Barbecuing technology has developed over the last couple of decades and is now a lot more sophisticated. No longer do you have to spend time trying to get those old coals going – the fuel of choice for ardent outdoor chefs is now cheap and affordable gas.

It’s cleaner than coal and a lot more reliable for those outdoor events.

There are a wide range of different appliances out there and they all have their merits. One thing that new buyers need to understand first are the differences, and similarities, between propane, butane and patio gas.

Propane vs Butane

These are both what are called liquid petroleum gases or LPGs. They come in pressurised containers where the gas is kept in liquid form. As it passes out of the regulator into your barbecue setup, the gas evaporates and can then be burned to provide heat for cooking.

Butane was the most popular choice for gas barbecues in the past but propane seems to have taken the limelight more recently. Both gases come in different coloured containers (butane in blue bottles and propane in red) and the have different attachments. While both are suitable for running something like a barbecue you are more likely to find manufacturers stipulating propane or patio gas for their products.
Butane tends to produce a bigger overall burn and release of energy but it’s not that great when the temperature outside is cooler, which can happen in places like the UK. The cylinders also tend to get colder as the liquid gas is used up which makes them less efficient. This has led to the move towards propane as the delivery mechanism of choice.

Propane may not have the average power of butane but it produces heat at a more regular rate which means you get a reliable barbecue. Cylinders come in a variety of sizes and the ones suitable for barbecues are around 3.9 kg and 6 kg.

Butane and propane gas containers come with different sized regulators, the device which fits on top of the cylinder and delivers the gas to your appliance. For propane, this is 27mm, for butane it’s 21mm.

What is Patio Gas – This is simply an alternative, marketed form of propane and is suitable for fuelling gas barbecues and patio heaters. They come in green bottles and are a good general choice if you want to use gas for both purposes. Some believe that these bottles reduce the possibility of freezing. This is a process that will be familiar to many who have a gas barbecue – it happens when gas is pulled into your appliance too quickly which then causes a sudden lowering of the temperature (usually noticeable when the attachment starts to frost over). What it means for your barbecue is that you might not get enough heat to cook your food properly.

Safety and Gas Barbecues

Whichever gas cylinder your barbecue uses, there are several things you should do to ensure safety.
• First, you should never use your barbecue in an enclosed space – out in the open and away from any combustibles, including trees, is the order of the day.
• You should avoid putting the gas cylinder under the barbecue and place by the side.
• Care should be taken when disconnecting your gas cylinder when your barbecue has finished. Ensure that you allow the appliance to cool down for a few hours and don’t smoke or have an electrical device such as a mobile phone on your person when you swap a cylinder or disconnect.
• Finally, you should always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer of your barbecue appliance, including which is the best gas to use for safe operation.