Choosing The Perfect Grill – A Beginner’s Guide
Barbequing is the all-American hobby. People love to cook, and the grill has become the modern centerpiece for summertime meals, outdoor picnics and sports outings across the country. As a result, the act of choosing the right grill is viewed with high importance by many, and with all the makes and models, not to mention the different features available, it can become difficult to figure out what grill is best for your summertime fun. In this guide, the best of the best will be explored as we look at what goes into the perfect grill for your barbequing needs.
This guide will explore the size of your grill, materials used to build it, the cost of your grill and other things, like what not to buy and what warning signs to look for. By the time you are done with this guide, you should know the basics of what to look for in a quality grill, and how to choose the right grill for you.
What Size Grill Do You Need?
When choosing a grill, there are many features one should consider. The first is grilling surface area; how much space do you need to cook? Some of the top grills on the market boast a grilling area 36 inches wide, giving you a grilling surface area of over 900 square inches when both primary and secondary surfaces are considered. While a surface this large can be difficult to maintain when working with charcoal, a gas grill provides an even surface heating area, making it easier to gauge cooking times.
What if you are working with coal? In that case, bigger isn’t always better. When dealing with charcoal, most grill enthusiasts will tell you that simple is best. The Weber One-Touch Silver is a classic circular grill that keeps food contained, offers a decent smoking area and uses a circular design to help distribute heat evenly. In fact, many smaller charcoal grills base their design on this model, relying on the round shape of the grill base to help heat dispense evenly throughout. Another example of a round grill done right is the Big Green Egg, a grill noted for how well it can hold its temperature and serve as a smoker. Yet another is the Old Smokey #22 Charcoal Grill, which uses its round design to help hold low temperatures for barbequing.
Not all charcoal grills are circular. Some, like the Hasty-Bake series, are box-shaped, relying on an adjustable charcoal tray to raise and lower your heat source for a quick temperature control. Some allow for their charcoal to move anywhere from 11 to 18 inches away from the grilling surface. Other box grills like the Weber Performer use propane to quickly light and heat the charcoal to help you get to grilling faster.
Along with an even heating surface area, gas grills provide a user a way to measure how many BTUs are being used. A BTU or British Thermal Unit is a unit of heat that can be used to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. High-quality gas grills can boast a grilling surface of over 70,000 BTUs, providing an extremely hot surface for grilling anything from steak to chicken to pork and vegetables.
Choosing The Right Materials
A quality grill will be able to easily get foods inner temperature up to or above 176 degrees Fahrenheit, which is generally what is recommended for most meats to be considered safe. Now, while the temperature is important, the materials used to make the grill are also worth considering. Most grill frames are built using stainless steel, aluminum, sheet metal, cast iron and sometimes, ceramic. The material used to create the grill is an important feature to look for, as it can affect the temperature of the interior. A good metal grill can contain heat well, allowing for extreme temperatures on the inside while keeping cool on the outside.
This is a serious area for shoppers to pay attention to; there are a lot of grill makers who try to use cheap metals or inconsistent materials. One key area to look at is the frame. Sometimes, the frame of the grill is just painted stainless steel, which can rust over time. Check your grill surface carefully; some shoppers carry magnets to be sure.
Charcoal grills can also come in a variety of materials, like stainless steel or porcelain, although the latter is rare and usually expensive. If you’re looking for American made products, you may want to go with stainless steel or aluminum, as the Primo Oval Ceramic Charcoal is the only American made ceramic grill on Earth. Ceramic grills not only distribute heat evenly; they are known for holding their heat well and needing a little time to prep.
The grate is also a vital piece to pay attention to. Cast iron, aluminum or ceramic are all fine materials for your grate, but consider that this is one of the easiest pieces of the grill to suffer deterioration. If the metal is thin, it can break down quickly, so check before you buy. Also, remember to clean your grate after every cooking. A lot of grillers will tell you that this cuts down on the flavor. Honestly, all leaving material on your grate does is helps it to heat inconsistently, causing more wear on the metal and leading you to replace it faster. Remember that it is variance in temperatures that bring about the death of a grate, so treat it well and oil it often to prolong its life.
Is your grate coated? Some grates come with a thin coat of porcelain or Teflon, and these can chip or wear easily if you use steel frilling utensils. Be careful, as chipped porcelain can lead to uneven heating. Also, while Teflon is an inert substance (it doesn’t do anything to you if consumed), no one wants to see black flakes on their grilled food. Be careful with your scrapers and brushes, and consult with your hardware store on which tools are best for your grate.
Finally, there is the stainless steel grate. This looks like a good choice, but stainless steel grates can wear very easily and warp over time. They do not distribute heat evenly over time and can cause problems. For the best results, consider cast iron for your needs. It’s durable, heats well and can handle metal tools.
So, which kind of material is best? While some materials are more expensive than others, some cheaper aluminum grills can last for decades if properly cared for. Remember, just because the materials are rare or expensive does not always mean they are the best choice.
Considering The Cost
On the subject of cheap versus expensive, it should be noted that grills can range in cost from $99 to over $10,000, depending on how serious you are about your food. While price can be a strong indicator of how nice your grill is, you can get a quality grill for a reasonable price.
The Weber Grill mentioned earlier can be purchased for as little as $99, and when considering charcoal over gas, charcoal is usually cheaper. The Big Green Egg typically runs about $300-$400 and is considered extremely durable. That doesn’t mean all gas grills are more expensive than charcoal, but the majority of gas grills start at several hundred dollars and can easily run $6,000 – $10,000.
Handy Grilling Extras
The reason for such extreme cost differences can be traced back to accessories or cooking extras, such as infrared cookers, LED lights, grilling capacity and automation. Some smokers will even include an infrared cooker in the back to help keep temperatures even or use infrared to enhance the output of the burners, allowing for as little as two burners to cover a 36” area.
When looking at your gas grill, how many side attachments do you have? Most grills will allow add-ons, like side burners or warmers. Also, consider the grilling hood. A decent smoker will not only provide a good, smooth turn handle but enough room to accommodate a large amount of food. Also, the structure of the hood can help determine the flow of heat and smoke, allowing for a better barbequing experience.
A handle is nice for manual control but can be tedious if you have a large amount of food or require constant turning. For some, the hand crank models are more of a novelty. If you are looking at a true long-term, slow roasting experience, you may want to consider a grill with a built-in automatic chain for a smooth, even turning experience. For instance, high-end Alfresco grills like the LX2 42 have a built-in rotisserie chain with roller bearings to eliminate the need for a counterweight.
Cabinets can be a vital part of grilling, as they can hold the food, the propane tanks (if you’re using a propane grill) and all of the accessories needed. Many grills allow for trays, wheels for mobility, vents and even ice makers and mini-fridges to provide something cold to drink while heating your food.
Another vital accessory is the grease trap. When cooking with gas, drainage of grease can pose a problem. You need to have a good drainage system in place to make sure your grease and other juices don’t stain the grilling surface and burners, and more importantly, don’t start a grease fire. Many grills will have a place for disposable or quick-clean drip pans to cut down on potential flare ups. While disposable is more expensive, it cuts down on after-cooking clean-up and is considered by many to be easier to work with.
Gas grills require an ignition system to work, and some models try to get by with a simple push button metal spark. While this saves on cost, it isn’t the most reliable system and can cause a flare up if it doesn’t catch. Some high-end grill makers like DCS will add a 9-volt powered ignition system to ensure a spark, but even these can lose power in the off-seasons and should be checked regularly.
Grill Fuels (Gas, Propane, or Charcoal)
So which is better, natural gas, propane or charcoal? If you’re not concerned with moving your grill and your home is equipped for it, natural gas can be a cheaper option in the long run. The disadvantage to natural gas can be that not all grill models come with the necessary hookups to accommodate it. Propane is convenient and portable but can be bulky and cost more in the long run. Charcoal is cheap and easy to come by but can take its time heating up. Also, disposal of charcoal can be messy and dangerous if you don’t let it cool.
A popular option for grills is to be able to switch between natural gas and liquid propane. Both work well, but natural gas is quickly becoming the preferred choice due to cost. While most grills on the market can handle both or come with a natural gas option, some, like the Broil King Monarch 40 are only designed for propane. While natural gas conversion kits are available, they can be expensive, and if done improperly can leak or provide an inaccurate amount of gas, causing food to be overcooked and money to be wasted.
The advantages of charcoal grilling can be found in smoking, low-temperature cooking, longer cooking times and a relatively cheap heat source. Gas grills offer no shortage of features, but charcoal provides the advantage of a true smoke-filled cooking environment to help lock in flavor. Most charcoal grills are designed with the smokehouse aspect in mind and will provide a decent-sized area to contain their smoke as well as a decent ventilation system.
Possible Additional Concerns
So far, we’ve covered what makes for a good gas grill; even cooking areas, lots of accessories, easy push starts, and high cooking temperatures, but what makes for a bad gas grill? The biggest problem that you will run into is poor burner design and inconsistencies in the metal quality of your burners, which can lead to an uneven heating surface. If the quality of the metal in your burner is poor or mixed improperly, it can affect the distribution of heat. Copper, for instance, distributes heat differently than aluminum or brass, and sometimes grill companies will use whatever is cheapest instead of what is best.
As mentioned earlier, another factor to consider is the material of the grill casing. Not only will grills painted to resemble stainless steel be more prone to rusting, they may hold heat inconsistently, or take longer to get to a proper grilling temperature. Also, poor grilling casings can cause the outside of the grill to heat to dangerous levels, causing burns to the griller.
A grill is first and foremost for cooking, and most decent grills, while looking clean and sharp are pretty straightforward in their designs. Grills that go out of their way to impress visually are sometimes trying to hide poor quality elements that a casual shopper might miss. One example is the Team Grill Patio Series Pro, which comes in your favorite team colors but has been found in reviews to cook unevenly. Some other grills go for a futuristic design, employing lots of LED lights and slick lines, but again, all of that means nothing if the grilling surface isn’t consistent.
Finally, don’t let price be an automatic market for quality. While it’s true that higher priced grills tend to be superior, that doesn’t mean all of them are worth the cost. For instance, the Char-Broil Designer Series 463420507 may look like a quality grill, but Consumer Reports is filled with negative reviews complain about its inability to light and poor heat distribution.
Finally, there is the question of assembly. Some grills come ready right out of the box, while others can require massive assembly and can easily be broken by not following directions. Also, read the reports online before buying; some grills are poorly designed to the point that the parts fit inaccurately from the get-go. Others can warp over time due to poor materials and then be useless after just a few years. In the end, if you don’t research you could be costing yourself more than you bargained for.
So, you’ve checked your grills body and it seems to light well, but what about the burners? If your burners are made from stamped aluminum or log-grade stainless steel, they won’t last long. Brass or ceramic tend to last longer, but then you have another problem; does your grill properly shield your burners from grease? Some smokers are designed to completely cut off the grease from the burners from the grease, allowing for a longer life, but even if they are completely separated, simple things like the shape of the burner can lead to warping or deterioration. Oval burners, for instance, tend to warp faster than square, bow-tie or H-Shaped and are favored for high-heat searing. For the best results, brass or cast iron burners can have an extremely long life if treated well.
All grills can break down or underperform over time. As a grill owner, you need to know what to look for as your grill ages and what needs to be replaced. The first piece to consider is the ignition system. Many grills offer a push button start, but as stated earlier, this can break over time. Fortunately, this is a cheap repair and most hardware stores carry replacements. For those with battery-powered lighters, you should always consider checking the battery at the start of every grilling season. Beyond this, check the actual sparking mechanism to see if dirt or ash has blocked the device from igniting. Sometimes a quick swipe of a cloth can save you an expensive repair down the line.
A second area to consider for maintenance is the burner. We’ve already discussed the quality and shape of your burners, but all of them can break down over time. When buying your grill, pay attention to the burner type and how easy it will be to purchase a replacement. How expensive would they be, how many do you need and where can they be found? Also, if your grill compatible with any other models that might offer generic replacements? Many grill models have interchangeable parts, and many manufacturers double-dip on the design of parts, making it easy to find a substitute.
The third area to consider is the strength of the flame. In gas grills, you may run into leaks in your hose that can result in weaker flames or flare ups. Check your hose and your fittings, and before you write these off completely, try replacing the tank if you’re working with propane. Sometimes the problem is something as simple as a faulty tank or bad nozzle.
Buying a New Grill
First off, do your homework. There are plenty of site out there that list out quality grills of every kind. Do not be afraid to dig deep and read the reviews, and pay attention to grill ratings. Remember, you’re not buying a space shuttle; this is a device that serves one purpose, so if the reviews are even a little off, pay attention to why. Usually, the issues revolve around construction and heat distribution.
Second, talk to the people at the store. Most hardware stores have employees that know their stuff, and they are more than eager to share their knowledge with you. Just be careful; employees that work on commission are less likely to direct you to the best choice for your needs. To make sure you’re getting the best advice, make a day of it and talk to employees from several stores. You wouldn’t pay thousands for a car without asking around, so why would you for a grill?
Finally, be patient. Plan your shopping for the off-season to get a good grill on clearance. Stores have a finite amount of storage space, and they may be willing to part with a grill below cost if you get them at the right time. Also, consider shopping at a big box store like Lowes or Menards. These stores will often times sell their floor models for an extreme discount or have models that suffered a slight damage in transport.
Big Box stores tend to intimidate shoppers, and many of those shoppers may feel more comfortable trying to negotiate with their small, local hardware store. If your goal is to save money, this is a mistake. Big Box stores will negotiate with you if you persist, and due to their high volume, they are more likely to offer a deal than a smaller store that is pinching its pennies. If an employee won’t talk sales with you, then ask for a manager. Be persistent and keep asking; you’ll be surprised at how many will offer a model at a discount just to get rid of it.
Now, consider transport. Big Box stores will usually offer to deliver your grill for free (yes, even if you got it on clearance. At that point, they really want it off their floor.) Don’t hesitate to ask about delivery options, and don’t be afraid to ask about professional assembly. The disadvantage here is that it may add to the cost of your grill, but consider the situation. If you just paid several thousand dollars for a grill, then it’s probably worth it to you to have it assembled correctly. An extra $100 for professional assembly isn’t a lot in comparison to the cost of the actual grill, and most stores will offer it for free after a certain price point. Plus, if the store messes up on the construction, they will work to make things right. If you mess up the construction, you may be out of luck.
This guide was written to help you know what to look for when purchasing a decent barbeque grill. As we have discussed, there are many different aspects to take into consideration. Everything matters, from fuel to building materials to the shape of the burners. Consider the shape of the grill, the features offered for grilling, the distribution of the heating elements and most of all what people have to say. Consider how much you want to spend up front and how much you are willi8ng to spend long term. How much maintenance are you comfortable with, and do you have access to replacement parts?
Grilling can be a wonderful pastime, but only if you have done your homework and picked the grill best for you. Hopefully, when considering between portability and stationary, charcoal or propane, or any of the different options available, you pick the one best suited to your needs.
Information for this guide obtained from: