Grillers come in all shapes and sizes and want a variety of different things from their grills. Some want the fuel they use to grill with to add flavor to the food that they’re cooking.
Some just want to turn the heat up as far as it will go and use every ounce of power that they can coax from their grill to cook with. While some grillers just want to take their time, grill long, low, and slow and do things the old-fashioned way.
What they want from their grill and the way that they want to use it often informs and dictates an amateur chef’s choice of grilling weapon and determines whether they’ll grill with charcoal, wood pellets, or propane. It’s a choice that all grillers make based on their experience, where they’re going to cook, and who they’re going to grill for.
But what if a griller changes their mind and decides that they want to add a little something extra to their grill? What if a griller decides to try putting charcoal in, or on their propane grill? Could they do it and what would happen if they did try to up the ante by adding charcoal to a propane grill?
Adding Charcoal To Propane
Look we get it, we understand why someone might be tempted to add charcoal to a propane grill, but it’s a monumentally bad idea to even contemplate doing so.
It might seem like an easy way to add some smoky charcoal flavor to whatever it is that’s on the grill in an incredibly efficient and direct way of killing two grilling birds with one stone, but grill’s don’t work like that and grilling isn’t that straightforward or simple.
We wish it were, and we wish it was that easy, as it would have saved us a fortune in endless grilling experimentation.
The Charcoal Propane Dilemma
Grilling with propane is incredibly clean, quick, and simple and isn’t all that much different from cooking with the stove in your kitchen.
The heat is incredibly uniform, the way it’s delivered to the grill plates via the burners is meant to make the whole process straightforward and remove any of the obstacles that charcoal and pellet grillers would regard as being part and parcel of the grilling experience and is, for all intents and purposes an aloof and snooty cousin to the poor charcoal grill.
Doing things the old-fashioned way and grilling with charcoal on the other hand is messy, can be slightly unpredictable, is a far harder art to master, and makes it easy to add all sorts of extra astonishing flavors to whatever it is you’re grilling. After all, according to a lot of die-hard grillers, smoke makes taste. And charcoal isn’t exactly the cleanest burning fuel and it does make an incredible amount of smoke.
As we said, we get it, we understand why you might be tempted to add a little charcoal to your propane grill to increase the level of heat that you can cook with, up the flavor quotient of whatever it is that you’re grilling, and throw a little chaos into the mix. But in the name of all of the grilling gods, don’t do it. It’s the road to grilling madness and disaster, and we’re going to tell you why.
The Charcoal Problem
One of the major problems that using charcoal on a propane grill creates is the heat differential. The surface and construction of a propane grill were designed to handle the maximum amount of heat that its burners can produce and maybe a little bit more at a push.
Charcoal, however, burns much hotter than propane does and the extra amount of heat that it creates can, and will, irreversibly damage a propane grill. It won’t just score, buckle and waken the metal that a grill is fashioned from either, as it can also destroy the controls and create all sorts of weak spots on the cooking surface of the said grill.
Then there’s the burner issue. The dust and ash from charcoal get everywhere, just ask anyone who has ever grilled with it. It’s a fun way to grill, but it’s a dirty way to grill, and if the dust and ash from charcoal gets into, and blocks the burners that your propane grill uses to deliver and dispense its heat, then its grilling game over.
The burners are almost impossible to clean and even if you could get them clean, the chances are that some residual dust will always partially block them and they won’t work as well as they used to.
And finally, there’s the mess, and if you try to use charcoal on your propane grill, things will get incredibly messy and you’ll be left scrubbing scouring, and trying to properly clean your propane grill for what’ll undoubtedly seem like an eternity.
Charcoal creates a whole level of mess that most propane grillers will never fully understand until they experience it for themselves, That said, the last place that any gas fan wants to find out just how messy charcoal can be, is on the cooking surface of their grill.
It’s Not All Bad News
There are, however, ways around the charcoal and propane problem that will let you fully enjoy the best that both grilling worlds have to offer.
More and more grill manufacturers are beginning to make dual and triple fuel grills that allow grillers to dip their toes into grilling with propane, charcoal, and other fuel sources, and in doing so, become much more versatile and experienced grillers.
Unfortunately, dual and triple fuel grills are extraordinarily expensive and are far beyond the means of most working folks.
Then there’s the other much more pocketbook-friendly way of using your propane grill to cook with charcoal. Some propane grills can be used in conjunction with a charcoal tray, which can be fitted underneath the grill plates and above the burners, and when filled with charcoal, can essentially transform your propane grill into a charcoal one.
It isn’t a standard accessory with most grills though, so you’ll have to double-check with the manufacturer to ensure that your propane grill can be fitted with a charcoal tray.