Gas versus charcoal, it’s the classic grilling debate. So which one is better? We put the question to Victor Albisu, who was raised in a butcher shop and now owns Del Campo, a South American grill in Washington D.C. “Meat and grilling has been a part of my life since I was a child,” he says. So, apparently, is diplomacy: according to Albisu, there are benefits to both. So when the inevitable blowhard at your Fourth of July party says you bought the wrong grill, let him know what makes your grill the best for you.
Temperature control – Being precise is what the gas grill is all about. Say you’re accidentally burning something. No problem. Just turn one of the knobs to the side and there you go – no more fire. And if the heat is too low, you just turn it back up. Simple as that.
That precision also allows you to dial in different heat zones on the grill. Different foods cook at different temperatures. So if you need a medium flame for your chicken thighs and high heat to sear a skirt steak. Again, no problem.
Slow cooking — That little shelf above the grate gives you the ability to slow cook effortlessly. Albisu says he often starts cooking sausage or chicken on the grate and then moves it to the shelf. Cooking slowly, especially a tough cut, accentuates the flavor and gives it that extra crisp.
Flavor – When the fat or marinades drip off your meat or vegetables, they hit the charcoal. Then, the smoke from the charcoal envelopes whatever you’re grilling and intensifies it. That’s where you get that classic grill flavor, says Albisu.
And that’s not to mention the smell – part of taste. “When you smell a charcoal grill burning, you really get excited,” he says. “It’s just a very natural human response to a grill. You don’t get that visceral response from a non-charcoal or gas grill.”
Versatility — Need a makeshift smoker? Just put some wood in with the charcoal and keep the lid down. And if you want to smoke some vegetables, wrap them up in foil and cook them in the embers. These two advantages let you cook in ways that a gas grill just doesn’t allow.
Be a better griller — If you want a challenge, a charcoal grill is the way to go. Sure, the flavor is better and you can be more versatile — but you have to know what you’re doing. Because you don’t have the precision of a gas grill, you have to know how to get it to the right temperature, how to find the hot and cool spots on the grill, and when you need to add more charcoal.
“There’s a lot of little things, little knick-knack things that you have to deal with while you’re grilling on charcoal,” Albisu says. “But at the same time, it’s really beneficial.”