Here at Fitzpatrick Fuels, we have pulled in your most asked questions about BBQing and what's best to use. By using those questions we have come up with a guide to your BBQ fuels so you can make the best choice when planning your next BBQ.
When using charcoal to BBQ food it offers the ability to control the cooking time on the grill by being able to move food away from hotter coals. When filling the BBQ place the charcoal on one side of the base of the BBQ so faster cooking foods can be placed on the cooler side of the grill to avoid overcooking. This makes it easier to time your food so it can be cooked to finish around the same time.
Another positive when it comes to choosing the type of fuel you want to use is value, Charcoal (and wood) based grills tend to be cheaper than Gas based grills. Depending on how regular you BBQ will affect which type of fuel works out the most efficient money-wise. A 4.5kg Butane Gas Bottle will on average last for approx. 9 hours on a single burner gas BBQ. On Large BBQs, gas bottles may need to be changed more frequently.
Obviously, a large difference with the use of charcoal is there is no need for gas tanks. Charcoal (and wood) can be stored inside your grill when not being used for tidy storage and easier movability. This means if you need to transport your BBQ or pack it up to store for the winter months there's no big gas tank to move around too.
Charcoal tends to burn hotter than gas but tends to be around the same or cooler than wood. By having a higher heat source the food can be cooked quicker whilst also creating a crispy/crusty outer layer with a moist, tender inside.
The grills are less complicated to work with, as with most parts this applies to wood as well, but the grills used for charcoal and wood fuels tend to be fairly simple. For the typical grill they don’t have buttons, dials, etc. you simply fill them, light them and cook when they are ready. The most you’ll see is a thermometer but the majority prefer to do a palm check when it comes to temperature.
Certain types of charcoal are naturally sourced; this is known as lump wood charcoal. The wood used for charcoal then goes through a process of being slowly burned in an oxygen-free environment. Most will not use any additional ingredients.
Other types of charcoal; are usually called charcoal briquettes can use filler ingredients such as binding agents or adhesives. They are condensed into a round shape, meaning they tend to burn for longer as they are denser. The only issue with this is that lower quality charcoal briquettes may have a taste effect on the food you are cooking.
Wood when used for cooking tends to burn for over an hour. Wood is an all-natural fuel source. High-quality cooking wood and smoking chunks are generally sourced from hardwood trees such as oak. Softer wood can also be used but tends to burn quicker than hardwood.
Wood is easier and cleaner to handle. The chunks are bigger than smaller pieces of charcoal meaning they are easier to put in the BBQ without spilling everywhere. Wood is easier for cleaning in the sense that charcoal has a black, sooty, dusty outer layer which gets everywhere if you aren’t careful. Wood doesn't have this so you're not going to be left with dusty hands.
They both produce ash so in terms of clean up after use they both generate leftover waste so follow the same clean down process.
Different types of wood can add natural flavourings to food by the smoke being produced and absorbed. Oak for example tends to offer a mild flavour that compliments most types of meat. This is because of the organic compounds in the wood being released in the smoke which then rises up to the food being cooked leading to absorption. Charcoal can create a ‘smokey’ flavour when being used but isn’t quite as fine-tuned as wood. This same flavour cannot be replicated by a gas BBQ.
Wood produces a fragrant aroma when being burnt which the majority of people find pleasant. The smell will fill the surrounding area meaning it can be appreciated by those around it.
Wood tends to be easier to light, using a bit of kindling or natural firelighters, it'll be on its way and heating up fast. Wood that is kiln dried will burn hotter and easier than other natural fuel sources.
Wood as a BBQ fuel is also multipurpose, buying wood can mean you have a source for BBQs, Fireplaces, Firepits and smoking ovens.
Wood can also be combined with charcoal to get the best of both worlds where required. You can layer them on top of each other to generate a lot more heat coming off the combined fuels or place them side by side to make two areas of different temperature or different burn times so food can be cooked altogether but finished at the same time.
The biggest advantage to gas BBQs right off the bat would be how much cleaner they are from start to finish. No handling of fuel is required once the gas bottle is hooked up. There's no ash to clean up at the end of it, all that needs to be done is a good clean down of the inside to prevent any build-up of fat or grease which could cause issues if left.
Fast to get to temperature, gas BBQs don't tend to get as hot as charcoal or wood BBQs, however, they are usually fast at heating up and getting to a fairly decent cooking temperature in a short amount of time. Due to this, if your gas bottle ran out mid-BBQ there’s no issue with just changing out for a new gas bottle (if you have one available) and getting back up to temperature again quickly. This also means they are easy to light and get going. For the most part, once the gas is attached, a simple button or dial is required to light it depending on the model of the grill.
Having a gas BBQ does come with its downsides unfortunately likewise with charcoal and wood. Due to gas being the cooking method there is no smoke involved meaning no smokey BBQ flavour can be naturally achieved. Most gas BBQ models won't have an option for using smoking chips either, so this is something to consider before making your purchase too. If you are the type of person who really enjoys the old smokey flavour achieved with traditional BBQing then a gas grill may not be the right choice for you.
A final point to consider as well with a gas grill is regarding storage and mobility. The gas bottles themselves as well as the grill can be fairly hefty in weight and size so ample space for storage is needed. It may also not be the easiest to pack up for a camping trip.
In conclusion, all fuel types have their pros and cons. If you are looking for a more traditional feel to your BBQ then charcoal or wood is definitely the right choice for you. If you prefer to be more modern and less messy then a gas grill is what you are looking for.
An important thing to note is Fireplace Coal and Items soaked in Pre-Lighting Fluids should never be used on a BBQ as they are not safe to cook food with.