A barbecue grill or barbeque grill (BBQ) (also known as a barbie in Australia and New Zealand) cooks food by heating from below.
This method of cooking causes the proteins and sugars on the outside of the meat and vegetables to undergo a reaction called the Maillard Reaction. This reaction is why barbecued food tastes and smells so good.
There seems to be no end to the different types of BBQ’s out there but to make it simpler there are really three main categories, based on their fuel source. These are Charcoal, Gas and Electric. There are however many variations on the theme of these three grills.
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The charcoal barbecue is the traditional and arguably the most popular type of BBQ.
A charcoal BBQ lets you cook the food directly over the flame or indirectly where the charcoal is piled to the sides and the food is put between the charcoal and therefore not over the flame which allows it to cook slower in the heat.
Typically, charcoal grills reach a higher temperature than gas grills. A grill has to reach a temperature of at least 600 degrees Fahrenheit to achieve a nice sear on your meat. A kettle style BBQ filled with red-hot charcoals can easily reach 700 degrees Fahrenheit.
You get that delicious smoky taste. Again the high heat is key to this. As the juices are released from the food fall on the charcoal, they are turned into taste packed steam and smoke that goes right back into what’s being cooked. This results in the amazingly unique taste of charcoal grilling.
They tend to be cheaper. Most charcoal grills only need a basic design to do the job compared to their gas alternatives, which is obviously reflected in the price. Although the cost of the charcoal overtime will soon add up.
Longer heat up time: Charcoal grills usually take about 15-20 minutes to reach the proper cooking temperature once they are lit. Contrast this with gas BBQs which light instantly and take about 10 minutes to reach cooking temperature.
Fuel cost adds up: A large propane gas cylinder can provide around 25 days of cooking time, however a 20-pound bag of charcoal will only yield three grilling sessions.
Tidy up takes longer: A charcoal grill has to be emptied of its used ashes and disposed off safely before it can be scrubbed, in contrast to the gas variety which usually just needs a quick scrub
Gas barbecues have grown in popularity with the advent of outdoor kitchens. So most gas grills are quite large with individually controlled burners, although you can of course get smaller portable gas grills suitable for camping.
Many larger units also have preparation side counters, shelves, heated plates and accessory and tool storage areas. You can also buy many add-ons such as smokers and pizza stones.
Quick Start Up: Just a quick press of the ignition button and a turn of the dial and your gas BBQ will spark to life. It will quickly heat up and you are ready to grill, rather than having to wait for the charcoal to heat up.
Versatility: With a gas BBQ you can easily cook foods such as fish, fruit and vegetables without the worry of overpowering the food with the smoke taste that comes with charcoal grilling. To get a smoky taste you just need to add a smoke box, these often come with some gas BBQs.
Easier Temperature Control: To adjust the temperature its just a matter of turning a dial. This means you can go from the low heat needed for fish to the searing hot heat needed for a steak without having to worry about moving the charcoal around.
Cleaner: There is typically less post BBQ clean up with a gas BBQ. Also they don’t emit as many harmful air pollutants—including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and soot.
Assembly time: Set up can be more complicated in as much as you have to move and hook up a gas cylinder.
Portability: Small travel sized gas BBQs are available but are perhaps limited in their performance. In general it is too dangerous to take a gas cylinder and gas BBQ to the park or the beach.
Strictly speaking an electric grill is not really a barbecue as it doesn’t have any kind of an open flame, which essentially is what barbecuing is all about.
But if you don’t have any outside space or you have local laws forbidding open flame cooking for safety purposes, then an electric grill can allow you to get some of the taste of the real thing.
Easier Setup and Store: With an electric BBQ you don’t have to worry about storing a gas cylinder or bags of charcoal. Setting up is simple as you just need to plug it in and go.
Suitable for indoor and outdoor use: Can be used anywhere as there is no fire risk from sparks.
Portability: They are usually much lighter and easier to transport.
Needs an electricity supply: This makes it unsuitable for most outside areas unless they have an electricity connection.
Smaller cooking surface: This makes it more difficult to cater for larger groups.
Less Tasty: Generally you don’t get the same level of taste from an electric BBQ. Possibly as a result of electric BBQs not being able to reach as high a temperature.
It is worth mentioning smokers here which are becoming increasingly common. Barbecue smokers are essentially outdoor slow cookers. They use indirect heat, along with smoke to cook large pieces of meat. Cooking typically can take anywhere from 3 hours to 16 and can be powered by charcoal, wood, pellets or gas and even electricity.