Propane vs Natural Gas for A Grill: Comparing Cost, Taste, & More

Researched & Written by Craig

“Now we’re cooking with gas!”  … the question is, which gas?

Gas grills and barbeques are amazing appliances that can make or break a summer. Aside from charcoal there’s two ways to power them – with propane, or natural gas. But which is better? As someone in the market for a grill, I’ve dived into the details. I’ve compared both of these to find out which is better.. this is what I’ve learned.

In short, natural gas is cheaper to run but a higher setup cost. If you don’t have a gas outlet, propane is far more convenient and portable. Propane also burns much hotter. Neither has a large effect on taste, but natural gas does burn cleaner. 

Sometimes the best way to compare something is to weigh up the pros and cons. So let’s do just that.

AspectPropaneNatural GasWinner
Setup DifficultyNoneHigh (without outlet)Propane
Setup CostNoneHighPropane
Running CostMediumLowNatural Gas
SafetyDense; FlammableLighter Than AirNatural Gas
HeatUp to 3x HotterDown to 3x CoolerPropane
SpaceGrill + CanisterGrill OnlyNatural Gas
TasteLittle to differenceTie
PortabilityTotal FreedomRequires OutletPropane
EnvironmentBurns CleanlyBurns CleanestNatural Gas
OverallIt Depends on You!

Those quick points aren’t the whole story, though. Read on and we’ll dive into the differences between these two fuels for our grills.


Want to know more about the fundamentals? Check out our detailed post covering the differences between propane and natural gas.


Propane vs Natural Gas Grilling: What to Consider

The section after this one takes you through each aspect of grilling – step by step. However, that’s quite boring, and probably not what you’re here for.

Instead, I’ve put together a few questions.

By answering each one in your head, I think we can find out which type of gas is going to be better for you – personally.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin. Question one…

First things first: Do you have a natural gas outlet available?

If so, you barely need to read any further. Natural gas is cheaper, and more convenient once it’s been set up. You may want to get a dual-powered grill, but you definitely should get one that works with natural gas.

I imagine anyone reading this probably doesn’t have an outlet, though. So let’s get into the real deciders:

Time is money. Do you prefer convenience or cost?

Propane is incredibly convenient. Simply grab a canister when you’re doing the weekly shop and you’re good to go. Installing natural gas outlets can be a real headache, and should involve a professional. However, in the long run, it’ll save you money.

But the money you save depends on one thing:

On a scale of 1 to pyromaniac, how often will you be lighting the fire?

If you’re going to be grilling on almost every clear night, you’ll quickly get to enjoy the cost savings of natural gas. With it, every time you use the grill earns you back a little bit on the setup costs. If you’re more of an occasional barbequer, though, you’re likely much better off with propane.

Balancing out the initial cost may take you years if you’re only starting up the grill every month or so. The climate you’re in will also affect this, since it determines how often you can grill (hello optimistic Seattleites).

Speaking of climate, will yours change anytime soon?

Is there a potential house move in your future, or do you enjoy heading out somewhere remote?

A propane grill wouldn’t even need a second thought in either of these situations. Unfortunately, natural gas really ties you down to it’s specific requirements. Natural gas is cost efficiency; propane is freedom.

Last up we need to consider, why not both?

Can your kit swing both ways?

While more expensive, many models can operate with both types of gas. Giving you the true best of both worlds – the cost savings of natural gas (when it’s available), and the convenience/portability of propane whenever you want it.

There are also plenty of converter kits out there. Just be careful. Many of these need to be specific to your type of grill, and many may not work quite as well as they should. Natural gas grills often need to focus the heat more since that gas produces less heat when burned. If you suddenly put propane in there, which burns 3 times hotter, your hot dog will very quickly become a hot rock.

Let’s sum up.

I hope those questions helped you think about which gas is better for you, and why.

In short, propane is great for quick and convenient grilling. No worries, no working out budgets or cost savings. It’s just wham, bam, what do you want on the barbie Ma’am?

On the other hand, natural gas is the more ‘responsible’ option. For a homeowner who grills a ton, can get an outlet installed, isn’t moving anywhere, and wants to avoid the hassle of propane cylinders. If that’s the case, you’ll enjoy a great amount of cost savings – not to mention the convenience of having a grill on tap.

Still unsure? Don’t worry. I’ve gone through every single aspect of grilling below – and answered for both natural gas and propane. That That should just about clear every last thing up!

Propane vs Natural Gas for Grilling: Blow-by-Blow Comparison

There’s a few different aspects of our two gases – Taste, Price, Safety, Accessibility, & Environmental aspects. Which is most important to you? Below I’ve compared each aspect for both gases. Keep in mind what matters most to you, and let’s find out which type of gas would suit you – personally – the best.

Taste

A lot of people are concerned that the gas choice may affect the taste of food from their grill. The short answer – don’t worry about it. The type of gas is unlikely to leave any trace of itself on what you cook. Since natural gas burns cleaner, you could argue that it may make less of an impact. However, that’s a bit of a minor factor. If you’ve been worrying about it – don’t let yourself get too focused on it!

Cost

A more major issue – cost is where there’s a real difference between the two. Natural gas is much cheaper than propane; even though we need to use more of it to get the same amount of heat. It can be up to a third of the cost of propane, pound for pound. However, the initial set-up cost for natural gas is much higher.

The bottom line: if you’ve got an easy way to use natural gas, it’s the far cheaper option. Otherwise the cost of setting up a natural gas connection probably isn’t worth it compared to the instant set-up of propane.

Setup

Moving on from cost is the other major factor. Setting up a natural gas grill can be a cinch – if you have the outlet already – or a nightmare if you don’t. No matter where you are in the world, a propane grill is super-easy to setup, and that convenience is a massive factor in why it’s the most popular choice around the world.

Heat

A great grill is all about heat, right? Well this is where propane throws a real uppercut – it naturally burns over double the temperature of natural gas. That said, most good natural gas grills focus the heat to make up some of the distance – but they are a lower temperature. If you’re a fan of chargrilling your food, propane’s going to give you a real leg up. (Chicken leg or otherwise)

Environment

Both gases enjoy a very low impact on the environment. Despite being fossil fuels, they burn very cleanly – this is one of the ways where charcoal completely loses out to gas-powered grills. If we want to be nit-picky, then natural gas does burn a bit cleaner compared to propane. But they’re both relatively harmless to the environment, compared to coal or oil.

Portability

An aspect to consider is whether you’ll ever use your grill elsewhere. Propane grills offer the freedom of taking them with you if you’re heading somewhere remote. All you need is a canister and food to grill. On the other hand, natural gas is so dependent on the supply line that you may not even take it if you moved house!

Safety

Even though propane is derived from natural gas, they’re massively different in their density. Propane is the heavier gas, while natural gas is lighter than even air.

What does this have to do with safety?

Well, if your natural gas leaks it’ll simply float away. On the other hand, a propane leak will stick around. If propane leaks in an enclosed, unventilated space – we may have trouble. Plus it may even ignite!

Now, the chance of this happening is incredibly rare, I’m just pointing out that a safety concern does exist with propane. That said, they’re both very safe options – just make sure to follow best practices and stay safe.

Space

One last consideration is space. With natural gas coming from an outlet, the grill is the only thing you need to worry about. With propane however, you need to find a home for a canister – which can be fairly bulky, and not exactly an art piece!

Conclusion

A great grill is nothing to be underestimated. So you want to make sure you’re getting the right kind.

I hope this quick guide has helped clear up the differences between propane and natural gas when it comes to grilling.

As a final note, if you’re still stuck – just flip a coin. There’s not too much difference in them! They shouldn’t affect the taste of your food, and both have great advantages. The most important thing is to make a choice and get grilling while the going’s good!

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Best wishes, and have a great day.

-Craig