Both electric and gas grills have their pros and cons. The choice of grill can impact the taste of food cooked, not to mention operating and maintenance costs.
Electric grills use electricity as their heat source while gas grills use natural gas or propane. Electric grills, whether indoor or outdoor, can be plugged directly into an electrical outlet. Gas grills get fuel either from a natural gas line or from a propane tank.
Both electric and gas grills come in various sizes. Small, compact electric grills can be placed on counter tops or tables. Larger electric grills for outdoors or the patio are also available, that can feed a party of twelve to fifteen people.
Gas grills are usually larger but small, single steak grills are also available. Industrial sized restaurant grills which cook enough meat to feed a hundred or more people are usually gas grills.
Types of grills
Electric grills are of two types - clamshell contact and open grills with single side heat element. The heating element is either embedded within the cooking surface or is directly below it. Many electric grills have a drip pan underneath the elements to catch any juices that run off meat and other items during the grilling process. These pans are detachable, so the drippings can be used elsewhere. Electric smokers are also available.
Gas grills can have side burners, rotisserie kits, multiple burners and gas-flame is used for cooking food directly or heating grilling elements which in turn radiate the heat necessary to cook food. Another type of gas grill is called a flattop grill on which food is cooked on a griddle like surface and is not exposed to an open flame at all. A small metal "smoker box" containing wood chips may be used on a gas grill to give a smoky flavor to the grilled foods.
An electric grill has low, medium and high temperature settings. It generates intense radiant heat and then powers off and re-energizes its heat coils intermittently on a timer or if the temperature drops. Searing foods may not be possible as it requires intense heat for long duration
Gas controls on many units are calibrated in degrees. In a gas grill you can control the heat at a continuous temperature. Gas grills are difficult to maintain at the low temperatures (~225-250F), especially for extended periods.
Price and Popularity
There is a wide variety of electric and gas grills from the low end $70 electric grill to high-end $7,500 grills for chefs. In general, gas grills are cheaper and much more popular than electric grills. There is a much wider selection of gas grills available compared to electric grills.
The heating element of an electric grill cannot be submersed in water and should be unplugged when being cleaned. Wire and casings need to be checked regularly. Storage is easy as it just needs to be unplugged and put away.
All washable parts of a gas grill, including any removable heating plates, grates and any grease trays, can be thoroughly washed with hot water after every use. Gas connections, flavor bars, ignitions and grill need to be checked regularly and replaced on wear While storing it away the gas jet has to be properly sealed.
How to choose
Whether you choose a gas or electric grill depends upon factors such as:
- Space: Most gas grills need a lot of space and cannot be placed too close to any structure. So if an adequately large area is not available, you probably cannot use a gas grill.
- Flavor: Electric grills offer the least authentic grill flavor. So if flavor is an important criteria, you should not choose an electric grill. Charcoal grills offer better flavor than even gas grills and also cost less. However, charcoal is a more expensive fuel than gas.
- Local laws: Some local laws, combined with space constraints like a small balcony, may force you to use electric grills.
Gas Grill Buying Guide
In the following video, Consumer Reports offers tips on what to look for when buying a gas grill.