In North America, gas is king. Developed by utility companies, gas grills hit the barbecue scene in the 1950s. Today, almost 70 percent of American families use gas grills. There are two types of gas grill: those that burn natural gas, a fossil fuel based primarily on methane, and those that burn propane, a refined petroleum product comprised of hydrogen and carbon. So why grill with gas? In a word—convenience. The convenience of push-button ignition. The convenience of turn-of-a-dial heat control. Gas is less dirty to handle than charcoal and burns cleaner than improperly lit charcoal.
Whether fueled by natural gas or propane, gas grills tend to burn cooler and wetter than charcoal grills, so you don’t get quite the same searing and browning as with the heat from charcoal or wood. However, it must be said that the newer, higher powered gas grills come very close to bridging the gap. Still, smoking on a charcoal grill is easy; on a gas grill it is virtually impossible. Of course, the biggest problem with gas may be image. Grilling over gas just doesn’t look as cool as burning wood or messing with charcoal.
Propane cylinders will give you 12 to 18 hours of grilling, depending on the heat, the altitude, and what you’re grilling. After that time you need to refill the tank. The first time you fill a propane cylinder, have it “bled” (flushed out) by a professional. To get the propane cylinders home from the hardware store, stand them in plastic milk crates; this keeps them from rolling around in your trunk. Store propane cylinders outdoors, away from the grill, and in an upright position. Always have an extra full propane cylinder on hand; the cylinders have the perverse habit of running out of fuel right in the middle of a grill session. If you have a large underground propane tank to run your furnace or water heater, you might want to ask your gas man to hook up a line from it to your grill.
To grill with natural gas, your grill needs to be specially outfitted, including having larger holes in the burner manifolds. However, natural gas has the advantage of being piped right into your home—no more empty propane cylinders to take to the hardware store.
One final note on the safe way to light a gas grill: