The age-old debate of charcoal versus gas grills continues to rage on with epic intensity. Charcoal grill purists tout the fire kissed smoky flavor that harkens back to our ancestors roasting giant hunks of flame-broiled beast over an open fire pit. Gas grill lovers will often counter this argument by complaining about the often slower starting time, and all the messy cleanup that comes with charcoal. Tailgating enthusiasts will heap on top of this argument by noting that a lot of stadium parking lots won’t even let you use charcoal grills anymore due to the fire risk of leaving the grill while you go in to watch the game.
Some people are truly stuck on the fence when it comes to choosing between charcoal and gas grill. If this sounds like you, then you might be wondering can I use charcoal in a gas grill?
The unfortunate reality is that most gas grills simply aren’t engineered to work with charcoal. You might be able to get away with putting charcoal briquettes or jumbo lump charcoal in the firebox of a gas grill, but you won’t be able to push your luck for long.
Can Burning Charcoal In A Gas Grill Damage The Burners?
If you do try to improvise by putting charcoal into a standard gas grill, you might get it to burn for a little while. Though even if you can get the burner elements to light properly, they will eventually ignite the charcoal, and you will indeed have a charcoal and gas fire combined. Though this is more likely to be a recipe for disaster, rather than the newest innovation in hybrid grilling.
The biggest problem with this type of fire is metal fatigue. While most of the best gas grill use commercial grade 304 stainless steel for the burner elements, they can only stand up to so much heat at one time. The roaring high temperatures of a charcoal or wood fire can start to burn out the propane elements, warming and damaging them over time. While you might be able to get away with it a handful of times, chances are the hot flames will dramatically shorten the lifespan of your propane grill’s burner elements.
There’s also a very real chance that the ash and partially spend embers can cause other complications. You’d be surprised just how much a little ash can clog up flame ports on a gas burner element or compromise other internal elements.
Can I Safely Use A Smoker Box On A Gas Grill For Added Smoke & Flavor?
Some grill manufacturers offer smoker boxes made from stainless steel or aircraft-grade aluminum, which are meant to hold wood chips or charcoal chunks to add some smoky fire-kissed flavors. Chances are good you’ve even seen a cooking show or two that mention putting wood chips or pieces of lump charcoal in pouches made from heavy-duty aluminum foil.
On the face of it, these strategies will indeed add a little flame-kissed flavor and smoky aroma to the meat you are cooking. As long as you don’t have the smoker box or aluminum foil pack directly touching the burner element you won’t have a problem. Simply rest it across one of two of the heat tents or “Flavorizer” bars.
Though you do want to be extra careful not to let any ash escape the smoker box or heavy-duty aluminum foil pack. Even a small amount of ash or kernels of unburned embers can cause long-term complications in the bowels of your gas grill’s firebox.
Is Charcoal & Wood Ash A Problem In A Gas Grill?
Ash from charcoal or wood in a smoker box that manages to escape into the firebox of your natural gas or propane grill can cause a few potential problems.
Right off the bat, ash has a knack for finding its way into the flame ports on propane burner elements. When this happens you might get lucky poking the clogged port with a round toothpick or a grill skewer.
If you are using a significant amount of charcoal in a smoker box, excess ash and partially burned embers that escape can fall down into the gas grill’s grease management system. This can clog channels, or bind up grease drains. Excess ash in a shallow drip tray can also lead to overflow issues.
In some gas grills, a clog like this can leave excess grease in the bottom of the firebox. Over the course of a long grilling session, this clogged grease and other debris can start to smolder with unpleasant odors. In a severe case, it could even flare up into a hazardous grease fire in the bottom of the gas grill’s firebox.
If you’ve noticed your grease management system is running slow or it’s become completely clogged with ash or other debris, you need to clear it as soon as possible. Make sure to pour out any dripping cups or dripping trays, and clean out any potentially clogged lines with a pipe cleaner or a bottle brush.
It’s also worth noting that ash can be corrosive. Especially when it is mixed with water. Even a modest amount of spent ash that collects into the bottom of your gas grill’s firebox can start corrosion issues. Especially if some excess marinade or other liquids spill down with it. Left unchecked, this corrosive sludge can gradually start to cause rusting issues.
If you do happen to notice some wood or charcoal ash from your smoker box in the bottom of your gas grill’s firebox, be sure to clean it out as soon as possible. A little wet ash won’t corrode the firebox in one session but left for days or weeks, you could end up shortening the life or ruining the internal appearance of your grill.
Are There Some Gas Grills That Can Safely Use Charcoal?
If you are truly in love with the flavor of charcoal and the convenience of a gas grill, there are a few options out there that have been specifically engineered to burn both. Though you do need to make absolutely sure that the grill manufacturer says you can use both at the same time, and you need to follow their instructions on how to use the “Combination” or “Duel Fuel” grill correctly.
It’s usually a special charcoal tray that sits in a slot or a rack over top of the propane or natural gas burner element. The flames from the gas burner ignite the charcoal. Once the charcoal is burning, you turn the gas burners off. Afterward, the ash and partially spent embers in the charcoal tray are removed, and the firebox is cleaned according to the instructions in the owner’s manual.