I love going to the big-box home improvement stores this time of year.
And it’s all about the grills, baby. Row upon gleaming stainless steel row of new barbecue grills.
I run my fingers across the finishes, pop the hoods, check out the latest features. I get the same wistful rush I get on a car lot, looking at the sleek new models I know I can afford only in my dreams.
I’m always more drawn to the gas grills than the charcoal ones. I know all you purists will say there’s no way a gas-grilled cheeseburger can beat its charcoal-broiled cousin. And there is something to be said for that extra bit of smoky flavoring you get from those messy briquettes.
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But here’s where my sacrilege begins: The flavor from gas is nearly as good. And when you consider all the trouble it takes to work with charcoal, the choice is clear.
The Man Himself, aka Bobby Flay, says on his grilling website that he uses both gas and charcoal. And while he says that charcoal does produce that uniquely smoky flavoring, he also says in his book “Boy Meets Grill” that you can lock in a ton of flavor from marinades and seasonings.
So who needs charcoal? Who needs the messy ashes?
The futile efforts to fan and blow prematurely dead briquettes back to life? The wildly uneven flames that blacken the burgers to the left while leaving the ones to the right undercooked?
Or how about those last-ditch lighter fluid squirts that send flames leaping from the grill, ready to relieve you of your eyebrows?
With gas, you crank the knobs, punch the ignition button a couple times, and you’re cooking.
And then there are the options you get with gas. You can buy a grill with a flash sear burner built inside for locking in the juicy flavor of your steaks and forming that nice char on the outside. (If you’ve got even bigger money, you can go for a super-hot infrared grill).
You can buy a grill that runs on natural gas as opposed to propane. The other day, I spotted a grill that comes with attachments that let you cook everything from pizza to roast chicken. Pretty cool.
Americans see things my way. Shipments of gas grills surpassed charcoal around 1994 and never looked back.
Sixty-nine percent of households that own a grill own a gas grill, according to the 2012 State of the Barbecue Industry Report.
Charcoal is too much hassle for too little extra taste. The other day I was looking around at Internet chat boards to see what people were saying about the gas versus charcoal debate. But in many cases, there wasn’t any debate. Just gas grillers talking the merits and features of different gas grills.
Finally one lonely voice piped up: “Does anyone use charcoal besides me?”
“No,” came the reply. “Most of us don’t use hand-crank starters for cars or telephones anymore either!”
And that about says it all, right there.