Propane or Natural-Gas?

If you’re a grill lover, you know that the first major divide among bbq enthusiasts is the charcoal vs. gas conflict; charcoal lovers will tell you that there’s no compensating for that lack of charcoal-cooked flavor, but you know better than that. Gas grills allow for you to have more temperature control and pull off larger and better feats than any charcoal griller can imagine; you can cook a whole turkey on a gas grille, a feat I doubt any charcoal-cooked would ever have the nerve to attempt.

But that still leaves one question: liquid propane or natural-gas? This article will detail the qualities of both so that you can decide which side you’re on.

propane grillThe majority of grills use liquid propane. Propane is created from petroleum and contains aliphatic hydrocarbons. That means the hydrocarbons are composed purely of hydrogen and carbon atoms. When petroleum is processed in a refinery, it creates hydrocarbon chains of different lengths. Each length creates a different fuel. Propane has three carbon atoms chained together with eight hydrogen atoms.

Natural gas is mostly methane but also generally includes some butane, ethane, and propane. Methane has one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms and butane has four carbon atoms and ten hydrogen atoms.

One of the major advantages of propane gas grills is that propane comes in a portable tank and is available practically anywhere, unlike natural gas which has to journey through the gas main at your home. Why is that? It all has to do with propane’s chemical structure. Without being compressed, it would naturally make the transition from a liquid to a gas at -46 F. However, once compressed, it will condense into a liquid and stay that way until it is uncompressed. This makes it extremely convenient to store and use. Natural gas doesn’t compress into a liquid form easily, so tanking it isn’t such a cost-effective process.

Propane also creates way more energy when burned than natural gas. A cubic foot of propane contains approximately 1500 more BTUs of energy than natural gas. That means it will take less propane to heat the same grill than it would take of natural gas. The difference is most visible if you look at the pipes that run from the source of energy to the grill; natural-gas grills need much larger pipes.

natural gas grill

People do love their methane grills, but you have to be a die-hard natural-gasser to buy an outdoor grill that connects to your main line. It would have to be completely stationary and treated much like the four-burner stove in the kitchen, just kept outside. Much more common is the portable grill that can be wheeled around the backyard as needed, so long as its tanks come along for the ride.

That said, anything you like more about your four-burner, indoor, stationary stove than you do about your propane grill is an argument for getting another one installed outside. You’ll have plenty of control and you won’t have to buy and dispose of propane tanks Just keep an eye on your gas bill.

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