Taste tests indicate there's no significant flavor difference between charcoal and gas. The choice is strictly personal. How will they plan to use the grill? Will they grill every night or just on special occasions? Is cost an issue? While gas grills are initially more expensive, they generally cost less to operate in the long run.
The Elements of a Charcoal Grill
The beauty of a charcoal grill is its simplicity. At the core of a good charcoal grill is a charcoal grate to place the fuel on. Above that is a cooking grate. A lid with air vents tops it off. Simple and uncomplicated.
The Elements of a Gas Grill
The Cooking System: Better grills generally have two or more separate burners (not just control knobs) which allow greater control of heat. Grills with one burner don't allow you to control heat as well as grills with multiple burners and may result in hot and cold spots on the cooking surface.
When cooking on a gas grill, juices from the food drip down and accumulate near the heat source until they reach a flash point and burn off. The best systems quickly flash the drippings, eliminating flare-ups and creating flavorful smoke. Most manufacturers rely on lava rock or ceramic briquettes to distribute the heat from the burners to the cooking surface. Drippings from the food tend to pool in these systems causing undue flare-ups. The best grills use a steel bar system that funnels the grease away from the burner flames, greatly reducing flare-ups.
BTUs (British Thermal Units): BTUs are not a measure of cooking power. They indicate the volume of gas a grill can burn. Tightly engineered grills use fewer BTUs and cook food more efficiently. Sometimes less is more. Too many BTUs can cause damage to burners and reduce the life of the grill. In general, large grills with large cooking surfaces require higher BTUs.
Must-Haves for Any Grill
Solid Construction: A good, well-built grill will feel solid and sturdy; a poorly made grill will wiggle. If a grill isn't solid on the sales floor, chances are it will fall apart rather quickly on the patio or deck. Choose a grill made of high grade U.S. steel. Also opt for a baked-on, porcelain-enamel finish. The cart should be sturdy, wheels should roll easily, and the grill should display a good fit and finish.
A thicker, heavier-gauge cooking grate will last longer and distribute and retain heat better. The best grates are made of cast iron, stainless steel, or porcelain-coated aluminum or cast iron.
Assembly: Better brands reduce or eliminate the amount of assembly required by the consumer.
Service & Maintenance: Top-notch after-market service supports any quality made grill, including thorough, easy-to-read information about the product, and a toll-free service line.
Safety: A good grill controls heat easily, has handles that stay cool to the touch, and has added safety features.
Long Warranty: It makes sense - the best manufacturers can afford to stand behind their products. Don't settle for less than a 10-year warranty.