Home Lifestyle Friday Debate: Deal with it, gas braais are better than charcoal

Friday Debate: Deal with it, gas braais are better than charcoal

3 min read
89

braai

It’s Spring day! It’s starting to get warmer and sunnier – and in South Africa that means that it’s time to start hauling out the Braai. And dammit, do I love a braai – there’s little better than a hunk of perfectly grilled meat.

But here’s where I get contentious. For a long time, I was a charcoal loyalist. The flavour grilling over coal imparts is superior, right? There’s a weird sort of elitism in grilling circles over charcoal, and those who favour other methods are asked to “hand in their man cards.” There’s a belief in the mystical power of coal, that it somehow magically imbues food with extra flavour. Over the years though, I’ve transitioned to gas grilling. It was a move borne out of necessity. I moved to a complex in an upstairs unit, so cleaning out a coal braai is just not feasible. And for me, gas is better in almost every way.

But the flavour is better with coal, I hear you shout, probably vociferously. And you’re probably right. It took me a while to find a gas braai that actually made food taste like… well, braai. My first gas braai was terrible. It was essentially just a hotplate, and I may as well have been cooking my meat in a frying pan on the stove. Absolute garbage – and it’s gas braais like that that are probably the cause of much of the disdain.

See, the flavour from a braai doesn’t come from the coal itself. It comes from two things: The Maillard Reaction; “chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavour”; and the stuff that drips from the meat as you cook it. This is where charcoal usually has an advantage. As fat and juices drip on to the hot coals, the fat, sugars and proteins burst in to flame and create a vapour that rises back up and coats the meat. The flavour doesn’t come from the charcoal itself.

Braais

If you have a gas braai that uses lava rocks or heat stones, you get much the same thing. Without them, you have a glorified hotplate.

Speaking in food bible Modernist Cuisine, food scientist and award-winning barbecue champion Nathan Myrvold said that “Carbon is carbon; as it burns, it imparts no flavor of its own to the food being grilled.”

He added that “It shouldn’t be about which charcoal is best. It should be about whether charcoal is necessary at all.”

Gas has other advantages too. I braai a lot. I can start up the fire at 6pm on a Wednesday night, and have dinner on the table in 30 minutes. Clean up is also simpler, and a bottle of gas, which is the price of two bags of charcoal, lasts long enough to have 20-30 braais.

I still like charcoal though – especially if it’s an event, with guests. There’s a bit of ceremony to it all that’s missing from gas braais: lighting the fire, sitting around as it gets to a good temperature and having a laugh with friends over a beer or seventeen.

You tell us! Are you a coal loyalist? Do you despise the very idea of gas grilling? Or have you evolved like the rest of us and accepted that gas is great?

Last Updated: September 1, 2017

89 Comments

  1. PoisonedBelial

    September 1, 2017 at 10:36

    Totally.

    We used to use a charcoal/wood braai here at work on Fridays and making wors for 35 odd people was a nightmare.

    Convinced the bosses to get a gas braai and we never looked back.

    I do miss the smoky taste, but will gladly trade it for all the time I save.

    Reply

    • Geoffrey Tim

      September 1, 2017 at 10:38

      Here’s the thing. Use lava rocks – which absorb fat, and release them aghain when they’re hot as hell, and you get the smoke, and the flame, and all of the taste. If you really want, you can get a smoke box, that you can stuff with wood chips as well.

      Reply

  2. HvR

    September 1, 2017 at 10:36

    Real men get wood

    Reply

  3. Nick de Bruyne

    September 1, 2017 at 10:37

    You know I’ve been disappointed with the FFD’s for a while now, because they’ve just been too tame. Now, you come in here and just drop this thermonuclear bomb of a topic like it ain’t no thing. Son, I am no disappoint now.

    Reply

    • Admiral Chief

      September 1, 2017 at 11:11

      Tsar Bomba has NOTHING on this bomb that he dropped today!

      Reply

      • HvR

        September 1, 2017 at 11:36

        Brrrrrrrrr BOMBA!!! prueba de bala de bomba de bala

        *HVR skud sy biscuit*

        Reply

  4. The D

    September 1, 2017 at 10:38

    BOY I TELL YA HWAT

    Let’s be honest here, the only reason why Geoff prefers gas over charcoal is because it means that he can serve food quicker to his guests and thus get rid of them sooner.

    Reply

    • Geoffrey Tim

      September 1, 2017 at 10:39

      I…hey!…well..maybe.

      Reply

    • PoisonedBelial

      September 1, 2017 at 10:39

      That’s genius!

      Reply

    • Admiral Chief

      September 1, 2017 at 11:10

      I can support this

      Reply

  5. VampyreSquirrel

    September 1, 2017 at 10:39

    Time, then yes.
    Taste, not a chance.

    Reply

  6. Ottokie

    September 1, 2017 at 10:39

    Blerry klomp stads jaapies xD

    Reply

  7. PoisonedBelial

    September 1, 2017 at 10:40

    Real men use charcoal?
    Pfft.
    REAL MEN MAKE GAS!!

    Reply

  8. Alien Emperor Trevor

    September 1, 2017 at 10:42

    Pffft. Geoff’s wood-insecurity comes to the fore once again.

    Reply

    • RinceThis

      September 1, 2017 at 12:18

      Fore… no, not falling for it!

      Reply

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        September 1, 2017 at 13:39

        Don’t you mean… fore-ling for it?!

        Reply

  9. Noelle Adams

    September 1, 2017 at 10:46

    There’s something immensely satisfying about building a fire from scratch, and cooking off it. Flicking a switch and turning a knob doesn’t provide that sense of primal accomplishment.

    Reply

    • Original Heretic

      September 1, 2017 at 10:59

      I agree 100% with this statement.
      I also hate turning a knob.

      Reply

    • Matthew Holliday

      September 1, 2017 at 11:01

      It is, its just the way things are done.
      Its not better “because reasons”
      It just is.

      Reply

    • Gareth Lagesse (eXCheez)

      September 1, 2017 at 11:46

      Agreed. Braaiing is the process, not the result.

      Reply

    • Geoffrey Tim

      September 1, 2017 at 11:50

      No, i’ll completely agree with this. It is just more satisfying – and it’s an “event”
      I still enjoy making a braai, but the entire “it tastes better” argument falls apart with the right gas braai.

      Reply

    • R1ker

      September 1, 2017 at 11:54

      Agree – and i always seems to be forgetting to buy the blitz hence making the fire at my house always more interesting. Always ends up getting the diesel jerry can from the garage

      Reply

      • Gr8_Balls_o_Fire

        September 5, 2017 at 13:12

        Diesel flavoured braai… You may be on to something there….

        Reply

  10. Kromas Ryder

    September 1, 2017 at 10:46

    Gas is the McDonalds of Braai. Quick and dirty but not really good.

    Charcoal is the 5 Star restaurant where the Head Cheff yells at the kitchen staff for not making the food godly.

    Reply

    • Geoffrey Tim

      September 1, 2017 at 10:49

      funnily enough, the very beast steakhouses, etc use natural gas – but they also have grillers that reach incredible heat. The thing with gas – and why high end steakeries use it – is for control.

      Reply

      • Kromas Ryder

        September 1, 2017 at 10:51

        High end steakhouses maybe but I have been to a few 5 Star Hotels in my day and they all use Wood Ovens and coal based fires for food.

        Reply

        • Magoo

          September 1, 2017 at 11:12

          Oh snap, yeah you tell ’em back K

          Reply

      • Matthew Holliday

        September 1, 2017 at 11:04

        I dunno, Ive had my fair share of steaks out and about, but the best steak Ive ever had was a Checkers fillet, drowned in a litre of Jimmys and chucked on the braai.

        Reply

      • Magoo

        September 1, 2017 at 11:12

        Yeah you tell ’em G

        Reply

      • Original Heretic

        September 1, 2017 at 11:14

        Natural gas? But that would mean….

        No. No, I’m not touching this one.

        Reply

  11. Ottokie

    September 1, 2017 at 10:56

    Gasbraai meat makes the meat taste artificial and like gas, and those who can’t taste it has stared into the abyss to long.

    Reply

    • Ottokie

      September 1, 2017 at 10:59

      And gasbraais just suck the atmosphere out of a nice weekend braai with friends. Having a couple of drinks while the smell of charcoal or wood fills the air is the best part.

      Reply

    • miaau

      September 1, 2017 at 11:30

      Only the crappy, of which there seem to be quite a few, do that.

      My parents in law have a great one, braai’s the meat wonderfully. They bought 3 over the years, till they settled on this one.

      Reply

  12. Original Heretic

    September 1, 2017 at 10:57

    For convenience, gas is great.
    But for enjoyment and lekker kuier, wood is the only way to go.

    Off the braai topic a bit, but I recall a trip to Hogsback with my wife a few years back. We stayed in two different places over the week period we were there. Middle of winter, so of course indoor heating was essential. First place had a wood fireplace. Man, it was awesome. That fire only went out at night while we slept or when we decided to go exploring.
    Second place had a gas fireplace. We used it once. For an hour. The whole place smelled like gas. It was horrible.

    Reply

    • miaau

      September 1, 2017 at 11:29

      Dead of winter, Dunkeld Country Estate, in Dullstroom (very cold). We bought some wood from the little shop and they asked our chalet number when we paid. ten minutes this guy shows up and ask if he can help with the fire.

      He shows us how to make it, then bank it for the night. Then he says, do we want help taking the double bed mattress downstairs? So we slept, in the lounge, with the fire nicely banked, was still hot when we woke up, That was pretty awesome, I must say. But their fireplace was built for this, had tiles around it, proper chimney, that sort of thing. Also, was lounge was large enough to put mattress on other side of room, from fire.

      Man, that was great. Pre-childrens, of course.

      Reply

      • Matthew Holliday

        September 1, 2017 at 11:54

        Theres a reserve on the way to Hermanus, cant remember what it was called, you light a wood fire, and piping vents the heat through the whole cottage in the winter, and through the plunge pool.
        A wood fire plunge pool hot tub, hits about 40-45 degrees, its awesome.

        Reply

        • miaau

          September 1, 2017 at 12:54

          bloody hell, that sounds pretty cool!

          Reply

      • R1ker

        September 1, 2017 at 12:23

        yep – and after that weekend 9 months later first born???

        Reply

        • miaau

          September 1, 2017 at 12:53

          Well, no.

          The point of marriage, especially the first few years, is not to have children, but to, um, prepare to have children. First phase only……

          Reply

          • R1ker

            September 1, 2017 at 13:15

            xD

      • Original Heretic

        September 1, 2017 at 13:46

        Pre-children get-a-ways…. Ah, those were the days. When the car was filled with stuff other than toys.

        Reply

  13. Magoo

    September 1, 2017 at 11:07

    A decent gas braai is expensive, where you can braai with coal on top of a stack of bricks. Let’s not forget that.

    Reply

    • Geoffrey Tim

      September 1, 2017 at 11:08

      It’s a good point, for sure – but I paid R700 for my gas braai. I’m actually not a big fanof many of the great big expensive gas braais, unless they have infrared burners.

      Reply

    • Matthew Holliday

      September 1, 2017 at 11:09

      Yeah, but foodies will pay R600 for just the right kind of salt.
      And R15 000 for a camera to take photos of their food.
      So thats pretty much irrelevant.

      Reply

      • Original Heretic

        September 1, 2017 at 11:10

        If I ever meet someone who pays R600 for salt, I” beat them over the head with it. Then, once they’re nice and tender, I slap them on the fire.

        Reply

        • Matthew Holliday

          September 1, 2017 at 11:11

          beat them in the head with the salt bag, then open it and rub that expensive salt into their wounds.
          Maybe drip some olive oil on them and let them marinade them befor you braai them.
          Atleast do the ingredients justice.

          Reply

          • Original Heretic

            September 1, 2017 at 11:12

            My beating will ensure tenderness.
            Besides, I won’t be eating them. They’d probably taste stupid.

            I’ll give ’em to the dogs.

          • Matthew Holliday

            September 1, 2017 at 11:15

            So long as you take photos for instagram, Im sure I could tolerate either way.

          • Original Heretic

            September 1, 2017 at 11:17

            I do not instagram. And photos would incriminate me. I won’t eat the stupid because I don’t want to catch the stupid.

      • Ottokie

        September 1, 2017 at 11:10

        I want @johnambitious:disqus here for this one xD

        The pink salt is bestest!

        Reply

        • Admiral Chief

          September 1, 2017 at 11:11

          PINK SALT IS LYF

          Reply

        • Original Heretic

          September 1, 2017 at 11:11

          NaCl is NaCl.

          Reply

          • Ottokie

            September 1, 2017 at 11:12

            Indeed, salt is salt no matter what the form looks like and from where it is xD

          • Ottokie

            September 1, 2017 at 11:13

            But in the spirit of baiting JJ, I am all for pink square salt deep from the Himalayan caves.

        • Kromas Ryder

          September 1, 2017 at 11:11

          Pink salt makes food feel fluffy!

          Reply

  14. Skittle

    September 1, 2017 at 11:09

    I thought Glenn was the one who wrote the controversial articles!

    Reply

  15. miaau

    September 1, 2017 at 11:25

    Wood. Wood makes a difference.

    Agree, though, about the convenience of a gas braai.

    Reply

  16. BakedBagel

    September 1, 2017 at 11:37

    Delete this article.

    How dare you even consider.

    You might as well be a European. or worse. Ameriburger.

    Thats the level you on right now Geoff. Ya fuggen burger

    Reply

    • Geoffrey Tim

      September 1, 2017 at 11:38

      DEAL WITH IT.
      you’ll get on my level one day, when you’re an enlightened being.

      Reply

      • BakedBagel

        September 1, 2017 at 11:40

        I CANNOT. HOW MUST I DEAL WITH SUCH DEGENERACY.

        DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU HAVE DONE

        Reply

        • Geoffrey Tim

          September 1, 2017 at 11:42

          It takes people a long time to deal with the truth.

          Reply

  17. Jonathan van de Wouw

    September 1, 2017 at 11:52

    /puts on flame retardant attire to step into debate/ Three years ago me would have thrown a hissy fit at the mere insinuation that gas was better. Fast forward to present me with two kids and very little free time and I say HELL’S YES. I own both and I do love the Weber BUT there’s a lot to be said for deciding at the last minute on say, a warm evening during the week and wanted a quick steak and clicking on the gas. Also, with my gas braai, I have three different heat zones so steak stays medium, veggie skewers crispy and can chuck a pot of pap on the side. Also, can do a lekker bacon and eggs. None of this applies to the Weber. The B in weber stands for beer by the way

    Reply

  18. Gavin Mannion

    September 1, 2017 at 12:05

    I apologise for this inflammatory article. It was posted without my approval.

    I’ve never seen or read such garbage in my entire life. There is only one way to Braai or BBQ and that is with charcoal. Gas is cooking on a stove and for Darryn’s special jacuzzi.

    I have owned both gas and real braais and there is no comparison. I am not adverse to stoning the heathen if so requested

    Reply

    • HvR

      September 1, 2017 at 12:17

      WTF gas charcoal !!!!! These people need to deported to protect our culture
      (┛◉Д◉)┛彡┻━┻

      Reply

    • miaau

      September 1, 2017 at 12:55

      you mean the guys at the coalface wrote it?

      Reply

  19. RinceThis

    September 1, 2017 at 12:17

    Pffft, burning trees is the best thing!

    Reply

  20. Ghost In The Rift

    September 1, 2017 at 12:40

    Kameel Doring Hout….enough said.

    Reply

    • R1ker

      September 1, 2017 at 13:16

      The only problem here is every one and their dog is claiming to have kameel doring and only few people actually sell the true thing

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Weber’s new gas grill includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth features for the ultimate braai

Weber is bringing smart technology to the world of braaing with its new connect grills. …