Charcoal or electric grill: which is better?


Summer is barbecue season, but before you fire up the grill, you have to decide which is the better choice for you: charcoal or electric. Barbecue fanatics everywhere have strong feelings for one or the other based on several factors including temperature, flavor and convenience. 

Charcoal purists swear by the time-tested power of natural, high heat and smoke, while other home chefs love the ease and consistency of an electric grill. Safety concerns and health considerations could also sway your choice one way or the other. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the two and a guide to help you decide whether a charcoal or electric grill is right for you.

Charcoal grills

charcoal grill

Kettle Charcoal Grill

Whether it’s a backyard barbecue, a forest campsite or a family reunion, the charcoal grill is a staple of American culture and tradition. All you need is a solid steel kettle grill, a bag of charcoal briquets, a source of flame and maybe a little lighter fluid to bring the fire on quickly. 

If you’re looking for a rich, charbroiled and smoky flavor, charcoal is king — but the benefits don’t stop there. At an average price between $50 to $500, basic charcoal grills are significantly cheaper than some of the more expensive alternatives

Charcoal grills rely on the skills of the chef to achieve the best results, as the heat source can be hard to control, potentially leading to inconsistency and undesired results. Overall, it’s a hands-on cooking method that many barbecue fans find irreplaceable.

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What you’ll love about charcoal grills

Char-Griller E1515 Patio Pro Charcoal Grill

Char-Griller E1515 Patio Pro Charcoal Grill

  • Flavor: The most common reason people prefer charcoal is for the taste of the end result. You can capture that classic smoky, charbroiled flavor, or add any variety of wood chips to add something rich and distinctly different.
  • Cheap options: In addition to the traditional kettle grill, there are a variety of newer styles available for less than $100.
  • Portability: Unlike most electric grills, charcoal grills are used outdoors, far away from any electrical outlets. 
  • Aroma: Just as charcoal and wood chips enhance the flavor of your food, the aroma of an open-flame grill can inspire more neighborhood cookouts.
  • Tradition: Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day are not just popular holidays of summer in America, they are also the three most popular grilling days of the year. The charcoal grill is a staple of those backyard bonanzas.

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What you should consider about charcoal grills

  • Safety: The open-flame nature of charcoal grills makes it a fire hazard for many porches, patios and balconies. Covered areas can become danger zones when carbon dioxide builds in a small space. 
  • Cost of fuel: To keep your grill heated all summer, you have to keep charcoal briquets stocked, a price that builds over time. 
  • Time: Charcoal takes more time to heat than electric grills.
  • Consistency: Unlike an electric grill, the heat from a charcoal grill can vary wildly as flames flare and coals cool, making cooking temperature inconsistent.

Best charcoal grills

Char-Griller Akorn Kamado

Weber Original Kettle Charcoal Grill

What can we say? The classic Weber Original Kettle Charcoal Grill is still the king of the coals. If you’d like something a little more sophisticated, the Char-Griller Akorn Kamado doubles as a smoker. 

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Electric grills

George Foreman 5-Serving Removable Plate Grill and Panini Press

George Foreman 4-Serving Removable Plate Grill 

When it comes to hot dogs and hamburgers, the electric grill isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. In many instances, it’s the best choice for whatever is on your menu. While it may evoke images of George Foreman cooking chicken, electric grills have come a long way in the last few decades. If you’re willing to trade that smoky flavor for convenience and other benefits, there’s an electric grill for you.

The electric grill has some advantages over classic charcoal grills. For many people, charcoal grills aren’t an option — apartment and condo dwellers, for example, are often prohibited from using any open-flame devices on porches or balconies. With an electric grill, you can still enjoy a beautiful day while quickly cooking a delicious dinner.

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What you’ll love about electric grills

Cuisinart CEG-980 Outdoor Electric Grill

Cuisinart CEG-980 Outdoor Electric Grill 

  • Convenience: Most electric grills are portable and only require an electrical outlet.
  • Ease-of-use: Control the temperature manually and easily, no learning curve needed.
  • Faster heat time: Foods cook quickly.
  • Healthier: No carcinogens produced and no unsustainable fuel necessary.
  • Flexibility: Unlike charcoal grills, electric grills can be used indoors and can be easily transported.

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What you should consider about electric grills

  • Flavor: Electric grills can’t replicate the smoky flavor of charcoal.
  • Power source: Only useful where electric outlets are available.
  • Storage: Electric grills must be stored indoors and can take up space.
  • Surface size: Most electric grill surfaces are smaller than their outdoor counterparts.

Best electric grills

Foreman Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill

Foreman Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill

It may come as a surprise, but George Foreman is still knocking out electric grills. The Foreman Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill is versatile, consistent and inexpensive. If you want to splurge, the Weber Q 2400 Electric Grill is top of its class.

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Should I get a charcoal grill or an electric grill?

When it’s time for you to choose your grill, ultimately, it depends on your needs and desired outcome. When it comes to flavor, nothing can beat a charcoal grill for its smokiness, searing, and charbroiled taste. If you’re looking for a healthier and more convenient option, an electric grill will get the job done.

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Matt Fleming is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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