By: Eric Thomas
If you’re using a gas grill, it’s not really grilling. You might as well use the oven inside your house.
I understand that this opinion can start actual fistfights. I’ve been screamed at, rather loudly, with a finger pointed an inch from my nose, spittle landing on my forehead, “YOU,” eyes welling with tears, “probably just can’t AFFORD a gas grill!!”
This isn’t a snobby thing, though it sounds like it. I’m not judging you or your gas grill. I grew up around gas grills, installed in the back yard or into the nook of an elaborate finished deck. I remember stainless steel monstrosities, with dials and temperatures and a giant red button with imposing words stenciled near them like “IGNITE.” Both of my parents own and operate gas grills, as do most of the other members of my family. I’ll eat served burgers cooked over propane and I won’t voice (much) complaint about it.
Gas grills are efficient, quick and easy to use. They have knobs like an oven, the flame stays EXACTLY the same no matter what the circumstances and there’s no ashy mess to dump in the neighbors’ yard. You can spend more time with the family, friends and women you’re trying to hook up with. You won’t spend a sweaty, 80 degree afternoon smelling like smoke and pawing at grimy rocks with metal tongs. There are plenty of cogent, reasonable reasons for you to own and operate a gas grill.
I’ll always prefer charcoal.
I love grilling. I’m happy to head outside every time. There’s something that appeals to your DNA when you start a fire. It’s even better when it’s a challenge to KEEP a fire going. When I mastered the ability to start a fire without lighter fluid, I counted it among my biggest accomplishments in LIFE.
Grilling with charcoal is one of the few things where I appreciate the time invested. Everything else in my life is high speed. I have a smart phone, three different tablets, a computer, gaming system, and problems with anxiety. The only moment I get centered is with a beer in my hand and a few handfuls of glowing orange carbon.
Of course it’s frustrating. You battle the elements when you cook with charcoal. If the air temperature is wrong, it changes everything. You have to carefully plan how to light the coals. If they go cold in the middle of the cook, everyone waiting on you has to forage for sustenance in the cupboard. You may have spent over $100 on meat and one wrong move can turn your whole haul into a flaky collection of dry bricks. If you use too much wood, you can turn your premium meat into something that tastes like jerky ran through a combustible engine.
When you cook with charcoal, there’s something at stake. Your pride is on the line. There was probably an argument with someone at the store when you bought the grill, or someone looked at you like you were crazy when you brought the grill home. Sane people don’t buy charcoal grills. Gas grills are SO much easier to use, and the base model gas grill costs basically the same as its charcoal counterpart.
Cost is always a misnomer. Proponents of gas grills assume they live among the upper crust, chuckling at the proletariat who spend their summer afternoons hunched and cursing over half-lit briquettes. Sure, you can get a cheap charcoal grill for next to nothing, but no self-respecting charcoal griller would be caught DEAD using an inferior knock off. They don’t absorb heat correctly, and they are a fire hazard waiting to happen. So when you wheel a brand new kettle into the garage and tell your significant other you just dropped a few bills on it, they might understandably start yelling at you. Charcoal users have to defend themselves and explain that food tastes better when you do it this way, and we carbon defenders always oversell it. We convince others that food tastes SO MUCH BETTER when you cook on a charcoal grill, which is true to a degree, in the process writing checks with promises that we might not ever be able to deliver.
It better be good if you cook with charcoal.
I understand if you think I’m crazy. Some people have better things to do. You want to get ready for a night out, spend time with the kids, play another round of Madden or pour a base round of shots for guests who just arrived and it’s time to CRUSH. I get it; I’ve been there many times. It’s easy to fill your itinerary with friends, family and Xbox. Charcoal grilling is the most quaint and back-woods thing I do, but I love every minute of it. Even the times when I want to kick the stupid thing over, I’m enjoying myself.
In all honesty, even if the food DIDN’T taste better, which it does, I wouldn’t care. It’s just more fun. We’re not allowed to admit this, because there are hungry people inside and they’ve been promised a transcendent experience, but those of us who cook on a charcoal grill do this because we like a challenge. It’s not really about the food. It’s about the act of conquering fire and elements. It’s about throwing your full self into what could be a simple task. It’s the same thing as hunting or fishing. You can go to the store and buy the meat or you can trudge out into the woods and EARN IT.
I’m not judging people who use gas grills. I’m simply saying it’s not the same experience. If you’ve only cooked on gas, borrow a decent kettle from a friend of family member. Embrace the frustration, expense and filth. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon.