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Community and Q&A

The final frontier of the all-electric home… grilling!

Nick Welch | Posted in Green Products and Materials on

My propane grill is just about the only fossil fuel-burning device left in my life. I’d like to eliminate it. Are there good options here?

A cursory search finds small electric grills meant to run on a 15A 120V circuit, mainly marketed toward “small spaces” and “apartment living” as an option of last resort.

But what if the grill was much more powerful? A propane grill, on the upper end, appears to use 50,000-75,000 BTU/hr. 50Kbtu/hr is about 15,000 watts. Holy cow! On a 240V circuit, that’s 62.5 amps. Running a dedicated circuit for this seems a little crazy.

But perhaps we could piggyback on something else… like an electric car charging port. It’s safe to assume these will be steadily increasing in popularity. Maybe they could enable relatively high-power outdoor grilling that could rival traditional propane grills. The circuits for these seem to commonly support 40 to 50 amps. That’s 9,600 to 12,000 watts, or 33,000 to 41,000 BTU/hr. Not far off.

The ideal amount of heat per square inch of grill area is about 80-100 BTU/hr. So if we target 80, a 40 amp grill could comfortably heat 412 square inches of grill, and a 50 amp could heat 512 square inches. This just barely seems to be within the range of a typical grill surface area.

As long as the car charger is plugged into a range-style receptacle (which seems pretty common), and not hard-wired, then it would be relatively easy to unplug it and plug the grill in. Those plugs are are a bit clunky, but certainly easier than refilling propane tanks every so often. (by driving to the store in a car…)

But do any such grills even exist? I’m sure there are 240V 40-50A grills meant for commercial kitchens… but for use outdoors? Sounds like a rare beast. A bit of searching finds built-in grills that are meant for high-end “outdoor kitchens”. But even these are relatively low power (3000W) and very expensive ($1000+), not to mention that they need to be built into an “outdoor kitchen”, which hardly anyone has.

So it seems that the possibility is close, but not quite practical yet. Surely it wouldn’t be that hard to build a “normal” grill that just happens to be powered by electricity instead of fuel, but presumably there’s no market for it. Or have I missed something? Is DIY-ing a conversion totally insane?

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Replies

  1. Brendan Albano | | #1

    Would wood fuel satisfy your ditching fossil fuel goals? That might be a more practical avenue to get the grilling experience you're after without having to use propane.

  2. Trevor Lambert | | #2

    Wood is generally considered carbon neutral, and renewable. Burning wood releases carbon, but the tree pulled that carbon from the atmosphere.

    The electric grill is not likely to perform to your expectations. Keep in mind that you can only load a circuit to 80% of its breaker rating. So on a 40A circuit, you can actually only put a load of 32A, or 7.7kW. You also can't piggy back it onto a car charging circuit as you suggest, at least not legally. You need a dedicated circuit, just like you would for a cooktop or range.

  3. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    Nick,
    If you are a cook, you grill because it makes your food taste good. You need wood, not electricity, if you care about how your food tastes.

  4. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    Nick,
    It seems that electric grills can reach temperatures above 600 degrees F, so if you don't need the flavors associated with a wood fire, available electric equipment will probably work.

    More info here: "We Test 5 Hot Outdoor Electric Grills."

  5. Expert Member
    Peter Engle | | #5

    You should consider a wood pellet grill. My brother just bought one this summer and loves it. Starts and burns as easy as propane, but uses (and tastes like) real wood. The pellet manufacturer claims that the pellets are sustainably produced. Seems like their claim is based on using waste sawdust from other hardwood production, so they're using a pre-consumer recycled feedstock, not necessarily a sustainable one. Still not too bad. They do plant trees in an attempt to offset the carbon created by burning the pellets. Try here: https://www.traegergrills.com/why-wood-pellets.html

  6. Calum Wilde | | #6

    With the wood pellet grill can you use any pellets, for example home heating pellets, or do they need to be food grade or something to the effect?

    How does the cost of usage breakdown for pellets vs propane vs electric?

  7. Steve Knapp CZ 3A Georgia | | #7

    Calum,

    The manufacturer says you must use food-grade pellets. Regular heating pellets contain glues and other chemicals.

  8. Nick Welch | | #8

    I did not realize that Traegers were pellet grills, or that pellet grills were even a thing! Interesting, and almost tempting, but...

    I'm not super excited about burning anything, especially given that I live in a city. Air pollution is a much bigger problem than I think most people appreciate. Look at what the WHO has to say: "9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air" - "WHO estimates that around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air" - "Air pollution causes 1 in 9 deaths worldwide" http://www.who.int/airpollution/en/

    Sure, a grill is a small contribution to the problem, but why contribute at all, when I could just... not? Grilling is just an occasional thing for me, not a big important part of my lifestyle. I could even do without entirely, but it is enjoyable here and there.

    Martin, the electric grills in that article all fail to impress... they all come with big caveats and other reviews point out even more issues. I think that such low-power grills are simply not comparable to a real grill that operates at a much higher temperature. They're glorified frying pans/oven broilers.

    Trevor: I don't think the 80% rule applies because that only applies to continuous loads, being defined as more than 3 hours. Most people don't grill for 3 hours. (2011 NEC section 210.20(A)). And I don't think it violates the "dedicated circuit" rule because it's still just a single receptacle. It'd be no different from unplugging your dryer and plugging in a different dryer. That's just occupant behavior, which building codes have no jurisdiction over. The way it's constructed is still the same and doesn't seem like a code violation from what I understand.

  9. Brendan Albano | | #9

    Another thought:

    Is there anything you like to cook on a gas grill that you can't cook in a pan or in an oven?

    Is it the style of cooking that the grill allows that you are after, or just the fact that it's outdoors?

    Could you plug in an electric or induction burner hotplate outdoors with a cast iron pan or griddle and achieve your outdoor cooking goals?

  10. Walter Ahlgrim | | #10

    What do you want to cook?

    How much are you willing to compromise flavor and speed for electric fuel?

    My favorite way to cook bratwurst is an electric smoker. Masterbuilt 2.5 if you are on a budget or Smokit is the best if not.

    https://www.cabelas.ca/product/81974/masterbuilt-sportsman-elite-40-digital-electric-smoker-with-window

    https://www.smokin-it.com/Smokers-s/5.htm

    Any electric hot griddle will do a burger a Vintage Farberware Open Hearth Indoor BBQ Rotisserie Grill is better if you want sum burn and splatter.

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Farberware-450-Open-Hearth-Rotisserie-Electric-Broiler-Indoor-BBQ-Grill/372356651971?hash=item56b22f9bc3%3Ag%3AmKQAAOSwnEtbO-rj&_sacat=0&_nkw=farberware+grill&_from=R40&rt=nc&_trksid=m570.l1313

    For steak I still think charcoal is best.

    Walta

  11. Calum Wilde | | #11

    Steve,

    I did some searching after I asked here. It might not be as bad as the grill manufactures make it out to be.

    https://www.pellet.org/CANplus/documents/WPACST03.pdf

    "Although not intended for cooking purposes, we are aware that some people use our wood pellets for cooking and smoking food. However please note we have not conducted any tests regarding food/cooking safety. Our pellets are a mixed blend of hardwoods (75%) and softwoods (25%). Hardwoods are Maple, Birch and aspen. The softwoods are Spruce and Fir. No additives or fillers are added and all lubricant used in the machinery are food grade."

    http://www.canadiantire.ca/en/pdp/hardwood-pellets-40-lb-0642776p.html#Questions

  12. Trevor Chadwick | | #12

    Cook with pellets, charcoal, or an electric smoker...
    If you aren't grilling to add the flavor of smoke to your steak, just cook it in the oven under the broiler....

    Even cooked with electricity the meat will give off some "pollution" in the form of smoke, and odor

  13. Lance Peters | | #13

    A few high voltage grill options here:

    https://www.bbqguys.com/bbq-grills-smokers/electric-grills

    I doubt anything running off a 15A 120V circuit is going to satisfy. Might as well get a George Foreman style countertop model.

  14. James Morgan | | #14

    Nick, if you're really on a mission to reduce your carbon footprint then you probably need to give up grilling those burgers and steaks altogether
    http://www.climatecentral.org/news/studies-link-red-meat-and-climate-change-20264

  15. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #15

    James,
    Nick never mentioned red meat. Clearly, he wants to grill eggplant to make baba ganoush.

  16. Jonathan Lawrence CZ 4A New Jersey | | #16

    I have owned quite a few carbon emitting cooking appliances over the years and by far the most versatile one is my kamado style cooker (think Big Green Egg). I have a unit made by Kamado Joe and it can operate at temperatures as low as 200 degrees to as high as 900 degrees. So I can smoke, grill, even cook pizza on it. It is also the most efficient when it comes to charcoal use. I can load it with half a bag of charcoal, and do a 12-hour smoke and still have enough to turn up the heat and grill for hours afterwards without adding any more fuel.

  17. Nick Welch | | #17

    I never really grill steaks, and the burgers are usually poultry. :-) We are indeed trying to reduce our consumption of meat, especially red meat. My taste buds are poorly adapted to this transition, but I'm trying, somewhat.

    There's also the issue that high temperature cooking, smoking, etc., seems to infuse the food with carcinogens.

    My original idea (high power electric grill) now seems like too much of a lark, and not really worth it for me personally. But I was also trying to think about a way forward for everyone else too. All that charcoal and propane use seems like a societal problem. But it seems like it's a bridge too far, so I'll probably just drop it.

    And why do I want to grill food in the first place? I appreciate all the probing questions. It's good to re-examine our assumptions. While I do occasionally enjoy the experience of grilling, I could probably just do without it. I'm not sure any of the solutions are good enough. Maybe the answer is that I just toss my grill when it dies and don't replace it. Burning things seems more and more anachronistic these days.

  18. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #18

    "Burning things seems more and more anachronistic these days."

    Even heretics?

  19. leonardwulf | | #19

    what about something like George Foreman (https://www.bestadvisor.com/electric-grills) it has 1600 watts and due to the configuration can be used both inside and out
    I think such power is enough for the grill, because it is not in vain that they are all done in this power range

    1. Expert Member
      Zephyr7 | | #20

      The reason for the usual 1500 watt limit isn’t because that’s an optimal amount for cooking/grilling, the reason is due to electrical codes and UL listings. The electrical code specifies that electrical circuits should not be loaded to more than 80% of capacity with loads of long duration (hours). A typical residential electrical circuit is rated 15 amps at 125 volts (maximum ratings), which is 1875 watts. 80% of 1875 watts is 1500 watts. There’s your limitation. Yes, kitchen circuits are required by code to be 20 amp circuits and have been for a long time, but UL likes to go by receptacle ratings and since your typical kitchen appliance has a typical two-parallel-prong plug, it’s rated as a 15 amp appliance. 20 amp appliances will have the neutral prong rotated 90 degrees to fit in the T shaped slot of a 20 amp receptacle. You don’t see real 20 amp plugs often on residential appliances, likely because 15 amp receptacles are often used even on 20 amp circuits in houses.

      A BBQ type grill would likely need quite a bit more than 1500 watts to have equivalent performance to the typical propane setup. A 20 amp 240v circuit rated the same was as the smaller appliances would give you about 4000 watts, probably still a fair bit less thermal energy than a typical propane grill setup.

      Bill

  20. leonardwulf | | #21

    Hmm, you're right. The electric grill has many shortcomings in terms of electricity, but as far as I can cook food at different temperatures modes, this problem is smoothed out
    And the ability to do it at home is also +1 point

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