09 July 2019
Gas or charcoal barbecue?
Ask a die-hard barbecue fan whether they prefer gas or charcoal barbecues, and you will probably get a funny look. Gas is not part of his vocabulary, because barbecuing should be done on charcoal. But why is that exactly, and which barbecue or outdoor kitchen suits you best? We will explain the differences below.
The differences between gas and charcoal barbecues
|GAS BBQ||STEEL CHARCOAL BARBECUE||KAMADO|
|Ignition takes 10 to 15 minutes.||Ignition takes at least 15 minutes.||Ignition takes at least 15 minutes.|
|Gas bottle required.||Charcoal/briquettes required.||Charcoal required.|
|No waste of ashes.||Waste of ashes.||Little waste of ashes.|
|Temperature can be adjusted quickly.||Adjusting the temperature takes a little longer.||Adjusting the temperature takes a little longer. Temperature is very accurate and stable.|
|Smoker box required for smoking. Long smoke sessions are more difficult.||Suitable for smoking.||Suitable for smoking.|
|Not suitable for caveman style.||Suitable for caveman style.||Suitable for caveman style.|
|Less barbecue flavour.||More barbecue flavour.||More barbecue flavour.|
|Only turn off gas afterwards.||Remove ashes afterwards (once it has cooled).||Remove ashes afterwards (once it has cooled) every now and again.|
|Suitable for long sessions to a limited extent.||Not always suitable for long sessions.||Suitable for long sessions.|
|Standard drip tray for grease, regularly clean/replace.||Grease leaks onto the charcoal. You can only use a separate drip tray for indirect cooking.||Grease leaks onto the charcoal. You can only use a separate drip tray for indirect cooking.|
|Gas consumption depends on thickness of steel.||Not always economical when it comes to charcoal consumption.||Economical when it comes to charcoal consumption.|
|Not always suitable for summer and winter.||Not always suitable for summer and winter.||Suitable for summer and winter.|
Igniting the BBQ
Convenience is often one of the most important reasons to choose a gas BBQ. You don’t have to fill it with charcoal. You turn on the gas supply, press the ignition button and 10 to 15 minutes later, your barbecue is ready to be used. No gas lingers afterwards. In other words, gas barbecues allow you to get started quickly and keep your hands from getting dirty.
The preconception that a charcoal BBQ takes a lot longer to ignite has been outdated for a long time. People often use charcoal starters to ignite steel charcoal barbecues. With this method, you ignite the firelighters and place the starter filled with charcoal above the lighters. Due to the air pull, the charcoal ignites and you can put it in your barbecue after about fifteen minutes.
This is not necessary if you have a kamado. Fully open the draft doors, put some firelighters on the charcoal and ignite them. Close the lid after 10 to 15 minutes. It therefore takes only about 15 minutes to heat up.
Gas BBQs allow you to control the temperature by turning the gas burners up or down. The temperature will rise and fall relatively quickly. This makes it easy to cook ingredients or dishes at different temperatures.
This takes a little longer with charcoal barbecues. With these, you control the temperature with the draft doors at the bottom and the top of the barbecue. However, some entry level models only have one at the top, or none at all. That makes controlling the airflow difficult. If the barbecue does have draft doors, then the following applies: the bigger the draft doors, the more oxygen enters the barbecue and the higher the temperature, and vice versa.
Kamados in particular allow you to control the temperature to the nearest degree with the draft doors. Once the desired temperature has been reached, it can stay stable for hours. This is a lot easier than with a steel barbecue, for example. Differences in outside air temperature are not a factor, because the ceramics of a kamado have great insulating properties.
Barbecue as an outdoor kitchen
Depending on the size of your barbecue, you can use it as a complete outdoor kitchen. This applies to both gas and charcoal barbecues. You can use them to grill, fry, cook, stew, smoke and slow cook. You do need a special smoker box to smoke on a gas barbecue, by the way.
Slow cooking, frying, cooking, stewing and smoking is done indirectly. For a gas BBQ, you turn off the burners in the middle. For smaller BBQs, you work with a heat shield, so that your ingredient or product is not directly above the heat source. For steel charcoal BBQs, you put some charcoal on the side. You then put the ingredient or dish in the middle of the grid.
For kamados, you work with a heat shield above the coals. This allows you to completely fill the bottom with charcoal, even for indirect preparations. The shape of the kamado creates an airflow, and the hot air cooks your ingredient or dish evenly.
The advantages of charcoal
It’s easier to smoke ingredients on a charcoal BBQ. You put the smoking wood directly on the glowing charcoal and you won’t need any additional accessories. You need a special smoker box to smoke on a gas BBQ. You fill this box with smoking wood and put it on the grid, and the heat will cause the wood to start smoking. You can’t work with smoking wood chunks, however. These larger pieces of smoking wood are ideal for smoking sessions of more than 30 minutes.
An extra cooking technique that is possible with a charcoal BBQ is caveman style. For this, you put meat or vegetables directly on the (clean) glowing charcoal.
Difference in flavour
The most important reason to choose a charcoal BBQ is pretty much always the flavour. Experts are convinced. The flavour of products and ingredients cooked on charcoal is absolutely more intense. This is also one of the reasons why you should choose high-quality charcoal Because even the type of wood that the charcoal was made of influences the flavour.
With a gas BBQ, all you have to do after you finish barbecuing is turn off the burners and the gas supply. Gas barbecues often have an aluminium drip tray.
This collects the grease, so it’s important to check it regularly and clean or change it.
With a charcoal BBQ, you turn off the air supply. The lack of oxygen will extinguish the charcoal and you will be able to re-ignite it the next time you use it.
A ceramic kamado BBQ is more economical when it comes to charcoal than a steel one due to its insulating properties.
You don’t need to remove the cooled ash after every session, by the way. The amount of ash depends on the duration and the temperature of your barbecue session and the charcoal that you used.
More types of barbecues
There are more varieties available than just gas and charcoal barbecues. Think of electric BBQs, pizza ovens or a plancha, for example.
Electric BBQs are really only an alternative for gas or charcoal barbecues if open fires are not permitted. Designated pizza ovens and bread ovens are useful when you’re looking for a device that is suitable for one type of preparation. However, you can perfectly use these cooking techniques on a kamado.
Last but not least, there’s the plancha grill: a cast-iron baking tray with which you prepare your food in a baking tray instead of over a direct fire. A kamado also allows you to prepare food on a plancha. Simply place a cast-iron plancha, with the ribbed side or the other one, on the grid of your kamado.
Buying a barbecue
Both gas and charcoal barbecues are available in all shapes and sizes. When you’re buying a barbecue, remember that you get what you pay for. The warranty term and the offered service often speak volumes about the quality of a barbecue. There are many differences in the quality and thickness of the steel when it comes to steel gas and charcoal barbecues. This also applies to kamados. The quality of the ceramics varies hugely, amongst other things. This influences the flavour and the stability of the temperature. The fragility of the ceramics also varies.
Cooking with charcoal
If you choose a charcoal BBQ, you still need to decide whether you want a steel barbecue or a kamado. Both types are suitable for all preparation techniques. But not every steel charcoal barbecue is suitable for long ‘low and slow’ sessions. Sometimes you have to add charcoal, and the temperature can fluctuate. This depends on the quality of the steel. The ceramics of a kamado have great insulating properties and retain the heat well. This way, you use less charcoal and the outdoor temperature does not influence the temperature in your barbecue. You can continue barbecuing, even under extreme weather circumstances.
The price, warranty term and service also say a lot about the quality of a kamado brand. The Big Green Egg, for example, is the only kamado in the world made using ceramic produced in Mexico. Technologies developed by NASA are used in this process, since the outside of space shuttles used to be made of ceramics! This makes the ceramics extra heat-resistant. You can heat it as many times as you like without affecting the quality.
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