Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The time we save: Charcoal vs. gas for BBQs

(The way some people used to bbq, back in the day.)

I have always loved to grill food outside on our deck in the evening.  It is an age-old ritual that must go back to the time when humans first learned to build a fire several hundred millenia ago.  This discovery allowed early humans to cook meat, which would have made it more tender and safe from dangerous bacteria.  But we humans don't think much about that when we decide to light the grill and flop on a raw slab of beef, sliced zucchini, Vidalia onion, or a Portobello mushroom.  Most Americans want to flip a switch, light the gas, get the food on the grill, and be eating 5-10 minutes later.  I find this appalling, even disgusting.

Preparing a meal should be about as enjoyable as eating it, in my opinion.  After all, the enjoyment that comes with eating must be at least 50% due to the anticipation of the experience anyway.  So what is the rush?  Slow down and savor the anticipation.  For this reason, and I suppose because I reject the never-ending status race that comes with buying bigger and more expensive propane grills, I prefer to use charcoal.  It is a simple system and it is inexpensive.  For about $40, I buy a Weber charcoal grill that lasts me 10-15 years; the new gas grills can cost $5,000 or more.  When my grill finally rusts out, I buy another one.  Also, I am convinced the food tastes better when cooked with charcoal compared to gas.  But most importantly, it takes time for the charcoal to get to the correct level of burn before you cook any food with it--about 45 minutes.  It is during that time that I sip my wine, sit on the deck, talk to Management about my working conditions, and prepare the rest of the meal.  Using charcoal forces you to slow down and smell the roses along the way.

But what if I could see my neighbor's grill from my deck, and they could see my puny charcoal grill?  Maybe peer pressure would urge me to buy that Lynx 42 Inch Propane Gas Grill On Cart With 1 ProSear Burner And Rotisserie L42PSFR-1-LP for $7,168.  Maybe I would be intimidated by that professional apron he is wearing, obviously embroidered by his wife for him on Father's Day. Maybe I would go out and find a steak that is 3 inches thick, a whole inch thicker than his.  Maybe I would buy a fancy Belgian beer instead of drinking a Bud Light like him.  Maybe my wife will just go ahead and put on a tinier bikini than his wife is wearing now.  But I don't have to worry about any of that, because I can't see him.  Thank goodness for maple trees, and the charcoal that could be produced from them.

I suppose the debate about using charcoal vs. gas for barbequeing will continue until we have a new breakthrough.  When nuclear BBQs are commonplace, someone will write a post similar to this one comparing propane to plutonium for grilling food.  The plutonium grilling will only take 3.4 seconds, and the exposure to radiation will be minimal, about like getting a half dozen dental x-rays.  Certainly that would be worth the time you would save preparing dinner.  The time saved could then be used to check our smart phones for text messages from people we contact regularly but never talk to in person.  We could watch more television sitcoms about families that sit around the kitchen table and joke with one another.  Or, we could read more articles in Popular Mechanics magazine about how much more time we will be able to save in the future with labor-saving devices around the house.  It is as though we think we can put all that time we saved in a hermetically-sealed container, and then let it out to use it later, when it is more convenient.  Oh, how I wish.


  1. Spot on! I've cooked with both gas and charcoal and have to say that I prefer the more relaxed, realistic charcoal method. Here's to slowing down and enjoying the process as much as the outcome. Plus it gives you a little extra time for a wee dram of single malt and a fine cigar!

  2. Exactemente, my friend. And whenever you get back here, we will test out this theory.

  3. DrTom prefers a couple wee drams of single malt.

  4. The more the merrier as far as I'm concerned.

  5. Dr. Tom,
    sorry to be a pest, but re: "the debate about using charcoal vs. gas for barbequeing will continue" . . .

    everyone knows REAL barbecuing involves smoke and spice, and cooking long and slow.

    You're talking about grilling--which is always fast. Regardless of the gas vs. charcoal question.



  6. I sort of split the fence on price: a confirmed charcoal/wood griller, I just replaced my aging grill with a new Weber Platinum One-Touch for $240 on Father's Day. It's got the classic 22-1/2" Weber "dome", and with its two food-prep "wing" extensions it looks like George Jetson ought to be using it!

  7. Well, I prefer charcoal but when I don't get home from work until about 5:3PM or closer to 6pm some days, then I opt for the gas. Hungry husband = get dinner on.....Gives me more time to sip my wine when dinner is over. I also have a smoker that I can use on weekends.