If you're in the market for a gas grill, you probably will choose between propane or a natural gas model.
While propane grills still dominate the market, natural gas grills are now increasing in popularity in American households.
While propane and natural gas grills are nearly identical in appearance and function, each one has its set of benefits and drawbacks.
Natural Gas vs. Propane Grill
With an estimated 50 million Americans using propane for cooking, propane grills are the most popular type of gas grill in the United States. The gas is usually stored in small tanks and connected to the grill through a hose and regulator, although large, in-ground propane tanks are also available.
Fuel efficiency - The biggest advantage propane has over natural gas is that it releases more energy as heat. Propane gas contains approximately 2,500 BTUs per cubic feet, which is more than twice that of natural gas at just 1,000 BTUs. The higher energy capacity of propane results in faster, more efficient cooking of your favorite BBQ dishes.
Mobility - While propane tanks come in various capacities, most have a compact design that makes them easy to transport, whether you're at home or on the trail. It's this portability that makes propane grills ideal for camping, as you'll have an easy-to-carry fuel source. Modern propane tanks are also tamper-proof and have built-in safety measures against leaks and fires.
Easy to replace - When a natural gas grill runs out of fuel, you're likely to spend a good chunk of your day talking with your plumber or gas supplier. But with a propane grill, you can simply swap out the empty tank with a new one. Also, even if you don't have a spare tank, you can always drive to the store to purchase a new one.
Limited amount of fuel in the tank - The main downside of using propane tanks in grilling is that you'll have to monitor the amount of fuel left in the tank continually. Having a tank run out in the middle of a barbecue can be embarrassing in front of your guests and potentially ruin the food you're cooking. However, you can avoid this by making sure there's enough gas left in the tank before cooking and keeping a spare tank nearby.
The tank is expensive in the long run - While a propane tank is cheaper than your average gas bill, it can be costly to use in the long term. A propane grill can cost 20-30% more in fuel compared to a natural gas grill, especially when you use smaller, more expensive tanks.
Natural gas used in households is a combination of flammable gases, including propane. Most natural gas grills can connect to the gas line in your house and can be installed without the need for specialized skills or tools.
Lower emissions - While propane burns with more energy, natural gas burns cleaner. While both types do have a smaller carbon footprint compared to charcoal or gasoline, natural gas produces significantly less carbon dioxide. So if you’re concerned about potential greenhouse gas emissions when grilling, using a natural gas grill should put you at ease.
Cheaper to use - If you already have a gas line running through your home, a natural gas grill will be more affordable to use in the long run. If you live in an area with a natural gas main, you may even get a service line installed for free. Also, unlike with propane grills, you won't have to spend money on a tank or to have it refilled.
Convenience - Once your grill plugs into a gas line, you generally won't have to worry about it running out. Simply hook the grill to your gas line, and you're all set. Most natural gas grilles come with an adapter that lets them connect to the gas line in your kitchen, although you can also have your gas company create a separate line for your back porch or anywhere else in your house.
You need to be connected to a gas line - Where you can put your natural gas grill depends on whether you can connect its hose to the gas line. We recommend you have the grill placed near a gas line to ensure a steady stream of gas to the burner. So if you want a grill that you can take out for a picnic, a natural gas grill is not ideal.
Costly installation of gas line - Natural gas grills are best for households that already have a pre-existing connection to a gas line. Installing a new service line to your house is a costly process that involves a crew of professionals uprooting your backyard to lay down some pipes.
Grills cost more - Natural gas grills have a slightly higher price tag than their propane counterparts. However, you may recoup the added expense if you intend to use the grill often because of the lower operating cost of natural gas. There are also conversion kits available that let you connect a propane grill to a natural gas line, but this requires some expertise to prevent a gas leak.
There isn't a clear winner as to whether a propane or natural gas grill is better, as each one has its unique advantages.
If your house is already connected to a gas line, for example, a natural gas grill may be the most cost-effective choice.
But if you want to have a bit more flexibility, especially on where you want to use your grill, a propane model may be the better choice.