Ah, life used to be so simple, didn’t it?
Not so long ago, tweeting was for the birdies, cookies were something you enjoyed with a glass of milk, and spam was a weird kind of processed meat.
Times have changed—and the same applies to grilling.
A few years back, cookouts were the realm of wannabe cavemen (and women). It was humans at their most elemental and natural form—battling away with nothing but an iron grate, some coals, and, of course, fire.
However, technology moves on—and sometimes for the better.
The advent of alternative fuel sources in grilling is revolutionizing the way we prepare our food outdoors.
But, which one is the undisputed champion?
Here’s the gloves-off battle between the two cookout heavyweights—electric vs gas grill.
Electric vs Gas Grill Differences
- Food volumes.
- Costs to run.
- Ease of use.
- Food flavor.
The Charcoal Grill Issue
Grilling isn’t new.
Around two million years ago, our Homo Habilis ancestors were enjoying their own primitive cookouts. Ok, admittedly, they were more a means to survival than a social pursuit—and the menu probably consisted more of wooly mammoth than Boston Butt—but still, they were preparing their food on an open fire.
And this, perhaps, is one of the attractions of BBQing. A sense of being in touch with our ancient relatives—and a confidence that should a dreaded zombie apocalypse occur—our bushcraft skills would allow us to survive without supermarkets and TV dinners.
Or maybe because food just tastes awesome from charcoal grills.
Anyways, modern traditional grilling was fairly similar to the ancient methods. Admittedly, sticks and logs were consigned to the preppers—the rest of us used store-purchased coals.
However, this romantic attachment to charcoal grills, I believe, often means we see our outdoor culinary escapades with a somewhat rose-tinted view. Sure, it produces fantastic flavored food (sometimes), but to be honest, it’s well, a little annoying.
Be honest, how many times have you been frustrated by:
- Coals failing to light.
- Lighter fluid setting fire to your lawn, clothes, or grandmother (true event, July 4th, 1987—send me your email address, and I’ll give you the story).
- Having no idea how to operate the vents on charcoal grills.
- Black hands.
- Not knowing how to make sure you’ve thoroughly cooked your meat.
- Difficulty in controlling heat.
- Short burn-time of charcoal.
- Needing to constantly clean your charcoal grill.
Sounds familiar, right?
To be fair, if you follow good-practice guidelines for coal cooking—you can simply solve many of these issues.
Alternatively, you could use the somewhat more user-friendly gas or electric grills.
I’ll be honest with you from the get-go—I still love my charcoal grate—but it hasn’t stopped me using the two newer versions too. Like many Americans, I have more than one type of grill.
Sure, the wife considers it somewhat of an excess. However, so is owning forty different pairs of shoes—a point I apparently always bring up when she moans about my love for grilling. My electric and gas grill BBQs are probably cheaper too.
Anyways, enough insight into my domestic life—time to get down to the meat in electric v. gas.
So, time for the tale of the tape in this electric grilling and gas title fight.
History of the Grills
Notice the continual boxing metaphor? That’s not any great artistic inspiration—it’s just because one of these cooking behemoths has a world-beating pugilist behind it.
Electric grills, in one form or another, have been around for years. Perhaps its oldest incarnation is the pie-iron (Breville, toastie maker) from the 1920s when Charles Champion (yup, real name) invented the Tostwich.
However, it wasn’t until 1994 that it gained mass-market appeal. Perhaps it was due to the fact that it enabled fire-free grilling, or maybe because it was sold by companies as a healthy alternative to frying meat.
Or, perhaps it was simply down to a two-time World Heavyweight boxer recommending the product.
So, in perhaps the most remarkable (and seriously weird) product branding and endorsement agreements in US retail history—he remarketed it as the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine.
Initially designed for indoor use—this company (and soon many ‘inspired’ products) began to produce outdoor versions to replace charcoal grills.
Today, I have a George Foreman machine in the garage. It’s stored in between the Tom Hanks Dust Busting Vacuum and the Dr. Dre Grass Eliminating Lawnmower.
The story behind the gas grill is a little less exciting (and shorter).
The earliest form was the LazyMan (says it all), invented by Don McGlaughlin in the 1950s. His sales tagline was the slightly uninspiring open-fire charcoal-type gas broiler (well, electric grills win the fight on that one, it’s not a patch on lean and mean).
It aimed to mimic charcoal grills as close as possible—even including what it termed permanent coals—what we typically refer to today as lava rock. They allow you to retain heat in the grill—even after turning off the gas.
Grill Fuel Source
Yeah, it’s no surprise, an electric grill uses electric and a gas grill, well, gas obviously.
In the electric grill, power enters the machine through a power cord (and an extension if needed)—which then elevates the temperature in the heating element. This, in turn, then heats typically ceramic and non-stick plates—onto which you place your food.
Hence, you see the immediate downside—you needed access to electricity. While this possibly isn’t an issue in your yard—it may present a problem if you’re camping next to your favorite lake.
A gas grill can utilize either natural gas or a propane tank for energy.
So, if you wish, you can hook up your unit to your home’s natural gas line—although obviously, this means your grill is no longer portable. Admittedly, even carting a small propane tank on outdoor excursions can reduce portability—but it’s easier than carrying a diesel generator for an electric grill.
Size does matter—both for an electric or gas machine.
If your grill is too small, you could end up with some disappointed (and hungry) guests. Too large, and you’ve wasted money, and it will restrict your units’ portability.
Both types are available in numerous sizes—although you’re a little more restricted with an electric grill. The smallest versions are ideal for indoor use—being sufficiently compact to fit onto kitchen worktops. The largest types are only suitable for outdoor cooking.
Gas grills, however, range from around three feet wide up to the industrial catering size of about ten feet.
The prime consideration is how many people you’re cooking for. An electric grill would be ideal for couples—while if you’re catering for an entire football team, then it’s more beneficial to opt for gas.
Cooking Flavor of the Grills
If you love the taste from a charcoal grill—but are considering migrating to a more convenient outdoor cooking method—then you’re probably best suited to a gas machine.
The reason being that a gas grill utilizes a real flame beneath the cooking grate. Hence not only is your meat exposed to this open fire, but juices and fats also drip from your fayre onto the flames, creating smoke—and therefore adding flavor.
Additionally, some (not all) gas grills allow you to add smoke pellets and lava rocks for an even more authentic charcoal-esque taste.
Electric grills lack this feature.
As you’re cooking food on a ceramic plate over a heating element—your meat (or veggies) don’t even have a glimpse of an open flame. Safe for kids, yes, but you’re going to lack that distinctive charcoal grilling (i.e., often satisfyingly burnt) taste.
Grill Cooking Surface
While you may not get the flavor of a charcoal or gas grill with the electric version—your meat will still look a little like genuine fire-prepared fayre.
The ceramic cooking surface of an electric grill features ridges—giving your meat the appearance that you’ve cooked it on a grate.
Furthermore, some feature a clamshell design—allowing you to cook from both above and below simultaneously. And, with the base at an angle—all the excess fat runs off into a removable drip tray.
Hence, while the cooking surface promotes a healthier and leaner method of preparation—you will lose some of the distinctive fatty-flavor of a gas or charcoal grill.
Gas grills are much more versatile.
Depending on the gas grill model—they can boast side burners, multiple burners and rotisserie kits.
Additionally, some more upmarket models feature a ‘griddle’—shielding your meat from open flames while also providing sufficient heat to ensure thorough cooking. Furthermore, they also feature a ‘smoker box,’ which you fill with wood chips to still promote a chargrilled taste.
Grill Temperature and Heat
The more feature-heavy electric grills do feature some element of temperature control—but they restrict your grilling to low heat, medium heat or high heat. Which, for many users, will mean very little.
Typically, the electric grill will feature a thermostat, which, at each setting, turns the unit off once it’s reached your selected temperature setting. And then, when the heat drops, they switch back on again. This can be frustrating for some users—who may want to char or sear their meat slightly.
Gas grills allow for more specific temperature control—typically with settings ranging from 200-250 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjustment of heat works the same as your typical kitchen stove—and searing is possible.
Their only downside, perhaps, is that the gas grill cannot be used for low heat—so slow cooking is challenging on these machines.
Storage and Cleaning of the Grills
So, electric power vs gas grill—what’s the most convenient when it comes to post-cookout cleaning?
An electric grill with its heating element, coils, capacitors and cables isn’t particularly suited to immersion in water. Unless you want to run the risk of electrocution or wrecking your unit.
However, the bonus is that the design of the electric grill promotes fat run-off during cooking—hence there’s little to remove. Furthermore, electric grills have non-stick surfaces that you can effortlessly clean with a damp and soapy cloth.
As electric grills aren’t particularly deep—you can store the smaller versions in cupboards or on shelves.
The gas grill typically boasts numerous removable parts—grates, ring tops and trays—which you can immerse into water for cleaning.
Yet, the storage of gas grills is a little more challenging than the electric types. For starters, if you’ve connected your machine to a natural gas line—it has to remain in situ. Furthermore, even if you utilize a propane canister—the gas grill is still larger than the electric types—and you need space to store the flammable tank safely.
Grill CO2 Emissions
If environmental factors are important to you when selecting between electric power vs gas grills—here are the facts.
Electric grills create 15 pounds of carbon dioxide per hour—much more than the gas grills, which cause 5.6 pounds of pollution.
Surprisingly, even charcoal is more planet-friendly than an electric grill—making 11 pounds of CO2 per hour.
Electric Grill vs Grill by Gas Pros and Cons
A lot of grill information to digest, right?
So, time to pitch them into battle in the ultimate electric grill vs grill by gas fifteen-round pros and cons title fight.
Make sure you’re sitting down—because it’s time to turn up the heat!
|Round Winner||Judges Decision|
Quality of Food
|Gas Grill||While an electric grill will provide more even cooking than a gas grill—the gas version delivers a more authentic char-grilled flavor.|
Ease of Use
|Electric Grill||Electric grills allow you to just plug-in and cook. Gas grills demand a little more preparation and cooking skill—although they’re still not as complicated to control as charcoal types.|
|Gas Grills||On an electric grill, you can just, well, grill. However, the multiple burners, rotisseries, side burners and smoke options of gas grills allow for more diverse food.|
|Gas Grill||The largest gas grills will completely dwarf even the biggest electric grill.|
|Gas Grill||As long as the rain isn’t torrential, you can use a gas grill outside and uncovered. Never use an electric grill in wet weather.|
|Electric Grills||Smaller and thinner than their gas counterparts—you can easily store an electric grill in a cupboard.|
|Electric Grills||While you can remove many parts of gas grills and immerse in water—electric grills with their drip tray and non-stick surfaces don’t become very dirty.|
|Electric Grills||With no naked flames and an internal thermostat, electric grills are safer than their gas cousins.|
|Gas Grills||Although neither format is particularly portable—gas grills can still be used in remote locations as long as you have a propane canister. However, if it’s connected to a natural gas line—it’s immovable.|
|Draw||For outdoor grilling, the gas version is clearly more popular. However, factor in the number of electric grills that never leave the kitchen—and it balances up.|
|Draw||Natural gas grills are the cheapest, at $0.15 per hour. However, if you use propane, that escalates to $0.60 p/hr, compared to $0.25 p/hr of electric grills.|
|Gas Grills||With lower carbon dioxide emissions than electric grills, the natural gas grills are better for the environment.|
|Electric Grills||Comparing the most budget-friendly electric grill vs propane or natural gas—the electric grills are the cheapest.|
|Electric Grills||In electric grill vs the gas types, the former requires less attention. As gas grills can emit carbon monoxide and dioxide, careful maintenance is needed to prevent dangerous levels.|
|Gas Grills||With the ability for industrial-sized catering—gas grills are far superior to the electric grills variety.|
It was a seriously close fight—and it went the full distance.
However, over 15 rounds in the gas grills vs electric grills showdown—the gas-powered variety emerges the victor at a score of seven rounds to six—with two rounds being a draw.
Analysis of the Electric Grill vs Gas Grill Battle
Ok, before you bombard my email address with complaints—let me be honest.
I wouldn’t say that the fight was fixed in favor of the gas grill—but it did have something of an advantage.
The judge (i.e., yours truly) was somewhat biased.
You see, many of the rounds were inherently angled more toward gas than electric—in that I compare them to the original format of outdoor cooking—charcoal.
With its naked flame, ability to flare-up with meat juices and fats, and provide that distinctive charred flavor—the electric grill really didn’t stand a chance.
However, it did punch above its weight—being easier to maintain, more budget-friendly, safer, and require less effort to clean.
And admittedly, many of these aspects may be the ideal features for some outdoor grilling enthusiasts—preferring them over the gas types.
As the perfectly apt cliché says—it’s down to personal taste.
Electric and Gas Grills FAQs
Are Electric Grills Worth It?
If you’re looking for a rapidly heating, budget-friendly and easy-to-clean machine—electric grills are ideal.
Is It Healthier to Grill With Gas or Charcoal?
Although some people explain that cooking with charcoal produces more carcinogens than gas—scientific research has not found this to be true.
What Type of Grill Is Best?
For a more authentic chargrilled taste—opt for a gas grill. However, if you’re looking for simplicity and easy-cleaning in your grill—go for the electric variety.
Are Electric Grills Dangerous?
With no naked flames—some enthusiasts consider electric grills to be safer than gas or charcoal versions. However, you must never immerse them in water.
Saved by the Bell
Ok, there are some fire-loving snobs who consider anything other than a charcoal grill to be cheating.
Ignore them. Shun them (if you’re Amish). Unfriend them (if you use social media).
My advice is just to make sure you grill in whatever way provides the food you enjoy—and with the convenience you demand.
There is no real ‘winner’ in the electric or gas battle of the grills.
It’s about what works for you.
Now get out there and become the undisputed heavyweight champion of your cookouts.