Are charcoal grills cheaper than gas? We dig into how you can save those pennies this summer

We examine all of the costs for different grill types - from the initial purchase to upkeep

BergHOFF LEO Portable Tabletop Charcoal Grill
(Image credit: BergHOFF)

Peak grilling season is almost upon us, and you may have started thinking about finally investing in a great grill for your backyard. But there are a lot of things that go into such an important decision, and you want to ensure that you've done the research to be as informed as possible before choosing your outdoor appliance.

One big factor is cost, which doesn't just mean the initial cost of the grill itself. If you're a keen chef that envisions using your grill year after year, you will need to consider the running costs. The best gas grills and charcoal barbecues both have their pros and cons in this regard.

In this article, we will look at how much both types will set you back, both on the initial purchase day and in the weeks and months following. Keep reading to see which wins out as the most cost-effective option.

Char-Broil Gas2Coal 3-Burner Gas and Charcoal Hybrid Grill being tested in writer's home

(Image credit: Future)

How expensive are charcoal grills?

The best charcoal grills tend to be less expensive overall, somewhat because smaller, cheaper, and more portable grills traditionally use this type of fuel. That includes single-use grills bought at the store, but a good-quality charcoal grill can be purchased for around $100.

After that, prices generally go up depending on the amount of cooking and counter space on offer. The Everdure Hub II Charcoal Grill, for example, will set you back close to $2,500 but, along with looking sleek and stylish, will allow you to feed far more people on a regular basis.

One of the reasons for the price difference between charcoal and gas grills is the fact that more expensive built-in options are often run on natural gas running from the house. It's not always the case, but it makes sense when you consider the added convenience of a grill that's ready to go every time rather than one that needs clean-up and maintenance with replacement charcoal.

Napoleon Rogue SE 525 Natural Gas Grill

(Image credit: Napoleon)

How expensive are gas grills?

Unlike single-use or portable charcoal grills, gas grills start at a higher price. You can expect to pay upwards of $200 for a smaller portable model, but, on the other hand, larger grills with counter space might be less than $500. You generally have more choice with gas grills than with charcoal.

You might expect natural gas grills, which require fuel from the main gas line of the house rather than a propane canister, to be slightly pricier, but that's not always the case. However, there will likely be a set-up cost for natural gas grills, which you should factor into your decision.

Of course, the sky's the limit on how much your want to spend on a full outdoor kitchen, with full suites costing upwards of $10,000.

Napoleon Charcoal Kettle Grill

(Image credit: Napoleon)

Charcoal vs propane vs natural gas

Because it doesn't require replacement fuel, natural gas grills have by far the lowest running cost. With a high set-up cost (where propane and charcoal have none), it fits into the age-old adage that you need to spend money in the short term to make money over time.

The cost of natural gas use will show up in your bills, but both charcoal and propane need to be purchased regularly if you're a keen cook. A 16-lb bag of charcoal briquettes might cost around $10 on Amazon, while a 20-lb propane fuel tank will cost closer to $60. However, while the latter will cover you for about a month, the charcoal will last for just 2-3 grilling sessions.

Weber Spirit SX-315 3-Burner Propane Gas Grill

(Image credit: Weber)

Our verdict

While gas grills are quite a bit more expensive than charcoal, to begin with, the lower cost of running them makes up for this over time. Charcoal is both less cost-effective than gas and worse for the environment, but the start-up costs are far lower.

Natural gas grills are the best deal overall, but you will need a large initial fund as it will take professional installation to get started. Propane gas grills provide a solid middle-ground, as a single canister will likely last you far longer than an equivalent bag of charcoal.

Caroline Preece
Smart Homes Ecommerce Editor

Caroline is the smart home ecommerce editor for Livingetc, covering everything tech for the home, from smart speakers to air purifiers and everything in between. She is passionate about the role that technology and smart devices can play in daily life, enhancing the home without sacrificing personal style and carefully chosen interiors. In her spare time, she can be found tinkering with bulbs, soundbars, and video doorbells in an effort to automate every part of her small home. Previously, she lent her expertise to the likes of Expert Reviews, IT Pro, Coach, The Week, and more.