Sales of charcoal barbecues are racing past gas versions as next-gen tech lets cooks focus on flavour without compromising on convenience
The charcoal barbecue is having a renaissance. In the last few years, the traditional barbecue method has been eschewed in favour of gas which was regarded as the easy option thanks to its quick set-up and flame control. However, a new league of tech-savvy barbecues, such as super easy-to-use models from Masterbuilt, have sparked a charcoal comeback.
Why is charcoal better? Well, for starters, it’s scientifically proven to make food taste better.
‘The fuel you use to feed your fire is as important as any other ingredient you choose,’ says barbecue pro Ben Forte. ‘Gas delivers basic flavour compounds as it cooks the food, whereas charcoal also imparts smoky deliciousness through aroma compounds. These add extra complexity that can’t be achieved with gas.’
It’s not just about flavour either; charcoal burns hotter than gas so provides the opportunity to use techniques such as flash-searing at scorching temperatures.
‘Cooking on charcoal is super versatile,’ explains Ben. ‘You can slow-cook large cuts for hours, cook directly on the hot coals or bury food in cooling embers.’
Ben recommends adding wood to the charcoal mix to play with the flavour profiles and add unique smoky depths to food.
‘This is where cooking becomes really fun,’ says Ben. ‘Particular woods naturally complement particular foods, but their subtle flavours mean there’s lots of room for creativity, without the risk of going too far wrong.’
‘For a classic match, try pairing hickory wood chunks with beef brisket. And if you’re feeling adventurous, apple wood makes a striking match for fish or game.’
Ben’s top tips for charcoal freshers?
‘Cook low and slow. Cooking at lower temperatures for a longer time gives amazing smoky flavours and helps keep food from drying out.’
He’s got one important caveat, however: ‘Make sure you use good quality charcoal. Big Block (restaurant grade) is what you need as it burns hotter, has better air flow and lasts longer.’