Do Electric BBQ Grills Even Work?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Electric BBQ grills use electricity to power heating elements that cook food.
  • They offer an affordable and portable alternative to charcoal grills.
  • Electric grills provide precise temperature control but may not get as hot.
  • They require less maintenance than charcoal but lack smoky flavor.
  • Overall, electric grills work well for outdoor grilling convenience.


Barbecuing is a beloved summertime tradition for many, evoking images of smoky, flame-licked foods with rich, charred flavors. While classic charcoal grills have long been the barbecue gold standard, electric grills have surged in popularity as a convenient, portable and affordable grilling option. But how well do electric barbecues actually perform when put to the test?

This comprehensive guide will analyze the effectiveness, benefits, drawbacks, and key considerations of electric BBQ grills. It will evaluate how electric grills work, how they compare to charcoal, gas and other grilling methods, and determine if they can produce genuinely delicious barbecued results. With barbecuing season fast approaching, these insights will empower you to choose the optimal outdoor cooking equipment for your needs. Discover everything you need to know to determine if electric grills deliver legitimate barbecue flavor and performance.

Equipped with this exhaustive evaluation, you will gain a nuanced understanding of electric grill capabilities. Let’s get grilling!

How Exactly Do Electric Grills Work?

Electric barbecues function by using electricity to power internal heating elements, which in turn heat the grill surface to cook food.

The source of electricity can be either:

  • A plug-in power cord connected to an electrical outlet
  • Internal batteries for portable electric grills

To generate heat, electric grills use:

  • Electric heating rods/coils
  • Ceramic heating elements
  • Cast iron/steel plates

These heating elements rapidly get hot when electricity flows through them. Food is then placed directly over the heated surface to cook via conductive heat transfer.

Temperature is adjustable on most electric grills, allowing precision control over the amount of heat produced. This makes it easy to precisely dial in the ideal temperature for searing steaks or gently cooking fish without overcooking.

Many electric grills also contain integrated thermometers, grilling racks, drip trays and other helpful features. High-end models may even offer extras like Bluetooth connectivity and digital displays.

Key Benefits and Advantages of Electric Grills

Convenience – Simply plugging in and turning on an electric grill provides instant, button-activated grilling. No charcoal or propane required.

Portability – Smaller electric models can easily be transported for tailgating, camping or other on-the-go cooking.

Affordability – Electric grills tend to cost significantly less than comparable gas or charcoal grills.

Easy Temperature Control – Electric grills allow users to precisely adjust heat levels.

Safety – No open flames minimize fire risks.

Cleaner Grilling – Electric grills produce less smoke and require less post-grilling cleanup.

Compact Storage – With no messy charcoal or bulky propane, electric grills take up minimal space.

Quieter Function – Electric heating elements operate much more quietly than blazing charcoal or hissing gas.

Accessible Grilling – Electric function permits grilling in locations where charcoal or gas grills are prohibited.

How Do Electric Grills Compare to Charcoal and Gas Grilling?

Temperature Capabilities

  • Electric – Typically reach temps between 200-450°F. Great for slower cooking but may lack searing heat.
  • Gas – Achieve heat up to 600°F+. Excellent for fast heating and searing.
  • Charcoal – Can exceed 700°F+ for intense, smoky searing heat. Harder to control temp.

Flavor Imparted

  • Electric – No charcoal flavor or smoke. Relies on wood chips or marinades for flavor.
  • Gas – Infuses a hint of propane flavor, but minimal true barbecue taste.
  • Charcoal – Imparts an irreplaceable, authentically smoky barbecued flavor.

Ease of Use

  • Electric – Push button and flip switch simplicity. Easy temperature adjustments.
  • Gas – More involved setup but relatively simple cooking process.
  • Charcoal – Requires skill to manage coals and regulate temperatures.


  • Electric – $50-$150 for most entry-level models. Very affordable.
  • Gas – $150-$500+ for mid-range gas grills. Moderate pricing.
  • Charcoal – $200-$2000+ for high-quality charcoal grills. Greater upfront cost.

Cleanup and Maintenance

  • Electric – Easy cleanup of grates. Minimal maintenance required.
  • Gas – More involved grill surface cleanup. Must inspect gas lines/tubing.
  • Charcoal – Ash removal and thorough cleaning after each use.

Frequently Asked Questions About Electric Grilling

Can you really barbecue on an electric grill??

Yes, absolutely. While electric grills may not provide quite the same charcoal-kissed smoky flavor, they can absolutely be used to cook delicious, authentic barbecued foods. The key is achieving high enough heat for searing, using wood chips for extra smoke, and relying on spice rubs and sauces for bold barbecue taste.

What temperature do you need to barbecue meat?

For true barbecuing rather than just grilling, temperatures between 225-325°F are ideal. Lower temps allow tenderizing and smoking over longer cook times. Quick searing at 500°F+ right at the end helps form that charred exterior. High-end electric grills can hit these temps.

Do electric grills cook food evenly?

Electric grills generally provide even heat across the entire cooking surface, especially on smaller portable models. The enclosed heating elements distribute heat consistently under the grate. Just be sure to periodically shuffle and flip foods for the most uniform doneness.

Can you use wood chips on an electric grill?

Yes, adding a smoke box or foil packet of wood chips is a great way to infuse barbecue wood smoke flavor when cooking on an electric grill. Soak chips first for the most smoke production. Apple, cherry, hickory and mesquite wood chips all pair beautifully with various grilled meats.

Are indoor electric grills the same as outdoor models?

Indoor and outdoor electric grills operate on the same basic technology, but outdoor models are specially engineered to withstand weather conditions. Outdoor electric grills feature waterproof construction and are built to handle very high heat while indoor versions operate at lower temps.

What kind of electricity do outdoor electric grills use?

Outdoor electric grills either plug into a grounded outdoor electrical outlet on the same circuit as your kitchen (via an extension cord) or rely on internal rechargeable batteries for portable power. Never connect an outdoor electric grill to indoor household current.

Are electric tabletop grills any good?

Tabletop electric grills offer a very affordable and convenient grilling option for small spaces. Models from brands like George Foreman can nicely sear foods and their sloped design helps drain grease away. However, the small surface may restrict cooking larger volumes.

How long do electric grill batteries last?

On a single charge, electric grill batteries typically last 60-90 minutes when continuously grilling at maximum heat. Lower temperatures extend battery life. Lithium-ion batteries hold their charge well over time when stored. Bring extras or use a power cord for longer cooks.

Can you convert a gas grill to electric?

Converting a gas grill to electric is possible, but quite complex, through replacing the burners with custom electric heating elements. It generally requires professional help. Easier to simply purchase a plug-in electric grill designed specifically for the purpose.

The Bottom Line – Are Electric Grills a Viable Barbecuing Option?

While purists may argue that only charcoal can deliver true barbecue flavor, electric grills offer a legitimate outdoor cooking alternative for those seeking convenience.

Electric grills provide a simple, affordable and low-maintenance grilling solution. They excel at evenly cooking foods like burgers, hotdogs and vegetables. Pairing electronic precision temperature control with smoke boxes and spice rubs can produce quality barbecue results.

However, most electric grills top out around 450°F – less than the scorching heat of charcoal or gas. So caramelizing foods or imparting a true sear requires diligence. And smoky flavors must be manually augmented.

For apartment dwellers or those grilling in permitted locations, electric models offer feasible outdoor cooking where charcoal or gas grills are impractical. While perhaps not the first choice of barbecue aficionados, electric grills undoubtedly “work” for easy, portable grilling.

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