Can you use charcoal on a gas grill? Seasoned pitmasters share their insights

There are only a few instances where it's safe to use charcoal on your gas grill - these experts explain when

A gas grill on decking in a backyard
(Image credit: Getty)

It's finally an acceptable time to start thinking about firing up the barbecue, but does your gas grill need charcoal? The answer, plain and simple, is no - however there are a few exceptions, as well as some instances where you might want to use an alternative fuel source for an extra smoky flavor. 

Gas grills are, by virtue, powered by gas. The fuel source is most often a propane tank that attaches to your grill by a valve, heating your burners to cook your food. They're considered convenient, safer, and more efficient than natural fuel sources like charcoal and wood, but there is one downside; you do sacrifice that sought-after smokey flavor we all love about barbecued food. 

As tempting as it might be to throw some charcoal beneath your grates, you can actually damage your best gas grill by doing so. There are only a few instances where it's safe to use charcoal alongside gas. To learn more about what those exceptions are, we've spoken to some seasoned pitmasters who share their thoughts below. 

Jakob Miller headshot
Jakob Miller

Jakob is a retired health professional who became a pitmaster in his golden years. He and his wife founded Barbecue pals, an online blog where they share informative grilling guidelines, delicious recipes, and humorous takes on the world of BBQ.

Do you need charcoal for a gas grill? 

A gas barbecue on an outside courtyard

(Image credit: B&Q)

The short answer is no. Just as you can get gas and electric ovens that run off different fuel sources, outdoor barbecues come with various different fuel types, from charcoal and pellet to gas or electric. 

'Gas grills are designed to use propane or natural gas as their primary fuel source, and they can produce great results on their own,' explains Jakob Miller, grilling expert and blogger at Barbecue Pals. There are, however, some instances when you can use both charcoal and gas together. 

'The exception is if you have a hybrid grill,' explains Shawn Hill, barbecue expert and founder of The Grilling Dad. 'What's a hybrid grill, you ask?  It's a grill that uses liquids (natural gas or propane) or solids (charcoal or wood) as fuel sources.' These flexible grills offer the best of both worlds: charcoal's smoky flavor and the convenience of a gas grill's even and quick cook. 

How do you use a hybrid grill? 

Char-Broil Gas2Coal Gas-Charcoal Hybrid Grill

(Image credit: Char-Broil)

Hybrid grills are a type of gas grill that also uses charcoal as a secondary heating source. The main advantage that makes them one of the best grills is that you get the same intense smoked flavor from the charcoal, but with the ease and control of a gas grill with hob controls. 

'Using a one is fairly straightforward,' says Jakob. 'Start by igniting the gas burners as you would normally, then add charcoal to the designated charcoal trays or baskets and let it heat up. Once the charcoal is hot, you can adjust the vents to control the temperature and cook your food over the charcoal.' 

The most important thing to note is that hybrid grills have two different fuel chambers. 'The chamber for solids has a metal grate where the charcoal (or sometimes wood) sits, whereas the chamber for liquids has a burner that attaches to the propane tank or natural line,' explains Shawn. 'It's like having a foot in the past and a foot in the future, but both feet are firmly planted in deliciousness.' 

Can you turn your regular gas grill into a smoker?

Weber Universal Stainless Steel Smoker Box

(Image credit: Weber)

If you only have a regular gas grill but still want the benefit of a smoky flavor, you'll be pleased to learn that it is possible to turn a gas grill into a smoker. 'While it's not ideal, you can technically turn your grill into a smoker by using a smoker box,' says Jakob. 'These boxes are designed to hold wood chips and sit on top of the gas burners and, as the wood chips heat up, they release smoke that flavors your food.' 

Shawn also has a DIY method for making your own smoker, and you only need one piece of kit you almost certainly have in your kitchen drawer. 'If you want a quick experiment, you can wrap some wood chips in aluminum foil, poke holes all over it, then place it directly above a burner that's turned on,' he explains. 'When you place your meat on the opposite side of the grill, you're getting indirect heat with hardwood smoke rolling in your gas grill.' 

It's worth noting though that neither of these methods will ever produce the same results as a dedicated smoker. For an intensely rich and smoky flavor like no other, it's always best to invest in a proper smoker, or opt for a charcoal grill instead of gas. 

Grill accessories 

Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.