Being an avid charcoal and wood BBQer for many years I have often taken pity on the people that cook on a gas BBQ. It was obvious that you could not possibly get the same depth of flavour cooking on propane as you could cooking over charcoal and wood. With this in mind I set out to confirm this fact once and for all.
I purchased from my local supermarket two free range chickens of exactly the same weight that came from the same farm
2 cans of Heinekin (other brands are also available) were purchased as they had the correct size can. These had to be purchased specifically as I don't usually keep beer cans in the house that are that small!
Butter, thyme, garlic and the zest of one lemon was mixed in a single batch and then split in half between the chickens
The zest of the other lemon was split between the two partially emptied beer cans (hic!)
The juice of one lemon was also squeezed into each can
Butter moulded under the skin of the chickens and salt rubbed onto the surface of the skin.
Chickens slipped on top of the cans and the neck was capped with the squeezed lemon halves.
One chicken was places in the Weber 67cm set up for indirect heat with charcoal and oak chunks. A water tray was between the coals and the chicken was sitting in a foil drip tray
The other was placed in the centre of the gas BBQ with only the 2 outside burners alight. The smoke box with oak chunks already smoking. It was also on a foil drip tray.
A pair of Maverick ET732s were monitoring both the oven temperatures and the meat internal temperature.
Both BBQs remained constant throughout the cooking time and the chicken temperatures rose at exactly the same rate in both
The chickens were taken out when the internal temperate reached 72C (160F)
The oak chunks were topped up once in each BBQ half way through the cook
Note the darker skin on the charcoal chicken. That must mean more flavour...
The Gas cooked chicken remained much lighter in colour
Between removing chickens from the heat and wrapping them in foil the internal temperature of both had risen to 80C (176F)
Chickens were wrapped in 4 layers of foil, breast down for 90 minutes before carving
You can see that the juices poured from the drip trays of each were almost identical in colour and volume.
Then for the moment of truth - the blind tasting
A breast of each chicken was carved (without the skin) into bite size chunks and served on separate unmarked plates in front of 6 friends. Both chickens were still almost too hot to touch when they were carved and both were incredibly moist.
The blind testers were asked to say a) whether they could taste the difference and b) which one they preferred.
What a shock!
2 of them actually said they could not tell any difference
2 of the ones who could tell the difference said they preferred the gas chicken - as it had a slightly herbier lemon flavour
That left the other 2 preferring the Charcoal and wood cooked bird
That made it a dead heat all round.
When I tasted both, although I could certainly taste a difference in flavour it was much more subtle than I expected. The gas cooked chicken was flavoured more by the herbs wheras the charcoal and wood cooked chicken was more subtle and mellow.
I doff my cap to all you propane BBQers out there as, although I am still not totally convinced, I think the difference is flavour between both methods is actually minimal - with beer can chicken anyway.
My only regret was not having bought a 3rd bird and cooking it at the same time in the kitchen oven. Maybe we don't actually need a BBQ at all quelle horreur!