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Wading into the debate between charcoal cheerleaders and propane proponents is dangerous—almost as dangerous as telling someone in Charlotte that you're a fan of dry-rub barbecue. Still, if you're undecided or think charcoal is too much of a hassle, there are some things you should know before making a decision.
With a charcoal grill, the person behind the grill can expertly control how much heat the food on the grill is getting. Charcoal burns hotter than gas, and by moving a few burning coals a "hot spot" can be created where food is seared before grilling.
You don't always need lighter fluid, either. Some grills have electric or propane-powered starters that make lighting charcoal very easy. Other grills require lit newspaper or papertowels in a chimney that lights the charcoal. It does, however, often take up to a half hour for charcoal to be ready for food—so planning ahead is a must. Disposing of charcoal can be a bit of a hassle as well, though glowing embers of a charcoal fire are perfect for toasting marshmallows.
Finally, charcoal offers a flavor that can't be found in food that's grilled on a propane grill. If you're only cooking burgers and hot dogs for a birthday party that may not be as important to you, and it may be a tradeoff you're willing to live with if the only time you can grill is when you get home from work right before dinner time.
Charcoal may not be worth the extra work for the occasional griller, but thanks to electric starters and temperature gauges, it's not as much work as it used to be. Whether you choose charcoal is a matter of personal preference and lifestyle.
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