A Simple Guide to Choosing the Right Charcoal BBQ

Portable Charcoal Smoker BBQ Grill

Choosing between charcoal BBQs and gas-powered one all boils down to personal preference. Some prefer the convenience and better temperature control of a gas-powered BBQ, while others favor charcoal BBQs for the thrill of the fire and the smoky flavor it imparts. Either way, the argument, like Chicken or Egg, or Mac or PC, can quickly turn violent.

Grilling or barbecuing our food is one of the world’s oldest forms of cooking. One might even say that the urge to cook over an open flame is ingrained in our subconscious. It is difficult to understate the reasons for barbecuing: It doesn’t require much preparation, the techniques are simple, cleanup is a breeze, and grilled food tastes like no other.

If you are thinking of getting a charcoal BBQ, we welcome you to the fold. Charcoal BBQs are better than their gas and electric counterparts. That is a fact. Charcoal BBQs are typically less expensive than gas BBQs, the smoke infuses the food with a distinct, pleasant smoky flavor, and, with the exception of some gas burners, wood and charcoal can burn at higher temperatures, making them ideal for searing steaks.

There are a lot of charcoal BBQs in the market, and it may be difficult to choose the right model for you. I am not going to tell you which BBQ to buy. I am, however, going to share with you some of the factors you have to consider when considering a charcoal BBQ. I want to help you make an informed decision. Let’s begin.

Pros and Cons

Food cooked over a charcoal BBQ objectively tastes better than one cooked with a gas BBQ. That is backed by science. The higher temperature output by charcoal BBQs makes them better for searing than gas BBQs. A properly seared meat undergoes a host of chemical reactions like caramelization and the Maillard reaction to produce complex, sweet, rich and savory flavors on the surface. The searing also gives the meat surface a beautiful crunch.

When grilling, the drippings from the food drop to the hot charcoal below. This creates smoke which can infuse the meat with pleasant and interesting flavors, depending on the type of wood burned. The smoky flavors are more apparent when grilling low and slow, as in the case of thick cuts of meat, steaks, and chicken.

On the other hand, the risk of a fire is higher with a charcoal BBQ. If you live in an apartment building or a condominium, you may be out of luck as many landlords and local jurisdictions ban charcoal BBQs from mid to high-rise buildings. Temperature management is also much more difficult with charcoal BBQs, as there is a knob to increase or lower the temperature at will.

Features to consider

Temperature management: Obviously, you can’t adjust the temperature of a charcoal BBQ at will. There are no knobs to turn, no buttons to press. How hot or low the grill gets all depends on the skill of the user. But not everything is left to the chance. Some charcoal BBQs make it easier for the user to manage the temperature. Look for features like a lid, dampers, height adjusters (to lower or raise the distance of the hot coal and the food) and inbuilt thermometers.

  • Lids: Charcoal BBQ lids trap heat. The fewer holes there are, and the tighter the seal, the better.
  • Dampers: A basic charcoal BBQ has two dampers: the exhaust and the intake. The intake damper lets the oxygen in, which can increase or decrease the strength of the fire. This is one of the features you can use to control the temperature.
  • Height adjuster: You can raise or lower the height of the coal to control the heat while grilling the food. The nearer the coal is to the food, the higher the heat, and the more intense the grilling. The ideal grilling method is to keep the heat low at the beginning of the barbecue and to raise the temperature towards the end to facilitate the complex chemical reactions that help give grilled food its distinct flavor.
  • Thermometer: Grilling without a functioning thermometer is like flying a Jumbo Jet without navigational aids: You are flying blind. You will have no way of telling whether the meat is done or not without the aid of a digital thermometer. Serving undercooked food also can land your guests in the hospital.

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