Of course charcoal is better than gas... isn't it?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by wade, Aug 12, 2013.

  1. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    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!
    s2k9k likes this.
  2. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

    Cook a bird on a uds or a wsm mini ( any cooker where the drippings go to the coals) and come talk to me. I won't do it any other way. No explanation will suffice unless you've experienced it.

    I've done great turkeys and birds in my propane cooker but this is on a different planet.
  3. hambone1950

    hambone1950 Master of the Pit Group Lead

    My wife always maintains that my ribs were much better when I used to bake them at 250 in our kitchen gas oven. I like to cook on charcoal , but I like my gas grill too. It's nice to see this kind of careful scientific research going into our favorite hobby :biggrin:
    Thanks for sharing.
  4. Their is nothing wrong with propane or. Electric. Stick or coal. I cook with them all. Each one has a differant calling in life

    Happy smoken.

  5. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Yes I have done and I agree. I was just very surprised though how little difference there was in flavour with the quick and simple beer can chicken. I was expecting a much bigger difference than I got.
  6. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Thanks Hambone
  7. s2k9k

    s2k9k AMNPS Test Group

    Wade, Great write up and side by side comparison!!!
    Just goes to show, taste is subjective and everyone's is different and no matter what you cook with someone will prefer it over anything else!
  8. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

    Wade many people don't realize it's the combustion gasses that give meats and foods it's unique flavors... It's much more than the smoke. Wood and propane both give off their own unique flavors. I have a home made propane cooker that I had both real wood and propane going at the same time.. Now that was a good turkey.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2013
  9. Also, propane produces quite a bit of water vapor.  This might be helping with the enhanced flavors
  10. dcarch

    dcarch Smoking Fanatic

    To the meat, it knows only about heat (BTUs), it cannot tell where the heat is coming from or what generates the heat.

    The effects on the meat may have a little difference on the exterior of meat depending on how and what you use it to produce the desired results.

    Electric heats mostly by infrared.

    Coal heats by infrared and convection/conduction.

    Gas mostly by convection/conduction.

  11. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

    Well this isn't true, we're talking flavor. Different combustion gasses give off unique flavors. Meat knows much more than btu's.

    Propane - unique combustion gasses it emits-plus extra moisture
    Wood-unique combustion gasses plus moisture
    Electric - zero combustion gasses - zero combustion gasses unless wood chips or pellets are burned with it( then it's some smoke flavor) and no moisture unless a water pan is introduced.( still not the same) because the moisture is combined with the gasses such as cooking with propane.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2013
  12. dcarch

    dcarch Smoking Fanatic

    Actually I should specify that I was only talking about texture of meat. 

    Flavor, smoke, and moisture can be added in a number of ways with all methods of heating. 


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