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The Great Grill Question: Propane vs. Charcoal, Pellet, and Electric

Closeup image of charcoal, gas grill cooking grates, and wood pellets.

If you’ve ever been in the market for a new grill, you know there are several important things to consider. Take size, for example. If you’re only cooking for one or two people, you may not need as big a grill as those cooking for a house of hungry teenagers. Then there are grills that can be installed in an outdoor entertainment area as opposed to standalone grills that can easily be moved around the backyard or stored during the winter months.

Every grill purchase should begin with the fuel source. While we never hesitate to point out the convenience of exchanging your propane tank at one of the thousands of Blue Rhino locations nationwide, we’re also here to help consumers make informed decisions. In terms of fuel, gas grills remain the most popular. In a 2020 survey conducted by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), more than 60 percent of U.S. consumers own a gas grill, but there are grills that utilize other fuel sources such as charcoal, wood pellets, and electricity.

We know many backyard chefs own different types of grills, so they have the right one for every occasion. As is the case with any comparison, pros and cons begin to emerge when comparing gas grills to those fueled by other sources. Whether you’re in the market for a new grill or simply hoping to get a better understanding of the options, check out our helpful analysis below.


Propane vs. Charcoal Grills

Charcoal has long been a popular grilling option for our nation’s backyard chefs and one that’s familiar to most. Although charcoal grills are generally more portable, they do not offer the ease and convenience of gas grills when it comes to starting and temperature control. Gas grills offer “easy on/easy off” and temperature setting capabilities while charcoal briquettes take 5-10 minutes to reach high heat and 25-30 minutes to reach low-to-medium heat. However, this depends on how much costly lighter fluid each individual griller uses. And don’t forget about the necessary but time-consuming cleanup and disposal that comes with charcoal.

Health and environmental impacts should be considered as well. According to Men’s Health, “props go to propane” as the healthier grilling alternative to charcoal, and studies show that burning charcoal produces 105 times more carbon monoxide than burning propane. With increased smoke and dangerous carcinogens, charcoal can’t compete.


Propane vs. Pellet Grills

Pellet grills are often popular among those who have a lot of free time on their hands. Essential Home and Garden helps explain an important difference between pellet and gas grills, namely that repurposed sawdust pellets are designed to cook meat slowly and act more like an oven than a grill. Not to mention you’ll need to be close to an electricity source to power the grill’s convection fan.

Cost is a big consideration for most, which is why it’s important to point out that the smallest and least reliable pellet grills start at $500. Some models approach five figures! Basic gas grills cost a fraction of that price and can be found at every local big box store. Pellet grills are a fine option for some, especially those living in an apartment or other rental. But if you’re looking for an inexpensive, faster-cooking alternative, propane grills win again.


Propane vs. Electric Grills

While not as common as gas and charcoal grills, a number of barbecue enthusiasts use electricity. According to HPBA, approximately 10 percent of Americans surveyed in 2020 owned an electric grill. There’s no denying the convenience of being able to plug in your grill, but there are some concerns as well. What do you in the event of a power outage? Better hope you don’t trip over the extension cord stretched across your deck or porch.

There’s a great article from that points out other interesting differences between electric and gas grills. For example, how cooking over an open flame brings out flavors that electric grills aren’t capable of. Keep that in mind if taste is taste matters to you! Electric grills work best for those interested in a small grill that can be used inside because as we point out in our Propane Safety FAQs, grill propane tanks should never be used or stored indoors. It’s a close call and we may be biased, but in a world where electrification rules, propane gets our vote here as well.


If you hadn’t already noticed, there’s quite a lot to think about when shopping for a new grill. When you weigh some of the most important factors—cost, convenience, health, taste—grilling with propane is hard to beat.

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