December 29, 2017

Propane vs Natural Gas, What Should You Use For BBQ & Smoking? (Updated July 2018)

gas flame

If you decided one of the gas smoker or leaning towards one, then your next decision will be; go for propane or natural gas? Some of the best propane smokers are able to do both. 

We will also show you what we actually did and didn't like about natural gas and propane and highlight the true costs associated with both fuels.

By educating yourself about the difference between propane and natural gas you will have a clear idea what is the best pick for you.

What The Difference Between Propane & Natural Gas? (A Lot, Read On)

You thought gas was just gas?

Natural gas is primarily methane, whereas propane is key componet of LPG (liquid propane gas). Another essential difference is that natural gas is supplied via the main connection and propane (LPG) is supplied in a tank or bottle. 

Propane (LPG)
Propane or LGP is made by liquefying butane, isobutane and propane gas with pressurisation. Propane or LGP comes in a tank, this means it is portable, so you move your smoker or barbeque anywhere and connect your tank. Refill tanks are available at all gas stations.

Natural Gas
Natural Gas is initially extracted from the ground and it may also contain Ethane, Butane, Pentane and Pentanes Plus. Most of these are usually stripped out for other specific applications before it is passed along through the pipelines.

Natural gas is supplied by a utility company. It is directly piped to your house. To hook natural gas up to your barbecue you simply need a direct pipe to your outdoor smoker or grill. The only downside to this is once the smoker or barbeque is connected it can’t be moved easily.

Safety is paramount when dealing with either type of gas, ensure you have a read of our grill and gas safety before you cook up a storm!

So, What Burns Hotter Propane or Natural Gas?

Propane burns hotter than Natural gas.

When natural gas is burnt in an outside air temperature of 21ºC or 68ºF,  it is 1958ºC or 3556ºF. Whereas propane burns at a temperature of 1980ºC or 3597ºF. This is a difference of 24ºC or 42ºF.

When a smoker or barbecue is built to use natural gas different valves are installed. The valves for natural gas allow more gas to enter the smoker or barbecues burner system.

Due to the fact natural gas burns cooler, the larger valves allow more gas though to be burnt, this ensures the heat produced will be identical whether you buy the propane or natural gas model.

​Charlie Smoking Hot Tip

​I mainly use a Smoke Hollow 44241G2 at home. I have found that it defiantly heats and stays hotter than my old natural gas smoker. This can be a blessing and a curse. ​If you don't ​monitor it can be a bit quick for low and slow

The True Cost of Propane & Natural Gas

A tank cost of propane is more expensive than natural gas that is connected to a main.

However, if you aren’t connected to the gas supply you will need to pay to be connected. If you only use your grill/ smoker occasionally propane LGP might be your preferred option

Case Study


If we assume that cost for natural gas is $15.00 per 1,000 cubic feet. This means that $15.00 will purchase approximately 1.03 million BTU’s of energy. This would be equivalent to 11.26 gallons of propane.


At $2.50 per gallon of propane, natural gas would be a more cost effective energy solution.


Breaking it down even further, natural gas needs to be more than $28.00 per 1,000 cubic feet for propane to be a more cost effective energy solution (provided the cost for propane is $2.50 per gallon).

Pros & Cons of Natural Gas

Natural Gas Smoker Pros

  • The gas is automatically provided, this alleviates the worry that you could run out.
  • Natural gas is much cheaper than propane (LPG) it is typically 1/6 of the price of propane (LPG).

Natural Gas Barbecue Cons

  • You will need an accredited gas professional to install a natural gas smoker/ BBQ.
  • You may need to pay to be connected to the gas mains
  • The BBQ will not be portable after installation. You will not be able to change the position of the smoker to another location in your backyard.

​Charlie Smoking Hot Tip

​My neighbor has a beloved natural gas smoker, the Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24. I have asked him if he could give us some insight to using a natural gas smoker.


​He said it doesn't even worry him that he can't move it. Once you plonk it down somewhere, how often do you really move it? ​His favorite thing? Not having to fill up the propane tank! It all comes down to, walking out to the grill and knowing you wouldnt have to make a dash to the gas station!

Pros & Cons of Propane

Propane Barbecue Pros

  • Using propane tanks means barbecue or smoker is portable. This can be much more convenient as propane tank can easily be detached and transported as needed
  • Propane is more environmentally friendly because it doesn’t have lead in it.
  • Propane also creates lower greenhouse gas and produces water vapour and carbon dioxide, which are both found naturally in the environment.

Propane Barbecue Cons

  • Propane is more expensive than natural gas because it has to be transferred and stored.
  • You might find that gas BBQs sometimes create a wet heat. This wet heat can change the texture of the food.
  • Propane has a tendency to stay in the air for longer periods of time, you will find that natural gas disperses quicker because it's lighter than air.

How To Tell If Home Propane Tank Is Empty

Although propane bottles do not have a gauge or a full maker, it is possible to check the how much propane is left, and it is actually quite easy.

First off you need to get a medium-sized container and fill it with warm tap water. (Do not use boiling water, hot tap water is going to do the job just fine here)

You want to slowly pour the entire contents of your water container over the propane tank from the top. Be careful not to pour over any of the valves. Let the water run right down the tank and onto the ground, there is no need to rush this so take a good 5 - 10 seconds to do so.
Once all the water is poured onto the tank, run your hand slowly down the side of the propane tank that you have poured the water over, from the top to the bottom.

You should notice somewhere down the tank that the temperature changes from warm to cold.

The top of the tank will be warm because that is the empty part with air behind it. As you move down the tank you will feel at one point the outside of the tank change to cold. It is at this point where your tank is full up to with propane.

Picking Between A Propane Vs. Natural Gas Smoker

Going over the pros and cons for natural gas and propane in detail can be overwhelming. Here’s a handy summary for each fuel type to help you make your final decision:

Natural Gas

  • You have an endless supply – Direct line is convenient and fuel won’t run out.
  • The fuel costs less.
  • This is an environmentally-friendly option as it burns cleaner.
  • You have high upfront costs for installation
  • Your grill is in a fixed position

Propane

  • Lower upfront costs are associated
  • Portable – Tanks and grills can be used anywhere.
  • Tanks must be refilled and may run out.
  • You face higher long-term costs to refill the tanks

Final Thoughts

I currently use a propane gas smoker as I wanted the option to relocate the smoker.

However, we have found that we rarely move it. We have decided that we won't be moving again until the kids finish school. That means we will be in our home for at least the next 12 years.

We both like the idea of using a fuel source that is more environmentally as well as we are both sick of running to the gas station 10 minutes before we want to start dinner!

I'd say within in the 2-3 years we hope to have a natural gas smoker installed, well that's the plan!

Charlie

Do you use natural gas or propane?

5 (100%) 12 votes

Charlie

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