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Gas or Charcoal; Which Type Of Grill Is Cheaper To Use?


Every backyard chef has their preference between using a gas or charcoal grill. There are opinions about whether food cooked over charcoal tastes better, or if the convenience of gas makes that variety of grill superior. These opinions are all subjective to the chef. But there’s one attribute about the eternal gas or charcoal debate that we can settle with absolute facts; which one is more cost effective.

In the interest of educating you as to which option is cheaper, today on CleverDude we will analyze which is cheaper to operate between a gas or charcoal grill.

Costs Ignored

In this post, we will be investigating purely the cost of operating a gas or charcoal grill. We will ignore the initial cost of the grill as there each variety can be purchased for a wide range of prices. Additionally, there is also the initial purchase of a propane tank. This is a one time, or an extremely infrequent purchase, therefore this will also not be factored into the analysis.

Propane Analysis

Determining the cost of using propane is a bit more work, so let’s tackle that first.

How Much Energy is In a Propane Tank?

One gallon of liquid propane weighs about 4.2 pounds. This means that my 15 pound propane tank holds approximately 3.57 gallons of propane. Each gallon of propane generates about 91,000 BTUs of energy. Doing the math, my 15 pound propane tank holds about 325,000 BTUs of energy.

How Much Propane Per Cook?

To determine how fast your gas grill will burn propane, you will need to know the BTU rating of the grill. For the purpose of this analysis, we’ll assume a grill with a rating of 60,000 BTUs, which is the rate at which the grill would burn propane in an hour if cranked up to the maximum setting. However, most people don’t cook with their gas grill turned all the way up, unless they like burnt food. If a grillmaster under normal conditions used their 60,000 BTU grill at 75% capacity, it would burn propane at a rate of 45,000 BTU per hour. If the average grill is used for 30 minutes to grill a meal, each grilling session would consume 22,500 BTUs of energy.

Cost Per Cook Of Propane

If a 15 pound propane tank holds 325,000 BTUs of energy, and a single grilling session on my 60,000 BTU rated grill consumed 22,500 BTUs, that means that I could get 14.4 cooks out of one propane tank. At a cost of $16 for a 15 pound propane tank exchange at Walmart, each grilling session would consume $1.11 of propane.

Using Propane costs $1.11 per grilling session.

Charcoal Analysis

While I stocked up earlier this spring on charcoal on a spectacular sale, the average person will buy their charcoal at full price. Regular price of a 15.4 pound bags of charcoal at Walmart is $8.99. Using my Weber Kettle grill, I use about 5 pounds of charcoal per cook out. That’s 3.08 cook outs per bag of charcoal, or $2.92 worth of charcoal per session.

Using charcoal costs $2.92 per grilling session.

Total Savings

Given the costs and data used in this example, a propane would save $1.81 per cookout. If one would cook one once a week for a 16 week summer season, using propane could save $28.98 over the course of the grilling season by using propane over charcoal.

Using Propane Can Save $28.98 over a complete grilling season.

Closing Thoughts:

Obviously there are a lot of factors here that could be tweaked and have a significant impact on the cost of using either method of grilling:

  • A grill master could have a gas grill that has a much lower, or much higher BTU rating
  • A price savvy grill master, like myself, might stock up on charcoal when it’s on sale.
  • The size of a charcoal grill could also significantly impact the amount of charcoal used.

A grill master would have to perform their own analysis given a specific gas or charcoal grill taking into account their own grilling methods to know for sure which one would would be more cost effective, But given the data in this example, if you’re driven purely by whether gas or charcoal is less expensive, propane is your winner.

How about you, Clever Friends, do you use gas or charcoal? Would you switch if the other method was cheaper?

Brought to you courtesy of Brock


About the author

Brock Kernin


    • I’m a charcoal guy, because I prefer the taste…… I like playing with fire. I’ll pay the minimal price difference for those reasons. Good to hear from you!

  • I use gas – but natural gas, not propane. I’ve got a built in barbeque and had a gas line put in to feed it. I never have to worry about a tank running out again! I suspect natural gas is even cheaper than propane, but I don’t really have a way to gauge how much gas I use when I cook.

    • When I was a teenager my family’s home had a fixed natural gas grill. It was about as convenient as a grill can get. I would bet natural gas right from the same source as your home appliances is super cheap.

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