Can You Use Charcoal in a Gas Grill?

Most gas grills are not designed to take charcoal fuel. Even if gas grill fireboxes seem like they can fit coal or wood, it is generally not recommended. Though it can be pretty tempting to try and achieve the distinct charcoal flavor with gas grills, using your propane grill to do it is generally discouraged.

Propane-powered grills tend to differ from charcoal models in terms of heat resistance materials and therefore the type of materials they incorporate. Normally you’d see gas grills incorporate stainless steel burners as well as other stainless steel details which can become damaged from charcoal-generated heat and ash.

Possible damage may include clogging, metal warping, and even burn-related injury to the person using the grill which could be caused by stray hot coals. If you use charcoal with grills that are designed to be explicitly used with gas only, you may end up replacing the entire appliance.

There are, however, some exceptions to the rule.

Combo grills, for example, are designed for cooking versatility, so they support both charcoal and gas grilling. The downside of such models is their relatively mediocre delivery on both fronts, at least in the case of cheaper combo grills.

Top combo performers tend to be both expensive and rather large, so they can’t exactly be an option for many home grillers. Though it is possible to find more or less affordable options with combination cooktops, for example among Blackstone griddles. Another famous brand that can satisfy your charcoal grilling needs is Napoleon who offers a range of accessories such as charcoal trays meant to be used with gas grills.

Can You Get Charcoal Flavour With a Gas Grill?

Gas grills are a particular favorite of home cooks that value time efficiency and generous space management. Not only can these grills take on large portions of food at once, but they are also easy to light, regulate, and cool off.

One of the downsides of gas, however, is its general blandness in terms of flavor. Charcoal grills are famous for imparting that very special smokey flavor complete with a slightly charred top layer found on almost any charcoal-grilled food, from veggies and fish to steaks and hot dogs.

But can this distinct quality be replicated with a cheap gas grill? The answer to that is yes, it can, though not completely of course. What you can get with that approximation, though, is enough to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.

So what is the secret to getting the taste of charcoal-cooked food with a propane grill? 

Using a smoker

A rather natural solution to this problem is a freestanding smoker box. These are powered by wood chips and pellets which is pretty close to lumping charcoal mixed with hardwood or wood chips that charcoal grills use for grilling.

Smoker boxes come in various shapes and sizes, from regular rectangular-shaped stainless steel boxes to V-shape under-grate boxes and even compact flat boxes that lay straight on the grate. As they are designed to generate smoke, the boxes feature a series of holes located in the top lid so that the escaping smoke properly infuses the food located on the grate or on the smoker itself.

It’s fairly easy to use them, all you need is a gas grill, good quality wood chips, and some patience. By the end of such a smoking session, you will be able to enjoy food similar to that cooked on a charcoal grill on very low heat or in the smoking mode. It’s rich, smokey, and tastes like a subtly charred snack straight off a charcoal grill.

Covering the grill

What makes charcoal grilling so strikingly distinctive is the nature of the heat that pure or almost pure carbon fuel produces. A charcoal grill is the most effective when it’s at its hottest, with the air dampers open and the lid off.

Gas grills can be driven to similar temperature conditions, except you will have to do the exact opposite. This means cranking up the burners and keep the lid securely closed to maintain the heat. Whereas charcoal needs oxygen to stay alive, the heat from the burning has escapes too quickly when isn’t contained.

Adjusting the heat

Another significant distinction between charcoal and gas grills is the heat distribution. On a charcoal grill, you are able to create various settings such as two-zone fire or even set-ups and move the grate closer to the coals when required.

In order to replicate this effect with a gas grill, you can make use of the cooktop’s burners, provided the grill has at least two of them.

The trick is pretty simple: turn one burner to the highest setting and keep the other on its lowest (or even turn it off completely).

By utilizing your heat zones right, you will be able to achieve the natural browning effect that occurs during searing over charcoal. This non-enzymatic browning is a distinct reaction similar to caramelization and happens between amino acids and reducing sugars at high temperatures.

To further increase your chances of imbuing the food with classic cherry searing and smokey flavor, you can try out the easy tinfoil method.

For this, you will need only culinary tinfoil or even an old baking sheet pan that is no longer being used in the oven. This requires paying very close attention to every step of the process, so try not to get distracted.

  • Place a sheet of heavy-duty tinfoil on the top grate.
  • When the heat builds up, remove the foil with tongs.
  • Put the food on the grate which is now extra hot. Be quick about it—the heat created by tinfoil will be contained by the grate for about half a minute.
  • Watch the food and flip it for a good, even charring.

Is it healthier to cook with charcoal or propane?

The health benefits of one fuel or another largely depend on its source as well as the manner in which it is utilized.

If you are using cheap briquette coals of questionable contents, burning them may result in more unpleasant emissions than burning propane gas of mixed contents. Alternatively, pure lump coal or natural hardwood won’t give off any nasty emissions at all.

Most of the common concerns don’t exactly have a negative impact on your health as the majority of such drawbacks deal with the effects on the food’s taste and smell.

Propane is completely safe to use outdoors and it doesn’t make your food less healthy. High-quality charcoal fuel may be a preference of many flavour purists but it doesn’t make the food any healthier than the food cooked on gas stoves or grills.

Can you put wood chips in a gas grill?

There are safe methods of using wood chips with your gas grill. Since you can’t put them inside the grill itself, you can instead make disposable smoker boxes or pouches. If your grill has a built-in smoker box, you can use wood chips to power it. If not, there is plenty of easy ways to create your own smoke pouches out of aluminium foil.

  • Measure out the wood chips you need for the recipe and divide it equally for wrapping.
  • Take a sheet (or several, depending on the recipe) of heavy-duty foil.
  • Wrap the wood chips inside individual aluminium sheets, shaping each like a burrito with folded sides.
  • Puncture the bottom of each pouch. It will allow the smoke to escape once the wood chips start burning.
  • Place the pouch underneath the grate. Fit it over the fire shield (either between the bars or over them).
  • Let the wood chips heat up and begin to smoke. Then you can start smoking your food on the grate right over the pouch.

Is a gas grill better than charcoal?

Whether you choose charcoal or gas, you should be ready to take the downsides with the upsides since both of these types of fuel come with a set of pros and cons. Below is a short overview of the benefits found in gas and charcoal grills:

Gas grillsCharcoal grills
Fast cleaning and maintenancePortable and easy to transport
Affordable fuelProvide even heat distribution
Adaptable connectionGenerate higher temperatures for searing
Uphold steady flamesOffer a variety of options for fuel arrangement
Quick ignition and coolingReduce flare-ups
Deliver juicier foodEnhances the flavours
Support a wide range of griddle pans, smoker boxes, and other accessories 

Though gas grill may be expensive on the initial buy, re-fuelling them turns out to be considerably cheaper than supplying your charcoal grill with steady amounts of coals.

Gas grills are also easier to maintain since they don’t accumulate ash, but you will still need to dedicate yourself to regular cleanings and take care of the grease and food debris.

Although you probably won’t be able to recreate the charcoal grill flavour pattern to the exact likeness, you can still add a hint of delicious smokiness to the gas-grilled food with the help of a few simple upgrades. And finally, according to chefs, the food cooked on gas grills have higher moisture content due to the release of steam during the burning process, so the meat comes out juicy and delicious.

About the author

Chris Cosentino

Chris Cosentino

Hi! My name is Chris, the Owner of the website. You can follow me on Twitter.

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