Making the Right Choice
Fuel Types for Grills
When shopping for a new grill you must make a decision on the type of unit you want, by the fuel it will burn. To help you decide, I will discuss the four primary types of fuel used and their pros and cons.
Most grills and fuels have their efficiencies expressed in BTU’s. A BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, and is explained as the amount of heat needed to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. This is the measurement used to state the amount of energy contained in a fuel. BTU can also designate the output of any heat-generating device. (see About.com Guide)
The most convenient fuel type for grills is gas. It is great to walk outside open a gas valve on the grill and then push the ignition button. In ten minutes or less, you are grilling. So what are the costs associated with this convenience?
One pound of propane gas will generate 15,000 BTUs per one hour. The price of propane is .65 cents per pound or $2.70 per one gallon. There are 4.16 pounds of propane to one gallon.
Let us work out a common scenario for a typical gas grill owner. The output of a typical gas grill (for example), is 60,000 BTUs. The estimated cost of gas used, if the gas grill is operating at full output will be $2.60 per one hour. A 20-pound propane tank will hold 4.8 gallons of fuel, so in this scenario the owner of the propane gas grill will use the whole tank in about 4.5 to 5 hours at a cost of $13.00.**
The use of natural gas as fuel for grilling is another option. This fuel is measured in cubic feet. One cubic foot of natural gas will produce 1020 BTUs of heat energy per one hour. According to the South Carolina Electric and Gas website, the cost of natural gas is $10.50 per one thousand cubic feet or .0105 cents per cubic foot. The owner of a natural gas grill that has an output of 60,000 BTUs will use 58.82 cubic feet of natural gas at a cost of .62 cents per hour.**
Charcoal is the third option of fuel for outdoor grilling and has been used by generations of grill enthusiasts. The most widely used charcoal is briquettes. This form of charcoal at one pound of product will yield about 9000 BTUs of heat energy per hour. To obtain 60,000 BTUs of heat energy for one hour we will need 6.6 pounds of charcoal briquettes at a cost of $2.60 to $4.29. Another form of charcoal is hardwood lump charcoal. This charcoal produces about 13,000 BTUs of heat energy per one pound of product per hour. Therefore, with hardwood lump charcoal it will take 4.6 pounds of product to produce 60,000 BTUs for one hour at a cost of $1.20-$3.00.**
The fourth and final fuel option for the outdoor grill is wood pellets. Over the last 5 or 6 years, several manufactures have grills whose fuel is compressed wood pellets. The pellets are made from different types of wood that offer a unique smoke flavor to grilled foods. These woods include apple, cherry, hickory and mesquite. In researching wood pellets, I found that one pound of wood pellets would produce about 13,000 BTUs per hour. Therefore, as we have seen from previous examples where we use 60,000 BTUs as our base line, it will take 4.6 pounds of product to produce that level of heat energy per hour. The cost per one 20-pound bag of wood pellets is between $14.60 and $18.95. Therefore, cooking on a wood pellet grill will cost about $3.35 to $4.35 per one hour.**
As someone who grills a lot, I have enjoyed grilling on all of these fuel types. Each fuel offers a different flavor and texture to grilled foods. I also noticed the difference in the thermal transfer to the food, which was reflected in cooking time and the amount of fuel used.
What type of fuel is best for your next outdoor grill? It really comes down to your personal preference. The data above is some “food- for- thought”, when you are ready to make your next grill purchase.
** Costs based on figures obtained at the time of this writing.
W.P. Law, Inc.