Can You Use Charcoal in a Gas Grill? (SAFETY Tips Included!)

Gabriel Woods
Published by Gabriel Woods
Last Updated On: December 4, 2023

The one thing you can’t do with a gas grill is to give your meat that delicious smoky flavor. However, there are some tricks to get around this.

It’s been more than a decade since I started my carnivore diet. Since then, I’ve tried and tested all kinds of grills, especially gas ones.

Today, I’ll talk about how I add charcoal to my gas grill so that you can have smoke-flavored food that every griller wants.

Quick Summary

  • You can use charcoal in a gas grill with caution, but it may not be suitable for all grills.
  • To add smoky flavor to your gas-grilled food, consider using a smoker box, adjusting heat zones, using aluminum foil, covering the grill, or using a charcoal tray.
  • Adding charcoal to a gas grill can potentially damage it, create cleanup challenges, and pose health risks.
  • If you’re looking for a new grill, check out our list of the 10 best combo grills, some of which will allow you to use charcoal even when they run on gas.

Can I Use Charcoal in a Gas Grill?

A stack of coal on fire

You can use charcoal in a gas grill, but you have to be mindful of several factors.

Most gas grills aren’t built for using charcoal. They are made to handle the heat that’s created by the burners and not the heat created by charcoal.

Also, there are likely to be hot burning embers falling out of a gas grill, which is a safety hazard. Finally, the heat from charcoal can damage your gas grill.

However, there are some exceptions. Modern grills that run on gas are built for adding charcoal as a secondary fuel source.

Remember that these gas and charcoal grills are expensive and don’t handle both fuels well.

Different Ways You Can Smoke Food on a Gas Grill

Here are all the ways you can smoke food on a gas grill.

1. Use a Smoker Box

You can buy a freestanding smoker box for adding charcoal or pellets to make smoke. Smoker boxes come in different shapes and sizes, so you can find one that fits your gas grill best.

A smoker box has holes on the top that let the smoke escape after infusing food on the grate in the cooking chamber.

For the best-smoked flavor, you should mix charcoal with wood chips.

Read More: Simple Guide on How to Use a Smoker Box

2. Adjust the Heat

Burning charcoal outside

A charcoal and gas grill differ in how they distribute the heat. You can move the grate closer or further away from the fire in a charcoal grill, which lets you create different heat zones.

One way to do this in a gas grill is to use cooktop burners to adjust the settings.

Set one burner to the highest setting and the second to the lowest. You’ll get delicious, caramelized food.

Also Read: How to Cool Down a Charcoal Grill

3. Use Aluminum Foil

Heavy-duty aluminum foil is the best way to get a charred exterior when cooking on a gas grill. This process requires you to be extra careful, as it’s easy to burn the food.

Use an old baking sheet and place it on the top grate so the heat can build up. Once it gets hot, remove the sheet with a pair of tongs.

Place the food on the grate for it to sear. Flip the food to get even char on both sides.

Note: You’ll have about 30 seconds before the heat is lowered, so you’ll have to be very quick.

4. Cover the Grill

Sausages on a grill

Charcoal grills have pure heat that’s difficult to get with gas grills. The grill is hottest when you take off the lid and open-air dampers.

You can mimic this with gas grills. Turn up the gas grill burners as high as you can, and close the lid.

This will keep the heat inside and help maintain the temperature.

5. Add Charcoal and Wood Chips

Some gas grills have a charcoal tray that replaces the grill grates and lets you throw charcoal and wood chunks over the burners.

You can ignite the charcoal using the burner system, which is easier than fiddling with the lighter fluid.

As charcoals burn, they will fall into the drip pan, so removing them is easy.

“A charcoal grate will allow you to cook with charcoal and get that beloved smoky flavor. Installation is simple. All you have to do is remove the standard grate, and depending on the size of the grill, remove one or two heat control panels. Drip the charcoal grate in overtop of one of the burners.”
- Coyote Outdoor Living, YouTube Channel

One thing to keep in mind is that there’s no standard charcoal tray size. Most of the time, one charcoal tray is made to work with one specific grill.

For example, most Napoleon gas grills have charcoal trays [1].

If your gas grill didn’t come with the tray, you can check the owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer to ask if you can buy a tray separately.

How Can Adding Charcoal Hurt a Gas Grill?

A clean gas grill

Adding charcoal can hurt a gas grill in several ways, mostly by clogging it, inducing component damage, ignition and cleanup difficulties, and posing some health risks.

Here’s why.

  • Clogging —Charcoal burns and leaves ash behind. Ash and bits of charcoal can clog the vents and airways of a natural gas grill, and you’ll have to repair it.
  • Component damage — Many modern grills are delicate and can only handle the heat created from natural gas and not charcoal. If you use charcoal, you risk damaging the parts and having to replace them, which can be costly.
  • Health risks — Charcoal is extremely hot, and charring the food can cause chemicals such as heterocyclic amines to form, which can increase cancer risk [2].
  • Difficult cleanup — Putting charcoal on a gas grill can result in the entire grill being covered in ashes and stuck debris, which makes the cleanup difficult.
  • Difficult to ignite — Charcoal is much more difficult to ignite compared to gas. You’ll need lighter fluid, a chimney starter, or a heat gun. On the other hand, you can just turn the gas burners on a gas grill, and you’re done.

What’s More Affordable: Charcoal or Gas?

Cooking meat on charcoal

Gas is more affordable than charcoal.

A gas grill is more expensive upfront, but it’s much more economical to use than a charcoal grill.

One load of charcoal can last for about 3 uses, while the same amount of gas will last for around 20 uses, which makes gas more economical.

However, if you plan on putting charcoal on a gas grill, you’ll quickly run up expenses.

You’ll have to invest in charcoal, plus a charcoal tray, or buy a dual-fuel grill. All of these are expensive.

If you plan to do a significant amount of smoking, go for a charcoal grill. If not, a gas one is a good option.


How Do I Make My Gas Grill Smell Like Charcoal?

To make your gas grill smell like charcoal, you can use a smoke generator and wood chunks.

Does Gas Grill Taste Like Charcoal?

A gas grill doesn’t taste like charcoal. However, you can have a charcoal flavor with a gas grill, provided that you use an adequate dual-fuel gas grill that allows you to use charcoal.


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About the author

Gabriel Woods
Chef/Food Editor
Gabrielle Woods holds a BSc degree in Hospitality Management with a summa cum laude distinction from the University of Santo Tomas, majoring in Culinary Entrepreneurship. She helps clients achieve specific fitness goals through protein-based meal prepping. She believes cooking is both an art and a science best done with a balance of tradition and innovation.
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