Charcoal vs Gas BBQ Grill – Propane BBQ vs Charcoal Grill

Considering a charcoal vs propane gas BBQ grill, there are both the cooking aspects and the environmental effects. There is also a charcoal vs propane health question.

Most people would think that a renewable fuel, like wood, is more eco-friendly than a fossil fuel. 

However, when it comes to a propane vs charcoal grill, the climate friendly choice is not what you may think. 

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What is Charcoal?

Charcoal BBQ fuel is made from a renewable resource, wood. 

Charcoal briquettes are manufactured by heating the wood in a low oxygen environment to remove all the moisture. 

The end result is tightly packed little lumps of carbon. 

When burnt, this carbon combines with oxygen to create heat and CO2.

What is BBQ Gas?

Propane molecule

BBQ gas is LPG

Whilst LPG is a fossil fuel, it is also a low carbon energy source.

The LPG (propane) gas molecule only has 3 carbon atoms. 

The chemical formula for propane is C3H8

This means that it does not generate as much CO2 when burnt.

The Problem in Charcoal vs Gas BBQ Grill – Propane vs Charcoal Grill

When considering a charcoal vs propane gas BBQ grill (propane vs charcoal grill), biofuels do not always result in a smaller carbon footprint than the fossil fuel alternatives. The problem with charcoal is that it emits almost 3X the amount of CO2 that is produced vs propane – LPG. 

This is harmful because CO2 is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

To produce charcoal, you heat wood in a kiln.

However, the usable output of charcoal is only around 20-35% of the original input. 

The remainder of the wood turns into gas and is emitted into the atmosphere.  

In contrast, LPG energy yields are greater than 90%.

The fact that you cannot simply turn a charcoal grill ON and OFF increases the problem.

Charcoal fires need to be started ahead of time and then take time to burn themselves out. 

In a propane vs charcoal grill, propane is just a much more efficient fuel for cooking.

Scientific Research

Independent scientific research confirms these facts.  Eric Johnson, of Atlantic Consulting, published his propane vs charcoal grill study “Charcoal versus LPG grilling: a carbon-footprint comparison” on this very subject. 

As the title suggests, it compared the carbon footprint of a propane vs charcoal grill. 

In addition to looking at the carbon produced during production and burning, the study also considered secondary factors like the use of firelighters, grill construction and the need for cylinders. 

In the base case, the charcoal grilling footprint of 998 kg CO2e is almost three times as large as that for LPG grilling, at 349 kg CO2e. 

This charcoal vs gas BBQ grill (propane vs charcoal grill) chart shows results:

propane vs charcoal grill

Source: Eric Johnson, Atlantic Consulting      

Propane BBQ vs Charcoal Grill Health Issues

As previously mentioned, the problem with charcoal vs propane gas BBQ on health issues is that charcoal emits almost 3X the amount of CO2 that is produced when you use LPG.

This greenhouse gas depletes the ozone layer which, in turn, increases the risk of skin cancers.

Charcoal is also derived from biomass and creates much more smoke and particulates.

Both smoke and particulates have adverse health effects.

A scientific study revealed that meats grilled with a propane vs charcoal grill, the charcoal contained more carcinogens than meat heated with propane (LPG).

These carcinogens are called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – PAHs.

Charcoal also burns hotter, charring the meat and creating HCA (heterocyclic amines) which is yet another carcinogen.

So, propane grilling is arguably healthier in a charcoal vs propane health comparison.

Tree Planting and Carbon Sequestration

Many would point out that trees can be planted to replace the trees used to produce the charcoal, as this is a renewable resource. 

This would result in carbon sequestration or, in this case, biosequestration. 

This is absolutely correct.

However, in a renewables problem unique to charcoal production, you have to cut down trees in the first place. 

Merely replanting trees in equal quantities just maintains the level of sequestration that already existed.

To offset the carbon released by the charcoal, you would need to plant additional trees, over and above the number planted as replacements.

Of course, all of this assumes that the companies harvesting the trees are following good reforestation practices. 

The sad truth is that much of it just results in deforestation, as a lot of charcoal comes from developing countries without good sustainability policies.

The Eco-Friendly Choice – Propane BBQ vs Charcoal Grill

When it comes to a Propane BBQ vs Charcoal Grill, propane-LPG is the climate friendly choice. Not only does propane emit less CO2 vs charcoal grill but it is also easier and more convenient to use.

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The information in this article is derived from various sources and is believed to be correct at the time of publication. However, the information may not be error free and may not be applicable in all circumstances.

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