Bobby Flay's Answer To The Charcoal Vs Gas Grill Debate

When it's time to turn up the heat in the kitchen, grilling is always a great option to cook your food and impart some unique flavor (and it doesn't have to be reserved just for the summer months!). However, there is some debate over whether charcoal or gas grills are the superior option. One passionate take comes from celebrity chef Bobby Flay. After hosting the Food Network show, "Grill It! with Bobby Flay" and authoring a cookbook of the same name, Flay has opinions and has time and again found one type to be preferential. When he wants to grill, he goes for charcoal.

Flay has noted that one of the reasons he gravitates towards charcoal is for the unique flavor it adds. While he doesn't dismiss gas grills — and has admitted he owns one, too — Flay believes charcoal provides a more pronounced grill flavor; as charcoal burns under the grates, it infuses foods with a distinctly smoky, charred taste.

The chef also uses the charcoal grill to adjust the range of smoky flavor. For example, for foods that cook faster (like seafood and veggies), he avoids an overwhelming charred flavor by keeping the lid open so the smoke dissipates (although, there are plenty of veggies that can stand up to the char and will taste even better after grilling). For steaks and chicken that benefit more from the flavor, Flay closes the lid and traps the smoke in. 

Charcoal grills make Flay's cooking technique even easier

Another benefit that Bobby Flay has found with charcoal grills is the ability cook different things at different temperatures. While the unevenly heated cooking surface may seem like a drawback for some, Flay actually uses this feature to his advantage. High heat areas are used to first add a defined sear to foods, then lower heat areas can finish cooking them a little slower. To do this same method with a gas grill, you would need to turn down the heat of the entire appliance after searing since gas machines spread heat a little more evenly.

Because of this, charcoal grills may require a little extra preheating time before they're ready to use (around half an hour); if your grill isn't hot enough prior to adding the food on, it will take even longer to cook. That extra preheating time may be part of the reason why some prefer to use gas grills as they heat up faster, taking only around 10 to 15 minutes. However, that convenience does come at a cost; gas grills are usually a little more expensive than their charcoal counterparts. 

If you want an even easier way to heat up your charcoal grill, Flay advises to use a chimney starter when cooking. The cylindrical starter gets filled with old newspaper and charcoal and is lit from the bottom where the newspaper is packed. Once the charcoal is burning, it's poured into the bottom of your grill. This tool can help the grill heat up a little more evenly since the charcoal is initially heated so close together.

Flay grills up a wide range of foods

Once the grill is hot and ready, Bobby Flay has a wide range of ideas for foods that are prepared best using this heating method. While he does frequently grill more standard items, like hot dogs, burgers, fish, and steaks, Flay also uses it for more creative ideas, such as to grill up pizzas, char potato wedges, and even heat up some cheesy quesadillas. The grill can also be beneficial when it comes to sweets. For dessert, Flay slices up some peaches to grill; the process caramelizes the natural sugars and softens the texture.

There's an inexpensive way to improve the texture of your grilled foods that Flay likes to use as well. He opts for bricks wrapped in foil to weigh foods down. As the food is pressed onto the grates, the bottom will crisp up. Weighty cast iron pans will work too, but the novelty of using a brick might be a little more fun.