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As cookout season heats up, would-be grillers are often left at a crossroads — is natural gas the better fuel choice or is propane? Each setup offers its own advantages, but there are also downsides to both options. Natural gas setups tend to cost more upfront, for example, but they can potentially save money and add serious convenience in the long run. In reality, there’s far more nuance to the decision. Here's a breakdown of the finer details to help you make the best choice.
Both natural gas and propane provide clean, hot-burning fuel to suit your grilling needs. That fuel is delivered in different ways, however. Instead of using refillable tanks, natural gas grills tap into the municipal gas supply via home utility lines. This requires the property to be set up for natural gas first. Otherwise, an expensive and time-consuming conversion process is required.
Once a home is set up for natural gas, hooking up the grill is relatively simple. Most models include a kit that comes with everything you need to integrate with the gas line. From there, your fuel supply is unlimited, so you never have to worry about running out of gas mid-cookout. Operating the grill will be no different than any other gas barbecue.
Natural gas grills start around $400 for entry-level models, but high-end, feature-packed versions can cost $3,000 or above.
The most obvious upside to natural gas grilling is that you’ll never run out of fuel. This removes the hassle of refilling or replacing propane tanks, meaning you can cook anytime without worry.
Another huge benefit is the low operating cost. Natural gas is generally cheaper than propane, but you’re also absolved of having to shell out for the propane tanks themselves.
Finally, natural gas is an eco-friendly fuel. It burns slightly cleaner than propane, lessening the environmental impact. Also, because natural gas is lighter than air, it will float away harmlessly in case of a leak, making it the safer choice.
Natural gas is not without its disadvantages. Because it requires an existing gas line to work, it can entail a significant time and financial investment if the home is not already set up. Similarly, being tied to a local source or outlet limits the grill’s portability.
And while the running cost of a natural gas barbecue is relatively low, the grills themselves are often sold at higher MSRPs than propane equivalents.
This Weber grill is a popular choice for novice grillers due to its affordable price point and three-burner setup.
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For those with larger families (and budgets), consider this four-burner, 48,000 Btu model with a rear infrared burner and rotisserie kit.
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Propane gas grills or LP grills have long been the go-to for BBQ enthusiasts due to their simplicity and low setup cost. Whereas natural gas units hook up to gas lines, propane models use small, replaceable tanks that sit inside or beside the barbecue. These can be purchased and refilled easily at many hardware or home and garden stores.
Propane versions can be very affordable, with small, camping stove-style models costing around $50 or less. Larger iterations can easily cost up to $3,000 and above, depending on the number of burners and features.
Propane gas grills are intuitive and inexpensive to set up. Simply connect the grill to the propane tank via the hose and regulator, and you’re good to go! Also, propane grills typically retail for less than a natural gas equivalent.
Another tangential benefit of propane is portability, which could be very relevant for campers and traveling cooks. The portable tanks allow you to cook just about anywhere with no outlet required.
If you’ve ever run out of fuel mid-cookout, you’re more than familiar with the biggest downside of propane grills. Refilling and swapping out tanks is a small but relevant hassle, and if you don’t have a backup handy, you might be in for a frustrating trip to the hardware store. There’s also the running cost, as propane tends to be more expensive than natural gas.
In addition to cost and convenience, propane doesn’t burn as cleanly as natural gas, making it less eco-friendly. Propane is also noticeably denser than air, presenting a potential safety issue if the gas leaks and accumulates.
This grill remains one of the most popular, as it’s large enough to prepare family-sized meals without exceeding a reasonable price point.
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On the other end of the spectrum, this grill is pure luxury, with six burners, a rear infrared rotisserie and interior lights.
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While several factors are at play here, the biggest consideration is whether your home is already set up for natural gas. If so, natural gas will be the most cost-effective and convenient way to grill. If not, the process of ripping up your yard and installing the lines will definitely tip the scales in favor of propane.
If you’re still on the fence, research how expensive propane and natural gas are in your area and go from there. Costs can vary by region, which alone could make one fuel source more desirable than the other.
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Andrew Hard writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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