Propane is the traditional gas grill option, a modern fuel with many advantages. Attach a small tank of propane to your grill, open it up and you have an instant source of heat that you can easily control. Propane grilling is based on burners that channel and light the gas with ignition systems. Some grills have one or two small burners, while larger versions can have much bigger arrays. This makes propane ideal for larger grill stations and parties where you have to cook multiple foods at different temperatures, setting one burner for patties and one for veggies, for example.
Because of the ease of use, propane is a great option when first learning how to grill or when choosing a low-maintenance, easy grill that you can take out on a whim. The grill won't produce the same delicious smokey flavor that charcoal and wood chips can impart, but it gets results fast and grill models quickly scale up with plenty of extra room, advanced sensors and more.
Propane is also quite affordable, albeit slightly complicated to manage. You can buy a 20-pound tank for around $30. When the tank starts to empty, you can take it to a store and exchange it for a full version. Today's tanks are quite safe as long as you practice proper maintenance and protection. However, they are more complex than charcoal grills, which means a greater chance of something going wrong.
Natural gas grills aren't common, but some grills are designed to convert to natural gas if the fuel is available. This means you need a natural gas connection made specifically for your grill, typically built when your house or deck is constructed. Hook up your grill to this gas line, and then it acts just like propane.
It's easy to see how this limits your grilling experience: You can only grill where you have a safe gas line connection, which means never taking your grill on road trips or camping excursions. You also can't move your grill around your patio or deck to different locations. A natural gas setup is best suited to an outdoor kitchen, luxurious grilling space or other situations where a larger, permanent grill is called for.
On the plus side, natural gas is an extremely easy fuel to use. You never need to refill or replace anything, and it's typically the cheapest fuel around.
Want to convert a propane grill to natural gas? Here's how!
Made popular by the Traeger brand, these grills use wood pellets for fuel and an electric ignition system to start them. Pellets burn slow and hot, with an even flame that provides excellent flavor without the uncertainty of charcoal—it's no surprise that this has become an increasingly common fuel source. Like charcoal, wood pellets also have a lot of flexibility—most notably, they can be used to smoke meats thoroughly if you have enough time.
Pellets are more expensive than charcoal when buying per bag, but they do have their own advantages: They tend to last longer, and you can choose a variety of wood blends to impart the exact flavor that you want to your meats instead of trying to work in wood chips. If charcoal takes too much time and you prefer a simpler fuel, look into a pellet upgrade.