Fuel Cost Comparison of Pellet Grilling vs. Charcoal, Gas and Electric Grills

Pellet grilled meats and side dishes have an unmistakably superior flavor to other types of grilled foods.  For the backyard BBQ aficionado, there is a long standing debate about the cost of pellet grilling versus other types of grilling.  We are here to put that debate to rest!

Using a one hour cook at 225 degrees to compare costs of using a charcoal grill, gas grill, electric grill or pellet grill, you may be surprised at which is the most expensive! As in all things, it also isn’t just about the cost – you need to consider your time, as well as the resulting flavors of your BBQ session to determine how much bang you get for your buck!

Assuming the use of 38 charcoal briquettes plus starter fuel per cooking session, charcoal grills have fuel costs of a whopping $2.85 per cookout.  Charcoal grilling additionally requires quite a bit of time to get your grill to temperature, and to monitor the grill during cooking.

Gas grills using propane cost about $1.20 per hour use, for a 60,000 btu grill running at 70% heat output.  This is typical of the average use of a gas grill, as we don’t usually use the grill at 100% usage for an hour.  Running all burners on medium ends up being about 70%-75% of maximum usage.  While gas grills are usually quick to get up to temperature, there is minimal resulting grilled flavor.  Many people add water soaked wood during gas grilling to increase BBQ flavor, but that also adds an additional cost to the overall grilling cost.

While electric grills are by far the cheapest to run at about $.26 per use, the flavor is lacking – producing even less BBQ flavor than a propane grill.  Again, soaked wood can be added to this process at about $1.50 per grilling session allowing ¼ pound of wood chunks, but that really raises the cost of the cook.

Pellet grills set at 225 degrees burn pellets at around one pound per hour.  For that same one hour cook as in the above examples, the cost of pellet grilling is about $.76 per cooking session.  The resulting flavor of your meat is smoky, juicy, and spot on.  You get the flavor without any extra cost – it is by default a result of the hardwood pellets used as fuel.

Are you surprised? Pellet grilling comes out on top – or on the bottom?! – in regard to having the most economical fuel cost when you run the actual price comparison.  Using 100% hardwood pellets such as Cookinpellets ensures that you have a consistent burn rate and low ash, with tons of flavor –  and actually costs LESS per cook than other types of grilling.

There are ways to make pellet grilling with Cookinpellets even MORE economical! You can plan your meals ahead of time and cook a larger batch of food.  Think several beef briskets to ensure leftovers all week for sandwiches, smoking 2 pork roasts instead of one, a batch of salt and pepper smoked bacon to enjoy in salads or for breakfast all week long, and more! Buying local from a Cookinpellets dealer near you guarantees the best price on pellets, and we have dealers all over the USA.  Bulk purchases of pellets can also significantly reduce the cost per pound.  Once you start pellet grilling, there’s no going back to the inferior flavor of other types of grilling – so you might as well keep all your favorite flavors on hand to pair with all your favorite recipes.

Happy pellet grilling!

For everyone that wants to run their own numbers or needs to know where we got our average cost per cook, here is the formula we used.  As stated above, all costs are based on 225 degrees and 1 hour start to finish cook times.

Costs are averaged out based on 5 locations for fuel and supply cost across the USA Feb 2019.

Thanks to: https://ycharts.com, CWanamaker over at HUBPAGES.com

Formula Derivation for gas grills.

T = the grilling time

P = the amount of propane you have

H = the heating value of the propane

B = the maximum heat output of your grill

k = efficiency factor, meaning what percent “power” you’re cooking with

Deriving this formula is rather simple.

  • First, multiply the amount of propane you have by its heating value: PH.
  • Next, divide that by your grill’s maximum heat output to get the minimum grilling time: Tmin = PH/B.
  • However, most people don’t cook at the maximum grill setting for an extended period of time. In fact, propane usage during typical cooking conditions is normally around 50-75% of the maximum heat output. If you cook with the all the burners set on medium, your output would be around 75% of the maximum. If you use fewer burners, your actual output will also change. This is where I introduce an efficiency factor, ‘k,’ to adjust the time calculation for this variation.
  • With the introduction of the ‘k’ factor, the final formula becomes the picture that you see above.

How to Determine the ‘k’ Factor

  • The ‘k’ factor effectively reduces your grill’s total output in the computation. Use the chart below to determine the ‘k’ value for your typical grilling scheme. The derivation of the various ‘k’ factors is beyond the scope of this article.
  • Once you select a ‘k’ factor based on your typical grill’s usage, you can compute the total estimated grilling time (T). Divide this time by the average time it takes to cook a meal to estimate the number of meals you can grill. Now all you have to do is keep track of how many times you use the grill to know how much fuel you have left.

For example, if you have a six-burner grill and only cook with one burner on the lowest setting, you are effectively generating only 10% (0.10) of the maximum heat output of that grill. However, if you crank that same burner to its maximum setting, you will only be generating about 17% of the maximum heat that could be generated by the grill.


  1. Jeff on June 1, 2020 at 12:23 pm

    Thanks for the detailed cost comparisons and the factors used in making the analysis.

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