A barbecue grill cannot be considered a straightforward purchase, and for a good reason. The grill isn’t just a piece of equipment but something you can make memories with. For this reason, a good barbecue grillcan be the difference between making fond memories with your friends and family and a disaster. That said, you want to take your time and consider all the available options before making your pick. With dozens of options to choose from, identifying the best grill for your specific needs can be an exciting learning experience. Outlined below is a guide to help you make a more informed decision and the right choice.
Factors To Consider When Shopping For A Barbecue Grill
Your preferred cooking style and level of convenience will determine the type of fuel to go for. Barbecue grill typically use either gas, charcoal, pellet grills, and electricity. Each of these has its upsides and downsides, another reason you want to go with what you are most comfortable with and is readily available. Outlined below are some of the key characteristics of the various fuel types.
Gas-fueled grills are a preferred and popular option for most homeowners. Gas grills offer the convenience every homeowner would need and can be used both indoors and outside. These grills can be hooked to your natural gas supply line (via a conversion kit) or a refillable liquid propane tank. Natural gas is commonly preferred for it is cheaper and burns cleaner than propane gas. With natural gas, you never have to worry about it running out. On the downside, it restricts you from moving around with the grill. Liquid propane is portable and easy to use too. This means you can take the grill wherever you wish, for as long as the tank isn’t empty. Liquid propane is, however, more expensive and needs refilling as soon as it runs out. Most grills running on gas can use natural or propane gas interchangeably.
Gas grills also provide better temperature control and even heat across the cooking surface compared to some grills. Most gas grills (e.g., Char-Broil Commercial 3-Burner) have a function where you can adjust between low heat (for slow and steady cooking) and high heat (for searing). Although convenient, gas grills might not be the best option if looking to slow cook racks of ribs or whole chickens. Pellet grills, charcoal grills, and smokers are better placed for such.
Consider going for a charcoal grill if you love and prefer grilled smoky flavor on your meats and foods. Although charcoal grills are available in all sizes, shapes, and designs, they all offer the traditional smokiness everyone loves. Most of these have borrowed their design from Weber Kettle. Charcoal grills are, however, more engaging than gas or electric grills. You thus should be prepared to put in some manual work if looking to use this grill.
As the name suggests, these grills use lumps of charcoal or briquettes as fuel. These briquettes and charcoal burn to produce the beloved smoky flavor on your meats and other foods. You however have to light the charcoal manually and pre-heat the grill before using it. You also have to dispose of the ash and clean the grill once done grilling, ready for the next event. Here is a good guide to cleaning a BBQ.
While charcoal grills might not be as customizable and precise as gas-fuelled grills, they have a winning edge when it comes to overall food taste and flavor. They also are the most affordable option you will find, with small charcoal grills selling for as low as $50.
Pellet grills are a more advanced option than the other two. They have an onboard computer that helps control the heat required to heat wood pellets to the desired temperature to add that smoky, wood-fired flavor to your cuts. Pellet grills produce a tastier yield on your meats than any other grill, especially if slow-cooked. However, getting a fresh supply of these pellets for that unique and tasty flavor can prove challenging at times. These pellets are hard to find (even in online stores) hence more expensive than your regular charcoal or propane. The grill is controlled via a switch with temperature settings and has a rotating auger that helps turn and rotate the food-grade pellets on the hopper. Pellet grills cost anywhere between $350 and $1,300.Size
Size of the Grill
Once settled with your preferred type of fuel, you can then decide how big or small the grill will or should be. A standard two-burner or small to medium size charcoal grill would be enough to cook food for a family of four or if meant to be used occasionally. The size of a grill is measured in square inches, with most people preferring grills ranging between 400 and 500 square inches. The Weber Spirit E-210, a two-burner grill, is a decently sized grill for a small family.
You can also go for larger models featuring four or more burners if looking for something with plenty of space or have a larger family. If gas grills are your preferred option but do love cooking racks of ribs and whole chickens, you should then consider grills with at least three burners. The three burners will come in handy for indirect heating.
Essential Factors To Consider When Shopping For A Gas Grill
i. Temperature Control and Indirect Cooking
While most standard gas grills will do a perfect job on your hot dogs and burgers, they might not measure up when sizzling steaks or grilling fish. Such a variety of foods require higher temperature scores to cook through and evenly. You might also want to consider grills with the ‘indirect cooking’ feature if ribs, chicken, and fish are your kind of meats. Check our indirect-cooking tests to see how different grills perform before making the ultimate choice. Grills that support indirect cooking are adequate to cook tough and/or larger cuts for the perfect result and will always have a lid to help retain the desired heat.
ii. BTU Rating
BTU (British thermal units) is the measure of how much heat a unit can produce, grills in this case. Although most high-rated grills will presumably do an excellent job at searing your steak, some models might not be capable of producing the numbers indicated on the sticker. Higher BTU thus doesn’t always guarantee better cooking or faster pre-heating. For this reason, you’ll want to check out how various models perform in our pre-heating test before making an order.
The burner is the most replaced part of any gas grill. Always check to see if the manufacturer offers a service guarantee for their units to be safe. Many manufacturers will offer a warranty of between 2 and 10 years – consider going for the longest warranty period. You might also want to avoid anything with no guarantee, for they might not be durable. Replacing a burner is, however, a 10-minute job, something worth considering.
iv. Disregard Infrared
A good percentage of gas grills on the market come equipped with infrared burners. The idea behind these burners is to produce intense heat meant for searing chops and steaks. We don’t recommend using this feature to woo you into buying a specific grill. The reason, infrared burners aren’t any better than gas burners and could be just a marketing gimmick. Use our temperature-range score to identify grills capable of low temps and high searing temperatures.
Always go for the sturdiest grills you can find. One way to know if a grill is solidly built is to jostle it at different points to see if it is sturdy or not. A well-built grill will be stable and not wobble around. Be sure to check the wheels, cart, lid, and firebox for loose parts (if assembled with bolts). Carts made of stainless steel and welded together are often better than those assembled with bolts and nuts. Check to see if the grill has wheels or casters on all legs or corners. For heavier builds, a complete axle is better and more stable than individually bolted casters.
How safe is it with this particular grill? This is one of the crucial questions to ask yourself before making a purchase. For steel or welded grills, you want to ensure all the edges are sanded smooth and with no sharp edges. A sturdy grill will not only survive hundreds of grilling sessions but is safer too. Your grill of choice needs to be stable to avoid tipping over and have a safe distance between the burners and grates. The last thing you want is your fingers or knuckles too close to the hot grates or lid.
Factors To Consider When Shopping For A Charcoal Grill
Airflow is essential for keeping the coals lit and regulating heat. Allowing more air into the grill helps the coal burn hotter while limiting heat production, excellent for slow-cooking. That said, you want to look for grills with solid vents or dampers and a tight-fitting lid.
ii. Coal Bed Accessibility
There are times when you’ll need to add more coals, especially when cooking for extended periods. Some of the best grills have a dedicated door or even hinged grates that make it easier to add more coal to the fire.
iii. Size and Shape
Although you might know this already, charcoal coals and briquettes burn at approximately the same temperature. That said, the shape and size of your grill will determine how heat is diffused and/or concentrated. Wide grills have a thin coal bed that allows you to cook more food at once. These are mainly optimized for bratwurst and burger cookouts. Kamado and kettle grills, on the other hand, have narrower and deeper coal beds designed to provide concentrated heat for searing and slow cooking when the dampers are closed.
iv. Adjustable Coal and Cooking Grates
Cooking foods too close to burning coals increases the chances of burning before they can cook through. Grills with an adjustable coal grate give you better heat and flame control. Always go for grills with cooking grates that can be raised or lowered when needed.
Unlike pellet and gas grills, charcoal grills do not have flame or heat controls. You thus have to actively and manually build and control the flame to the desired temperature. They, therefore, pose risks the other types don’t. Some manufacturers may provide guidelines on managing a flame or temperature, mainly by limiting the quality of charcoal. Since the flames could get higher than desired/expected, we recommend using tongs, spatulas, or other long-handled tools when grilling on a charcoal grill.
It would also be advisable to wear a tight-fitting or short-sleeved shirt when grilling. Be sure to have an ABC labeled fire extinguisher close by when using a charcoal grill as well. Class ABC fire extinguishers are safe to use on grease, electrical, and wood fires. Avoid using a garden hose to spray water on grill fires, which could make the situation even worse.
Factors To Consider When Choosing A Pellet Grill
Pellet grills provide the convenience of a gas grill and the flexibility of a smoker and charcoal grill, all in a single package. This grill, like the others, features a hopper (large metal bin) where you can add the various pellets for that smoky flavor. These pellets are made from compressed hickory, oak, or mesquite sawdust. You can buy these pellets online or from a hardware or home center store. The grill also has an electric igniter that draws and lights these pellets to create smoke and heat. It also features a thermostat that helps adjust and keep temperatures at a precise level. Charcoal and gas grills don’t have this feature installed. Pellet grills cost anywhere between $400 and $1,200. Some of the key elements to look for in a pellet grill include:
i. Hopper Size
A small-sized hopper can only handle a few pellets, hence running for a shorter period before requiring a refill compared to a larger one. A large hopper will take more pellets and produce more heat for extended cooking sessions.
ii. Temperature Range
Go for pellet grills with the most comprehensive temperature range possible. We have seen and tested pellet grills that can go as high as 600° F and as low as 160° F. By achieving such high temperatures, the grills would sear almost anything comfortably. The remarkably low temperatures allow for slow cooking, producing some of the best-tasting foods. Although most pellet grills can achieve high temperatures, they can’t come close to what the best charcoal, kamado, and gas grills get.
Pellet grills offer a more refined smoking experience as compared to charcoal and gas grills. You only need to fill the hopper with the suitable pellets, dial the desired temperature (below 225° F), and let it do its magic.
iv. Searing Zone
If you like your meats seared, consider going for pellet grill models with a dedicated searing zone. Most of the models in the market come equipped with heat deflectors (for preventing flare-ups and burning) that make it quite difficult for that perfect sear. Some models also allow for one to remove the deflectors, exposing your steak to direct flame. Nevertheless, pellet grills don’t match up with charcoal and gas grills that shine in that area.
a. Grills: Grills can be made of different materials, which can affect their overall value and cost. The most commonly used materials include:
i. Chrome-plated: Chrome plated grills are aesthetically appealing, though they should be cleaned thoroughly after use.
ii. Stainless steel: These are more durable, easier to maintain, and clean than chrome-plated ones.
iii. Cast iron: Cast iron grills hold heat relatively well. You, however, should wipe the grill clean with cooking oil (before and after use) to prevent rusting.
iv. Porcelain-coated: The porcelain coating stops rusting and makes cleaning the grill relatively easy. They are quite popular with top-of-the-line models. Some of these models have ‘flavorizer’ bars that help create a smoky taste when fats and hot juices drop from the grill.
Accessories to Consider
Flavorizer Bars (Lava Rocks)
These bars sit just above the burners with the sole purpose of vaporizing fats and juices from your steaks, sending the flavor back to the foods. These bars also help improve heat distribution and stop flare-ups.
This is a solid metal place designed to help cook and hold foods that would fall through the grill.
Lids and Hoods
Kettle barbecue lids can double as a roasting hood. The lid also deflects smoke and heat when closed, helping distribute heat more evenly. Some priced barbecue grills may come with a standard or optional hood for roasting whole chicken and joints of meat. Some manufacturers will even incorporate a thermometer for improved temperature monitoring and control when roasting your meats.
A number of accessories are required to make grilling more manageable and enjoyable. A grill basket, for example, helps stop vegetables and small pieces of meat from falling through the grill. You can also use the basket to flip your foods with ease as well. It would help if you also had a nice apron when grilling.
A chimney starter is a handy accessory if using a charcoal barbecue. It makes it safer and easier to light your charcoal.
Assembly and Positioning
Make an effort to assemble your barbecue on a flat surface, close to where you’ll be using it. Be sure to keep it away from fencing, plants, and other combustibles. Look for a shaded area or position if it’s windy. It is always a good idea to read through the manual and assembly guidelines before assembling your unit.
Safety & Caring for your Grill
Choose an appropriate location for the grill: Identify a flat surface for your grill. Be sure to keep it away from any combustibles and in an open area. Check to ensure the (for gas barbecue) is connected properly to the gas bottle. Ensure the hose is in tip-top condition as well.
Firelighters, matches, and fuels should be kept at a safe distance from any lit grill . Do not leave any of these unattended, especially if there are pets and children around. In addition to this, it would be advisable to keep raw food covered and away from pets and children’s reach. Avoid moving lit grill at all costs. If possible, turn it off before moving it to new ground. Only clean the barbecue after it has cooled down, then cover it before storing.
Additional Barbecue Grill Types You Can Consider
- Dual Fuel
A dual barbecue grill would be a perfect choice if torn between gas and charcoal barbecue. Although equipped with two separate gas and charcoal sections, dual fuel are designed to be portable. This means you can use the item indoors and outdoors without worrying about it taking too much of your floor space.
A smoker would be a perfect pick if looking to prepare mouth-watering smoked meats. Smokers can also double up as slow-cookers when the need arises. Some smokers can also be used as a traditional barbecue grill , though relatively slower than a dedicated barbecue grill .
- Pizza Oven
A pizza oven can also be used to grill your veggies and burgers. You only need to pre-heat the oven, then place your cuts in. The oven can also be used to make other foods, including fish and bread, alongside the pizza.
- Fire pits and Chimeneas
Chimeneas and fire pits can be used as a barbecue grill as well. Chimeneas are often enclosed with a chimney at the top, while a fire pit will have open flames. One can create a larger fire with a fire pit, great for grilling vegetables and other foods as you keep yourself warm.