Propane vs Charcoal Grills: The Ultimate Comparison

propane vs charcoal grill

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Buying a new grill is a big deal, whether it’s your very first or merely a new one. You might be looking at different types of grills to decide which is best suited for you and your needs.

In this article, we’re going to discuss the nitty-gritty details of propane grills and gas grills. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, making the decision not as easy as it seems. Let’s dive right into propane vs charcoal grill.

Propane Grills

propane grill

Propane is a gas that is compressed and stored as a liquid. It is usually used for space and water heating, cooking, and as fuel for certain vehicles.

Propane is also used as a gas source for grills. Most propane grills have two burners, each with a series of small holes that allow gas to exit. This is what makes your grill safe to use.

The propane is connected to the valve regulator through the primary hose. These regulators are controlled by knobs that you can use to adjust the intensity of heat.
For a gas grill to ignite appropriately, it needs gas, oxygen, and a spark. The spark comes from the grill starter, which is usually a button you can push that creates a spark of electricity.

The burner mixes propane gas and oxygen to burn easily. So, when the starter is pushed, the surge of electricity causes a spark across the burner, causing the gas & oxygen mixture to ignite.

Some may ask, can propane go bad if you don’t use it? Read here for the answers.

Types of Propane Grills

grilling on propane gas grill

Fixed grills are permanent fixtures in your backyard. Usually, they are quite large with no legs or wheels. They are designed to withstand most weather conditions and are left outside year-round.

Tabletop grills are small grill models that are ideal for a single person or a couple. People generally love these grills for camping or beachside grilling since they are relatively convenient to transport.

Portable cart grills are the most popular type of grill in America. There are a wide variety of models within this category. Mostly, they are described by their number of burners (two – six). The more burners the grill has, the ‘bigger’ it is.

Flat-top grills are also known as griddles. These grills have become more popular in recent years. The surface is flat, instead of a slatted grate, so these grills offer a more distributed heat and make for an extremely easy clean-up.

Pros of Using a Gas Grill

Gas grills are by far the most popular gas type in the United States. This is because it has a lot of pros and not very many cons.

Pros:

  • Gas grills are known to be easy to use, even people with little prior grilling experience would be able to use them. The push-button ignition is very handy.
  • Gas grills reach prime temperature within minutes, unlike charcoal grills, so the cooking time is quite fast.
  • Gas grills deliver a more distributed and even heat, so there won’t be any cold spots like there sometimes are with charcoal.
  • Gas grills are a lot easier to clean. Soot and grease do not build up quite as much on a gas grill.

Cons of Using a Gas Grill

Gas grills are not perfect, and there are certainly cons that some strongly dislike.

Cons:

  • Gas grills are generally more expensive than charcoal grills because of all their extra components and gas.
  • Large gas units can take up a lot of space, particularly if you don’t have a large backyard. It also takes up a lot of space when it needs to be stored for winter.
  • Many people enjoy grilling their food, specifically for the smokey flavor. Since there is no real fire with a gas grill, your meat won’t have that smokey flavor.

Charcoal Grills

charcoal grill

Charcoal is the alternative to the traditional wood and fire grill. A lot of people use charcoal grills. These grills use lump charcoal or briquettes as a heating source.

Click the link to learn about the differences between lump charcoal and briquettes.

Your charcoal/briquettes should always be stored in a dry place, as moist charcoal is very finicky and does not burn easily. Charcoal briquettes do take quite some time to reach the ideal temperature. You may need to wait at least 20 minutes before being able to grill your food.

Unlike a gas grill, a charcoal grill does not have an ignition button. You would need to use lighter fluid or a chimney starter to get the coals burning. When using lighter fluid, generously spray an even coat over your charcoal and throw a match in the middle.

A chimney starter is a different method if you don’t want to use lighter fluid for safety reasons. Crumple a sheet or two of newspaper into the bottom of the chimney and fill it to the top with charcoal. Simply light the paper on fire and wait for the charcoal to catch fire.

Read this article to see how much charcoal you should use in your grill.

Types of Charcoal Grills

charcoal gill

Brazier grills are small grills that hold the charcoal in a shallow open pan. Metal cooking grates are attached to the top of this pan and the cooking speed can be adjusted by raising or lowering the grates. This grill is relatively simple to use.

Kettle grills are the classic grills that people usually picture when thinking of a grill. The charcoal is held in a bowl-shaped bottom compartment that has three legs. On top of the charcoal is the grate and a matching dome-shaped lid. This grill allows covered or uncovered cooking and vents on the top and bottom for even more heat adjustment.

Barrel grills are ideal for large families or someone who cooks a lot of meat at the same time. These are big 55-gallon (sometimes more) barrels that are cut in half. They are filled with charcoal at the bottom and a cooking grate is placed on top. The top of the barrel is attached with hinges and can be used as a lid.

Ceramic grills are adapted from a Japanese cooking tool, and it is also known as a Kamado grill. It is very similar in appearance and functionality to the kettle grill. The dome-shaped grill is made of ceramic, not steel.

Pros of Using a Charcoal Grill

Even though gas is the most popular type of grill in the United States, charcoal grills are still quite popular.

Pros:

  • A charcoal grill gives a distinctive smokey flavor to any meat or food that is cooked on it.
  • Charcoal has a much greater heat output and you have the ability to spread the charcoal around for different cooking speeds.
  • Charcoal grills are at a lower price point than gas grills. They are more affordable for the average person.

Cons of Using a Charcoal Grill

Charcoal grills are not perfect and there are some reasons why people might stay away from them.

Cons:

  • A charcoal fire is messier to clean up, there would be more grease and soot.
  • There is a higher (yet still relatively small) risk for a fire when using a charcoal grill.
  • A charcoal grill takes a long time to heat up, you may need to wait an hour or so before grilling.

Propane vs Charcoal Grill – Grilling Tips

Our most important tips are to make sure you cook your food successfully, no matter the type of grill.

1. Clean your grill

You don’t want the flavor of last week’s chicken to mix with the steak you’re grilling tonight, so clean your grill before turning it on. It’s best to do this after grilling all your food and while the grill is still relatively hot. The bits of grease and soot will be very easy to remove.

2. Make sure your grill is hot

To get that beautiful sear on the outside of your meat, make sure the grill is hot enough. Depending on what type of grill you use, this could take a while. Your grill should not be colder than 250 degrees Fahrenheit, although it could be a lot warmer.

3. Don’t flip so much

You don’t need to flip your food ten times to get it cooked. In fact, most food only needs to be flipped once during the cooking process. Also, don’t move your food around on the grill, this causes an uneven cooking process. Close the lid as long as possible to ensure the grill stays on temperature.

4. Use a meat thermometer

This is the best trick if you’re just starting, or even if you’re a veteran cook. Purchase an instant-read meat thermometer on Amazon and keep it close when grilling. Using this allows you to make sure the meat is cooked to how you prefer it.

See below for some common grilling internal temperatures.

  • Rare – 125°F / 52°C 
  • Medium – 140°F / 60°C
  • Well done – 160°F / 72°C
  • Ground Beef Patty – 160°F / 72°C
  • Pork – 145°F / 63°C
  • Chicken – 165°F / 74°C

Propane vs Charcoal Grill: Final Thoughts

Everyone is different and has different needs, so it is up to you to decide which grill would be best for you. We hope you found this article informative and that it helped you to come to a decision on propane vs charcoal grill. 

Do you want more information on all the different types of grills? Read here for a breakdown about all types of grills.

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