Blog · September 11, 2022

6 Steps to Make Gas Grill Taste Like Charcoal

Do you love that nostalgic taste of charcoal from the BBQ days of old? People mostly used charcoal for outdoor cooking, but now with gas grilling, it has taken a bit of a back seat. If only you could have the best of both worlds.

You don’t have to sacrifice that flavour because the efficiency of gas grilling can still give you those great, smokey flavours you remember. Here is how to make a gas grill taste like charcoal:

1. Understand how that flavour happens

Most people don’t realize that the deep, smokey flavour doesn’t come from the charcoal but rather from how charcoal reacts. Grilling meat produces fat drippings, and added oils and sugar from marinades would drip down onto the coals and vaporize.

This then rises back up into the meat for that distinct flavour. Those briquettes are not making the flavour but acting as a go-between because the more the meat drips, the more concentrated flavour is returned.

Your gas barbecue can also do this with its flavour bars, the thick lines on the grating or the triangular grates that catch the drippings and allow for vaporizing.

2. Use a smoker box

A smoker box is a hinged box made of stainless steel or cast iron that you fill with sawdust or wood chips. For wood chips, there are wide different varieties, including:

  • Maple
  • Cedar
  • Hickory
  • Apple
  • Cherry
  • Mesquite

These flavour profiles burn as they are placed under the grate and impart that amazing flavour. You can also wrap them up in tinfoil for a fast, DIY solution. Make sure to double up the foil and make a tight seal. Then poke holes in it, so the smoke escapes and hits your meat.

Wood chips don’t take up any grilling space, so you can use them to full capacity. Soaking your wood chips takes it up a notch, so use apple juice, apple cider vinegar or even beer to enhance those timbers. For deeper, smokey flavour, turn down the heat to use the time to your delicious advantage by creating a slow, smoker effect.

3. Spice up your rubs and marinades

If you are looking for that signature smokey taste that you remember from charcoal, allow your rubs and marinades to do the job. This is how to customize your taste using smokiness and wood tones, and it tastes amazing without those pesky carcinogens.

Great smoke seasonings can be added to your standard rubs, and they will sear into the meat. Including them in the marinade soaks those flavours deep inside too. Other additives to consider are:

  • Smoked paprika
  • Black cardamom
  • Smoked salt
  • Chipotle peppers
  • Smoked olive oil
  • Smoked tea

You can create those authentic tastes with what you put on top of that meat!

4. Turn up the heat

A charcoal BBQ has the natural ability to create different heat zones because of how differently the briquettes burn. You can mimic this on your gas grill by adjusting the burners on each side with high and low zones to create different searing and browning actions. This reacts with the proteins to give a distinct flavour.

You also can get a fast sear with high heat that helps ape the charcoal taste. A charcoal grill needs an open cover to get oxygen and burn hot, but it’s the opposite with gas, so keep the lid closed to maximize the char.

5. Try liquid smoke

Liquid smoke is almost exactly what the name suggests. You take wood and burn it to collect the smokey vapours, and then they are condensed, distilled, filtered and bottled for you to purchase. Liquid smoke comes in many different flavours to your marinades, giving you that bold flavour you are looking for, but it is very concentrated so use it sparingly. You can always add more to suit your taste buds.

If you need to water it down a bit, you can use vinegar or water for diluting and still get an authentic smokey tone of hickory, applewood or mesquite.

6. Add some charcoal

This is a method that seems too simple, but really, you can use your gas grill with charcoal. Start by removing the flame deflectors on your grill and placing a cookie sheet on top of the burners. Add a thin layer of charcoals already well lit and turn the burners on.

You will get that authentic flavour without buying a separate charcoal grill, and clean-up is easy. Let the pan cool down, take it out and dump it; that’s it.

This gives you that reliable, even heat source with the charcoal flavour, so it’s the best of both worlds. You will have to pay more attention because your food is closer to the heat source, but you can grill on an upper grate or raised grill rack if you have one.

This is how you get charcoal flavours on a gas grill. Try these different methods to see what works best for you, and enjoy those amazing flavours from BBQs of the past.