Propane and charcoal are the two most popular grilling fuels. Both can produce flavorful results but there are differences.
Charcoal, for example, has higher heat potential than propane, but a gas grill is often easier to use and more convenient.
There’s also the question of cost. If you’re looking for your first grill or your next upgrade, you’ve probably asked the question: is it cheaper to grill with propane or charcoal?
Although there’s a simple answer to this question, there’s more to consider, so let’s get into it…
Propane is More Cost-Efficient Than Charcoal
Is it cheaper to grill with propane or charcoal? The answer is simple when thinking about the cost of fuel.
Propane is more cost-efficient and is cheaper than charcoal. A single 15 lb. propane bottle can provide fuel for around 15 cooking sessions.
A 15 lb. bag of charcoal would be consumed in around 3 to 4 cooking sessions.
If you cook regularly, you’ll need to buy charcoal more often than propane, and the cost can add up.
Charcoal Grills are More Affordable
Charcoal grills cost much less to purchase when compared to their propane counterparts. For most people, this is more important than the ongoing cost of fuel.
- The Weber Original Kettle Premium 22 Inch Charcoal Grill is an upgrade over the standard Weber Kettle yet is still incredibly affordable considering its size and durability.
- Comparing it to the Weber Spirit II E-210 Propane Grill which costs more than twice as much, it’s easy to see why people are happy to save money by purchasing a charcoal grill.
Of course, it also comes down to preference and other differences like performance and convenience.
How About Performance Advantages?
Charcoal can get hotter than even the best gas burners on the market. Even though the fuel is slightly more complicated to work with, many home cooks swear by it.
To control heat on a gas grill, you simply need to adjust some knobs. To control heat on a charcoal grill, you need the right amount of charcoal, and then you need to manage the vents.
Opening the vents brings in more oxygen and increases the temperature and burn rate.
Restricting the vents decreases the temperature and slows the burn rate for a longer and lower cooking session.
Because charcoal gets hotter, it’s effective at vaporizing juices to create a delicious, seared crust on ingredients.
Gas grills produce a similar effect when equipped with vaporizer bars.
There’s no real answer to which is better. It largely comes down to preference and you can get amazing flavor from gas or charcoal.
The Bottom Line – Propane is a Cheaper Fuel but the Costs Balance Out
Even though propane fuel is cheaper to buy, charcoal grills are much more affordable, so the added fuel cost is balanced throughout the lifetime of a grill.
It comes down to a couple of questions to consider:
- Do you want to cook with charcoal to enjoy a more involved cooking session with higher heat potential? In this case, a charcoal grill is right for you.
- Do you want convenience and great cooking performance with a lower (but still perfectly sufficient) searing heat potential? If so, propane is the best option.
With so many different grills on the market, there’s something for everyone. Find the model that suits you best and you’ll find that the price of fuel is secondary to the enjoyment that you get from your grill.