Michael Symon smiling wearing glasses and hat

Interview with Michael Symon on the Gas vs. Charcoal Grill Debate

Michael Symon is well known for his down-to-earth, delicious recipes — and with his new book, “Simply Symon Suppers,” he invites readers to enjoy the home cooking he loves. Of course, you can’t start off on the right foot if you don’t have the right tools.

Many of Symon’s recipes are made for the grill. Knowing that, we had to find out which kind of grill Symon prefers. In an exclusive interview, we asked him where he stands on the gas versus charcoal grill debate. Without hesitation, he answered, “I’m charcoal or wood all day. I’m a live fire guy.” With such an emphatic response, we had to know more. Symon explained, “Gas, to me, isn’t a grill. It’s a stove. Someone explain to me why that’s a grill. It’s burners that create heat, just like the one inside your house.”

Symon makes a compelling argument for the charcoal and wood grill, as well as reiterating that “it adds a tremendous amount of flavor to food.” But he was happy to elaborate on why he encourages home cooks to try using his preferred grill type.

Charcoal and wood grills aren’t as difficult as they once were

Person grilling meat

Many people shy away from wood and charcoal grilling because they’re perceived as difficult to master. It’s true that wood or charcoal grills take more effort than simply turning on a gas burner, but Michael Symon wants people to understand that the world of grilling has evolved and that it is now much less difficult to grill with wood or charcoal. “They’re really not hard to work on anymore,” he said, explaining that new materials have made all the difference. “They’re very easy to get lit. They’re very easy to maintain temperature.” 

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He also gave us a beginner-friendly fuel option if the thought of choosing your own is intimidating: “Charcoal that I’ve been using a lot lately is coconut charcoal that burns very slow, even heat, doesn’t have flare-ups, and is sustainable. There are great options out there.” As he noted, there are many perks to using coconut charcoal — coconut charcoal briquette manufacturer Royce Food Corporation explains some of the benefits, including it being a smokeless fuel with just a 10% ash content. This makes your grill easier to clean while the burn produces fewer airborne toxins. (As an added bonus, coconut charcoal also tends to be cheaper.)

The joy of grilling

Grilled pinapple on a stick

Overall, no matter which grill type you use, Michael Symon wants to emphasize the benefits of grilling. “Being born and raised in Cleveland, when you’ve got nice weather, you got your ass outside. That’s why I always tell people anything you cook inside, you can cook outside.” Symon really does mean anything — he even offers grilled dessert recipes, telling people to “grill fruit,” which will help maintain moisture and add a distinct caramelized flavor.

For those still on the fence, Symon pointed out that the grill is the ultimate all-purpose device. “It’s easy to turn your grill into an oven. I bake cakes on my grill. With the addition of that, you get the flavor of the wood or the charcoal.”

At the end of the day, though, grilling can simply be more fun. “You also get the benefit of being outside, where it’s more pleasant and cleanup is easier,” he said. “Typically, if we’re entertaining, especially in the spring, summer, fall, we’re outside, so you’re part of the party too.”

“Simply Symon Suppers” is now available to order.

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