Charcoal vs. Propane Revisited

Last summer I blogged about the age old controversy: Which is the greener way to grill: Charcoal or Propane? My conclusion was that it matters far more what you grill than how you grill it. Now I have discovered something new and I need to revisit this topic.

Which is greener – Charcoal or Propane?

Burning propane, a fossil fuel, is cleaner than charcoal and has about half the green house gas emissions.  Charcoal, even lump charcoal from renewable sources, produces more CO2 than propane and more localized pollution.  The true answer to whether charcoal or propane is greenest is neither.  I recently discovered wood pellet grills and have found my green grilling dream machine.

      1. Wood pellets come from wood and are a renewable resource.  They do not require anywhere close to the energy or processing that charcoal does and are way cleaner to load into the grill.  No more black hands dealing with charcoal for me. Compared to propane, it is also much easier to tell how much is left and when I need to refill.  Running out of propane has stymied some of my grilling adventures, especially at my in-law’s home. Telling how much propane is left in the tank is something that continues to thwart my grilling adventures.

        wood pellet grill open cooking chicken breasts and sausages

        Jon’s Green Grilling Dream Machine

      2. I can fire up my grill and be cooking in about 10 minutes, which is about the same amount of time I let a gas grill heat up.  Charcoal, if you are lucky, takes about 45 minutes to be ready to cook.  I use a chimney starter for charcoal – no lighter fluid for our green household.
      3. Easy temperature control.  My model has digital temperature control so I can set it anywhere from Smoke (~185°F) to High (450°F).
      4. Even cooking temperature.  My small and cheap propane grill was always burning part of the food while leaving another part of the piece raw.  I got what I paid for with that unit.  With my wood pellet grill, everything cooks evenly.  The instructions even say I don’t have to flip pieces as it cooks with indirect heat through convection, but I prefer to flip them to get the grill marks on the food.
      5. I can power it from my small solar panel.  How many appliances do you know that can tell you if you need a pure sine-wave inverter or a modified sine-wave inverter to run them off grid.  My Traeger Grill does.  I lucked out in that the digital thermostat only requires a modified sine-wave inverter (less expensive) which I already have. While it uses electricity, it doesn’t need much. 

Reviewing the Traeger Pellet Grill that I bought is going to take another post, but I have been very happy with it so far.

wood pellets in a hopper for the grill

Wood Pellet Hopper for the Grill

I grilled up some chicken breasts, sausages, hot dogs and my favorite so far – grilled beets.

 Alicia even used it to bake banana bread! Because of it’s cooking style, it can be used as an outdoor oven too.


 Happy Green Grilling!


food on wood pellet grill

Grilled Beets, Chicken and Applegate Hot Dogs

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  1. This is a great help! I was wondering if there was a way to do this when I was researching safer, greener grilling this summer for an article. I’ll be pinning this for next year!

  2. I love this Jonathan! I often think about this as we are grilling. I’ve heard about these wood pellet grills. Glad to hear more about them on this blog!

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