Propane vs Electric Hot Dog Carts

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On to today’s “Hot Dog Cart News Q and A”: Propane or electric?

HDCN reader Rick S. emailed to tell me about a cart he is purchasing. It’s a large cart with caster wheels, kind of a mall kiosk type unit. The cart is semi-stripped and Rick will be outfitting it with steam tables and other equipment.

Rick wants to know whether he should go with propane powered appliances or electric.

Here’s his email:

Steve, I have a question that might be a good one for ‘Hot Dog Cart News’.

I do not know if  I will always sell near access to electricty hookup, and if I should get all electric equipment, or buy propane fueled equipment. And If so, what kind of propane fueled equipment is there?

I saw somewhere online that a propane fueled coffee maker (standard 5 cup size) cost around $1,000 through a certain site. But are there other propane run items such as:

Crock pot- for heating cheese to sell nachos.
Ice maker- for serving shaved ice.
fan- for on those hot summer days

Just curious what kind of equipment exist, that would not require electricity hookup.



What do you think hot doggers?  Should Rick go with all propane appliances? A combination of propane (steam tables and grills) and some electric (fan,  shaved ice machine)?

Those propane appliances are a bit spendy…

I’m a big fan of deep cycle marine batteries to power some electrical appliances (radios, fans) but appliances with heating elements (crock pots, coffee makers) suck a lot of current. They will run down your batteries pretty fast.

What about generators? If you use ‘em, how about some recommendations for a good quiet one?

What are your opinions of propane vs 12 volt battery vs 120 volt generator power? Let’s hear you in the comments…


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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul A. Kaiser

Go with the propane! You have the versatility of setting up anywhere. You don’t want to be in a position where you can’t set up because of power and some events want the really quiet (expensive) generators.

Shave ice machines do come in propane/electric and are almost the same price as electric only. Look at the ones that take “cubes” rather than the “blocks”. I saw someone using this and it produced great results!

There are also work arounds to the coffee urn thing I know a guy who brews before going out and has a big hot/cold type dispenser. I read where another guy brewed coffee in one of his steamtable pans.

Personally I divided my steam table up (two full pans) into sections. I was able to do one half pan, two quarter pans, two third pans and two of the pans most sinks are made out of. This gave me room for various dogs/sausages, buns, and chili and cheese. The steamtable does just fine no need for a crock pot. Just keep extra pans in cooler with cheese and chili if you need refill.

Just some thoughts….



Wow, a $1,000 bucks for a coffe maker..where have you been looking at there rick..i found you 1 for 160,00 and its a 8 cupper too….go here to look at it… and search for the brunton brewfire coffee works on them 1lb bottles of propane..basically it’s a camping accessory but i guess you can use it for your purpose too..and last but not least try EBAY you never know what you can find there an cheaper to..good luck on your stand rick.!!



I agree with Paul…propane is the way to go so you can set up anywhere…it can last longer if you keep it on pilot most of the time and then when you put new dogs in turn it up for a few minutes to cook up fast and then keep them warm keeping on pilot.


Tim/Get Grilled

I use both battery and propane. I have my water heater, three burners and two grills I use propane on. I can use my burners with dutch ovens and a converted chafing dish setup for dogs, sausage cheese and other sides. And I have the water pump I use a marine battery for it. that set up makes me far more versitle in setting up anywhere I am needed. using electric would make me less versitle and some spots charge fees based on the amount of electricity you need to operate your cart. The more electricity the higher the fees. I vote propane and battery. power


Terry/ The Hot Dog Guy

It depends on where you will be selling. Most fire codes don’t allow propane tanks inside a building. My cart is set up for propane, but I remove the burners and replace them with electric “hot plates” for indoor events. Purchased them at a Kohl’s store for $25.00 each. (on sale) They can also be found at Target or Walmart. They don’t heat as fast as propane, but will still do the job. They each have two burners and fit perfectly in the well. Both will run on the same receptacle without tripping a breaker.

Steve is right. The battery and inverter is great for lighting, but won’t last for heat.

Best of luck with your business!


Curtis Ormond

Steve my cart is propane, using that for the hot dogs, chili, red sauce and bun, I carry along a 2000 watt Honda generator, uses very little gas but will operate my snow cone machine very easily and is super quiet, I am 60 years old and it is nice that the Honda is very light weight. Had not problems at all with the Honda, have seen other vendors with the loud cheap made generators and they wouldn’t start, made too much noise, or in one gas saw one run low on oil and blow up, Hondas won’t run when low on fuel.



I too am starting the process of outfitting a Hot Dog Cart. I will be going with propane. Could some of you please give a few resources to contact with regards to the hardware needed to build the steam box and the small sinks. Maine does not have much in the way of places to buy equipment. Especially smaller scale equipment. Thank! Frank’s Franks.



Propane! If you do big events you usually have to pay 10-25$ for electric. Make your coffee and hot chocolate and put it in air pump thermos’ they are cheap and work great. Put your cheese in a quarter pan next to your chili.




My E-Z Built Hot Dog Cart Videos will show you how to build steam tables and sinks for pennies on the dollar using hardware store materials.

Can I get a witness?




Electricity! I goes indoors or out in the boondocks. I have been using the ultra quiet, dependable and portable Honda 2000 watt generator for 21/2 years. It runs virtually unnoticed by the customers. I love it’s features. I also run a 10lb propane tank for the fabulous, Ecco water heater. Electricity powers the steamer and the Flo-jet water pump. My cart also is hybrid in that it has a coffee drip-brew bar like you see in high end coffee houses. The electricity is available for hot water too. I also use and recommend the 5 gal. Cambro insulated containers to keep liquids hot or cold all day.


Ricky Sanftner

For those interested, the cart this is for, that steve mentioned is

I hope $400 was a good investment.

The $1,000 propane coffee maker was at a cart manufacturer’s website so i suspect those prices are a bit off.

I’m really excited to get this cart. My girlfriend and I are driving 503 miles (8.5hrs) from Oklahoma, to St Louis to pick it up. And since it is valentines day weekend, we will be considering it a mini vacation. But not only that, I also plan on proposing to her at the st louis arch, as well.

And sofar, it sounds like propane is what I want.



Amen on the Hot Dog Cart Plans, and your book, and this website.

I want to build your cart using a base cart from Lowe’s 48″ x 64″. Do you think this is to big??? Or a 48″ x 72″…

The HD says I need to use a refrigerator or freezer, so I will be using both gas and elect. thru the hot summer. No choice. But it will be nice for a microwave or bunn coffee pot later. I want to try to find a used Honda generator because of all the good reports that have been made.

I’m 63 and will be retiring within the next month or so, and I’m excited and scared at the same time about this adventure. I want to start out slow with just the perfect meal tho (smile).



Hello Friends.
I’d like to weigh in on this subject.
I have complete set-ups in both propane and electric. However, I’d like to offer a few suggestions as to how to equip yourself and save money.

As far as the propane is concerned, I use a 3-bay waterless system made by Wyott. No moving parts and I bought it used for $300.
It uses any combination of steam/hotel pans.
So I bought two half-sized perforated steam pans and cook my dogs that way. It works incredibly well.
I serve lots of coffee at different events and use a couple of 5-gallon Cambro insulated containers ($50.00 each used.) They will keep coffee and chocolate hot for at least 6-8 hours.
I make the coffee at home using an old 100 cup coffee brewer. there’s no need to make it fresh on site. I also use a 3-pot commercial coffee maker to speed things up. It takes one hour from beginning to completion to fill those insulated units.
When it comes to buying equipment, always look for the simplest piece that will accomplish the most.




You can build it to fit any trailer. Afetr you watch the videos you will see how to do it.

It’s really easy.

Check out this propane refrigerator:

Being nervous is normal. It means you care about succeeding. Which means you will.





Great tips as always, thanks!

Listen to my interview with Chuck here:





Tell your girlfriend to cross her eyes when she looks at the St. Louis Arch.

Makes it look like a heart…

Good luck Romeo!




Rick, either fuel will limit your options. Without a small generator your outside venues will be harder to find. As was stated earlier, propane only will rule out many inside venues. Depending on your local firemarshal, you may be able to use the small tanks inside, there are adaptors available. I know of one cart in the southwest that uses sterno cans, an expensive option in my opinion. Good luck with the new cart. Steve, thanks for the link on the propane fridge. I’m considering adding one to my homebuilt cart. I hope with that my health dept will allow me to offer hazardous food as well as non-hazardous.


Hot Dog City

#1 choice=propane and battery
#2 choice=Honda generator
#3 choice=electric


Jim Seidler

If yer doggin outdoors, you gotta go with the gas. Ricky: you go dude!
Bob, or anyone else that works Home Depots: e-mail me wouldja? Got some questions.

Jim Seidler



Amen!…Steve …also Hot Dogs are NON-hazardous……Correct?

I appreciate the great input everybody, I am in cart designing stages right now.

FYI……Small refers are available at:

The fridge at RVSupply runs on 12V, AC or propane, cost $595.




Correct. That means less rules to comply with.

Thanks for the links!




Ricky, that’s really sweet, good luck to you both.
These are all very interesting and helpful bits of information. I have a question on a different subject.
I am from Florida, and they make it very difficult to get into this business, infact in my county they won’t let any vending at all. I’ll have to go to the next county to do it on an everyday basis. So, my question is, does anyone have any suggestions on how I would approach a business to become my commissary? So far very difficult for me. Thanks so much!
Connie (CT’s Pit Stop)


Bob Kassel

Most vfw, american legions, knights of columbus etc. Have up to code kitchens and if you’re a member and offer to rent or make a small donation to the club access can be aquired. Most clubs rarely use the kitchens ( bingo, fish fry, weekley dinners) . Don’t hurt to ask! Maybe offer your services at some of their functions as a bartering tool.
good luck


i wonder how much battery juice that 12 volt crook pot would take to run. $400 i’d would of jumped on that.



I am having the same problem with my county HD. The C word!!!! Im in Chicago (burbs). good luck to you…….


david klinger



david klinger




Here is a link to a drop-in three sink combo for those building a cart. A three sink combo PLUS a separate sink for hand washing is required here where I live.


Esteban Guzman

Hey Steve, I’ll testify to that! Thanks to your hot dog plans, I’m in business and doing pretty well! I will say this though, I wish I had a two burner camp stove right about now, I would have set up inside my brother’s store today. The weather here in Texas was pretty darn cold with freezing fog so I decided not to set up the cart, which I hate because I’m losing money by having the cart just sit there. Oh well, thats Texas for you. Looking foward to great weather here though.



Esteban Guzman


I could have used that link when I was in the process of building my cart! That would have been an awesome thing to get. I used 3 quarter size pans for my sink but man, it was a pain trying to get the hole drilled through that stainless steel! It works fine though, but it would have been much nicer to have that drop in sink instead.


Cyberdog International

I don’t sell coffee. I’m a lunch crowd vendor myself, but since you’re using propane to heat your steam pan’s, why not use one pan to heat some water and use instant coffee grounds to make a pot of coffee in the morning?

Mike Croney



what do I get from the hardware store to refurbish the burning unit on cart? It will not stay lit and needs a knob and its attachment that goes to element.



Right on Bob!


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