PhotoIf you are headed out to purchase your first barbecue grill in preparation for the July 4th holiday weekend, the first question you need to ask yourself is the one that has divided backyard chefs for eons – propane or charcoal?

Experts say the choice largely comes down to personal preference, but cost is a factor as well. AmazingRibs.com points out that pricey steakhouses grill with gas to provide even searing and a consistent color. Gas grills can also deliver high heat very quickly, without waiting for coals to heat up.

“But most sear burners are narrow and can only sear one or two steaks at a time, perfect if you're an empty nester, but if you're hosting the graduation party you will want more real estate,” the site points out. “A charcoal grill can lay up to 900°F on the surface of a lot of steaks at once. A major reason to go charcoal.”

Smokey

Charcoal can also add the element of smoke. Most slow-cooked barbecue is actually cooked as much by the smoke from smoldering wood mixed in with the charcoal as it is by the heat. But the experts as AmazingRibs say smoke is not likely to add much flavor to thin pieces of meat, like hot dogs – the typical July 4th fare.

Controlling temperature is easier with propane than charcoal. With charcoal, control is applied by increasing or decreasing the amount of charcoal you burn. With gas you just turn a knob.

Although both can get very hot,  Chow.com notes that some cheaper gas grills may not reach a sufficient temperature to sear well. But backyard chefs who prefer to cook slowly usually only need to reach a grilling temperature of around 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cost favors charcoal

A final consideration may be cost. Generally, you will pay more for a propane grill, especially one with greater grilling capacity and bells and whistles. Perceived quality and name brands will also make a difference. At Home Depot, a Brinkman 6 burner gas grill with side burner goes for $199, while a Weber Genesis with half the burners costs nearly $1000.

Charcoal grills tend to be cheaper. On the low end an Aussie charcoal grill is about $50 while the Weber Performer Delux goes for around $500.

Condiments of choice

Once you have selected a grill and put on a spread of hot dogs, you have to select your condiments. Hot dog maker JJ's Red Hots conducted a survey in advance of the July 4th holiday to find what consumers are putting on their dogs this year.

The survey found that, while mustard remains the preferred condiment, there were a few surprising choices making the top 10. It was no surprise that onions and chili were second and third, but pimento cheese appeared at number 5, bacon at number 7, salsa at 9 and caramelized onions at number 10.

"People are getting more and more experimental with their toppings, said company owner Jonathan Luther. “It seems that the dreaded 'foodie' movement is creeping its way into the mainstream. Heaven help us."

Luther notes with relief that ketchup did not make the list, suggesting that consumers won't submit their hot dogs to that indignity when given better options.


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