Do you need lava rocks for your gas grill? This is a common question that I will answer in this blog post. I will talk about the rocks, what they do, whether or not you need them, and some other things that you may not know.
What lava rocks do and how do I use them?
An old LifeHacker article from 2012 popularized the idea of using lava rocks to give your grill an extra boost, especially if your grill is elderly or has propane regulator issues. You can use these rocks by stacking them underneath your grill, around your burners. Turn the grill on and instead of grilling immediately, give the grill an extra 20 minutes to heat up the rocks, and then you grill.
The idea behind them is that they absorb the heat and give the output constantly, providing more steadier heat than what your burners would normally provide.
Does the lava rock trick work?
Yes, the lava rock trick does work, but not all grills need them. If your grill is pretty new, or if it is performing just fine, chances are that you don’t need that extra heat boost. So if your grill is fine, all you’re doing is wasting 20 minutes of propane to give yourself extra heat to work with when you grill.
If you have an older grill and you’re not ready to replace it yet, or if your regulator doesn’t allow the grill to get hot enough, then you should use the lava rock trick to basically act as burner boosters, providing even, steady heat that was accumulated during the warm-up period to cook your food.
Why lava rocks?
Lava rocks are made from hardened lava, so they’ve literally been constructed by liquid fire, and as such, they are great retainers of heat. They’re also relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain, leading to their popularization. Generally, you can obtain them from home improvement and construction stores, by the bucket-full at rock suppliers, and sometimes from grocery stores in the summer, in the summer goods section with the gas and grills.
Should I clean them?
Lava rocks don’t ever touch your meat, so there’s no reason for concern with germs or food safety. And from the rock’s perspective, anything that drips down onto it is going to be instantly cooked, sanitized, and basically cauterized onto the rock, so while the rocks may get dirty, they’re not getting germy. Think of it the same way that you would clean your oven, except without the chemicals.
What about turning them?
But what you do want to pay attention to is when your rocks get dirty enough that they aren’t providing the same amount of heat output as they used to. When that happens, simply move and turn them so that a new, clean, porous side is facing upwards towards your meat before you use your grill again.
Do Lava Rocks cause Cancer?
Lava rocks themselves don’t cause cancer because no one eats them and because a normal, clean lava rock won’t emit any fumes or chemicals. But what we do eat is the smoky fat that’s been stored and reheated multiple times on the lava rock as it floats upwards and into your grilling food. This stored and heated, reheated, and heated again fat begins to develop carcinogen elements that can contribute to cancer development, either benign or malignant.
To prevent this, you’ll want to turn them so that the greasy sides are not facing up after every few uses.
How often should I replace the Rocks?
When your rocks are dirty on all sides, you’ll want to look at replacing them for new ones, as this is much easier than trying to clean them. They are inexpensive and easy to obtain. Sources disagree on how often you should change them. Some say once all the sides are good and covered, and some say that you can stretch their use a year or so.
So, do I need Lava Rocks for my Gas Grill?
If you have a newer grill that has flavorizer bars, such as a Weber grill, then you definitely don’t need lava rocks because these flavorizer bars function the same. If you have a newer grill that is working fine and the temperature of the grill is not an issue, then you don’t need them.
But if your grill isn’t giving you the heat performance that you want, then you should try them.
What about Grills that aren’t Gas?
If your grill isn’t a gas grill, then things get tricky. For an infrared grill, you definitely don’t need lava rocks because the heating works differently. In infrared grills, basically the entire interior of the grill is designed as a lava rock – that is, with the same heat retaining and radiating properties – so adding more rocks wouldn’t benefit you, but only take away from the specifically designed grill to radiate heat in certain spots.
In a gas or wood fire grill, the rocks aren’t going to benefit you either, and it would be better to simply shuffle your embers and add more fuel as needed. In a wood pellet grill, you do not want to use them, this messes up the chemistry and heat control of how a wood pellet grill is supposed to work. They are only used for propane gas or natural gas grills.
I hope that this article answered all of your questions about cooking on gas grills with these rocks. Personally, I feel that the cost trade-off between lava rocks and propane time makes them not worth the trouble, but then again, I do prefer newer grills that don’t really have any issues.