It’s the age-old question, right? Gas or charcoal?
Well, if you ask an expert, the correct answer would probably be both.
Barbequing is the process of cooking food at a low temperature for a long period of time, regardless of seasoning or sauces used on the food. This could mean ribs, chicken, burgers, fish or any scrumptious food best served juicy and tender. Grilling, on the other hand, is meant for steaks and other cuts of meat that are best cooked quickly and at a higher heat to trap juices and flavor.
That said, charcoal and gas each also have their benefits. Both can be used for grilling or barbequing, depending on the flavor and convenience you might be looking for.
“It’s the great debate,” says Keith Deppe, owner of Casual Barbeque and Fireplace in Salt Lake City and 2004 Utah Rock ‘n’ Ribs BBQ Cookoff champion. “Things have even adjusted a bit over time. It used to be all charcoal, then gas started taking over because of its convenience, now charcoal is coming back.”
But any real backyard chef would likely use both, Deppe says. Charcoal – particularly all-natural charcoal – brings the best flavor, and gas is great if the cook is in a hurry. When feeding a big group, Deppe says the best option is to start ribs on a charcoal grill to get flavor and move them to the gas grill on low heat to finish the slow-cooking process.
“It’s really just a matter of taste and preference,” he says, although he swears by the Big Green Egg, a charcoal barbeque that he has used in various competitions and at home.
The Egg looks more like a four-foot avocado than a dairy product. With a two-inch-thick green ceramic shell, the Egg can be used just as effectively as a smoker, oven or barbeque, Deppe says. Along with traditional barbeque meats, Deppe has cooked pizzas and 20 lb. turkeys in the Egg.
Although the physical properties of the Egg insulate the coals to easily maintain a consistent temperature, Deppe says the real trick to barbequing is actually in the natural lump charcoal he uses. “It’s about food quality,” he says. “With the right charcoal and the Egg, you can do a five-star barbeque meal with just a little practice.”
Although most patios are home to some sort of gas cooking element, Joe Sylvester, sales manager at Backyards of America, agrees that the smoker is becoming a more prominent fixture of many homes. Backyards of America sells the Traeger line of grills, which rely on wood pellets to create a consistently smoky taste.
Pellets are fed to a burner at the bottom of the grill using an automatic auger system. The temperature of the fire is based on the rate the auger feeds the fire, which can create a hot environment for grilling or a low-temperature, slow-cooking smoker.
Although barbeque purists may chide the Traeger for making the job of tending the fire much easier, the simplicity makes for great food every time, Sylvester says. “It takes the same amount of time [as a gas grill] but is 10 times better because it has that woodsy flavor.” Pellets for the Traeger grill come in a variety of flavors, including Hickory, Cherry, Oak, Pecan and Maple, among others.
Both the Big Green Egg and the Traeger grills are available in various sizes and start at about $600.
Tricks of the Trade
Casual Barbeque and Fireplace Owner Keith Deppe’s five tips to great barbeque.
1. Cook low and slow [temperature and time].
2. Apply fresh spices.
3. Use natural lump coal.
4. Buy high quality cuts of meat.
5. Don’t overcook anything – invest in a good thermometer.
Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce
Any good barbequed meat can only benefit from the right mouth-watering sauce. Try this winner at your next outdoor event.
1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons finely grated onion
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Whisk the ketchup, onion, Worcestershire, mustard, molasses, maple syrup, vinegar, chili powder and cayenne together in a small bowl. Heat a skillet to medium. Simmer the sauce over medium heat, stirring frequently with a heatproof spatula, until the sauce is thick, glossy and the spatula leaves a clear trail in the sauce, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and serve with your meat selection.
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Live!