Due to the sheer number of variety of grill type on the market today, buying a new grill can be an unexpectedly daunting process.
Questions to answer before shopping
One of the first few considerations you need to make before purchasing a new grill is to determine how you will use it. Will it be cooking tool for just your family or a few friends? Do you grill out frequently? Will it be used for large gatherings like family reunions?
Keeping the answers to these grilling questions in mind will help make selecting the right size, the type of fuel and the accessories much easier.
Grill prices can range from about $50 for a smaller quality charcoal grill to several thousands of dollars for large gas-fired grills with multiple burners and accessories.
Most grills use either charcoal briquettes, which can be purchased at most retail stores, to propane gas that’s sold in refillable metal tanks. Some grills, and smokers, can also utilize wood or wood chips as a fuel source.
For some larger gas grills, including grills that are built in to a large outdoor kitchen area, a more convenient option may be running a natural gas line to the grill, which would eliminate the need to refill or purchase new propane tanks. However, keep in mind that installing a new gas line is a job that may be best left to a professional plumber.
Pros and cons of grill types
Charcoal grills are generally much less elaborate than gas-fired grills, which means they’re also typically less costly.
Gas grills are often staples in many outdoor kitchens. Consider hiring a professional for the installation, as your will likely be dealing with gas lines, plumbing and electricity. (Photo courtesy of Todd Mueller)
Although they’re simpler to operate, controlling the temperature and cooking time on a charcoal grill isn’t as easy as with a gas grill.
Because there’s no knob or way to adjust the heat short of manipulating the charcoal briquettes, cooking on a charcoal grill requires more constant attention to ensure food is cooked evenly and thoroughly.
The temperature on a charcoal grill is adjusted by using vents, which allows the grill to retain heat or allow it to escape.
Gas grills feature temperature controls and some models include thermometers and other features that can make the cooking process much more precise. For the average amateur grill master or occasional backyard cook, a gas grill usually is much easier to operate and use for consistent quality.
Sizing up your grill and its heat production
When selecting a new grill, keep in mind that a cooking surface of about 2.5 square feet is generally sufficient to cook for small groups of guests. If you’re cooking for larger numbers of people, consider getting a grill with a larger cooking surface.
As well as cooking meats on the grill, there are also vegetables you may want to roast or hamburger and hot dog buns you’ll want to toast using the cooking surface. Plan the size of your ideal grill by the maximum number of items you’ll want to cook, not the minimum.
Another measure of grill performance is BTUs, which are short for British thermal units. The number of BTUs advertised on a grill indicate the grills temperature output. Since BTU measures the total amount of heat output by all the burners per hour, the more BTUs a grill features, the faster it will be able to cook. The average gas grill can produce between 15,000 to 60,000 BTUs
Since charcoal burns at a slower rate than gas, similarly sized charcoal grills will produce relatively fewer BTUs than gas grills.
With charcoal grills, igniting the fuel source is performed simply by lighting the briquettes, using lighter fluid, matches or lighter. Another option is using a charcoal starter chimney, a smaller separate device that holds charcoal in one place for easy lighting and even heat distribution.
Gas-fired grills typically feature a push-button ignition system that provides a spark to ignite propane coming from the burner. Some rely on batteries to fuel the spark, while others produce the spark via mechanical friction. Some models may also feature electrical ignition that relies on the grill being hooked up to the household electrical system.
Cooking surfaces on grills are important choices, as the surface or its coating will determine how easily food is removed from the grill and how the food may be cooked or eventually taste. Many grills feature chrome-plated steel grids, while higher quality models may feature ceramic-coated steel grates, which are easier to clean and more durable.
When selecting a grill, one feature that many consumers may overlook is testing the sturdiness of the cooking platform. A quality grill should be supported by sturdy legs that are well-attached to the grill shell and braced. A grill that wobbles, leans or twists can be unsafe.
Other indicators of a quality grill include a solid lifting handle that’s not loose, welded seams on the grill shell and, if equipped, heavy duty rollers that can help you move the grill easily. Finally, test out a grill before you buy it. A grill’s control knobs and handle that stay cooler during grill operation offer a safer option.