An illustration of a grill under drawings of gas, pellet, and charcoal fuel
Illustration: istock; Icons: Rodrigo Damati

If you’re shopping for a grill this summer, here’s the least you need to know: All the grills you’ll encounter at stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart typically use one of three sources of fuel for heat: charcoal, propane gas, or wood pellets. And each has its own distinct set of advantages—and imparts a flavor all its own. 

Charcoal grillers, including those who use a kamado grill like the Big Green Egg, insist that coals impart a distinct flavor that’s unmatched by gas. Gas grill enthusiasts feel that gas grills offer better control than charcoal, so you don’t scorch food or overcook it. They also claim that the minimal flavor imparted by a gas grill lets you taste the food. 

More on Grills

Other backyard chefs argue pellet grills offer the best of both worlds—the wood pellets they burn impart a flavor reminiscent of charcoal, and even wood chips or chunks, while the digital thermostat provides superior control.

At Consumer Reports, we test almost every kind of grill, and feel each has a distinct set of advantages, which make some models better-suited to different tasks. We also think there’s a decent case for owning more than one kind of grill

Below, our grill experts settle the score on which kind of grill makes the tastiest food. If you’re looking to learn a little more about the different types, check out our grill buying guide, or jump right to our grill ratings

CR's Grill Cook-Off

To help end the debate, CR decided to have a little grill-off. We cooked identically prepared foods on three high-scoring grills: a gas, a charcoal, and a pellet.

Quick Take

Fuego Premium 3 Burners F36S

Price: $2,000

Evenness performance
Indirect cooking
Temperature range
Unlock Grill Ratings
Quick Take

Louisiana Grills LG900

Price: $900

Evenness performance
Indirect cooking
Temperature range
Unlock Grill Ratings
Quick Take

Dyna-Glo DGN576DNC-D

Price: $230

Evenness performance
Indirect cooking
Convenience
Unlock Grill Ratings

On each, we cooked boneless, skinless chicken thighs and sliced zucchini, all prepped with just a small amount of oil and salt, so as not to mask any flavors imparted by the different types of grills. 

Next, we asked 113 staffers to sample either the chicken or the zucchini—or both if they were hungry—without knowing which grill each came from. We asked them to state their preferences, as well as to guess which foods were cooked on each grill.

The Results

It was almost an even split, but the gas grill had a slight edge in our taste test for chicken, getting 36 percent of the vote. The pellet grill was a close second, with 34 percent; charcoal came in at 30 percent. Of the 31 folks who tried zucchini, almost two-thirds favored the gas grill. That’s surprising because charcoal and pellet grills are designed to impart a distinct flavor to food. One possible explanation is that gas-grilled foods might be the most familiar-tasting—gas grills account for the lion’s share of all grills sold.

Another surprise: Only about a third of CR staffers correctly paired their food to the grill that cooked it—though even that may have been due to chance. So if you’re not firmly in one camp or the other, our experts say to choose your grill based on ease of use, cost, and construction, rather than on any flavor promise.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article also appeared in the May 2020 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.