Charcoal VS Propane BBQ: What is the Difference

If you’ve only just gotten into barbecuing as a hobby, your research may have led you to debates about whether or not you should get a smoker, what kind of wood chips you should use, and what the best level of doneness is best for a steak. While these are all common points of contention, not having your own stance on them can make barbecuing a bit harder to enjoy properly. Even something as simple as the kind of grill you should use is a heavily debated and discussed topic. If you’re only just buying a barbecue grill, all this discourse can be incredibly confusing.

One of the most common choices you might consider is what grill to choose between charcoal vs. propane BBQ. Both barbecues have their pros and cons, with each type having something that makes them better. Some grills may be cheaper but do not have enough accessories that make cooking convenient. Another might be better for a slower cooking speed and temperature but are perfect for smoking. Ultimately, the choice depends on your personal preferences and budget.

To help you choose between charcoal vs. propane BBQ and their main differences, we’ve researched and collected all the facts to help you pick the best barbecue grill for your home and family. Once you’ve made a decision, you can head on over to our online catalogue to find the best prices for value. 

How do Charcoal grills work?

If you’ve ever worked with a firepit or a campfire before, chances are that you already understand one of the main differences between a charcoal BBQ vs. a propane barbecue. 

Charcoal barbecues are typically bowl or tray-shaped grills with one or more grates used for the grilling process. The barbecue uses charcoal briquettes that are layered along the bottom of the grill before being lit. Once you’re done using the grill, all that’s needed is to close the vents along the sides and top of the grill, effectively smothering the flames inside it. Then when the coals are cool, you can take them out.

The main problem with charcoal grills is getting them to light up properly. More often than not, simply striking a match and dropping it into the coals isn’t enough to light them. When comparing charcoal vs. propane BBQ, charcoal typically takes a far longer amount of time and effort. In some cases, you might even need to invest in different fire starters. 

How do Propane barbecues work?

The main fuel source for a propane tank is hooked up, almost like what you would expect in a gas stove. A line connects the tank to the propane barbecue’s burners, which can be turned on and off as needed.

Like a stove, the flow of the propane to the grill itself is further regulated by a valve on the tank itself. Once the valve is open, the grill’s flame control knob is turned, and an igniter button is pushed to light the fire. As a result, when comparing propane vs. charcoal BBQ, the grill is lit almost instantaneously and can heat up much faster.

Flavour and Smokiness

Another one of the most intensely debated factors in the comparison between BBQ propane vs charcoal is how the food that’s grilled on it tastes. Many people argue that, since charcoal grills use hardwood or lump charcoal as a fuel source, that type of grill would give a more authentic grill flavour. While typically the answer is more positive for charcoal thanks to the smoke generated, propane grills do something similar. 

While the meat's juices drip and land on the propane grill's burners, the juices burn up and create different compounds that are reabsorbed by the meat. This applies to both charcoal and propane grills. The smokiness gotten from the charcoal is only achieved depending on what kinds of foods you’re cooking and for how long. 

Foods like burgers, steaks and vegetables often take a much quicker time to cook, meaning that those foods won’t see the same levels of smoky flavour that ribs or briskets would.

Price Range

If you’re aiming to get a high-quality grill, one of the key factors you need to consider is the grill’s price. Charcoal grills frequently come out cheaper for one main reason; there aren’t as many individual separate parts that make the grill up. At most, your grill may have a few additional features, like an attached lid, special vents or even a special grate system. This ends up placing a decent grill for a rough minimum of $99 or more.

Comparing the propane BBQ vs charcoal ones on the other hand shows that propane is more expensive. Where charcoal grills are typically a few individual pieces at most, propane instead has the main grill in addition to the tank’s connections, the ignition system and the burners. 

The more burners and parts the grill has, the more expensive the grill will be. For a good, high-quality grill, you can expect to pay a significant amount, usually around $500, though keep in mind that more expensive does also mean better technology.

Temperature Control

Thanks to how propane grills work, these kinds of grills typically have the most control over what their internal temperatures are. This is primarily due to the fact that turning the control knob directly affects how much gas is being released, which in turn affects the temperature. Raising and lowering the temperature is as simple as turning the gas’ control knob.

Charcoal grills aren’t all too different, however. Though they do take longer to heat up to a specific temperature, lowering it is as simple as closing the vents for a short amount of time. If you want the charcoal grill to get hotter again, you may need to add more briquettes or lumps while letting it stay open.


Choosing the right type of grill solely depends on what you prefer and what features you want your grill to have. Charcoal BBQ vs propane barbecues each have their own positives that make them better. If you prefer to have smokier flavours and you frequently find yourself enjoying longer grilling sessions, charcoal grills are best for you. 

On the other hand, if you want to start cooking quicker while also still enjoying the char that grilling gives, a propane grill is perfect for you. Regardless of your choice, you can get your perfect grill at Dickson Barbeque Centre.