The debate over charcoal vs. propane when it comes to grilling is an endless one, and it seems everyone has their favorite for various reasons. While charcoal provides a smoky flavor you don’t get with propane, it’s also harder to clean up. Propane grills, however, can be more expensive to purchase, and sometimes pricier to run.
Some of us love both for different occasions and foods, though—and buying two full-sized grills is hardly economical. Storage-wise, it’s not exactly practical, either.
Thankfully, there is a compromise: dual-fuel or “hybrid” grills use propane and charcoal (some at the same time; others, independently), and let users choose based on their time constraints, what kind of meal they’re having, or just the mood they’re in that day. Our buyer’s guide will explore what makes these grills worth consideration, and analyze some popular hybrid grills to start your search.
1. How do hybrid grills work? Can I use charcoal and propane at the same time?
Some hybrids operate with a “side by side” design, where the grill has two sections and two lids; essentially, it’s two grills on the same cart. One runs on propane, while the other is meant for charcoal.
These have the benefit of custom cooking: if some guests at a party want their food to have that unmistakable charcoal flavor, but others just want their food as quickly as possible, you can please everyone and fire up both at the same time.
Other hybrids have just one chamber, and require you to choose between your fuel.
You can use charcoal on warmer days with a little more time to spare, and propane on cold or windy ones when you’re feeling impatient.
And if you run out of one fuel type, you don’t have to go to the store before you start cooking.
Finally, there are combination hybrids: ones that let you use both fuel types together at the same time.
The result is a grill which heats up quickly like propane, provides more flavor like charcoal, and can run on either one on its own whenever you see fit.
Check product descriptions to see if a model runs on propane or charcoal independently, side-by-side, or together.
2. What are the benefits of cooking with both at the same time?
With combination grilling, you can utilize the strengths of both fuel types—speed for propane, and flavor for charcoal—while mitigating the respective weaknesses of each (charcoal being slow to heat up, and propane lacking charcoal’s trademark smoky flavor).
TIPS: Some combination grills double as smokers, which means you can cook meats very slowly at low heat for hours beforehand, and sear the outside, as well.
3. What are the benefits and drawbacks of hybrid/dual fuel grills?
Grills with more than one fuel option certainly have their share of pros:
There are many reasons to own a hybrid, and it’s easy to think this might be the ultimate grill for everyone, no question…but there are some drawbacks buyers should consider to determine if a dual option is right for them:
So, which is better: two separate grills, or a hybrid?
Ask yourself what you have the space for, what your budget can handle, and how important a 2-in-1 (or both at once) functionality is to you.
If you specifically want to use both fuels at the same time, only a hybrid will do.
If, however, you want the option of grilling with either independently—without compromising the efficiency of either—be prepared to pay a little extra, or get two separate grills: budget hybrids usually sacrifice a little bit of quality to accommodate both fuel types.
4. What size grill do I need for 4 people? What about 10? 20?
This depends on what you’re cooking—and how hungry your guests are. There’s no clear answer to this question, but keep in mind that you shouldn’t crowd a grill; food needs at least a ½” of space around it.
Remember, though, that larger grills cost more to purchase—and operate.
Of course, you also need to consider how many burners a grill gas: a large amount of surface area with several burners will cook more food at the same rate than a grill of that same size with only one or two burners, because some of the food will be in direct heat, while the rest is in indirect heat (and will cook more slowly).
BONUS TIPS: Keep in mind that a manufacturer (or seller) is including the warming rack’s area in their measurements; a grill with 500 square inches of surface area, but a 100 square inch warming rack, really only has 400 square inches of grilling space.
Best Charcoal and Gas Dual Fuel Grill Combo Reviews
1. Char-Broil Gas2Coal 3-Burner Gas and Charcoal Grill Review
This model from Char-Broil has impressive specs for any grill type in a mid-level price range, but when you add in the fact it’s a hybrid, it becomes even more appealing.
While you can’t use charcoal and propane together in this grill, you can easily switch between the two in just a few steps.
The company also stands behind their product with a 5-year warranty on its stainless steel burners (2- or 1-year warranties come with its other components).
The Char-Broil Gas2Coal is an affordable option that’s great for medium to large crowds, thanks to ample grilling space and three durable burners. The charcoal tray stores right underneath the grill, and takes less than a minute to install—so when you just aren’t feeling propane, you can switch to briquettes in a flash and grill up some burgers the old-fashioned way.
2. Char-Griller 5050 Duo Gas-and-Charcoal Grill Review
If the idea of two grills appeals to you—but you still want a convenient 2-in-1 setup to save space, or use both at the same time with ease—the Char-Griller 5050 is the grill for you.
Or should we say, grills? This model has two set-ups: one grill runs on charcoal, and the other runs on propane. They come with a wheeled cart for space-efficient design, and each is crafted to make the most of its fuel.
While it isn’t the best side-by-side model you’ll find, it is definitely one of the most affordable. In fact, this grill is cheaper than most comparable models purchased separately. We recommend the Char-Griller 5050 to anyone who loves propane and charcoal equally, but doesn’t want the hassle of two isolated grills.
3. Smoke Hollow 8500 LP Gas/Charcoal Grill with Firebox Review
This “two in one” option is actually more of a four-in-one grill, since it allows backyard chefs to choose between propane grilling, charcoal grilling, smoking, and searing, all in one attractive (albeit incredibly heavy) product.
You can use whichever option you prefer independently, or use any combination to add the perfect finishing touches to your culinary masterpieces.
This grill is practically an outdoor kitchen: with so many functions in one work space, it’s hard to imagine any frequent griller without it! It’s affordable for a hybrid, but especially one with the additional smoker and searing boxes on the sides. We recommend this to anyone who enjoys all aspects of outdoor cooking, and who don’t mind spending a bit more than a standard hybrid would cost them.
4. Coyote CH50LP Hybrid Grill Review
At its higher price point, one might expect the Coyote to boast all kinds of bells and whistles. On the contrary, it has very little in the way of flash: what you’re paying for, more than anything, is substance.
This 100% stainless steel hybrid delivers two excellent, high-quality grills in one setup, with a generous cooking surface to suit dinner for two or a hungry cookout crowd.
The Coyote Hybrid comes with a big price tag, yes, but will deliver high-end performance for years—so for many buyers, the price is worth it. Rest assured you aren’t paying for a bunch of unnecessary add-ons: other than the handy hood lights, it seems this grill’s price is determined by true quality, rather than a needless mark-up.
Hybrid grills offer flavor and convenience in the same package—especially those that let you use both fuels at once, if desired—and can save some much-needed space in your garage or on your patio.
While the debate of charcoal vs. propane might never reach an agreement, hybrid grills provide an excellent compromise that shows off the strengths of both fuels.