There was a time when Vin Davi only grilled with gas.
For roughly a decade, the software developer from Guilderland and captain with the McKownville Fire Department relied on propane to fuel his grilling needs simply because it was quick and easy. Long hours on the road for work left him seeking an easy way to cook meals and his outdoor grill filled that capacity very well.
Only that was four years ago. Today, Davi still spends a good portion of the day on the road but now manages to find the time to grill over charcoal or hardwood.
He still has a gas grill set up in his backyard for when he’s in a hurry, but it gets only a fraction of the use he gives to a small charcoal Weber and the crown-jewel of his grilling set up — the Brinkmann Trailmaster Limited.
“That is the key difference: the flavor,” he said. “There’s no mistaking the difference between charcoal and whatever you’re doing on a gas grill.”
For grilling aficionados, the choice is clear: There’s no substitute for charcoal. Many say the earthy, smoky flavor produced by briquettes or naturally produced hardwood charcoal simply can’t be replicated on a grill that starts with the touch of a button.
“It’s just got that natural wood scent and taste,” said Rit Frederick, owner and pitmaster of Wagon Trail BBQ in Rotterdam.
Frederick’s restaurant relies on
a hybrid smoker that has gas jets to heat hardwood and maintain temperature. At home, however, he almost always finds himself reaching for hardwood charcoal when he’s grilling.
“If you’ve got the time and the patience, charcoal’s the way to go,” he said.”
But many newcomers to barbecuing don’t seem too interested in trading better flavor for expedience. At least that’s what Ed Tranka has witnessed through the sale of barbecue grills at Curtis Lumber in Ballston.
Tranka, the store’s assistant manger, said he sells three gas grills for every charcoal grill bought from his supply. He said customers seem drawn to the immediacy presented by the gas grills.
“That’s simply because of the ease,” he speculated. “You go out there, you push the button, it lights up and away you go,” he said.
Others see the utility of both. Bill Melchior, an account manager from Albany and a self-taught student of barbecue, keeps a gas grill, a charcoal grill and a hardwood burning offset smoker on an area of his back deck he refers to as his “kitchen.”
“All three methods are very good,” he said. “It’s just a matter of two things: what you’re cooking and how much time you have.”
Like Davi, time used to be a limiting factor for Melchior. He found the ease of gas grilling kept him using propane for years.
“You get home from work, start the grill and you can have everything done in 15 or 20 minutes,” he said.
Then, several years ago, he discovered the BBQ Pit Boys, a group that demonstrates basic grilling techniques and recipes in online videos. He purchased his first offset smoker last summer and split a face cord of hickory with a friend.
Within six months, the hickory was gone and Melchior found himself a convert to hardwood cooking. Now, he revolves his other household chores around a cooking process that sometimes takes up to 16 hours to complete.
The process starts with applying a dry rub of spices to a cut of meat such as a beef brisket or pork butt. The cooking process typically starts early the following morning and continues until early evening.
“In all reality it’s not all that much time, because I’m doing other things while I’m cooking,” he said.
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Categories: Schenectady County