Poll: Gas or Charcoal?

I spent the better part of yesterday trying my hand at true-blue barbecue, complete with wood chips, natural hardwood coals and low, slow heat. Later this week, I'll share the recipe and how-to details chronicling my adventures manning a rigged-up "pit," plus I've got a q&a with pitmaster and crazy man Buz Grossberg, owner of Richmond, Va. barbecue joint Buz and Ned's.

As we gear up for the unofficial beginning of grilling season, which kicks off this weekend (yes, Memorial Day weekend is already here), there's an age-old debate I want to settle, once and for all: Gas or coal?

Take the poll below and add further fuel to the fire, in the comments area. I can't wait to hear the rumble.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 19, 2008; 9:48 AM ET Flames
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Kim, there is no choice in the poll for both! I have both gas and charcoal grills. If I want to grill 2 chicken breasts on a Tuesday evening, I can step out my kitchen door and turn on the gas. The charcoal is used on weekends and only if I am cooking for more than just me. They both have their advantages.

Posted by: Sweetie | May 19, 2008 10:31 AM

There's no question that charcoal tastes better. But gas is so much easier and quicker to use, that is what we bought and use. The taste is still good, and the convenience means we'll actually use it. If I had the money and the room, I'd have both like Sweetie.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | May 19, 2008 11:41 AM

I cook for just one usually and only have my Weber kettle. And please hardwood charcoal only no Kingsford ever. Yuch.

Put charcoal in chimmney and light. Prep meat and do veggies etc.

Spread hardwood and place grill on top. Clean grill. Go back inside and get beer
and meat and veggies throw on grill.

And never waste a dry aged prime humanely raised bone in rib eye steak on a gas grill or Kingsford. A lb+ of well marbled steer that gave its life to feed me! Yuum!
Thanks Patrick the steer for living! Your sacrifice will not be forgotten and will be toasted w/ a nice VA Cab!
That is a crime that should result in you being read Kim's vegan chats until you puke!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 19, 2008 12:33 PM

I've given up coal--bad for the environment and for a child and a spouse with asthma! But there's a third way, and it's faster and tastes great and is better for the environment--use the gas grill, but with a smoker box with a few bits of hardwood to give that fire-grilled taste. Best of both worlds!

Posted by: Barb | May 19, 2008 12:49 PM

Sorry no a smoker box is not the same thing. Your fire will not be hot enough etc. Hardwood charcoal burns at a higher temp and nothing beats its. Try it and you will never go back to gas. My bro has a $5k
gass grill that makes margaritas, chops the veggies and churns the ice cream etc. He sold it and now has a Weber kettle after having a steak at my place. Only way he could duplicate it was on a Weber!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 19, 2008 1:02 PM

Main grill is a 4-burner, 650 square inch gas model from Barbecues Galore that I use 90% of the time for speed, convenience and (when entertaining) size. I do, however, love my Weber, especially when I am cooking a special piece of beef or I am just nostalgic for the smell of hardwood charcoal. We also have a smoker which is only used 3-4 times per year, but when you want the best ribs or chicken nothing does a better job.

I make a lot of cedar-planked fish and the gas grill is a lot easier and it is about the only grill that I will use during the week.

Posted by: More Cowbell | May 19, 2008 2:57 PM

gas for speed, convience & control. burning the veggies? just turn down the heat a touch. everything finished? turn the gas up.

kim - thanks for your vietnamese marinade recipe. it is my new fav. i had a couple of friends over & they loved it too. now, i've just got to get grilled tofu right.

Posted by: quark | May 19, 2008 5:06 PM

I know you're trying to be lighthearted with these poll responses, but they're really useless and poorly designed--never have actual answers that would provide relevant information.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 19, 2008 5:23 PM

Lighten up anonymous 5:23 poster. It's poll for fun, not for scientific research or any other serious purpose. Maybe you would feel better visting Zogby or Nielsen rather than the "A Mighty Appetite" blog on the washingtonpost.com.

Posted by: M Street | May 19, 2008 6:33 PM

Well, I couldn't answer the poll because the issue is too complex. But I couldn't agree with Sweetie more; they both have advantages. First, it's charcoal, not coal--two different things; and hardwood charcoal is even farther removed from "coal." It's generally the fluid people use that stinks up the neighborhood. I bought an expensive Weber gas grill and enjoyed it for a while, but wood kept beckoning. It's the expertise, not the fuel. I prefer to build a large hardwood fire, let it burn down, and cook over the ash-covered embers, but I can also get excellent results with Kingsford briquets. The starting fluid? Never! There's a kamada grill/smoker in my future, either a Primo or a Big Green Egg. It's heavy ceramic with awesome air-flow adjustment. It allows maximum benefit from hardwood embers.

That show, Ham on the street, or something like that, tried to get to the bottom of this. I forget what he grilled but half was over charcoal and half over gas. People were pretty evenly divided in their assessment.

Posted by: Dave | May 19, 2008 7:06 PM

please, Kim, delete the trolls "...That is a crime that should result in you being read Kim's vegan chats until you puke!" Don't give them any air time.

Posted by: please | May 20, 2008 5:35 AM

I have a Charbroil eletric grill - the only type of grill I am able to have in my neighborhood - and it works just fine for grilling.

Posted by: Condo dweller | May 20, 2008 10:19 AM

There is nothing better or cuter than seeing a newborn lamb or steer and knowing that within about 4mos the lamb will be on the plate. Mary had a little lamb who flesh would soon be on the grill covered in rosemary, pepper and salt those chops would soon be in my tummy!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 20, 2008 10:44 AM

We have the works - a Kristline convertible grill (electric mode) inside, and both a gas grill and a Weber kettle outside. It depends on what you're making. A quick grill during the week? Use the Kristline, which does a fine job. More time and people? If it's quick cooking stuff, we use the gas grill. If we're going for smoked foods, we use the Weber. I agree that much of the problem with charcoal is the lighter fluid. We use a charcoal chimney instead, which works fine.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 20, 2008 11:24 AM

Grew up with a Gas Grill and a Charcoal grill. Have used both for years. When we travel to the beach, we take the small charcoal grill. I have always enjoyed both, and have they each have they own tasks and time. I say Yes to both. Happy Grilling!!!!!!!!

Posted by: East Coast USA | May 20, 2008 12:49 PM

The charcoal grill is my 1st choice, as I like the flavor and putting wood chips on to enhance the smokey flavor. But like so many of the people, I too own a gas grill and they are both Webber. I agree the gas grill is more convient when you are cooking for two people or when the weather is cold/ windy/rainy.

Posted by: Cindy Levenburg | May 20, 2008 9:54 PM

I worry about the carcinogenic risks with coals. Anyone have any reputable info on this issue?

Posted by: Nicola | May 21, 2008 4:11 AM

Everyone seems to differ as to what constitutes a "reputable" source of info. My understanding of information from the American Cancer Society is that the carcinogenic risk is less from coals per se and more from high-heat cooking of meat.

There is a full document at: http://caonline.amcancersoc.org/cgi/content/full/56/5/254

from which these are relevant excerpts:

"Meat contains several constituents that could increase the risk of cancer.97,99 Mutagens and carcinogens (heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are produced by cooking meat at high temperatures and/or by charcoal grilling. The iron content (heme) in red meat may generate free radicals in the colon that damage DNA. Substances used to process meat (nitrates/nitrites and salt) contribute to theformation of nitrosamines that can damage DNA. It is also possible that the fat content in meat contributes to risk. For example, foods that are high in fat increase the concentration of secondary bile acids and other compounds in the stool that could be carcinogens or promoters of carcinogenesis.

Although meats are good sources of high-quality protein and can supply many important vitamins and minerals, they remain major contributors of total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol in the American diet.100 The recommendation is to limit consumption of processed and red meats. To accomplish this, choose lean meats and smaller portions, and use meat as a side dish rather than as the focus of a meal. Legumes are especially rich in nutrients that may protect against cancer and can be a healthier source of protein than red meats. Although cooking meat at high temperatures, such as in grilling or frying, can produce potential carcinogens, care should be taken to cook meat thoroughly to destroy harmful bacteria and parasites, but to avoid charring."

If you have further concerns, contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society, or some other resource you trust, and ask for information. They are sure to have a brochure to send you or other information sources, as this is a common question.

Happy, healthy eating to you.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 21, 2008 12:12 PM

I'm a charcoal guy who'd love to have the patience for hardwood charcoal. It's great stuff, but burns hot and FAST. With a couple of little ones about, I wind up distracted and so stick to Kingsford for the slow burn. When I'm better organized, I'll give the real stuff a second chance.

By all means, if you don't have one, BUY A CHIMNEY STARTER. It even handles the mediocre charcoal my brother-in-law uses in Costa Rica.

P.S. To the OTT carnivore, was that you posting on the bean burger

PPS. I had an interesting run-in at a local Trader Joe's yesterday. They had some flank steak that had been marinated and cooked. I was over in the area for coffee and the person near me was a vegetarian. She was friendly, but incredulous that I could eat something that was kicking and running at one point. Hey, it's top of the food chain for me!


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | May 25, 2008 4:47 PM

I have a neighbor who charcoals on his balcony every night. I live above him and cannot use my balcony at night nor leave my doors or windows open due to the smell that wafts above onto my balcony and into my house. Even with the doors and windows closed, the odor gets into my house. Is the odor from the charcoal itself (he uses Kingsford) or is from the lighter fluid. Any suggestions to ask my neighbor to try short of switching to gas.

Posted by: Sally | May 25, 2008 9:47 PM

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