You’ve seen them on grill manufacturers’ websites, in hardware stores, and, of course, in our ultimate gas grill buying guides: BTUs.
But what exactly is a BTU, and why does it matter when shopping for a gas grill?
You should consider BTUs when researching your next grill, but contrary to what some manufacturers would like you to believe, they aren’t the only thing you should consider.
In our years of reviewing gas grills, we’ve unraveled the mysteries of BTU ratings, why you should care about them, when they matter, and when they flat-out don’t.
So, how many BTUs you’ll really need for your ideal grill? A good measurement is typically considered between 80 and 100 BTUs per square inch. But it doesn’t end there. There are other things that factor into what makes a good BTU rating for each grill.
In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about BTUs, from what the acronym even means to their role in your overall grilling experience and what else you should consider when researching your next gas grill’s BTU rating.
We’ll also teach you what to look for in a “good” BTU rating and why we put “good” in quotations there.
Confused? Don’t be! Ready to learn more? Let’s go!
Table of Contents
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What are BTUs?
BTUs, or British Thermal Units, measure the amount of heat energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.
You won’t just see it on grills — BTUs are commonly used to describe the energy output of appliances, including air conditioners, furnaces, dryers, and swimming pool heaters.
Understanding BTU Ratings In a Gas Grill
So that’s the scientific definition of a BTU — but what does it have to do with grilling?
BTUs are an important factor in propane grilling because they determine:
- How quickly a gas grill can heat up
- How much cooking power it has and
- How much fuel you’ll use up per hour.
The higher the BTU rating, the quicker and hotter the flame will be. For instance, a gas grill with 60,000 BTUs would be able to reach higher temperatures faster than a grill with only 30,000 BTUs.
To fully understand how your grill’s BTU rating impacts performance, you’ll also need to factor in the cooking surface. For example, two grills could have the same BTU rating, but if one has a larger cooking surface, it’ll ultimately have fewer BTUs per square inch. We’ll talk more about that in a bit!
Misleading BTU Ratings, BTU Ratings Can Be Deceptive
While BTUs can be a useful measure to keep in mind while researching and shopping for a gas grill, they can be deceiving, so we recommend not using them as the main factor when making your decision.
As we mentioned, the BTU rating of your grill should include the primary grilling surface and the main burners. Unfortunately, some grill manufacturers will try to inflate this rating by including the BTUs of all of the burners, including any side burners or the rotisserie burner, so the grill seems more powerful than it is.
Some companies also try to bump up the BTUs per square inch to make up for shoddy craftsmanship by including all of the grill’s surface, like the warming rack, in their surface area total.
Be sure to do your research and read the product descriptions carefully to make sure the BTU rating the manufacturer is showing is only for the primary burners and grilling surface.
BTUs and Grill Size
As stated previously, your grill’s cooking surface size plays a vital role in its BTU rating. The larger your grill’s cooking area is, the more gas you’ll burn during cooking.
You can dig into this a little further by figuring out your grill’s heat flux, or the amount of heat your grill produces per square inch. This figure will give you a good idea of your grill’s efficiency and power.
Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to calculate the heat flux. Just divide the grill’s total BTU rating (on the primary burners — leave out rotisserie or side burners here) by the square inches of primary cooking space, and you have your heat flux number per inch!
Determining a Good BTU for a Gas Grill
So we’ve talked about the math behind BTUs, but how do you know how many BTUs you’ll really need for your ideal grill?
In terms of heat flux, a good measurement is typically considered between 80 and 100 BTUs per square inch. Any lower and your food will take forever to cook, and any higher and you run the risk of your food burning without fully cooking through.
There are other factors that can play into a grill’s efficiency, including the materials the grill is made from, airflow, ventilation, and the size and shape of the grill body.
We know what you’re thinking — first, you made me do math, and now I have to consider all of these other factors when grill shopping?
The good news is no, not necessarily. If you find a grill with a solid heat flux or BTU/square inch rating of 80 or higher, that means all of those other factors are working just as they should to add up to a fantastic performance.
Your grill usage will also come into play when looking at BTUs since they’ll factor into your fuel usage. If you don’t grill often, don’t grill for more than a few people, or don’t plan on regularly cooking a lot of food that requires high heat, you can get away with a BTU rating that’s on the lower end of the 80-100 scale.
Speaking of fuel consumption, the higher your grill’s BTU rating, the faster it will burn fuel. If we go back to the definition of BTUs, this makes sense — raising the temperature of something requires fuel, so the more energy needed to raise the temperature, the more fuel you’ll need.
The Importance of BTUs in Grilling & Barbecuing
So how much of an impact will BTUs really have on your grilling and barbecuing game?
While BTUs will factor into your grill’s fuel efficiency and how fast it heats up, a higher number doesn’t always mean the grill performs better.
This is especially true with modern grills, which often have high-quality construction that makes them more fuel efficient without needing a high BTU rating.
One place where you might want a higher BTU is a commercial kitchen, where food needs to cook hot and fast to keep wait times low. But on the grill in your own backyard, a sky-high BTU rating really isn’t necessary.
Again, there are other factors that you’ll want to consider when researching a grill’s performance.
BTU ratings won’t matter much if you don’t look at them in relation to the grill’s cooking surface area and don’t take into account things like the grill’s materials, airflow, ventilation and exhaust ports, and the size and shape of the grill body. All of these different factors work together with the BTUs to add up to an energy-efficient, high-performing grill.
A high BTU rating on a small or inefficiently built grill is a bit like putting a cutting-edge, powerful engine in a rusted-out used car — it may seem impressive on its own, but it’s not going to instantly transform the car into a high-performing sports car or make it one that’s a good fit for driving your family around.
Importance of Grill Quality Over BTU Rating
A good BTU rating won’t be worth much if your grill isn’t high quality enough to retain that heat it’s producing.
When shopping for a grill, consider the quality of the grill’s materials and its construction.
You’ll want to make sure the lid fits snugly and that the parts feel heavy-duty and well-constructed. This means your grill will be able to heat up quickly and hold on to that heat the entire time you’re cooking.
If a grill has high BTUs per square inch of its cooking surface, this could be a red flag that the manufacturer is trying to hide defects in its quality and craftsmanship. Take a look at the lid, grates, and vents — if the parts are thin and lightweight and the vents are poorly designed, that BTU rating could be deceptive.
The same goes for a lower-than-recommended BTU rating. That means your grill may take longer to heat up, and longer to bounce back to optimal temperature after you open and shut the lid.
Look for grills made of heavy-gauge stainless steel with double-walled lids, solid gaskets, and seamless welds, with no apparent gaps or spaces between one part and the next.
A good rule of thumb is that it’s better to have a well-designed, energy-efficient grill with a BTU rating on the lower end of the 80-100 range than a high BTU grill that will lose heat quickly.
Beyond BTUs – Overall Performance
Your grill’s overall performance and construction shouldn’t be ignored in favor of a high BTU rating.
This is especially true due to today’s high-quality grills — they’re more efficient, high-quality, and have better heat retention than older grills did, and therefore don’t require a high BTU rating to perform well.
The one caveat here is how you grill. If you grill often, prefer food that requires hot and fast heat, or are regularly grilling for a crowd, you may want to look for a grill with a BTU rating that’s on the higher end of the 80-100 range. This will ensure your grill heats up fast and can quickly cook up whatever you need it to on a moment’s notice.
While having a grill with 80 to 100 BTUs is certainly impressive for home use, this should not be the sole determining factor in your decision. It’s also important to consider the grill’s overall performance, particularly in terms of heat retention and quality.
The Infrared Exception
So far, we’ve been talking about gas grills — but what about infrared?
Infrared grills are different in that they don’t use an open flame to heat the cooking surface, allowing them to heat up quickly and maintain that heat well. That means they’re incredibly powerful and efficient but don’t necessarily need the same BTU rating as a gas grill to create the same heat output.
Long story short? An infrared grill with a higher BTU rating can cook food quickly and at very high temperatures. But remember that hot and fast cooking doesn’t always translate to tasty results!
If you’re shopping around for infrared grills, aim for a BTU per square inch rating between 60 and 80. This will make sure your food is cooked efficiently and effectively but isn’t a charred mess by the time you pull it off the grill.
The Risk of BTU Extremes
Is it possible to have too high of a BTU rating?
Let’s pretend for a moment you disregard everything we’ve covered in this guide so far and buy the grill with the highest BTU rating you can find. What’s going to happen next?
First off, that grill probably isn’t constructed very well. High BTU ratings are often a manufacturer’s way of disguising poor quality and design.
When a grill is overcompensating for lackluster heat retention, you’ll end up with a grill that runs much hotter than you’d really need for backyard use. This can lead to food that gets burnt before it is completely cooked all the way through. In fact, your grill can even become dangerous if you aren’t used to grilling with high, intense heat.
How can you tell if your grill’s BTU rating is inflated to make up for shoddy design? Keep an eye out for a thin and flimsy-feeling lid, lightweight cooking grates, and poorly designed vents. If you see any of these, it’s a good idea to keep researching.
Understanding the Relationship Between BTU Ratings and Energy Efficiency
When choosing a gas grill, it’s important to understand the relationship between BTU ratings and energy efficiency. BTU, or British Thermal Unit, is a measure of the total heat output of all burners per hour.
While a higher BTU rating may seem attractive as it suggests the grill can produce a lot of heat, it’s not always an indicator of energy efficiency or cost-effectiveness.
Energy efficiency in a grill is determined by how well it uses its fuel to achieve the desired temperature and maintain it consistently over the cooking period.
A grill with a high BTU rating will consume more fuel, but if it’s poorly insulated or designed, it may not necessarily heat up faster or maintain its heat better than a grill with a lower BTU rating. This could lead to longer cooking times and more fuel consumption, making it less energy-efficient and more costly to operate in the long run.
On the other hand, a grill with a lower BTU rating might use less fuel and still achieve the same cooking results if it’s well-designed and well-insulated to retain heat effectively. This makes it more energy-efficient and cost-effective.
It’s also worth noting that the size of the grill and the cooking area play a significant role in energy efficiency. A larger grill with a high BTU rating might be more energy-efficient than a smaller grill with a lower BTU rating if it can cook more food at once.
The Impact of BTU Ratings on Grill Maintenance and Longevity
When it comes to the longevity and maintenance of your grill, BTU ratings can play a role, but perhaps not as directly as one might think.
BTU, or British Thermal Unit, measures the heat output of your grill’s burners. A higher BTU rating indicates a higher maximum heat output. However, this doesn’t necessarily translate to more wear and tear on the grill. The wear and tear on a grill is more closely related to its usage, the quality of its components, and how well it’s maintained.
That being said, a grill with a higher BTU rating will consume more fuel, which could lead to more frequent refilling or replacing of the propane tank or natural gas line. This could indirectly increase the wear and tear on these components.
Additionally, consistently operating a grill at its maximum BTU output could potentially lead to faster degradation of its components due to the high heat. This is especially true if the grill is not designed to handle such high heat levels, or if it’s made from lower-quality materials.
However, a well-constructed, high-quality grill should be able to handle its maximum BTU output without significant additional wear and tear. Regular cleaning and maintenance, such as checking for any blockages in the burners, keeping the grill clean, and protecting it from the elements when not in use, will also greatly contribute to the longevity of the grill, regardless of its BTU rating.
How to Get More Heat Out of a Gas Grill
We’re going to do a little more math here (last time, I promise).
The higher your BTU rating, the more heat a grill of your size will use up per hour. That equation basically adds up to mean the higher the BTU rating, the more fuel your grill will likely use up as you cook.
So how can we save some money and minimize the amount of heat our grill is actually using up without impacting its cooking performance?
First, consider insulating your grill. You can do this by building around your grill’s piping with bricks, which will conduct the heat and increase your grill’s heat output.
You should also be keeping your grill as clean as possible. A dirty grill doesn’t allow as much heat to flow to the cooking surface, causing you to burn away gas with no results.
You can also enhance your grill’s heat output by wrapping your food in foil. This technique helps speed up the cooking process, saving you energy (and money) in the long run. Plus, that foil can help seal in moisture and flavor!
Gas Grill BTU FAQ
If you still have questions, we have answers.
Below you’ll get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to gas grill BTUs.
If you don’t find what you’re looking for, leave your question in the comments below or send me an email and I will get back to you.
Who knows, I might even add your question to this guide.
For a more in-depth frequently asked question guide, you check out this article: The Ultimate Gas Grill FAQ
Does a Grill With Higher BTUs Use More Gas?
Yes, generally a grill with a higher BTU rating will consume more gas than one with a lower BTU rating. However, the actual gas consumption also depends on how you’re using the grill and, on its build, and efficiency. If you only use it on low heat, you won’t use as much gas.
How Many BTUs Should a Side Burner Have?
Side burners on a grill typically have a lower BTU rating than the main burners. The BTU rating for a side burner might be in the range of 10,000 to 15,000 BTUs. The BTU rating of a side burner should align with your anticipated needs. There are models available that offer 30,000 BTUs or even more.
Does a Higher BTU Rating Mean Better Grilling?
A higher BTU Rating does not necessarily mean better grilling. While a higher BTU rating means the grill can produce more heat, it doesn’t always mean better grilling. Factors such as grill design, heat distribution, and the quality of the burners also play a role in grilling performance.
How Do BTUs Affect Fuel Efficiency?
The Higher the BTU rating, the more it can affect fuel efficiency. A grill with a higher BTU rating will generally consume more fuel than one with a lower BTU rating, assuming you’re using it at its full capacity. However, efficiency also depends on other factors like the quality of the burners and the grill’s design.
What Is the Relationship Between BTUs and Cooking Time?
A grill with a higher BTU rating will heat up faster and can maintain higher temperatures, which could potentially reduce cooking time. Keep in mind that cooking time also depends on other things like the type of food being cooked, outside weather conditions, and the desired level of doneness.
Why Does My Grill Have a Low BTU Output?
Several factors can cause a gas grill to have a low BTU output. This could include issues like a faulty regulator, a clogged burner, or low gas pressure. Resetting the regulator and clearing the burners of clogs can help fix this problem in many cases.
For more information on low BTU output, you can check out this article: Why Is My Gas Grill Not Getting Hot
Final Thoughts on Our What is a Good BTU When Choosing a Gas Grill Guide
The moral of the story here is that while BTU ratings do play an important role in your grill selection process, they shouldn’t be the only thing you consider!
It’s essential that you look at BTU ratings relative to your grill’s construction and quality, as well as primary cooking surface size, before choosing a grill.
It’s also a good idea to read up on professional and customer reviews to learn how well the grill retains heat — after all, a high BTU rating isn’t worth much if it can’t hold on to that heat it’s creating. Inflated BTU ratings can also be a sign that the manufacturer is covering up for shoddy craftsmanship with unnecessary firepower.
A good rule of thumb is that when you divide the grill’s total BTUs across its main burners (leave the side and rotisserie burners out) by the surface area of the primary cooking area, you should see a rating somewhere between 80 and 100 BTUs per square inch.
A rating in that range, coupled with solid grill construction, means that your grill will heat up enough to cook the food thoroughly but not blaze so hot that the outside gets charred before the interior of the food gets a chance to cook.
Remember, when it comes to BTUs, bigger isn’t always better. It’s like that one friend who always hogs the spotlight at parties. Sure, they might seem impressive at first, but soon enough, you realize that it’s all about finesse and control.
With this knowledge (and a little bit of math) in mind, you’re ready to tame the flames and make the best choice for your next gas grill purchase!
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A backyard warrior, certified carnivore, lover of good whiskey, self-proclaimed grill master and I’m Living The Grilling Life!
I have a passion for cooking with live fire and smoke, no matter the weather. I’m a real person just like you, who loves outdoor cooking and BBQ. Food, fun, and time spent with family and friends are what it’s all about! It is my mission to take my passion and knowledge for outdoor cooking and all things BBQ and share this expertise in techniques and grilling equipment with you. In other words, Living The Grilling Life!