How Much Does It Cost To Grill?

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Yesterday, I spent much of the day assembling a propane grill given to us as a housewarming gift. It was a fun project, but along the way I began to wonder exactly how cost-effective propane grilling actually is. In this comparison, I’m going to exclude the cost of the appliances themselves, though over the long haul they would roughly balance out.

My grill puts out 36,000 BTUs per hour – when you see the BTU measurement on the box, it refers to how many British Thermal Units the grill can produce in one hour. A gallon of propane contains 91,600 BTUs, and a standard 20 pound tank has 4.72 gallons of propane in it for a total of 431,613 BTUs of energy. Thus, one tank will allow the grill to run for twelve hours. Given the cooking time I’ve witnessed with the grill, most of our family meats will require an average of about 35 minutes of grill time, which means that I’ll be able to grill about twenty times on a single tank. As I can get a tank refill for $12 at the local hardware store, it costs about sixty cents per grilling session in propane costs.

This, of course, assumes that I fire up all three burners, which each consume about 12,000 BTUs per hour. If I grill with just two of them (likely, so I have a cooler spot on the grill), my cost per grilling session goes down to about forty cents. This is just an estimate – I am not intimately familiar with cooking on the grill and I was doing some experimenting during my first uses.

On the other hand, using our electric range and cooking things in a skillet eats about 800 watts and takes, say, twenty minutes to cook a hamburger. At that rate, the energy use costs about three cents. On the other hand, preparing baked fish in the oven (about 5000 watts for twenty minutes) eats up about seventeen cents on the ol’ electric bill.

Clearly, using an internal electric stove is more cost-efficient than using a propane grill, though neither is particularly expensive. It does, however, encourage healthier food preparation (much of the fat drips right out of the meat onto the fat catcher) and the taste can be tremendous (you can’t get that kind of heating from a skillet on the oven).

Is it worth it? It depends entirely on the meal. Many meat preparations are healthier on the grill than in the skillet and also many meats are substantially tastier when grilled due to the vastly different heat environment on a propane grill. Is it worth that extra twenty to forty cents a meal? It certainly is to me.

Now, if we’re talking extra tasty, I would like to eventually have a grilling pit where I could grill over wood and then use various woods to contribute subtle flavors to the meat … but that’s a topic for my long-dreamed-about cooking blog.

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27 thoughts on “How Much Does It Cost To Grill?

  1. Don’t forget the benefit of not heating your house with the oven. You either save money on cooling costs, or make your home more comfortable during the hot summer season.

  2. psymin’s point is all the more poignant here in MN where it’s 89F w/ 53% humidity. One other thing to consider is the cost of ingredients involved. When preparing a grilled meal, you’re more likely to use more simple ingredients than if you cooked on the range. You’ll more than likely just plop down your meat and perhaps veggies and leave them to stand on their own, without added fussing and “fancy” additives. Just plain, simple food. At least, that’s what I notice that I’ve been doing since purchasing a small charcoal grill. YUM!

  3. Grilling is more fun and more social.

    If you’re outside grilling you aren’t inside burning the leccy on tv, wii, radio etc…

  4. Of course, you left out the cost of cooling a house that has to vent heat from the stove and oven vs cooling a house where the cooking heat is already outside. Remember, one of the places that the once a month cooking crowd says that you are saving money is in the cooling bill.

    Personally, I do a once a week cooking on a charcoal grill and that causes me to run the air conditioner much less than before.

    I’ve started using a charcoal grill fueled by half charcoal, and half mesquite chips (which can be had for free in most of the southwest), along with picking up dead wood in the spring/summer from around town (for free) for the fireplace, and my energy bill had dropped quite a bit.

  5. I have heard that cooking food on the grill is not truly as healthy as other methods. It has been too long for me to remember the details, unfortunately.

    Brad

  6. Brad,

    The health concerns with grilling are due to the carcinogens that are formed in the charring (both crusts on sausages and grill marks on everything else) that makes grilled food yummy. I still grill quite often, and the charred parts are the best!

  7. Well we love to grill so much that when my oldest daughter gets married in an outdoor ceremony in less than 2 weeks, the reception dinner will be grilled everything lol. Grilled meats, veggies, fruit, and poundcake are on the menu. Yes, poundcake *smiles*. Just make sure you cut it about 2″ thick and turn it with tongs. Enjoy!

    (oh geez, 12 days?!?! I better come off here and get busy lol)

  8. When you use your oven, you warm up your house. How much does it cost for the A/C to kick in and cool it back off? Of course, it doesn’t help that when I grill, I constantly go in and out of the house to fetch supplies and take in dishes, which lets out A/C in the summer and heat in the winter. Our grill’s pretty large, so we can also cook many items at a time. Regarding your wood pit, you can still cook over wood using your gas grill. I’m unsure of the exact process, but basically, you soak wood chips in water, then put them in a foil packet poked with holes. Place the packet under the grate and voila, you’ve got smoke flavor. Again, consult a grill cookbook for the exact technique; I haven’t done it in a few years.

  9. I get a lot more than 20 grilling experiences out of my BBQ. It can last me months of cooking 5 days a week. I don’t think I cook for 35 minutes as, with the top closed, meats cook signficantly faster.

    If you are spending 20 minutes to cook a hamburger on an electric stove, you should get a George Foreman grill. Since it cooks on the top and bottom and not as much heat escapes it cooks fast. The recipe with the machine suggests 4 minutes of preheating and 5 minutes of cooking time. I don’t have a way to measure the amount of juice it takes vs. the stove, but as a small appliance, I’m guess it’s not as much or at worst the same.

  10. I second the recommendation for the George Foreman grill. It’s not too fun to clean, but it’s super efficient with small steaks, chicken breasts and burgers, among other things.

  11. If you want to grill over wood, just get a Weber One-Touch. It’s arguably the best charcoal grill available in the USA, and costs only $80 new. You can buy a used one easily for around $30.

  12. So in other words, you can avoid delicious grilled meals all summer to save up some pennies which can then be spent on a $3 candy bar ;)

  13. The Foreman grill with the removable grill “pads” is a lot easier to clean. It is still a pain, but you can put just that part under the water and clean it. :)

    Brad

  14. If it takes you an average of 35 minutes to grill anything it is taking way too long. A thick steak cooked to medium will take at most about 10-12 minutes, hamburgers might take 15, bonless chicken around 15 and bone-in chicken maybe 20-25 depending on size. The only way you should be using a grill for 35 minutes plus is if you can’t fit all the food on the grill and have to cook in shifts or you are roasting something over very low heat.

    If your cooking times are longer due to not always using direct heat or lower temps then you have to factor in that you aren’t blazing through the maximum BTU output for that whole time also.

  15. Trent, you have a knack for writing posts that relate to what I’m currently doing. Then again, summer is grilling time for millions of people besides myself as well, heh. Anyways, good post and thanks for the info, even though I’m a charcoal kinda man.

  16. You probably won’t be grilling for 35 minutes at a time, and you won’t be using it full blast. What are you making?? Charcoal? ;)

    You should be able to use the same tank for most of the summer. Propane grilling is far, far cheaper than charcoal briquets. Now if I can just convince my husband that gas grilling is as good as charcoal!

  17. Oh, check out different types of wood chips you can add to the grill for additional flavor. IThere is apple wood, cherry, mesquite, hickory, and alder.

  18. You can DIY a conversion of your grill to Natural gas. It makes it cheaper then propane.

    It’s not too hard, just some drilling.

  19. 35 minutes is by no means an unreasonable length of time to have gas running through your grill. With a gas grill you should preheat the entire grill with the cover down and all burners on for at least 10-15 miinutes. After which you should commence cooking.

  20. Sorry Pam, I’m a propane girl too, but food cooked over charcoal is soooooo much tastier than on a gas grill. Good luck convincing your hubbie otherwise. Also, I grill a few times a week and I’d estimate I usually have the grill on for at least 35 minutes each time, simply because I preheat the grill before putting my food on. Then I scrape off the burnt stuff from the time before, oil the grates, then add the food. Corn takes roughly 20 minutes. A burger shouldn’t take more than 10 though. Even that’s a stretch unless you like no pink on it. We also do rotisserie chicken sometimes, which takes about 75 minutes.

  21. Mmm… carcinogenic tastiness. I figure that everything will give me cancer anyway, so I may as well eat tasty food that’s closest to what we’ve been eating in our diet for a long time. Especially since you’d imagine that natural selection would have killed off all those pesky fire-cookers earlier in our history if it was THAT carcinogenic.

  22. I agree with Lazy Man and Health. I get way more than 12 hours out of a single tank. One tank normally lasts me 6 months cooking almost every day.

  23. I agree that charcoal cooking is way tastier than gas grilling. If that was the only consideration, that would be the end of it for me.

    But in Alaska, shipping costs add quite a bit to the price. Charcoal is bulky and heavy. Factor that price in, and propane is so much cheaper.

    I didn’t consider time to heat up, and clean up – or rather burning off the gunk.

    MVP – I’ll have try rotisserie chicken. Sounds a lot better than Costco!!

    End result – a 20lb propane bottle still lasts all season for a cost of around $18. Add in a $2 bag of mesquite chips for extra flavor.

  24. I prefer to put the woodchips dry in a foil packet with holes poked in it. The smoke gets started much faster and you don’t have to prep ahead of time. I’ve used Hickory, Mesquite, Apple, Cherry, Maple, and my favorite, Jack Daniels oak

  25. The cost for a natural gas grill is even less. I have a 50,000 btu grill which has four burners or 12,500 btu’s per burner per hour. I usually only use 2 burners or 25K btu per hour. 25,000 btu is equivalent to 24.24 cubic feet of gas. As of Oct ’07, the price per thousand cubic feet of gas is $6.25. Thus 24.24 cf x $6.25/1000cf = $0.15 or 15 cents. Now the gas company surely marks up the gas from what it costs on the open market and there are all sorts of fees and taxes on a gas bill, but even assuming that this increases the price/hour by 25%, that still means an hour of use costs just 19 cents.

    Given the above example of 24,000 btus per hour for 35 minutes we get:
    24K btu = 23.27cubic ft of gas x 35/60 = 13.57 CF gas

    13.57CF x $6.25 CF/1000CF = $0.085

    gas company markup and taxes 25% (est) = 0.085×1.25 = 11 cents

    far lower than the 40 cents or so that propane costs (at least in this example and according to the calculation above).

  26. I grill over an old hibacchi. Each one lasts about a year, at the end of the season the hibacchi is pretty rough and gets tossed into the metal recycling bin. At yard sales I ask about a hibacchi and usually manage to buy one or two (a spare for next year) with a bag or two of charcoal for one or two dollars, have never paid more. That’s because hibacchi people trade up to propane and then sell off the old grill. Sometimes I’ve bought sacks of charcoal at yard sales for fifty cents or a dollar. Sometimes I must pick up a sack of charcoal at a “real” store. I use the credit card (paid off monthly) to get frequent flyer miles as a bonus. Grilling is cheap for us, and I usually do two meals at once. A great ploy is to first grill split sausages (grease drips off) and save them to chop up the next day and add to pan sauteed (in olive oil) onions and peppers for a low fat sausage and peppers. After sausage is done I do the burgers, chicken or shrimp. YOU GET TWO MEALS COOKED FOR ONE BATCH OF CHARCOAL. “A Penny saved is 1.5 pennies earned.”

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