Well, I finally broke down and got a Propane Grill. After years of being an avid Charcoal (lump coal) user and advocate, I actually found it a little exciting to give propane a try. It was out of necessity, but nonetheless, I was anxious to spend a weekend truly testing out my longstanding belief that Charcoal is better than Propane.
This past weekend we went camping at the beautiful North Umpqua River. We have camped up there many times, but we usually go earlier in the summer. The past few years forest fires and the smoke they cause have really put a damper on end of summer fun.
However, this year the firefighters were on it. We only had about a week or so of smoke the end of July. I am truly grateful to be able to enjoy the last couple months of the season without having to hide inside, or endure wearing a mask outside.
Even though they have been able to keep the fires in check for the most part, the danger is still high. So, due to the risk of starting a fire we needed to get a propane grill to be able to cook on our trip. No campfires or charcoal grills allowed.
Since we were put in this situation, I decided it was a great opportunity to really test it out. To see what the true differences between propane and charcoal grills really comes down to.
Propane and Propane Accessories
As we did not know if we would ever want to use the propane grill again after this trip, we got the cheapest one we could find. It is called “The Classic”.
It is a little table top grill. It was easy and quick to assemble.
The nozzle on it is for those little 1 pound propane bottles. We already have a 20 pound propane tank for a fire ring we have. So rather than buying a bunch of little bottles at 3 or 4 bucks a pop, I went ahead and got an adapter hose so the grill could hook up directly to the bigger tank.
I highly recommend doing this if you haven’t already, or if you are just getting set up. It was so nice not to worry about running out of fuel, and also way less expensive.
What’s on the Menu?
We put the grill to the test on this 3 night camp, with a variety of challenges. Everything we cooked we have grilled on a charcoal grill many times before. So the pros and cons would be easy to see.
Thursday (Arrived 3pm)
The first night we grilled Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs I had marinating since Wednesday night.
In the morning we boiled water for coffee in a small pot on the grill.
Then we fried cut potatoes, diced ham, and scrambled eggs in a pan for breakfast burritos.
In the afternoon I made my famous Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers.
We also cooked a bacon wrapped Filet Mignon by friend brought and a couple Ears of Corn with the husks still on.
On Saturday we at breakfast with some other campers.
Then after a fun packed day we grilled up the Carne Asada I had marinating since Thursday Morning (last minute before we left).
That evening we at with some other campers again.
My friend cooked up some Farmer John Sausages for breakfast before he took off.
Pros and Cons of Propane vs Charcoal
Right away we were super excited that all you have to do is just turn on the gas, light it up, and you are ready to grill. Definitely much faster and easier than with a charcoal grill.
There is a little trade off with the speed though. You don’t get to enjoy lighting the charcoal, watching it burn, and smelling that all too familiar aroma of a backyard BBQ.
Personally I love any opportunity I get to play with fire. So not getting to enjoy the mini bonfire of the charcoal getting ready is a bit of a let down…but obviously gets you to the food part way faster.
Also, at least on this little gas grill, you can’t really observe the burning gas very well. We kind of had to assume it was lit at times. We could feel the heat, but couldn’t always see the flames. Which left us feeling a little uneasy, especially as first timers.
This kind of goes along with the the previously mentioned “pro” of Speed. Not only do you not have to deal with prepping the charcoal, but you also don’t have to clean it up.
Also, when you turn off the gas, it is done. No hot coals still smoldering in there. And when you go to use it again, you don’t have to dump and unused coals and ash from the last session.
One thing that is really handy with the propane grill is that you can basically use it for an unlimited amount of time…as long as you don’t run out of propane. I have found with charcoal that sometimes I need it to keep going a little longer.
This pretty much only happens when I have to cook a lot of something, or when I am cooking something that takes a long time. Honestly, though, it is usually my fault because I didn’t put enough coals in to begin with. It has also happened when it is windy out, which causes the coals to burn faster. So, even though it doesn’t happen often, it is nice to be able to take as long as you need.
Another plus to this is that you can put stuff back on if you need to. I have taken off meat (usually a Tri Tip) and let it rest (like you’re supposed to) only to find out it needs a little more time on the grill. Usually this is difficult with charcoal, because you’ve already used up most of your heat by then. It is really nice to be able to just turn the grill back on and pick up where you left off.
Pro (and Con)- Consistency
With charcoal, it tends have higher flame and more heat towards the beginning. Then, as it burns down, you have to move your stuff around to find the hot (or cool) spots. Which keeps it an interactive activity, but actually gives you more control of the cook.
It seems though, with propane, it’s pretty much off or on. I mean there is High and Low, but whatever you put it at is where it stays for the duration of the time.
With the small “Classic” grill we got, this is a little annoying, because you are either on the heat, or you need to take it off the grill altogether. However, probably half way through our first grilling of the chicken thighs it became obvious that one side was way hotter than the other.
I assume the flames holes got clogged up or something, but it happened pretty fast. You can’t just stop in the middle of cooking and clean out the grill, so this was kind of aggravating.
So. although it seems like the consistent heat on the propane would be an advantage, I actually found it a bit difficult to manage.
This was the biggest negative about the gas grill. Such a big negative that it pretty much washed away all the possible positives as it was happening.
Since I had finally talked my friend into coming camping with us after begging for years, I thought I would make my special Bacon Wrapped Jalapenos! It is a bit of a chore, but they are so delicious I thought it would be a nice treat for all of us on this special occasion.
After I had cut and cleaned all the jalapenos, and stuffed them with my awesome cream cheese concoction, I started with the next task of wrapping them with bacon. Sadly, at this point I realized I had forgotten the toothpicks!
I knew at this point this was going to be a disaster…the toothpicks are VERY important. They hold everything together. Especially when you are doing it on the grill and not in the oven.
I didn’t get to mourn the situation long though, because the bacon brought other problems…bees! I have never had such a problem with bees like this before. I have done this camping a ton of times, but for some reason this time the yellow jackets were on it. It was terrible. They were everywhere. Crawling all over, and even inside of my little creations. It sucked to say the least.
Then it became a race to get them wrapped as quick as possible and get them on the grill. Once that phase of misery was over, I was able to move on to next ordeal…bacon grease.
I had my little poppers all arranged on top of a sheet of foil, as I usually do. As the bacon began to cook down it became abundantly clear how different propane grills are from charcoal. The charcoal just kind of soaks the grease up, and it isn’t a big deal in anyway. Not true with propane!
I did everything I could to keep the grease on top of the foil. Curling the edges up to make a boat, putting sticks under the table to level the grill better, everything we could think of. (See my trying to not freak out face in the picture here)
Without my precious toothpicks everything was falling apart. The cream cheese all oozed out, the back was just laying around in pieces, and the jalapenos were basically just frying in bacon grease. It was a mess, a scary mess!
In the end I managed to keep the giant flames from the grease fire mostly at bay. This was not an easy task, and I will never make that mistake again!
Propane Grill vs Charcoal Grill- In Conclusion
There are benefits to the propane grill, but in the end I do not think they outweigh the negatives. I can see times when a gas grill would be more convenient, but if I could only have one I would definitely choose a charcoal grill.
I am glad I tried it, and I will probably use it again for certain things at certain times. But without a doubt, I remain a true advocate of the good ol’ charcoal grill!