Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: April 28, 2022

Charcoal grills are the smell of summer and nostalgic memories. It also adds that smoky flavor, like a touch of bacon essence. Gas grills, however, often seem cleaner and easier to use. But does the type of grill you use impact your health or the environment? We have gone to the experts to find out.

Scientific studies have shown that gas-grilled meat is healthier for our consumption. Gas is also more environmentally friendly than charcoal, releasing less carbon dioxide. However, cooking on high heat, regardless of method, has been shown to be detrimental to people’s health.

Quick Summary

  • We found that gas grills are healthier than charcoal grills.
  • There is some research showing that certain marinades can make grilling healthier.
  • We looked into why gas is better for the environment than charcoal.
  • We uncovered research showing that cooking on high heat, regardless of method, is less healthy.

Is Gas Grilling Healthier Than Charcoal?

Grilling a meat using a tong

Gas grilling has been shown to have fewer polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) carcinogens, which are thought to increase the risk of certain cancers.

As one study stated, “The results of the meta-analysis showed that charcoal-cooked meat contains significantly more PAHs than gas-cooked meat.” [1]

Sadly, what makes charcoal-grilled meat delicious is the bulk of why it is unhealthier. The PHAs are a carcinogen, and much of it is created when the fat from meat drips onto the charcoal and infuses with the smoke as it burns. This PHA-filled smoke rises and coats the meat in its fabulous flavor.

The other problem with charcoal grilling is that it burns hotter than your typical gas grill. When meat burns (chars), it makes heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are also classified as carcinogens.

This doesn’t mean cooking with gas is PAH and HCA-free. Gas grilling just has reduced amounts of PAHs and HCAs than charcoal-grilled meat.

In fact, cancer associations worldwide warn people about the potential risks when cooking meat at high temperatures, regardless of the method [2,3]. The biggest danger is cooking over 300 F (150 C) for a length of time.

On a more positive note, research is being done into marinating meats before cooking. They are showing signs that marinating helps inhibit HCA formation. Using various herbs and spices in marinades is encouraged.

However, the top ingredients thus far appear to be rosemary and the natural acids found in vinegar and lemon juice [4].

6 Tips To Reduce Carcinogens When Grilling

Marinating a chicken and squeezing a lemon above the bowl

Regardless of which way you choose to grill, there are some things you can do to reduce the number of carcinogens in your food:

  •     Marinating meats before cooking
  •     Trim excess fat before cooking
  •     Keep meat from direct contact with the open flame
  •     Flip meat continuously while cooking [5]
  •     Do not consume chard bis of meat or use in other dishes such as gravy
  •     Precook meat in the microwave and only use the grill or pan at the end for flavor

Is Gas Greener than Charcoal Grilling?

Gas grill outdoor backyard

Gas is considered the more environmentally friendly. While charcoal is made from natural byproducts of plants and animals, it produces more carbon emissions than gas. This is because charcoal is, at its essence, carbon, and now that carbon is being lit on fire [6].

However, a lot of charcoal is coated with other chemicals to make it ignite faster. These are often sold as self-ignite briquettes.

So if you are using a charcoal grill, check that it is indeed naturally made charcoal and not something with a lot of other unsavory chemicals in it.

Lastly, despite its obvious environmental impact, grilling isn’t the primary source of a household’s negative environmental punch. Appliances, such as your fridge, are the worst offenders, and, in the case of the refrigerator, it is especially harmful when it is tossed out  [7, 8].

Thus, while it is good to be mindful of the environment, there are some other issues that may be worth considering when deciding between gas and charcoal.

Gas Vs. Charcoal Grilling

Showing a meat top view with tong and meats being grilled in the background

Gas is the winner when it comes to health and the environment. However, there are a few other points that you may wish to consider.

Flavor: Gas Vs. Charcoal Grilling

Charcoal wins this one with ease. If you miss the taste the smoke provides yet are concerned about the health impact, consider using the above suggestion of precooking the meat in the microwave and then putting it on the charcoal grill only at the very end.

Fuel Costs: Gas Vs. Charcoal Grilling

Charcoal is usually cheaper than propane or natural gas. However, there are some fancy pellets and chips out there that can increase the cost of charcoal grilling.

Read More: Can You Use Charcoal in a Gas Grill?

Clean-Up: Gas Vs. Charcoal Grilling

Gas is much less messy to cook with than a charcoal grill. Also, you have to wait for the coals to cool before you can clean the bulk of it. Where gas, once you shut it off, the entire thing cools quickly and just needs a quick brush.

Out Of The Box Functionality: Gas Vs. Charcoal Grilling

Charcoal grills can easily be put together and in use with ease. Gas grills, however, are finicky to set up, and hooking up the tank can be quite the mission, especially if it is your first time with the machine.

Versatility And Convince: Gas Vs. Charcoal Grilling

Gas grill outdoors side view sunny day

Gas grills have tons of features, and you can choose a temperature, and it will remain there. They are also easier to cook non-meat foods, such as vegetables and fish.

Charcoal requires constant monitoring and tinkering, and even then, a flare-up will cause unintended char. If not handled just right, it can dry out fish in a blink and obliterate veggies.

That said, a charcoal grill can also function as a smoker. Where if you own a gas grill, you’ll have to buy a smoker separately. But if you don’t smoke foods, then this isn’t an issue.

Safety: Gas Vs. Charcoal Grilling

The problem with gas grills is you have to store a tank full of highly flammable contents. Also, if the tank has a leak or is not connected correctly, then it gets very exciting and explodes.

This isn’t to say charcoal grills are perfectly safe. For example, flair-ups from fat have caused fires when backs are turned.

Also, the open flame of a charcoal grill can be a problem in certain areas due to their codes and drought.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7203328/
  2. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cooked-meats-fact-sheet
  3. https://www.cansa.org.za/files/2017/04/Fact-Sheet-Dangers-Meats-Cooked-at-High-Temperatures-April-2017.pdf
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19241593/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15971410/
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/chemical-engineering/charcoal
  7.   https://www.greenlogic.com/post/the-top-5-biggest-users-of-electricity-in-your-home
  8. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20201204-climate-change-how-chemicals-in-your-fridge-warm-the-planet

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