Gas versus charcoal barbecues
By Joel Bates
Gas barbecue or charcoal barbecue? We explain the pros and cons of both barbecue types and more to help guide you towards stress-free grilling.
They both give a satisfying sizzle as you load up the grill, but you’ll get a very different cooking experience when using a gas or charcoal barbecue. Which type should you choose?
Gas and charcoal barbecues come in all shapes and sizes, and with a variety of features, but they aren’t the only barbecues available. We’ve tested electric barbecues, kamado grills and smokers, too.
Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of each barbecue type you can buy, or check out our barbecue reviews to find the best barbecues of each type available.
In this article:
Gas barbecues combine gas hobs and grill bars to give you a versatile and easy-to-use outdoor cooker. If you want a grill that’s simple to get going and which offers lots of handy features, a gas barbecue could be the choice for you.
- Very easy and quick to light, taking as little as 10 minutes to reach cooking temperature.
- Plenty of features for versatile cooking, such as cooker hoods, griddles and side burners.
- Dials to adjust gas flow make it easy to control temperature.
- Lack of ash and coal makes it easier to clean.
- Generally more expensive to buy than charcoal.
- Less chargrilled BBQ flavour.
- Bulkier and more difficult to store.
- Gas canisters can be heavy and unsightly
Key features to look out for
In general, the more expensive a gas barbecue is, the more features you get. When looking to buy, these are some of the features you should keep an eye on:
- Number of burners - you don’t need to use all of them at once, but you should consider how many people you’re likely to cook for. Two burners can cater for four to six people, and six burners can cook for as many as 18.
- A cooker hood - your cooking horizons will broaden, as a hood will let you use your barbecue to roast and bake as well as grill. You can roast meat joints or even bake cakes, just light the burners around the food instead of those underneath.
- Griddles and side burners - griddles are handy for frying food instead of grilling; broadening your cooking options to food such as eggs and stir-fries. Side burners can be used to boil or steam vegetables, or heat up sauces.
- Side tables and tool hooks - useful for keeping food for cooking or condiments nearby, and giving you a place to hang your tongs and spatula.
- Flavour enhancers and fat drip collectors - lava rocks or flavouriser bars help give your food that chargrilled, smoky flavour, and fat drip collectors reduce flare-up and make the barbecue easier to clean.
Gas barbecue prices and brands
In general, the more expensive a gas barbecue is, the more features you get.
To make sure you buy from a brand that is reliable and won’t need replacing too soon, check out our barbecue brands guide. We routinely survey consumers about the barbecues they own and the problems they’ve faced with them, so you can make sure to get a barbecue that can be relied on.
Buying gas for your barbecue
Make sure you check the instructions on your gas barbecue before buying fuel for it. It will need one of:
- Propane (red or green canister)
- Butane (blue canister)
Most gas barbecues use propane, and will come with the right regulator attached, which is the valve you connect up to your grill. The valve will usually need screwing on, but green canisters (often called ‘patio gas’) have clip-on valves, which are easier to attach.
The more burners you use, the more gas you will use, but as a general guide a 13kg canister of propane will fuel a three-burner grill for around 15 hours.
You can buy gas canisters and refills at some DIY stores, garden centres, petrol stations and specialist retailers. A small deposit of around £30 is usually required to rent a canister, and the fuel itself will cost roughly the same.
Returning the canister once you’re finished will get your deposit refunded, and if you bought it they can be recycled free of charge too.
Ready to buy a gas barbecue? Go straight to our Best Buy barbecues to see the best grills you can buy.
Charcoal is the go-to for those who like their barbecues traditional and full of authentic, smoky flavours.
- More smoky, chargrilled flavour to your food.
- Generally cheaper to buy than gas.
- Much higher maximum temperature.
- No need to handle gas canisters.
- Can be tricky to light, especially with leftover ash in the drum.
- Takes far longer to reach cooking temperature than gas.
- Harder to clean.
- Less control over temperature.
Charcoal barbecue types
There are three main types of charcoal barbecue:
- Freestanding - the classic, and often cheapest, option. Consists of a stand, grill and basin. They come in various sizes and shapes, and some have storage shelves, wheels, and different height options for the grill.
- Oil drum - these large barbecues are well-suited to catering for large numbers. You can go for a half-barrel or a full oil drum, and both are great options for cooking large joints or even whole animals using a spit.
- Kettle - circular barbecues that come with hoods to sit snugly on top of the grill. The hood lets you roast and bake provided the coals don’t sit directly underneath your food. Some have temperature gauges and vents for controlling temperature, too.
In our guide on barbecue features you can dive deeper into the accessories that come with different charcoal barbecues.
Charcoal barbecue prices and brands
Charcoal barbecues are generally cheaper to buy than gas, but there are still some that can set you back more than £1,000. Our expert barbecue reviews will tell you if a pricey charcoal grill is worth investing in.
As with gas barbecues, a more expensive charcoal model is likely to have more features such as air vents, hoods, warming racks, wheels and adjustable grill heights.
Charcoal barbecues are generally cheaper to buy than gas, but there are still some out there that can set you back more than £1,000.
We’ve asked consumers to tell us about the brands they’ve bought barbecues from, how satisfied they are with their purchase and about the faults they’ve experienced when using their barbecues. Head to our barbecue brands guide for our verdict on brands such as Weber, Outback and Aldi.
Buying charcoal for your barbecue
Which charcoal you should use to fuel your barbecue is largely down to how long you want to cook for and how hot you want your coals to burn:
- Lumpwood charcoal - the natural stuff. It burns quickly so you get to cooking temperature faster, and it’s lighter than briquettes. It can burn too quickly though, so if you’re cooking lots of food or something big it might not last as long as you need it to.
- Charcoal briquettes - a denser and heavier fuel composed of coal dust and other combustibles like peat as well as charcoal. It burns hotter and for longer than lumpwood, so it’s better-suited to larger barbecues. It takes much longer than briquettes to get to cooking temperature, though.
You can get either fuel in large bags of 5kg or more from supermarkets during the late spring and summer months, and most DIY stores, hardware shops and petrol stations all year round. Larger lumps of charcoal are trickier to light and last longer, so if you're after a quick barbecue there are smaller charcoal bags available that you ignite without opening them. They light very easily and burn through quickly.
Is charcoal the choice for you? Go straight to our barbecue reviews to compare the best charcoal barbecues.
It might seem like a choice of the two classic types, but there are other types of barbecue you could opt for instead of gas or charcoal. Some have earned Best Buy recommendations in our tests, too. We list their key features, and pros and cons below.
Kamado grills, such as the Big Green Egg, are Japanese-style charcoal barbecues made out of heavy ceramic instead of metal. They’re often egg-shaped and usually require lumpwood charcoal for fuelling your cooking.
- They retain heat and can last for a very long time,up to 12 hours. This makes them good for cooking in cooler climates.
- They maintain a consistent temperature, which can be adjusted using air vents.
- Perfect for slow-cooking and smoking foods such as beef brisket, pulled pork and ribs.
- Long-lasting burn time means it can take a lot longer to cool down than you might want it to.
- Making temperature adjustments and using the right amount of fuel can be tricky and takes practice.
- With a few exceptions, models are usually very expensive, with some costing well into four figures.
Want to see how good kamados really are? We’ve tested and tried out models such as the Kamado Joe Jr, the Big Green Egg, the Aldi Kamado egg and the Kamado Joe Classic II to give you the answers you need.
An electric grill may not appeal to barbecue purists, but if you’re short on space and still want an outdoor cooking experience they can be a great choice. They’re perfect for cooking on a balcony or in a small garden.
- Small amount of space required for use.
- Some are suitable for use indoors.
- No need to fuss with fuel. Plug it in and it's ready to go.
- Lacks the classic barbecue cooking experience.
- Less chargrilled taste than charcoal.
- Often expensive to buy.
If you’re itching to cook up a feast on your balcony, check out our electric barbecue reviews to see which ones we recommend.
Have you been watching with envy those American-style smoker barbecues with beef briskets, pulled pork and sizzling ribs? Any long-burning charcoal barbecue, like a kamado, can be used to smoke, but there are also specialist smokers available.
- Broadens your outdoor culinary horizons beyond the normal burgers and sausages.
- Produces some of the most delicious, tender, juicy and smoky food you can get from a barbecue.
- Takes a lot of preparation - food often needs preparing a day or more in advance.
- Requires an awful lot of patience - some food can take several hours to smoke.
We’ve got our hands on a couple of barbecues that double up as smokers. Check out our reviews for the Landmann Kentucky Smoker and the Char-broil Big Easy Smoker, Roaster and Grill to see if they tickle your fancy.