For people in the northern hemisphere, we're into full-out barbecue and grilling season right now. While the debate about gas vs. charcoal grills rages on, if you're buying a grill or upgrading, I recommend you start by thinking about your basic cooking personality.
The same traits that make each person unique extend to their cooking personality; that's something I've confirmed by reading food blogs for the last several years. This may be a subjective approach, but I have definite opinions about how different grill types and cooking personalities match up. To decide what factors make up your cooking personality, just think about how you approach cooking, a task most everyone does at least once in a while.
What's most important to you when you need to get some food in your tummy? Are you an adventurous cook who loves to try new things, or a more traditional cook who eats the same things over and over? Would you call yourself a cooking enthusiast, or are you more of meeting-basic-needs type of cook? Does your schedule mean that you're always a busy cook, or can you allow plenty of time to cook? Are you someone who enjoys puttering around in the kitchen or a cook who just wants something to eat? Finally, do you care at all about being a cooking purist, or are you just focused on food that tastes good?
How you answered all these questions has a lot to do with what type of grill will make you happiest. In the world of grilling, equipment options are expanding all the time. Still, for most household budgets and the way most people cook, there are five options for grilled food. Each of these has certain pros and cons, depending on your cooking personality. I'm not a grilling expert, but I am a grilling enthusiast, so here's my take on how the methods and cooking personalities match up.
Outdoor Charcoal Grills
Grills where you cook over live charcoal are for cooking purists, people with plenty of time, and those who don't mind spending a bit more effort to get an outstanding results. They're also perfect for people who only grill for special occasions, where the ritual of lighting the charcoal and waiting for it to get hot can add to the experience. There's really no doubt that if you ask a grilling expert they'll tell you food tastes better grilled with charcoal. Not only does charcoal cook hotter, but there's also the added flavor from the actual smoke of the charcoal. Personally I think this makes more of a difference for things like steak or hamburgers than it does if you're grilling chicken, fish, or veggies. Charcoal is limited to outdoor use, and needs much more ventilation than other types of outdoor grills, so that may be an issue depending on where you live and what type of outdoor living space you have. (I have a charcoal grill which lives in my basement most of the time, but plenty of people love their charcoal grills.)
Outdoor Gas Grills
Gas grills are for people who have limited time or people who want to grill often and appreciate the convenience of pushing a button, waiting a few minutes, and having the grill ready to go. Gas grilling is also cleaner than charcoal, and because you don't have to be outside so long getting the charcoal ready, using gas will extends the grilling season for many people. Even though both charcoal and gas grills are coming with more and more options these days, some options such as side burners, individual burners for different sections of the grill, and quick-start ignition systems are unique to gas. Gas has always been the choice of people who aren't cooking purists and just want a quick way to cook outside, but there's also little doubt that gas grills have seen a huge increase in popularity over the last ten years. (I adore my Sears gas grill with porcelain cooking grates that help prevent the food from sticking and three individual burners, each with its own temperature control.)
Outdoor Electric Grills
A whole new class of electric grilling options has sprung up in the last few years, with increased popularity for full-size electric grills meant to be used outdoors. The outdoor electric grills need even less ventilation than gas grills, since there is no flame to contend with. They're good for people who don't want to ever have to worry about getting a propane tank refilled, and although I don't have personal experience with this type of grill, I'm guessing they're clean and easy to operate. I have a friend who lives in a condo where charcoal and gas grills aren't permitted, and although she made the switch to an electric grill reluctantly, she's been fairly happy with it. (I haven't ever tried cooking on an electric grill, but I've eaten food cooked by my friend and it tasted great.)
Indoor Electric Grills
Although a true grilling enthusiast would scoff at the idea that something like a George Foreman Grill actually "grills" the food, millions of people own one of these indoor machines that cook food between two electrically-heated grilling grates. This type of grill can be used on a countertop, heats quickly, and is relatively easy to clean. There are also other designs of electric counter-top grills which have heated electric coils that cook food from below. This might be an attractive option for someone who lives where there are few truly warm months, or someone who lives in a cold area but wants to grill year-round. (I have a George Foreman grill which I rarely use, and then mostly for bacon to make BLT sandwiches.)
Stove-Top Grill Pans
More and more enthusiastic cooks are becoming fans of the stove-top grill pans which heat over a gas or electric stove, but cook the food on raised ridges, simulating the way food is cooked on an actual grill. Although this type of cooking will never replace the experience of grilling outside, I think many people would be surprised by what good results can be achieved with this type of pan. More traditional cooks will prefer cast-iron versions which are cheap, durable, and get hotter with even heat, but require seasoning and are harder to keep clean. For people who want something that's easier to use, there are good non-stick variations of this type of grill pan made by nearly every cookware manufacturer. (I have both a cast-iron and non-stick grill pan and really like both, for different reasons.)
There's my take on the different grilling options, but let's see what some other people on the net have to say:
If you're the kind of person who likes to analyze details, here's a very thorough comparison of the pros and cons of charcoal vs. gas grills. (Found via Slashfood, Grilling, Gas vs. Charcoal. Slashfood also reports on a test that seems to indicate You Don't Need a Pricey Grill.)
The Barbecue Report has a whole category of posts about Barbecue Grills, with lots of information for people who may be investing or upgrading to a new grill.
Serious Eats ask whether readers prefer Gas or Charcoal Grills, and 32 people have weighed in with a comment. Then Cookthink asks whether to buy a gas or charcoal grill, and the comments are pretty conclusive.
White Trash Barbecue tries out a new version of a well known brand of gas grill and gets a lot of negative reactions in the comments.
There's no doubt that The Big Green Egg has a cult following among grilling enthusiasts, and it may be the only grill with such a following.
Finally, no matter what type of grill you choose, you'll love this finger test to check the doneness of meat at Simply Recipes.
Now BlogHer readers, it's your turn to weigh in. What type of grill do you think is best, and why?
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