Creating the Fire: Propane vs. Charcoal Grills

Using a charcoal grill? You'll need to do more than lug out the big heavy bag of coals to get started. Make sure you have lighter fluid, matches, and maybe wood chips to help the fire burn better.

Charcoal fires must slowly burn to white ash before you see the tell-tale orange halo that represents optimum heat and that your grill is ready to use. The wait is about 30 minutes -- if you're lucky.

With a propane grill you don't have to wait, you can press the lighter button and start grilling in five minutes.

Those who love charcoal don't mind the wait even though the inconvenience might render them simply holiday grillers.

Propane grill enthusiasts are often weekly or daily grillers because even after a hard day at work, they know that lighting the fire and grilling will be fast, efficient, and easy.

Steaks on the Lava Rock Grill at The Mint
Creative Commons License photo credit: vxla

Propane grills are often the most convenient for couples who want to cook one or two pieces of meat or a light meal like shrimp kabobs and veggies. There's no sense in hauling coals out and suffering the wait for such small meals. That's a chore for large gatherings.


Once the fire is ready for the meat, a propane grill will keep a steady temperature of your choosing. Not so for charcoal.

With coals, the temperature fluctuation can have grillers moving meats around constantly to find or avoid the hot spots. Sometimes the fire will need to be stoked with new wood pieces.

When it comes to steady heat, ask yourself: Who's in charge? You or the heat source? Propane grill lovers will feel like Prometheus with their ability to tame fire and set the temperature as hot as they want for as long as they want.

The lasting fire and temperature of a propane grill will allow families to throw on new meat well into the night. With charcoal, eventually the fire will weaken and die. Then, if you still have meat that needs cooking, you'll need to clean out the ash and coals and start a new fire.


Charcoal is heralded for its hickory, smoky flavor which seeps into meat and can be enhanced with wood chips and logs. Some people think it's not real barbecue unless it’s char-grilled. Those folks condemn propane grilling as a mere pretense -- indoor cooking simply done outdoors.

However, in the battle of Propane vs. Charcoal Grills, there are quite a few people who detest the taste of charcoal. These are the meat purists. They are those who want to taste the marbleized steak or Angus burger with only the flavors of fat and flesh that Nature intended in the best cuts.

These purists might add a little butter and a wee bit of salt and pepper. What they absolutely don't want is the flamboyant character of charcoal messing up the natural flavor profile.

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Now, that you're armed with the basic differences, get grilling!

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