Will Jones: Gas or charcoal - which grill is better?


DETROIT – We've made it. We've survived another winter.

Now, Michiganders are putting their patio furniture back outside and dusting off their grills.

It's barbecue season. 

I love the smell of barbecue in the air on a warm spring or summer day. I've been known to crash a cookout or two during the summer. I might show up at your house next. I'll bring the paper plates and cups. 

Each year around this time, an age-old debate always fires up among family and friends. Which is better for grilling: gas or charcoal?

I am team charcoal, even though I once had a terrible experience with a charcoal grill that required a 911 call for fire service. Let's just say, I went a little overboard with the lighter fluid. That was my first and only time using a fire extinguisher.

Don't get me wrong, the food still tastes good on a gas grill. But it doesn't quite compare to the flavor that comes with charcoal.

Bruce Bissonnette is the treasurer of the Great Lakes Barbecue Association, a group that promotes the art and technique of outdoor cooking. Bissonnette proudly claims to be a charcoal guy. However, he does also own a gas grill, which means he knows the pros and cons of both.

"I believe that cooking over coals or hardwood lump charcoal imparts a tremendous flavor to meat that cooking over gas just can't provide," he said.

Bissonnette says which is better just depends on preference.

"There are people I know who wouldn't be caught dead using charcoal for various reasons and there are people I know who wouldn't be caught dead using gas," he said.

According to the latest stats from the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association about 8 million gas grills were sold in 2012, compared to 6 million charcoal grills.

Gas grills overtook charcoal grills in sales in the mid-90s. 

I reached out to my Local 4 Today family for a survey of their taste buds.

Evrod Cassimy and Ashlee Baracy prefer gas grills.

Rhonda Walker says if she's not doing the grilling, her vote is for charcoal because of the taste. 

"I like gas because it's easier, don't have to fuss with coals and the additional maintenance and clean up," Walker said.

Lauren Podell and her husband, Joel, know how to throw a good backyard party.  They not only have both gas and charcoal grills, they also have a smoker.

"We do most of our daily cooking in the spring and summer on the gas, it's faster and less of a mess. But when we have more time and are looking for a specific flavor on our chicken, steak, even vegetables, we turn to the charcoal or smoker," Podell said.

So I guess the debate continues for now.

"I have found if you can convince the gas people to just try charcoal once or twice, they will eventually come around to the 'right' way to do it," Bissonnette said.

We can only hope they come to their senses.

Happy Grilling!