How to Get Charcoal Flavor on an Electric Grill

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Electric grills are beneficial for many reasons.

First, they are often safer for the average person to use because there is no flammable gas like propane or open flames.

Another is that you can use them indoors or outdoors, which allows you to craft the perfect meal no matter the weather.

That said, there are some elements of the traditional grill experience that chefs might find challenging to create with an electric grill, including that simple charcoal flavor popular in backyard barbecues.

But it is possible.

If you would like to know how to get charcoal flavor on an electric grill without jumping through a bunch of hoops and understand what electric grills are, we are here to help.

What Is an Electric Grill?

Aptly named, an electric grill is a small, simple device that generates heat through the use of electricity rather than propane, charcoal, wood chips, or other flammable gases.

The perk of these grill models is that they can be used indoors or outdoors, depending on the type you own.

Each one also takes up little space, so you can set up the grill on the counter during a rainy day and still have delicious food.

Plus, that standard lined pattern remains as a feature, so you even get char marks on your food.

What Can You Cook On One?

If you are looking to get a charcoal flavor with your electric grill, then you are most likely trying to cook some meat.

Although electric grills can look and act differently from more traditional models, you should be able to prepare the same food items.

That means you can enjoy some classic favorites while barbecuing indoors, including steaks, chicken, and hamburgers.

The catch is that the food might not cook more evenly and you might not get the char you desire.

That is unless you take a couple of extra steps, which we are about to teach you.

How to Get Charcoal Flavor on an Electric Grill

Here are some tips on how you can get the charcoal flavor when cooking meat and other ingredients on your electric grill.

1. Use the Right Electric Grill, Charcoal, and Wood Chips

If you plan to cook outside and possess an electric grill, it is possible to utilize standard charcoal or wood chips to create your favorite flavors.

However, for you to do so, you need to be sure you have the right type of device and other cooking items.

That is because not all electric grills are made equally, and some are more effective than others.

The proper electric grill for a charcoal flavor is one that has an open design.

You do not want to utilize a press or double-sided contact grill since these will cook food too quickly and do not allow as much crisping or burning of the fat in the meat.

Instead, choose an open model with space underneath the central heating filament.

You will be able to add charcoal or wood chips to this area, drumming up delicious flavor in the simplest way possible.

Types of Charcoal

There are multiple types of cooking charcoal products on the market, and the right one for your meal will depend on your flavor profile preference as well as the heat of your electric grill.

1. Lump Charcoal

Lump charcoal is not as popular in modern times as it was in the past but is made from pure wood, giving it additional smoky flavors.

That said, lump charcoal burns hot and unevenly, so it might instill different levels of flavor in your food. 

To use this style effectively, only allow it to rest under your electric grill for 30 to 40 minutes.

After that, it will start to cool down and no longer be useful for your meal. 

2. Charcoal Briquettes

Charcoal briquettes are one of the most popular varieties because they are humanmade and designed to burn evenly for a long time to better instill flavor into meats.

Briquettes can cook at 600 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour and are easy to control for the average backyard chef, making them an excellent choice for cooking with an electric grill.

If you choose to use briquettes, avoid the ones doused in lighter fluid.

These might burn too hot and could add extra chemical flavors to the meat, resulting in an oily, unwanted flavor.

3. Coconut Shell Charcoal

This is an unusual variety that is hard to find in the Western world, but it is popular in Asian countries like Thailand.

This style of charcoal product is made from the shells of coconuts and is rapid burning.

It produces small, hot fires and can add a unique taste to whatever type of meat you are grilling outside.

4. Binchotan

You might not be able to get your hands on this premium lump charcoal, but it burns hot and clean, allowing the flavors of your meat to shine through.

Do note, though, that this type of charcoal is not known for producing that traditional charcoal taste, so it’s probably a good thing this style is so expensive.

There is no way you could accidentally purchase it at your local store.

Which Is Best?

As you can see, you have a couple of options when you choose to invest in charcoal. 

The best one to use with an electric grill is the charcoal briquettes since you have better control over the temperature and evenness of heat distribution.

Types of Wood Chips

You can use wood chips with your electric grill, but it will be difficult to get a charcoal flavor unless you burn them down.

If you do decide to use wood chips, you will be able to inject extra flavors like hickory and cherry, but you might need to cook steak and similar meats over a more extended period.

how to get charcoal flavor on an electric grill

It would help if you also use hardwoods like cedar, alder, hickory, cherry, and maple.

Although softwood is common and easy to get your hands on, it produces thick clouds of smoke, which can have negative health effects and ruin your dinner.

2. Season and Marinate the Meat

Unfortunately, not all grills will give you the option to place authentic charcoal or wood chips underneath the electric heating filament.

If you have an older electric grill or are just unwilling to mess around with different burning materials, there are still a couple of tricks available.

In particular, you can focus on seasoning and marinating your food, as well as prepping the grill properly.

How to Season

There are a couple of wonderful ways to inject quick smoky flavor into any meat you prepare on the electric grill.

One is by cooking with smoked bacon and putting a little of the fat into your meat.

Another is by combining popular seasonings such as smoked cumin and paprika.

These come pre-smoked and will automatically add extra flavor to any food.

Finally, you can use some rare alternatives like molasses or lapsang souchong tea leaves to get sweet and umami flavors.

How to Marinate

Besides using spices, there are also a couple of liquids that will add a delicious smoky flavor to your meat.

One of the most important is liquid smoke.

Liquid Smoke is made by capturing the smoke from burning wood and charcoal and then cooling and condensing it into a liquid.

You can choose to keep the meat in liquid smoke for an extended time or to add a little on top of your regular seasonings to get that delicious taste.

3. Oil the Grill

When you can’t use real charcoal, you can put a little bit of oil on the electric grill surface to burn more of the animal proteins in meat.

Standard vegetable oil is the best choice because it has almost no flavor and burns quickly, allowing you to control how much of the meat chars.

You want to avoid olive oil because it does have a unique flavor and also burns away slowly, making it difficult to get a good char.

When possible, use vegetable oil only when the grill is hot.

You can splash it on the grill surface when needed to get extra flavor and oomph. 

Avoid using butter, too, since it tends to be absorbed by the meat and will burn rapidly under high temperatures.

4. Use a Griddle

If your regular electric grill surface just isn’t getting you the results you desire, consider purchasing a griddle attachment.

The griddle tends to have some space underneath where you can place charcoal or wood chips to inject authentic flavor.

It is also possible to get a two-burner griddle for your stove, but these will not always work if you want to use electricity for grilling.


If you have ever wondered how to get charcoal flavor on an electric grill, you are not alone.

Luckily, there are a couple of methods available for the intrepid chef, including burning real charcoal or wood chips underneath the central heating filament.

If you want to avoid those measures, you can take a closer look at how you season and marinate your meat and vegetables to get a smoky flavor and char similar to that of charcoal.

No matter which method you choose, a delicious meal awaits.

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