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BTUs: What Are They & What Do They Mean For My BBQ?


You may have seen a lot of BBQ companies’ spruik their wares by talking about BTUs. If so, you probably thought, “I have no idea what that means, but I guess the higher the number the more powerful the barbie, right?”


Wrong.


Manufacturers and advertisers are more than aware of most consumers’ lack of knowledge with regards to BTUs and use it to their advantage…which is often to your disadvantage.

Galleymate BBQ burners


So what’s the real deal with BTUs? What are they? What do BTUs mean when it comes to BBQs? And how many BTUs should your BBQ have?


Let me try to explain.


What are BTUs?

A BTU or British Thermal Unit, is a unit of energy, much like joules. By definition, one BTU is the amount of energy required to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit, which for those on the metric system, is roughly the energy required to heat one litre of water by one degree Celsius.


What does it mean for BBQs?

Well, given that definition, the more BTUs your BBQ has, the hotter it can go, right?


Not exactly.


You see, a BBQ’s BTU number is not a direct measure of heat; it’s a measure of how much fuel your BBQ is burning per hour. LPG, the most common BBQ fuel, has a BTU rating of about 22,000 BTUs per pound. This means that a BBQ with, say, 44,000 BTUs will burn two pounds of LPG per hour (assuming all burners are on full blast).


The assumption is that the more fuel you’re burning, the hotter your BBQ will get, but for reasons discussed below, that’s not always the case.


Size Matters

The whole BTU number thing doesn’t take into account the size of the barbie. 35,000 BTUs on a mammoth meat master that takes up half your backyard is not the same as 35,000 BTUs on a tiny apartment balcony barbie.


To be of any relevance, BTUs have to be considered as a function of the size of the BBQ’s useable cooking surfaces. As a general rule of thumb, a BBQ should have about 80-100 BTUs per square inch (6.5 square centimetres) of cooking surface area.


Efficiency is key

The number of BTUs a BBQ has also doesn’t take into consideration the efficiency of the BBQ. What’s the point of having 50,000 BTUs if your barbie can’t hold on to any of the heat it produces?


How well a BBQ retains the heat it produces (and therefore, how fast it cooks your steak) depends on its design, construction and materials.


So what does it all mean?

In summary, it means that on their own, BTUs are not a particularly good indication of a BBQ’s power and that when buying a BBQ, you probably shouldn’t put too much emphasis on the BTU number. Far more important are the BBQ’s build-quality, materials and the reputation of the manufacturer.


I hope this clears up your questions about BTUs, but if you have any more, please feel free to get in touch!


 
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