There are 2 types of gas grills: natural gas (NG) and (liquid) propane (LP). They are similar, but not the same. When choosing gas a grill, it’s common to wonder exactly what is the difference between them, and I’ll highlight them for you.
In this article, I’ll show you the differences in:
- How Are They Obtained
- How Much They Cost
- Environmental concerns
In the end I’ll explain if the two are compatible and how or if conversion is possible.
Differences Between Natural Gas and Propane Grills
Both propane and natural gas are gaseous products, though propane can be compressed into a liquid form, i.e. liquid propane, sometimes abbreviated as LP. Natural gas has another name: fossil gas. They both burn at very similar temperatures, but with a 40 F / 23 C degree difference, amounting to a 1.1 % difference in heat.
Natural Gas VS Propane Comparison Table
|Cost (at the time of writing)||$1.75 per MMbtu||$2 per gallon|
|BTUs per cubic foot||1,030||2,516|
Difference #1: How Are They Obtained
Natural gas is supplied to a city or town through the utility pipes and nearly everyone will use it for things like their oven or hot water heater and are billed monthly for their usage. Generally, it is quite cheap.
Propane, on the other hand, has to be purchased separately. For a standard-sized propane tank, typically you would purchase one at a gas station or department store, deplete it, and then come back to exchange the old, empty tank for a new, refilled tank.
Customers don’t refill their own propane tanks. For smaller sizes of propane tanks, such as camping tanks, typically you would purchase them at a department store that sells outdoor goods, and when the tank gets low, you would toss the tank in the trash and buy a new one.
Difference #2: The Cost
Price of a Natural Gas Outlet Project
Most urban households get natural gas already, but don’t have a natural gas outlet available for grilling. Obtaining one is usually a separate side project that you would do by yourself if you know the construction trade, or else hire someone to come and do it for you. When considering the cost of gas, this project often gets ignored while crunching the numbers, but it can make a big difference in the final cost breakdown, especially if there are hidden problems with the project that makes the actual cost even higher.
Price of Natural Gas
Is Natural Gas Expensive to Use?
The price of natural gas is very cheap compared to propane and most natural gas grillers don’t even consider the price of running their grill into their monthly budget considerations as it is negligible. But you will definitely consider the price of purchasing a new grill.
Price of Propane Tank Exchange
Propane is purchased by the tank unit, and that is how the price is typically factored. Each tank comes with the added cost of the tank itself, though. The convenience of propane tank exchange stations is usually easy to do. But the overall cost of this method can be more pricey than other methods if you grill often. If you grill occasionally, this can work out well. Unfortunately, the 1 lb camping propane tanks cannot be exchanged.
How Much Does It Cost to Exchange a Propane Tank?
In general, the price for exchanging a 20lb propane tank is about $19.
But there have been some interesting movements with individual companies who are starting up to allow propane tank exchanges of different sizes – including 1 lb camper tanks. They are not nation-wide and will typically only have office locations in larger cities. Their business model includes the exclusive purchase and re-use of their propane tank, but all of this can still be very financially inexpensive if you live in the right location.
You can, however, refill some canisters (Coleman, for example) by yourself with the help of an adapter. See the video below how.
Refilling Propane Tanks
Some more budget-minded grillers may opt to refuel their tank at home improvement stores. These stores would sell the larger propane tanks, camping propane tanks, grills, and a few other consumer-geared items, and lots of tools, lumber, and construction supplies.
To refill your tank, you would visit the customer service desk and wait for an employee to refill your tank for you – even some 1 lb camping propane tanks.
How Much Does a Propane Tank Refill Cost?
Refilling stations usually charge $3 to $4 per gallon.
A 20 lb tank holds 4.7 gallons of propane. This means filling a whole tank will cost you $14.1 to $18.8. It’s a bit cheaper than exchanging, and the difference becomes larger with every refill. Keep that in mind if you often fire up the grill.
Difference #3: Portability
One of the most important and primary differences between natural gas grills and propane grills is their portability. With a natural gas grill, where you put the grill is going to be limited to where your natural gas outlet is located. So you might be able to move your grill a few feet in any direction, but you’re not going to be able to take it with you to go camping – there’s no such thing as a portable natural gas container.
With a propane-based grill, you can place it anywhere that’s stable, and the propane tank would either rest beside the grill or below it, say, in a cabinet or propane tank holding rack built into the grill’s cabinet or open cart body design.
Difference #4: Environmental Concerns
The Environmental Cost of Extracting Natural Gas vs Propane Gas
It’s too difficult to say how much of an environmental impact extracting natural gas is on the environment. Because of the difficulty of measuring this, some say more while others say less. As of today, there isn’t a standard or way to measure this.
But propane gas is a byproduct of processing crude oil, so it will be produced as long as oil, petroleum, and gasoline products are in use. Experts have tried to separate out the cost of it, but propane is too closely intertwined with the crude oil processing methods to be able to measure out separately.
The Environmental Cost of Delivering
Natural gas is delivered through the utility pipes beneath the urban center (such as a city), so the environmental cost of using this type of grill when it comes to delivery has no environmental impact or cost at all. Some common appliances that will use natural gas are ovens and hot water heaters.
Propane, on the other hand, poses a bit of a problem. Because propane is used and ported around in propane tanks, those tanks tend to end up in the landfill.
This can happen because the tank has some sort of defect or problem and it was cheaper or more convenient to simply toss out the old, empty tank rather than exchange or refill it. The tanks themselves are made of steel and aluminum, so they’re never going to break down in the landfill.
Released Gas Into the Environment
Whenever you turn on your gas grill, it’s likely that a tiny portion of the gas will escape into the environment, and for this minuscule amount, propane is less harmful than natural gas. On the overall landscape of pollution, this amount is insignificant and conscientious grillers shouldn’t worry about polluting the environment, no matter which energy source they choose.
Propane and Natural Gas Grill Compatibility
Can I Use Propane on a Natural Gas Grill?
In most cases, not officially. Some manufacturers are not fans of grillers converting their grills and any kind of attempt will void the warranty of the grill. There are 2 reasons for this:
The conversion is not simple. Removing the gas line from the grill and connecting the propane tank simply won’t do. Why? The two fuels are not interchangeable. Some creative grillers have actually managed to do this:
Playing with gas is dangerous. One wrong spark and BOOM. This is one of the reasons why gas grill manufacturers don’t allow conversions.
Sure, you can get a conversion kit for and do the conversion yourself with some basic tools and a little thinking, but it’s much better for the manufacturer to sell you a brand new grill.
Do you have a Weber natural gas grill that you paid $500 for but want to connect a propane tank to it? Great! Buy the same Weber gas grill except it runs on propane for the same price of $500. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?
Can You Use Natural Gas on a Propane Grill?
By default, no. However, you can convert them using a conversion kit (they usually cost about $40) yourself. It’s much easier than vice versa, though.
Why you can’t just connect your natural gas line to your propane grill and how to convert it, check out this article.
Natural Gas and Propane Grills Are Not the Same
What is the difference between natural gas and propane grills? The differences between these two fuels come down to whether or not you have a natural gas outlet already, and if so, whether you plan to take your grill to different places, such as camping, or whether you plan to keep grilling out in your backyard.
Do you know how much natural gas you can get from crude oil?