Propane grills have been around for almost 100 years, and the benefits of charcoal vs. propane have been fiercely debated for just as long.
Many home cooks prefer propane for its convenience, while others insist on charcoal for its flavor. Is propane grilling better than charcoal? It’s a question you’ve probably asked as you consider your next grill.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both grill types in some key categories that will help you to decide.
Mess – Propane is Better than Charcoal
When it comes to mess and cleanup, propane easily beats charcoal.
As a solid fuel, charcoal leaves ash behind. When this combines with oils, liquids, and food debris, it can make cleanup quite an involved process.
While many manufacturers have introduced systems that simply drop the ash and debris out the bottom of a charcoal grill, there’s still much more wiping down and seasonal cleaning to perform.
The Weber Premium Kettle Grill has one of the best one-touch ash cleaning systems on the market.
Overall, a propane grill will be easier to clean and maintain, which makes propane grilling better than charcoal in this category.
Cooking Speed – Propane is Better than Charcoal
For cooking speed and convenience, propane easily wins the head-to-head comparison. A propane grill can be fired up and up to cooking temperature in less than ten minutes.
A charcoal grill requires that you arrange the coals, light them, and then adjust the vents as temperature builds. It can take up to 25 minutes before a charcoal grill is ready to start cooking.
Some people love the process and cooking with charcoal does allow a high degree of control over the cooking temperature. But if you simply want to start cooking quickly and conveniently, a propane grill will be the best option.
Heat – Charcoal is Better than Propane
The average propane grill won’t get near as hot as a charcoal grill. Consider these examples to see the difference…
- An affordable Weber Kettle Grill can get up to 700°F with natural hardwood lump charcoal.
- A mid-range propane grill like the Weber Spirit II can reach temperatures of around 500°F.
Higher temperatures are ideal for searing meat and are also perfect for cooking special meals using indirect heat, such as grill-fired pizzas. If you want the highest possible temperatures for home grilling, charcoal will be your best option.
Flavor – Charcoal is Often Preferred
Many home grilling enthusiasts prefer charcoal for its rich smokey flavor. While some attribute this to the charcoal itself, it’s actually a product of the high heat.
When drippings from food hit the coals, they are vaporized and reincorporate as a crisp outer layer. This adds both color and delicious flavor to food.
Gas grills can achieve similar results with special bars that cover the burners, but these aren’t as efficient because the temperatures aren’t as high.
Some premium propane grills that achieve higher temperatures are comparable to charcoal, but you’ll pay a lot more for the same flavor.
If you’re looking at affordable grills or even the mid-range, charcoal will provide the best flavor.
The Bottom Line – Is Propane Grilling Better than Charcoal?
At the end of the day, propane and charcoal produce similar results although charcoal achieves higher temperatures and more complex flavors that many people prefer.
In most cases, the choice will come down to convenience. Propane dominates the market because it’s easier to use, starting a grill and maintaining heat is more intuitive, and propane is readily available and affordable for most people.
If you want to enjoy a more involved process when grilling, and want natural smokey flavors, choose charcoal. If you simply want a reliable grill that is easier to use and faster to fire up, propane is the winner. Both types rightfully enjoy their positions as the best ways to cook outdoors.