Charcoal Is Better.

(Photo by the author.)

I’m forced to share with you the dumbest thing I have ever read, at least this week. You probably saw it already, since Glenn linked it a couple days ago — but I have to get my say in. Here’s Mark McClusky on why gas is better than charcoal:


Look, I like cooking on charcoal too — it has one indisputable advantage over gas: It gets much hotter. Glowing coals are at a temperature of about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit; while gas burns at around 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, there’s very little radiant heat from the flames.

And radiant heat is what’s really cooking your food on a grill.

The thing that cooks your food? Gas doesn’t do it as well. Which makes it… better?

I want you to perform an experiment — but only in your head, please. Take a beautiful, two-inch thick ribeye. Now stick it in the microwave for five or six minutes or however long it takes to cook to medium rare. Mmmm, do you see that gray hunk of flabby, wet animal flesh? Doesn’t it look delish?



What really makes the steak is the char on the outside, that crispy crunchy salty peppery caramelized meat. And to get a really good char you need really high heat. Ideally, that char should come from a cast iron grate over white-hot coals. The next best method is to cook indoors on a cast iron pan. In both cases, preheat that cast iron until it is hot. With a capital H-O-T. The trick isn’t just to get the cooking surface hot, it’s to keep it that way, even after throwing a heat-absorbing steak on it. Every degree your cooking surface cools down is a degree away from charred perfection.

The broiler setting on your oven will do a fair-to-middlin’ job, provided you remember to pre-heat the broiler pan. But those pans just don’t retain enough heat to do justice to good meat. A gas grill works much the same way as a gas oven — hot, but not hot hot. In fact, I can’t even call gas grilling “grilling.” It’s more like “baking outdoors.”

This is how VodkaPundit does it. (Photo by VodkaPundit, steak by VodkaPundit, eating by VodkaPundit and Mrs. VodkaPundit.)

Try as you might, gas just can’t make that happen. Sous vide chefs love their steaks done perfectly through from edge to edge. But what’s the last thing they do before serving? Use super-heated cast iron to get that perfect char. And there just aren’t enough BTUs in a propane tank to do that.

Finally, if you’re forced to cook with something called “flavor bars,” then you’re spending far too much money and effort to replicate what charcoal does cheaply and effortlessly.

So what’s the real reason McClusky prefers gas? He won’t devote the time to charcoal:

I can walk in my door with a bag of groceries at 6:30, and have grilled chicken on the table at 7, a happy family praising a delicious dinner. The most precious commodity in the world, the one resource that none of us has enough of, that’s constantly dwindling until we die, is time.

A gas grill claws back time for you every time you use it. Grill three times a week over the course of a summer, and you’ll have saved yourself a full day. A day!

I bet that chicken breast is skinless, too.

Anyway, if you really want to spend some quality time with your family, here’s a modest suggestion: BRING THEM OUT ON THE EFFING DECK WITH YOU.

Bonding around fire predates written history. I’d be willing to bet that conversation, togetherness, and half our primitive vocabularies were all invented around cooking fires. It’s bred into us, if such a thing is possible, to gather around flame to cook and enjoy one another’s company. You can do all that with a gas grill, but that’s not what McClusky is saying. He’s saying it’s all about the time he saves.


Does charcoal take longer? Sure. It might take 30-40 minutes to really get your grill going — 30-40 minutes spent out in the fresh air with a cocktail and the people you love. You’ll also teach your kids important things like how to safely start and tend a fire. How to take care. How to take time. And how to be together enjoying a timeless activity.

You’ll also teach them a thing or two about how to properly grill their food.

All of which says tons more to them than running late in the door with some flavorless chicken breasts, flicking a switch, and using gas to quickly make them slightly less flavorless.

Grilling over charcoal doesn’t cost me a day each summer. It gives me an evening with each meal.


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