5 Big Differences Between Charcoal, Propane, and Natural Gas BBQ Grills

Deciding which kind of BBQ grill to purchase is an important decision. When looking at different models, you’ll notice there are three main types: charcoal, propane, natural gas grills. Here’s what you need to know about the differences between these three types of fuel sources when you’re shopping for a grill.

Hambuger patties on a charcoal bbq grill

Now we’re cooking! Here you have hamburger patties cooking on a charcoal barbecue grill. Let’s get down to the bottom of this and figure out what type of grill is the best. Photography by Valters Krontals.

Charcoal vs Propane vs Natural Gas BBQ Grills

Charcoal, propane, and natural gas are the most common types of home BBQ grills. Here’s a basic overview of what they are and how they work.

How charcoal, propane, and natural gas grills work:

  • Charcoal – Charcoal grills are the most traditional type of grill. They come in all sizes and shapes, but they all cook food by burning charcoal underneath the grill grate.
  • Propane – This type of grill runs on propane, which ignites the flames underneath the BBQ grates. You’ll need to purchase a separate tank of propane to attach to the unit.
  • Natural gas – These grills cook food in the same way as propane ones—over a flame fueled by gas. However, rather than running off a tank of gas, a natural gas grill is connected to the gas line of your home.

5 Differences Between Charcoal, Gas, & Natural Gas Grills

#1 – Time

One of the biggest advantages of having a gas grill—natural or propane—is that it saves time. While a charcoal grill can take 20-30 minutes to heat up sufficiently, a gas grill can be ready to go in just 10 minutes. That said, charcoal grills can reach much higher temperatures than gas grills of both kinds. If you want to cook your meal at super high temps, charcoal may be worth the wait.

#2 – Flavor

The flavor category is really where charcoal grills shine. Many barbecue aficionados swear by the flavor difference that comes from using charcoal to cook your meat, and there is even science to back up this claim. When the natural juices of the meat drip onto the charcoal briquettes, the natural fats, sugars, proteins, and oils evaporate back up into the meat. When cooking with natural gas or propane grills, these juicy flavors are lost.

#3 – Convenience and Portability

Natural grill connection to home gas line

Natural gas grills require installation and have to be connected to your home’s gas line. Here’s an example from Robert Mommaerts of the hose connection. One of the major benefits of natural gas grills is that you don’t have to re-fill propane tanks!

There are a few different ways to look at the convenience factor of natural gas vs. charcoal vs. propane grills. Setting up a natural gas grill requires having it installed to your home’s gas line, which is initially inconvenient. However, once the grill has been connected to your gas line, you never need to manually refill a tank. With a propane or charcoal BBQ grill, you may have to run to the store mid-barbecue to buy another tank of gas or bag of briquettes.

On the other hand, however, a natural gas grill is not portable. Because it has to be hooked up to a gas line, you can’t decide to bring it along to your uncle’s house for the fourth of July BBQ. In this respect, both charcoal and propane grills are more convenient because they are more portable.

#4 – Environmental Impact

If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, it’s a good idea to avoid charcoal, which is essentially pure carbon. It is far less energy efficient and emits far more CO2, which ultimately contributes more to global warming than the alternative options. Both propane and natural gas grills are much more environmentally-friendly fuel options, though natural gas has a slight edge on propane.

Woman grilling chicken on a propane barbecue

Propane grills, like this one, are more friendly for the environment. Photo courtesy ssfaulkn

#5 – Cost

Maybe for you the most important difference between grills types is a straightforward matter of price. Be aware, however, that the cost differences between charcoal, propane, and natural gas grills are not straightforward. You need to consider two main price differences: initial cost and long-term fuel costs.

The price tag on all three types of grills can range quite a bit depending on the features you want. In general, however, they average at about $150 for charcoal grills, $300 for propane grills, and $700 for natural gas grills (plus installation costs).

However, the long-term fuel costs are reversed. Because charcoal is less energy efficient, you will end up using far more and thus spending far more when you stock up.

Propane is more energy-efficient, but natural gas takes the prize for being most cost-effective: natural gas costs a third of the price of propane. In the end, the initial investment of a natural gas grill can save you far more than the initial price difference on a charcoal or propane grill.

Fine Furniture San Diego

Dark Espresso Outdoor Patio Dining Set with light blue cushions

Once the grilling is done, make sure you have a nice seating area to dine with your guests. Pictured here is the spacious Ashanti Patio Dining Set. Go ahead, see more patio furniture like this.

Now that you know the main differences between charcoal, propane, and natural gas BBQ grills, you can find the model that is right for you. When outfitting the rest of your backyard, check out our selection of patio furniture.

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