catch food and fat that drips down between the bars. Often you can turn up the heat after you finish grilling to cook off anything stuck on there. Then you can scrape away the rest.
Pellet smokers also have a barrier to catch food and fat. It sits between the cooking grates and the fire pot at the bottom. Many people choose to wrap this in aluminum foil and replace the foil every few sessions.
Charcoal grills require a little more effort as there’s generally no section to catch any fat or food. It falls down into the fire or sticks to the grate and requires a steel brush to remove. You also need to dump the ashes after every session.
Temperature Control and Range
Both a gas grill and a pellet smoker allow you to adjust the temperature with the turn of a knob. The knobs on gas grills allow more or less gas to escape, which controls the fire’s strength. A pellet smoker uses electronics to keep the temperature steady and constant.
With a charcoal grill, you do not have instantaneous control over the grill’s temperature. Over time you learn how to use the vents to control the airflow and, therefore, the temperature. The more air flowing through the grill, the hotter the fire.
As for temperature ranges, gas grills can go as low as 225°F and as hot as 600+°F. You can also set wood pellet grills to 225°F. But most only go up to 500°F.
Charcoal grills offer the most range in terms of temperature since you control the fire completely. Once you learn how to cook on charcoal, you can grill slowly at 150°F or sear at temps greater than 800°F.
A gas grill’s design is ideal for grilling meat while a wood pellet smoker’s design is ideal for smoking. Although you can try to smoke with a gas grill or grill with a pellet smoker, it will not produce the same results.
A charcoal grill allows you to both sear at high temperatures or cook low and slow.
Finally, and most importantly, each grill produces different flavors when you cook on it.
A gas grill does not add any additional flavor infused by the burning of charcoal or wood. It just tastes like cooked meat. You definitely need to marinate or season meat you cook on a gas grill.
Wood pellet smokers create a distinctly smokey flavor in any food you cook. The 100% sawdust pellets will vary in flavor based on the wood used to create them.
Charcoal grills give that unmistakable flame-grilled taste with or without searing. You can always add some soaked wood chips to your charcoal to give your meat a smokey flavor as well.
Making the Choice Between a Gas, Pellet, and Charcoal Grill
Choose a gas grill if you:
- Want to easily and quickly light the grill and start cooking.
- Don’t want to clean your equipment after every use.
- Don’t care about your food having a smokey or grilled taste.
Choose a pellet grill if you:
- Want the ability to smoke your meat without a fire.
- Want the ability to set and maintain an exact temperature.
- Prefer your meat to taste smokey.
- Want to change what kind of smokey taste you get.
Choose a charcoal grill if you:
- Prefer the taste of meat cooked over an open flame.
- Want the ability to both grill and smoke your meat.
- Want a greater temperature range.
- Want the option to sear your meat.
- Want to take your grill with you places.
So think hard about what you want to do with your grill before making a decision.
Impress Friends at Your Next BBQ with a Great Grill
Now you should know the biggest differences between gas grills vs pellet grills vs charcoal grills so you get the best one for yourself. If you want to impress your friends at the next BBQ, you need to buy the best quality grill that fits in your budget.
Luckily, we can help you do just that!