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Expert Guide

Why a Meat Expert Chooses Gas Over Charcoal

Why a Top Butcher Chooses Gas Over Charcoal

Tom Mylan Photo © Marcus Nilsson

No charcoal, no wood, no judgments. Just delicious, easy, artisan-worthy food from one of America's most influential young butchers.

As a poster child for the local and artisanal meat movement and the owner of the Meat Hook in Brooklyn, an emporium of all things grillable, I might surprise a lot of people by revealing that I do all my grilling at home with gas. Certainly this might shock the legions of home cooks who shuffle up to our meat counter and sheepishly admit that they "only" have a gas grill, as if this was as shameful as hating red wine or being unable to get excited about Terrence Malick movies.

Is cooking with a gas grill uncool? Undoubtedly. No serious chef is going to tell you with a straight face that your $99 Home Depot special is as good as or better than a $25,000 custom-built Argentinean grill, because it isn't. Grills, hearths and ovens that burn exotic Japanese charcoals, seasoned hardwoods and grapevine clippings are all the rage among chefs right now, and rightly so, for the delicate flavors they impart to food. But while a propane grill is not as sexy as these models, it is much, much more practical and significantly less expensive to use on a daily basis. To illustrate this, I'd like to tell a tale of two grills.

I own a $100 propane grill I ordered from Amazon and put together in an afternoon. My business partner, Brent, has a $1,200 custom-made, wood-fire grill with all sorts of fancy, adjustable doohickies. Last year I cooked on my grill nearly every night all spring and summer long and ended up spending about $80 on gas. Brent had six or seven blowout parties and spent about $400 on wood. Which is better? Depends on what you want and what you like, but, by the end of the summer, even Brent was wishing he could fire up a gas grill and 20 minutes later have a couple of steaks, without spending a ton of money on wood and a bunch of time waiting for the coals to get just right.

I also think that an unsung and significant advantage of a propane grill is how easy it is to modulate the heat from searing hot to low with the turn of a dial. When you use charcoal or wood, it takes skill and experience to plot out how to create different heat zones and to know when to move food from one zone to another. Failure to plan your order of operations can lead to a stressful meal at best, or, at worst, a catastrophe of flabby or blackened food.

Grills are a personal choice. If you find yourself defined by what kind of car you drive or which brand of beer really "gets" you, you may be better suited to a grand backyard showpiece that you can lean on while chatting about the pros and cons of various wood varieties for grilling squab. But if you're like me, it might be high time to hook up the gas canister, pop open a wine cooler and crank up Huey Lewis & the News's "Hip to Be Square" all summer long.

Tom Mylan has just published his first book, The Meat Hook Meat Book.

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Related: Fantastic Grilling Equipment
Grilling with Live Fire
Summer Grilling Guide

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