The convenience of gas grills has made them the most popular choice for US households. Propane is the common fuel source, but some pitmasters have been known to experiment with other types.
If you’ve been grilling for longer than a decade or so, you might have heard of MAPP gas. Is it a viable alternative to propane? Let’s break down the differences so we can settle the MAPP gas vs propane debate once and for all.
About MAPP Gas
MAPP is actually an acronym, short for methylacetylene-propadiene propane. These are its main ingredients, although butane and iso-butane have also been used in its makeup. It was originally used for industrial purposes, such as welding and soldering. However, some chefs recognized its useful properties and began to employ it in their kitchens.
The first thing you should know about MAPP gas is that it creates an exceptionally hot flame. Its fire can reach a temperature of 3,730 degrees Fahrenheit. By contrast, regular propane can only heat to 3,600 degrees. This is why chefs were drawn to MAPP for high-heat applications, such as finishing off steaks with a strong sear.
MAPP gas is considered a suitable substitute for acetylene, owing to the fact that it’s less volatile and therefore easier to transport. When it comes to cooking, however, MAPP is considered inferior to LP alternatives (see the Safety section of Benefits of MAPP Gas vs Propane, below).
It should be noted, however, that North America discontinued the manufacture of MAPP gas in 2008. Today, products with the MAPP label are actually close imitations that consist mainly of propylene, with a half-percent or less of propane. You might see it labeled as MAP-Pro, which is close enough to the original to prevent consumers from getting confused. These similarities extend to the fuel itself, as it still burns hotter than propane.
LPGs, or liquid petroleum gases, are fuels that have been manufactured from crude oils. When the right amount of pressure is applied, the gas is transformed into liquid. Because they can be safely stored in tanks while in their liquid form, LPGs are a popular choice for home heating and grilling purposes.
During storage, the gas remains in its liquid state. When you turn the valve on your gas grill, the liquid evaporates, which allows it to ignite when combined with oxygen. Propane and butane are two of the most common LP gases on the current market (see A Word About Butane, below). Often, the two are combined into a hybrid fuel to take advantages of the properties of each.
In addition to fueling your grill, propane can be used as a heating oil or to power off-grid appliances. Despite the fact that MAPP gas burns at higher temperatures, propane remains the more popular choice. Not only is it easier to find, it can be obtained at lower prices, which is a primary concern for many consumers.
To learn more about LP gas and how it’s made, take a look at this video tutorial.
Benefits of MAPP Gas vs Propane
Now that we’ve covered the basic differences, the question remains: Which type of gas offers more benefits to the average home chef? Let’s take a look at how they stack up under direct comparison.
The marked increase in temperature means that MAPP gas will cook foods more quickly than propane will. If you’re pressed for time, this is a great benefit.
Unlike some gases, MAPP doesn’t impart any noticeable flavor or odor to grilled food. This may be due to the fact that it burns hotter, thereby eliminating any residue that could leave gas odors behind. Whatever the reason, MAPP delivers a cleaner taste that won’t interfere with the flavor profile of the dish.
If you want to cook with MAPP gas, you might have a hard time finding it. Propane, on the other hand, is widely available. It’s also easier to cook with (see Cooking Applications, below), which gives it the edge over MAPP gas here.
Propane earns high marks in this category as well. Despite its relatively high demand, it’s cheaper than the imitation products labeled as MAPP gas. The fact that authentic MAPP gas is no longer manufactured in North America contributes to its higher price tag.
MAPP gas delivers an impressive sear to hearty ingredients such as steak and bone-in pork chops. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be easy to overcook your food when using this technique.
If you’re grilling more delicate ingredients like tuna or chicken breast, propane is the preferred choice. The lower temperature also makes the flames more manageable, which is good news for amateur grillers.
In short, due to the intensity of the flame it provides, MAPP gas should be reserved for occasional use. The rest of the time, propane should deliver the results you’re looking for.
When it comes to cooking over a gas flame, safety is always a concern. In this case, one type of gas poses a greater risk than the other.
Although the blazing-hot fire provided by MAPP gas is convenient when you’re in a hurry, it also raises important safety concerns. In fact, the original MAPP was so hot, it was deemed unsuitable for soldering metals. That means that it can melt aluminum pans or similar grilling tools. Propane flames are easier to control, which gives them a higher safety rating.
Interestingly, MAPP is much safer to transport when it’s still in its liquid form. This makes it possible to transport large quantities at once. However, since your primary concern is which gas to use for grilling, this doesn’t make much of a difference.
A Word About Butane
Can you use butane for grilling? After all, it does produce more energy per cubic foot than either natural gas or propane. It also burns cleaner than propane or MAPP gas, and it can be stored indoors without posing a safety hazard. Wouldn’t that make it a more efficient choice?
Unfortunately, reality is more complicated. Butane doesn’t evaporate at lower temperatures, which means that the fluid can’t convert back into vapor. This conversion is what allows the gas to ignite. Therefore, cooler temperatures will make the butane less effective. What’s worse, the more gas you try to use, the faster the temperature will drop, creating a cycle of ineffectiveness.
This doesn’t matter as much if you’re a seasonal griller who only fires up the unit when the weather warms up, but true aficionados are likely to be disappointed.
MAPP Gas vs Propane: Final Thoughts
While we appreciate the positive aspects of MAPP gas, we would recommend sticking with propane for everyday grilling. It’s cheaper, it’s safer to use, and it makes the flames easier to control. Best of all, you’ll be able to replenish your fuel supply more frequently, which translates into more time doing what you love.
If you do want to give one of the MAPP imitations a try, we suggest using a blowtorch to give steaks an extra flourish at the end of cooking. Converting your propane grill to burn MAPP instead will be costly in both the short and long term.