How Much Does It Cost To Grill?

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.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.