Charcoal vs. Propane

This is a debate that divides backyard chefs world-wide. So let’s try to answer this question once and for all. It actually comes down to personal preference, but there are real differences between the two. Let’s discuss charcoal vs. propane grills:

  • Price: The average price of a charcoal model is typically lower than propane.
  • Fuel Cost: Costs vary, but typically propane costs about $1 per hour to run, compared to $1.50 for charcoal.
  • Max Temp: Some premium propane grills can burn at higher temperatures, but charcoal generally burns hotter.
  • Temperature Control: It can take years to learn how to maintain consistent temperatures using charcoal. Propane has almost no learning curve.
  • Portability: There are large and small versions of both, but on average, charcoal grills are more compact and easier to take with you.
  • Start-Up Time: Propane lights up immediately, and you’re ready to cook in minutes. Charcoal can take 20–30 minutes before being cook-ready.
  • Flavor / Smoking: You’d think this is an easy call. Charcoal gives you that nice, smokey flavor and you can cook your food low and slow to get that taste to shine through. However, you may not want that flavor in your veggies or a delicate piece of fish. Veggies? Delicate piece of what? No. Charcoal wins. On 2nd thought, this IS an easy call.
  • Cleanup: Propane cleanup involves occasionally scrubbing the grates, drip pans, etc. Charcoal has the same occasional scrubbing, plus it produces lots of ash. Even though some units have an ash catcher to make cleanup quicker, propane models are simply easier to operate and maintain.