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Charcoal vs. gas is a debate that divides the grilling world. My own house is divided: My husband is a charcoal purist who finds joy in monitoring the embers, whereas I, as a recipe developer, usually opt for the ease and precision of cooking with gas. When I’m hustling between the kitchen and the grill, I don’t have the patience (or attention span) to watch the coals or clean up a kettle full of ash.

The split between the two fuel sources really comes down to flavor vs. convenience. Charcoal grills provide smoky complexity, while gas grills leave everything with a slight tinge of propane. Charcoal grills can also get hotter than most (though not all) gas grills can, pushing 700°F. That means a better sear on your kebabs and vegetables, which means more nuanced flavor. Gas grilling, on the other hand, is as easy as using a stovetop—no fussing with coals or refueling with a new chimney the way you have to with charcoal. Bonus: they’re also ready to use in less than 10 minutes.

The Spark Grill, first released in 2020, is the best of both worlds. This charcoal-electric hybrid gives you the flavor and experience of charcoal, but with the convenience and control of gas. The insulated kettle sits on top of a lightweight metal cart, with a small prep area off to the side.

The grates are cast iron (as opposed to the more commonplace stainless steel or porcelain enameled), with a cooking surface that is surprisingly generous for the size of the grill. The Spark’s grates require a little more maintenance, much like your cast iron skillet, but they also build a natural seasoning over time that keeps food from sticking. I was able to grill delicate salmon filets with ease—and got a nice crispy skin to boot. Just be sure to use a nylon grill brush and avoid the metal scraper so you don’t ruin that hard-earned seasoning. If you can take a minute after your food comes off the heat to give the grates a good brushing and a thin slick of oil, it will go a long way.

Though the Spark is fueled by charcoal, its temperature regulation and ignition require electricity, so the grill needs to be plugged into a standard outlet. An ignitor creates an electric spark that lights a charcoal “briq,” designed to work with the grill. Then, a pair of fans control the heat, alternately blowing air to accelerate combustion or slowing it down with cool air, keeping the temperature right where you set it with the dial on the front.

“Wait,” you may be saying. “Doesn’t a pellet grill do a lot of that?” Well, kind of. There are a few important differences between a Spark and most pellet grills. First, a pellet grill controls its temperature by speeding up or slowing down the addition of pellets to the burner. Their automatic feeders can get jammed in a way that the fans on a Spark won’t. Second, the Spark gives you more options for fuel. It’s possible to use regular old charcoal briquettes if you want to. However, the proprietary charcoal briqs made just for the Spark open a world of possibilities. The words “proprietary fuel source” gave me pause, but most briqs cost around $5 each, which is about the same as it would cost you to fill a charcoal chimney. And using the briqs maximizes the efficiency and precision of the grill. They’re also 100 percent compostable, which charcoal briquettes are not.

Spark has four styles of briq—each with a somewhat different construction and charcoal density—designed to allow you to cook in different ways. One thing they have in common is that they all heat the grill in 10 minutes or less. The quick cooking briq burns for 30-45 minutes and is ideal for your weekday skewers or a round of burgers for the family, while the everyday briq burns twice as long and allows for more varied temperatures, best if you’re grilling a main and sides. The low-and-slow briq is particularly impressive: It can maintain temperatures around 250-300°F for six to eight hours, essentially turning your grill into a smoker. I tested this out with a pork shoulder and it made meltingly tender pulled pork with little to no effort. To add a little extra smoky flavor, I placed a foil packet of wood pellets on the bottom of the grill and it worked beautifully.

Another big difference between the Spark and a pellet grill is that the Spark can get really hot—up to 900°F hot with the high heat briq. I made Neapolitan pizza with a chewy leopard-spotted undercrust in a matter of minutes.

One thing that takes some getting used to on the Spark is zone cooking. On a traditional gas or charcoal grill, you’d either bank your coals to one side or turn off half your burners for a direct and indirect cooking zone. On the Spark the heat comes from the center. So food is seared in the middle of the grill and then placed around the edge for indirect cooking. Spark includes a metal heat spreader to place over the tray, if, say, you’re grilling hot dogs or turkey burgers and would like even heat across the grate. I cooked a spatchcocked chicken bone side down for 40 minutes; the meat was juicy and the skin was phenomenally crispy.

After cooking on the Spark for the past few weeks, I’m a total convert. The $1,000 price tag is high compared to many charcoal and gas grills, but it’s more user-friendly than a kettle grill or even a pellet grill. It’s also more versatile than a gas grill or kamado. Add to that a useful app and a footprint that’s small enough to fit on a city dweller’s patio, and you’ve got a grill that can totally transform how you cook outside.