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Part 1
By Smoky Hale

Smoky HaleFrequently, very frequently, I am asked, "Which is the best grill for me?" That is a decision that I cannot make for anyone but myself.

Choosing the right grill requires that you first determine your needs. The most important questions to be answered before choosing a grill are:

1. What do you intend to do with it: broil, roast, barbecue, smoke?
2. How often do you expect to cook on the grill?
3. What is the greatest number of folk that you intend to feed from the grill?
4. How much are you willing to spend on a grill.

Since so many are looking for gas grills, I excerpted this from my new book, The Great American Barbecue & Grilling Manual in order to pass it along now to the many folk who have questions. If you never intend to have a gas grill, this may not be a burning need, but I hope it is not uninteresting.


Gas grills, whether fired by natural gas, or (bottled gas), are neat and convenient. Whether they are the relatively cheap $89.95 disposables or the gussied up $2000 grills, their functions are quite similar all have gas burners much like gas kitchen stove ovens. The more expensive will, or should, deliver more heat, have more space, be sturdier and have sideboards and accessories. But, if the el cheapo can deliver at least 30,000 BTU's, it will broil a steak and cook a roast which is about all any gas grill can do. Some smoke flavor may be added by various means, but, barbecue, by definition, cannot be cooked in gas heat.

In grills, propane or butane (bottled) gas will usually produce more BTU's than natural (methane) gas in grills because propane is delivered at a higher pressure, and therefore more gas is available for burning at any given time. It also produces more BTU's per cubic foot of gas. Propane gas pressure is adjustable by a pressure regulator which normally provides gas at 6.3 ounces per square inch (11 inches of water column). Natural gas is normally delivered to households at 4 ounces per square inches (7 inches of water column) past the regulator --- corrected for elevation.


Because liquid is more dense than gas, butane and propane are bottled under pressure in their liquid state. Their low boiling points causes them to make a phase change to gas when the bottle valves are opened. For heating/cooking purposes, methane is delivered by pipe because methane gas requires tremendous pressure and cooling to change into liquid.

Propane's ( C3H8) boiling point, at atmospheric pressure, is -44o F. while butane's (C4H10) boiling point is 310 F. Natural (methane, CH4) gas boils at -260o F. Higher boiling point is why propane is more widely used as bottled gas than butane.

Without getting too deeply into physics, boiling points rise with pressure. Bottled gasses are under varying pressures, depending upon the quantity of gas in the tank and temperature. Therefore, while propane boils at -44O at atmospheric pressure, 14.7 pounds per square inch (psi), the boiling point of the liquid under 100 pounds of pressure per square inch will be much higher.

Thus, when the propane bottle is left outdoors and the ambient temperature gets down below the 30os, propane does not vaporize as well and your grill may not be able to produce as much heat. To remedy this, store the bottle in a heated area overnight, wrap it in a blanket to take it outdoors, and the gas will vaporize much better. An option is to wrap the gas bottle in a small electric blanket.

Propane gas is 1.5 times heavier than air, while natural gas is only 60% as heavy as air. Butane is 2 times as heavy as air. This means that propane or butane gas will flow to the lowest point available and, when it accumulates, presents an explosion hazard. Natural gas will dissipate in air, and can still be ignited, but it presents less of a hazard than propane or butane because it would be less concentrated.

Propane produces 2488 BTU's per cubic foot of vapor (gas) while methane produces 1000 BTU per cubic foot. The ideal air-to-gas ratio for combustion is 24 to 1 for propane and 10 to 1 for methane.

Gas fired stoves have been used in homes for more than a century. During that time, there has been little change in the technology. The entire operating system consists of a gas valve, an orifice (read small hole), a venturi ( a tube having a variable slotted section to draw in air) and a burner (a tube or other shape which has holes in it for the gas/air mixture to exit).

There is nothing complicated about the process except in the mind of the manufacturers. As a class, manufacturers know less about what a grill is supposed to do than a fifth grade social studies class. Apparently their consuming interest is in manufacturing products which will satisfy the retailer and, thereby, generate sales and profits for their companies. You have only to read their brochures to discover that they are unburdened by the weight of obligations to the consumer to provide complete and accurate information. Follow their recommendations for operation and maintenance, but ignore their cooking hints and recipes.

A couple of gas grill manufacturers have incorporated the new ceramic burner technology which, although more expensive, is much more efficient in converting gas to usable, radiant heat. Such grills are capable of producing temperatures almost as high as their prices, but I am not convinced that either is justified for the backyard broiler. If any heat source can produce temperatures in the 7-800o range, it is entirely adequate for broiling a steak. I know of no other cooking use which requires a higher temperature. I suspect that the boasts of grill manufacturers and restauranteurs of 1500-1800o for broiling steaks most likely comes from hot air. Iron begins to soften at 1530o Fahrenheit.

Next time, we will discuss Safety Considerations, Cleaning and Maintenance as well as what to look for in selecting a gas grill.

Have fun,


The Barbecue Store

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Here's a great money saving idea.  Wood chips and chunks never go bad. So why not order them in money saving bulk boxes?  Simply keep them in a dry area and use as needed!

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Bad Weather? Too hot or cold? Know what your bbq pit is doing with these Wireless Thermometers
Bad Weather?  Too hot or cold? Know what your bbq pit is doing with these Wireless Thermometers

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There's not a better BBQ glove. Stylish Suade, lined and double protected from the elements.
FlameX Leather Gloves

Get all of Smoky Hale's wisdom and become the best cook around. Learn to do it right!

Get all of Smoky Hale's wisdom and become the best cook around. Learn to do it right!

When cold, romance or just having to burn something, our designer firepits will do it all. Get free shipping on SoJoe FirePits today
When cold, romance or just having to burn something, our designer firepits will do it all.  Get free shipping on SoJoe FirePits today

Visit The Barbecue Store Today!Visit The Barbecue Store Today!
Visit The Barbecue Store Today!

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