The Propane Vs Charcoal Debate: Which is better?

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For many years, people have debated which came first, the chicken or the egg? There is no easy answer to the age-old question, and the same is true when considering which type of grill is better to cook on, propane vs charcoal.

Propane is a versatile, multipurpose fuel that is clean-burning, inexpensive and non-toxic. It is a by-product of natural gas and crude oil refining that is transported and stored as a liquid. Propane is also becoming a more viable fuel source for vehicles and heating houses in remote areas of the country. Propane grills range from three-burner grills with basic heat controls all the way up to multi-burner infrared grills with separate heat zone controls and side burner options.

Propane grills are often used for direct heat cooking, which means having the heat source only a few inches under the cooking grates. Most grills use a baffle or heat deflector to ensure even temperatures while cooking. When cooking on a propane grill, controlling the temperature of your grill is much easier. All propane grills have control dials at the front of the grill to control the amount of propane being released in each burner, which in turns regulates the temperature. The average grilling temperature ranges from 375F to 500F when cooking most meats and fish. One large distinction between cooking on propane is the taste. Propane has no taste or flavour to impart into your meat or fish.

Charcoal is a mostly pure carbon, called char. Creating charcoal is made by cooking wood in a low oxygen environment, which can take days to burn off volatile elements such as methane, hydrogen and water. When ignited, the charcoal combines with oxygen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and water to put out large amounts of energy in the form of heat. Charcoal burns hot, steady and clean when managed properly by the cook. Team Canada BBQ uses Nature’s Own Hardwood Charcoal, which is made of Quebec sugar maple. It adds a uniquely Canadian flavour to our BBQ. Charcoal grills can range from basic and bullet grills, ceramic grills, pellet grills all the way to very expensive reverse flow grills just to name a few. Team Canada BBQ uses Louisiana Grills from Edmonton, Alberta as our work horses.

Cooking on a charcoal grill often refers to using indirect heat. This means your charcoal and fuel source are 6-24 inches away from the meat being cooked. Offset grills and reverse flow grills are prime examples of having the heat source farther away. The average cooking temperature for indirect cooking is 225-275F. Controlling the temperature of a charcoal grill can be tricky at times, because there are no dials to change the temperature. Dampers are used instead of dials to control the amount of oxygen being provided to the burning charcoal. A simple adjustment of a damper can mean the spike of many degrees higher or lower. When cooking on a charcoal grill you will definitely taste the “heat”. Charcoal provides its own unique flavor to meats and fish, when combined with various fruit and hard woods, it can result in some incredible food.

In the coming weeks, Team Canada BBQ will be releasing articles about different smokers and what amazing BBQ can be created on them.

There are two main types of charcoal readily available on the market today, lump and briquette. Lump charcoal is the closet thing to cooking with natural wood. There are more natural flavours of lump charcoal such as Quebec maple, hickory and mesquite.

Briquettes are made of compressed wood chips, sawdust that are burned down in a similar style to lump charcoal, then mixed with anthracite coal, mineral charcoal, starch, sodium nitrate, limestone, borax and more sawdust. There are then molded into a pillow shape, dried, packaged and then shipped.

So understanding a bit about propane and charcoal, which is better? In all honesty there is no short answer. It comes down to is your budget for buying a grill and what you plan to cook. Are you comfortable as a cook, firing up the propane grill and having your steak cooking in under 10 minutes? Or do you like the idea of taking any where from 15 to 30 minutes getting your charcoal grill just right to cook that one piece of meat.

Whatever your preference in grills, enjoy the amazing food being created on it.

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