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Using CHARCOAL on a PROPANE barbecue. Is this crazy?

Googs Aug 18, 2009 07:01 PM

I've heard some people do it. I'm wondering how safe it is and how big a mess it makes. I have a pretty nice bbq that I supplement with a smoker box to get the wood. I'd really rather not mess it up. Thing is though, I have this neighbour that must throw chicken on their charcoal 'cue every 2nd or 3rd night. The aromas just about make me crazy. I don't want to buy another grill. Can I get away with tossing some charcoal in there without heavy consequences?

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  1. r
    rich in stl RE: Googs Aug 18, 2009 07:31 PM

    Folks buy propane grills because they are convenient - easier to use than charcoal. So while biting my tongue I have to ask - why not throw your chicken on your propane grill?

    I am a big charcoal/Weber fan - I love to throw a bunch of chicken on the grill - eat some and freeze the rest for later.

    For about $50 you can buy an 18inch Weber Charcoal Grill and then you can make wonderful BBQ.

    If you put charcoal in your propane grill you will make a big mess and really F up your grill.

    1. Uncle Bob RE: Googs Aug 18, 2009 07:41 PM

      Whenever you use something for a purpose for which it was not designed you run the risk of damaging the item or possibly causing injury to yourself. A baseball bat is not a hammer is an example --- I would not use charcoal in a gas grill...The grill is not designed to do that...Where would the ashes go??? Would the charcoal damage the surface it was resting on?? Etc. Etc. --- Long term I think you would damage your gas grill...Suggest you check out Weber Charcoal grills...they have several sizes...are inexpensive...and do a good job at grilling.


      1. Wahooty RE: Googs Aug 18, 2009 07:46 PM

        I don't know the feasibility of using charcoal in your propane grill (having only ever used charcoal myself), but I'm inclined to think rich may be right. If you just want an occasional charcoal fix, but don't want to buy a full-sized grill that takes up as much space as the one you already have, now should be prime time to find a little mini-Weber (Smokey Joe) at seasonal clearance prices. I'm constantly surprised by what I can get done on that little bugger. Alternatively, you could just stop by my house whenever you have a craving and I'll fire mine up. Or maybe we can set up an exchange program - Smokey doesn't get out much and might enjoy a weekend in Cabbagetown. ;)

        1 Reply
        1. re: Wahooty
          Googs RE: Wahooty Aug 19, 2009 05:36 AM

          Well I had to ask. You hear these kooky things and, well, I have to wonder, hmmm, is this the too good to be true easy solution to my problem?

          Wahooty: Having Scarborough roots (note blonde hair with the improer attachment) I'm sure we can set up a Smokey Exchange Program. I'll get in touch via e soon.

        2. j
          jzerocsk RE: Googs Aug 19, 2009 08:29 AM

          Have you considered dropping some charcoal in your smoker box? I certainly wouldn't put charcoal on top of the flavorizor bars - all the ash would fall and probably clog the burners, but it seems like a few lumps of charcoal in the smoker box would add some flavor without really overheating the grill and the box would contain the ash...

          2 Replies
          1. re: jzerocsk
            JayL RE: jzerocsk Mar 12, 2010 03:55 PM

            Charcoal is used for heat not flavor. You'll get "some" flavor from coals, but most of that "charcoal taste" that people like actually comes from your meat drippings incinerating on the hot coals and sending up a bit of flavorful smoke. The coals themselves aren't going to do a thing for flavor in a smoker box. You need WOOD in the smoker box.

            1. re: JayL
              Googs RE: JayL Mar 13, 2010 04:38 AM

              They need only sit in the smoker box so they don't ash below. There's no need for a lid.

          2. f
            ferret RE: Googs Aug 19, 2009 09:58 AM

            My mother, who came from Eastern Europe told me that when the government relocated farmers whose property had been nationalized to city housing developments there were reports of people who had cooking fires in their bathtubs. So you're not the first to think outside the [grill] box.

            1. legourmettv RE: Googs Aug 19, 2009 12:13 PM

              There are manufacturers - Napoleon Grills is one - that make hybrid gas / charcoal grills. I don't mean that they have a smoker box, but rather you can use either a full charcoal fire, full propane fire, or a combo.

              Might not help you now, since you don't want a new grill, but maybe down the line?

              My gas grill is in the back of the workshop (gas disconnected, tank safely stored, so don't get your pants in a knot safety guy), hasn't been used in years... charcoal all the way. I use it 3-4 nights a week, really isn't the bother some would make it out to be.


              1 Reply
              1. re: legourmettv
                Googs RE: legourmettv Aug 19, 2009 07:13 PM

                To jzerocsk: Doh! What a simple solution. Sounds perfect for the now.

                legourmettv: I can see a Napoleon grill in my future. Your solution sounds perfect for the future.

              2. s
                sumdumgoy RE: Googs Aug 22, 2009 06:10 AM

                Don't do it Googs.
                Big mess.
                Also good possibility of nasty grease fire within inches of a propane tank which can ruin your entire day.

                1. o
                  onedayinjuly RE: Googs Mar 6, 2010 11:33 AM

                  I see this is old post, but I just joined & came across it. I have a friend that uses charcoal with her propane grill & does so by putting the charcoal in a foil pan & placing it into the bottom. The ashes doesn't mess up anything & the charcoal doesn't come in contact with any of the propane components. *shrugs* I've never tried it, personally. I'm in love with my charcoal grill. *lol

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: onedayinjuly
                    BobB RE: onedayinjuly Mar 9, 2010 06:08 AM

                    I can't understand why anyone would do that. When I want to smoke in my Weber gas grill I put soaked hickory chips in smoker pans on the flavorizer bars, and I could see foil pans working just about as well, but why charcoal? It burns much hotter than wood chips while producing far less smoke. One of the main advantages of using a gas grill (other than convenience) is the ability to set the temperature to something like 250° for smoking and have it stay stable for hours without futzing. Adding charcoal would play havoc with that.

                    1. re: BobB
                      Googs RE: BobB Mar 12, 2010 07:38 AM

                      For the flavour. Strictly for the flavour.

                      1. re: Googs
                        tommy RE: Googs Mar 12, 2010 08:36 AM

                        i question how much flavor charcoal adds without the use of wood.

                        1. re: tommy
                          ferret RE: tommy Mar 12, 2010 09:06 AM

                          "i question how much flavor charcoal adds without the use of wood."

                          Compared to propane? Plenty.

                          My bigger concer, as alluded to above, when dripping fat mixes with ash and dries it makes a tarry gunk that would likely block up the propane jets. Way more trouble than it's worth for a long cleanup.

                          1. re: tommy
                            ricepad RE: tommy Mar 12, 2010 10:27 AM

                            Not as much as wood, but certainly more flavor than propane adds.

                            1. re: ricepad
                              BobB RE: ricepad Mar 12, 2010 11:19 AM

                              Charcoal alone? If it's been properly prepared (and I'm talking about proper lump charcoal here, not stinky "briquets"), not much. The biggest difference between wood and charcoal is that it's been heated to drive out all the volatile smoke-and-flavor inducing chemicals, leaving behind relatively pure carbon.

                              Most (not necessarily all, as some people argue, but certainly most) of the flavor you get in charcoal grilling comes from the fat that drips onto the hot charcoal from the meat and then burns. Gas grills like Weber that have "flavorizer" bars directly above the gas jets allow for the same phenomenon, by providing a superheated surface for the fat to drip onto and vaporize.

                              Charcoal has some advantages over gas, with some foods - for one, it can get hotter than gas, so it's better for putting a good char on steaks. But most people who rant on about "charcoal flavor" don't really know what they're talking about.

                              I'll cover my ears now before the screaming starts. ;-)

                              1. re: BobB
                                Googs RE: BobB Mar 12, 2010 12:00 PM

                                I'll remember that, BobB, the next time I'm drooling over my neighbour's charcoal bbq'd chicken. See? No screaming needed.

                                I already have flavourizer bars and use a smoker box filled with wood chips. The spoiled brat wants to have it all and use charcoal too. Not all at the same time... or maybe... hmmmmm.

                                1. re: BobB
                                  brianl999 RE: BobB Mar 12, 2010 01:12 PM


                                  Lump charcoal on it's own will impart very little (if any) flavour. Once it's fully lit it doesn't really give off any smoke.

                                  Sometimes the lump charcoal isn't fully 'cured', and will give off a fair bit of smoke. The food doesn't touch the grill until the smoke stops, unless I want my dinner to taste like a campfire.



                                  1. re: BobB
                                    JayL RE: BobB Mar 12, 2010 03:58 PM

                                    The "charcoal flavor" actually comes from your meat juices dripping down on the hot coals, incinerating, and sending up a flavorful smoke. That's why they need to add WOOD to the smoke box/flavorizer bars...charcoal is going to impart ZERO flavor.

                                    1. re: BobB
                                      tommy RE: BobB Mar 15, 2010 09:51 AM

                                      agreed, BobB.

                                      i would also argue that in the time it takes to cook a hamburger or steak (minutes), "vaporizing fat" doesn't add any flavor, either. i can smoke a piece of beef with full on wood smoke for 10 minutes, and not get any significant difference in flavor.

                                  2. re: tommy
                                    JayL RE: tommy Mar 12, 2010 03:56 PM

                                    Charcoal adds nearly zero flavor...it's usually used just as a heat source.

                                    1. re: JayL
                                      estire RE: JayL Mar 21, 2010 11:42 AM

                                      Make friends with your neighbour... :D

                            2. EWSflash RE: Googs May 7, 2010 08:51 PM

                              Not so crazy, but-
                              Done it, don't recommend it unless you plan on thoroughly cleaning the gas grill- I mean thoroughly- every time you do that. It will clog up the jets. Damn nice if you're lazy and in a hurry, though.

                              1. r
                                Rapinis RE: Googs May 31, 2010 12:51 PM

                                There are many "taste tests" that have been done that prove people could not tell the difference between charcoal and propane/gas grilling. The "BBQ" flavour you love comes from fat incinerating (and creating smoke) when it hits the charcoal or "flavour bars".... Its this smoke that gives you the taste people associate to "charcoal"

                                Ash from charcoal is very light and you can easily plug up your burners if you use it inside a BBQ that isnt built for that function... Just buy a smoker box for your BBQ and away you go

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Rapinis
                                  junescook RE: Rapinis May 31, 2010 01:07 PM

                                  I'm about to toss my old gas grill and buy a new Weber. I noticed that my old smoker box is pretty rusty. Will that affect the flavor of the smoke if I use it on the new grill, or should I just toss it and buy a new one when I get the new grill? I've had it for so long I have no idea what they cost.

                                  1. re: junescook
                                    jzerocsk RE: junescook Jun 1, 2010 11:48 AM

                                    I don't think it will affect the taste, but they are only $10-$15.

                                    1. re: jzerocsk
                                      BobB RE: jzerocsk Jun 4, 2010 07:23 AM

                                      And in a pinch you can make one from aluminum foil - take a big sheet and fold it up to quadruple thickness, form up the sides an inch or so high, then poke some small holes in the bottom with a skewer. I've done this and it works just fine.

                                2. w
                                  wmjbutler RE: Googs Jun 19, 2014 08:09 PM

                                  You don't need briquettes to accomplish the goal of having a smoky flavor. You can get those great little cast iron boxes that you can fill with wood chips, place on one of the gas burners, and have the convenience of gas, and the flavor of wood cooked meat. In fact, the flavor is somewhere between what you will get using briquettes and a smoker. With a little practice, you can use just the right amount of wood chips to attain just the degree of smoky flavor you want. Also, you can add different spices, including fresh green spices in your little box. Or, you can just throw a few spices on the metal portion of a burner when you place your meat on the grill.
                                  Experiment with the wood you use. If you have access to the cuttings off fruit trees, try that. Apple, pear, and peach are great. You can just cut pieces of the 1/4 to 1/2 inch twigs into lengths that will fit in your little box. If the twigs are green, it may take a little longer to get them smoking. I find that storing some of the apple or peach twigs when it's pruning time, will provide a supply of twigs for a full year.

                                  1. EWSflash RE: Googs Jun 19, 2014 08:38 PM

                                    DH used to throw the odd log onto the gas grill, for which he never had any respect, truth be told, and the food was good, but he ended up throwing that grill away when we moved. Not exactly sure why, but I thought I should share that.

                                    1. c
                                      ColtSeevers RE: Googs Jul 4, 2014 01:47 PM

                                      I have a char-broil propane 3 burner bbq. The burner at the end has some space where I actually throw in hickory, or lately, cherry wood and let it smoke. I have done a relatively slow cook baby back ribs that I thought tasted great. No issue of ash clogging the burners as the wood is set low enough and there is no wind to blow up the ash because the bbq bucket is fairly deep.

                                      I saw on America Test Kitchen the cook fill a foil container with charcoil and place it under the grill. They did beef sates. I am thinking of getting a quarter inch thick sheet of metal that I can place above the burners and use charcoal and see how that goes. It will allow me to also burn more cherry wood for the smokey flavour.

                                      Glad to know that I am not the only person to think about this.

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