Proud grill-masters will eagerly tell you that barbecuing is more of a craft than a science. Some swear that the secret to a good brisket is a slow marinade. Others insist on nothing less than an open-pit, wood-burning hickory smoker. Mesquite has a strong presence in the South, along with pecan and applewood. Maybe during a July 4 barbecue you've overheard that "the real flavor is in the smoke," but to tell the truth, 12-ounce prime rib doesn't finish to a tender, medium-rare center from the residual scents in barbecue smoke. It takes controlled, manageable heat in order to grill meats to backyard perfection.
The simple fact is that you have minute temperature control when grilling with a propane pit rather than charcoal or wood-burning rigs. Open-flame barbecue pits can take over an hour to reach 350 degrees, depending on the size of the grill. When you cook with gas, you can reach proper cooking temperatures in as little as 15 minutes.
More often than not, casual grillers eschew tradition in favor of practicality, and propane grilling -- once considered heresy among barbecue purists in the Midwest -- has become the norm in plenty of American backyards. The way they cook may not be as "authentic," but propane barbecue pits get the job done quickly.
Carbon monoxide emissions are significantly lowered when burning natural gas rather than black charcoal briquettes, and the adjustable temperature settings on propane pits make switching gears from pork ribs to chicken quarters no problem.
Bigger isn't necessarily better when it comes to maintaining an even cooking temperature. A 180-square-inch camping grill reaches the same cooking temperatures as a 42-inch auto-igniting stainless steel pit, so choose the size of your natural gas barbecue pit based on the amount of food you intend to prepare.
For example, a custom stone-lined pit can easily cost over $2,500, but would you make such a large purchase in order to prepare hamburgers and hot dogs? Likewise, a small, portable camping grill is powerless against a 16-ounce rack of side ribs. If you keep these factors in mind when cooking with gas, you may learn to impress even the most hardened grill-master the next time you spark a propane-powered barbecue pit.