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FIND YOUR PERFECT GRILL
It’s that time of year again—grilling season. But if you are unfamiliar with the realm of BBQ grilling, you may be at a loss as to how to get started. But have no fear. This comprehensive buying guide will teach you everything you need to know about grilling and enable you to find the best BBQ grill for your tastes, preferences, and needs.
BEFORE YOU SHOP
BBQ GRILL BUYING GUIDE
If you’re thinking about buying a grill, here are some things you should be aware of or consider before purchasing…
Yes size is Everything!…when it comes to cooking on the grill of course. You should first consider how many people you intend to use this grill to cook for regularly. To give you a rough idea, see our recommendations below;
- Up to 4 people: you’ll need a smaller cooking area (up to 1800cm²)
- Up to 6 people: a larger area of 2000cm² to 2500cm² is enough
- Up to 8 people: the largest gas barbecues (over 2500cm²) will be enough
What do you plan to use the grill for? Is it meant to be a more or less permanent fixture in your backyard or on your patio? Do you want to be able to bring it to the park, to a tailgate party, to your friend’s house, or to a camping trip? Consider the main intended use of the grill before you buy; the discussions of the different types of grills below will further clarify the kind of grill you should buy.
FREQUENCY OF USE
How often do you plan to cook with it? How much time are you willing to spend on cooking (and on waiting for the cooking surface to preheat)? If you intend to grill frequently and do not have much time to wait for the cooking surface to warm up, a charcoal grill may not be the best answer.
If you want your grill to be permanently connected to an endless source of fuel, then a natural gas grill is the way to go. If you want your food to taste smoky, you may want to buy a charcoal grill instead (or a gas grill that has an attached smokebox).
Some brands, like Weber, are tried and true, and it’s actually fairly safe to recommend basically any of their products. Others, like Traeger, are known for particular types of grills, such as wood pellet smokers. Is there a particular brand you are just dying to have?
Luckily, there are grills for each type of budget. Charcoal will generally get you the best performance for the lowest price (but you sacrifice on time and convenience). Weigh the importance of your budget against other factors such as the needed cooking surface area, the frequency of use, etc.
LIGHT THE COALS
The charcoal grill is the grandfather of the modern backyard and patio cooking tradition. Grilling as a backyard pastime did not become popular until after World War II, in the late 1940s and the early 1950s. It all started in 1951 in Chicago when George Stephen became annoyed with the open, flat brazier style grills which were common at that time. He did not like the fact that the food which was being cooked on those brazier grills was left exposed to the wind and the elements.
George Stephen was a metalworker by trade who worked for the Weber Bros. Metal Spinning Company, which at that time was best known for making harbor buoys (those metal floating things in the harbor). Stephen took a buoy, cut it along the equator to achieve a somewhat hemispherical shape, added a metal grate to it, cut vents into the buoy for controlling the temperature, and used the top as a lid. He had just invented the original Weber kettle charcoal grill, and backyard grilling as we know it would never be the same.
Today, the Weber charcoal kettle grill remains largely the same as the one George Stephen invented nearly seventy years ago (with some slight modifications for convenience, ease of cleaning, etc.). And it still cooks as amazingly as ever.
No matter how many technological advances or inventions people come up with, people still argue for the superiority of charcoal grilling to basically everything else. Now, charcoal grilling does of course have its advantages and disadvantages. But the fact that no one has been able to come up with something substantially, undeniably better in terms of taste, quality, and performance in almost 70 years is surely a testament to the genius of the original design.
In fact the Weber Original charcoal kettle grill remains one of the most popular designs on the market today and is one of the most commercially successful barbecue grills ever sold.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Buying a Charcoal Grill
So what exactly are the advantages of a charcoal grill, and what are its disadvantages? Why do people still love it and use it so much?
As far as advantages go, charcoal grilling imparts a smoky taste to the food it cooks which is difficult to replicate with fuel sources like propane, and many people enjoy and long for that smoky flavor. Also, because charcoal burns hotter than gas or wood, it is possible to achieve higher temperatures and better sear on your meat when cooking with charcoal. With charcoal, once the coals have been ignited, they provide the need needed for grilling, and they usually will not flare up dangerously like gas grills using an open flame might.
When it comes to temperature control, with charcoal, you obviously cannot turn down the heat with a dial like you would be able to with a gas grill, but you can simply leave certain areas of the grill without charcoal briquettes so that your food can finish cooking or resting in a cooler zone. The temperature control on charcoal grills also generally involves the opening and closing of dampers to control the amount of oxygen (if the dampers are closed completely, the oxygen will be cut off and the coals will be extinguished; if the dampers are completely open, the oxygen flow will be high and the heat of the coals will be greater).
Regarding charcoal grills themselves, they are generally lighter and much more portable than gas grills and are thus more suitable for camping or for going to the park to grill. Also, charcoal grills tend to be less expensive than gas grills, although additional features such as a holding cart with a worktop can add up and cause the difference to be negated.
So when it comes to the disadvantages of charcoal grills, the major one is that you have to wait a while for the coals to heat up and to reach the proper grilling temperature. Even with a fancy chimney starter or an electronic ignition system, you still have to wait between 10 and 20 minutes for the charcoal briquettes to heat up. And if you don’t have a fancy automatic starter or ignition, it can take even longer. This makes frequent unplanned weekday grilling sessions much more of a hassle than they would be with a gas grill or an electric grill. A side disadvantage is the fact that if you use charcoal fluid or self-ignite charcoal to start your fire, the fire may give off a chemical smell that is unpleasant and which can seep into your food.
Another major disadvantage is the fact that charcoal grills are much messier than other kinds of grills, since you have to deal with a lot more ash and debris, so they require more extensive cleanup after a grilling session. Also, longer grilling sessions may necessitate the addition of more charcoal.
Despite the disadvantages, settling upon a charcoal grill such as the Weber Original Kettle Charcoal Grill or the Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill is still a wise choice, as many grilling enthusiasts will affirm. Don’t worry; some of the disadvantages have been mitigated by the addition of new features. And if you want the time-tested performance, quality, and smoky taste of a Weber charcoal grill but also want more side features like automatic ignition, you can check out the Weber Performer Deluxe series, which retains all the cooking advantages of the original Weber charcoal grill while adding on several more conveniences and creature comforts.
SPARK IT UP
The gas grill was invented in the early 1950s by the owner of the Chicago Combustion Corporation, Don McGlaughlin. A few years later, in 1954, his company designed the first portable gas grill, which for the first time made use of 20 pound propane cylinders as a fuel source (these had previously been used only by plumbers for fuel).
Gas grills take as their fuel source either propane, butane, a combination of propane and butane, or natural gas. Propane, butane, and the combination of the two is supplied to the gas grill by a fuel tank, while grills that use natural gas are generally hooked up directly (and usually permanently) to a building’s natural gas line. So, if a gas grill is portable, it follows that it is fueled with either propane, butane, or LPG and not with natural gas.
Most gas grills run on propane, butane, or LPG, so they generally follow a similar design: the grilling surface, burners, and lid sit atop a cart which holds the fuel tank. This cart or frame will generally have wheels for more convenient transport as well as other features such as side shelves, hooks for tools, workspaces, and storage compartments.
We have already discussed certain disadvantages of gas grills, such as the fact that gas does not burn as hot as charcoal and is thus less able to achieve a perfect sear on meat, as well as the fact that with gas grills, you run the risk of experiencing dangerous flare ups due to the open flame. Gas grills also tend to be more expensive than charcoal grills and are usually less portable (it is much harder to take your full sized gas grill on a camping trip or to a tailgate party).
Now, let’s discuss the advantages of gas grills. Just as the long wait time for heating up the charcoal is its foremost disadvantage, the foremost advantage of a gas grill (especially when compared to a charcoal grill) is the speed and convenience with which the flame can be ignited and the cooking surface can be heated up. Many gas grills nowadays can be ignited with the press of a button through an electronic ignition system (although cheaper, older models may still require the lighting of the fuel source with a match or a lighter). And after ignition, the cooking surface is heated up and ready to go in as little as 5 minutes. That can be a world of difference from the 20 minutes which may be required for a charcoal grill to be ready. Thus, if you intend to use your gas grill on a frequent or even daily basis (such as for cooking weekday meals), the ease and convenience of a gas grill will probably overrule all the other factors.
Although you may not be able to achieve the smoky taste of charcoal with a gas grill, some people say that gas grilling makes the food taste like bacon, which is certainly a plus in our book. Other advantages include the fact that gas fuel is generally less expensive than charcoal, the fact that gas grills involve much easier cleanup than charcoal grills, and that gas grills oftentimes feature additional accessories such as side burners, back burners, or smoke boxes. A side burner or back burner on a gas grill might, for instance, utilize infrared heating, which allows for higher temperatures to be reached and for the cooking of food items such as rotisserie meats. An added smoke box on a gas grill can be used to achieve some of that smoky flavor you would otherwise achieve with charcoal. Also, gas grills give off steam when in the process of cooking, which may add moisture and tenderness to the meat that you are preparing.
The primary benefits of gas grills are their simplicity, convenience, speed, and ease of use. Just remember to turn off the gas after you are done using it (forgetting to do so can pose a severe health hazard). And the primary disadvantages of gas grills are the fact that they don’t burn as hot as charcoal grills, they are generally not as portable, natural gas grills are not portable at all, the fuel tanks can be heavy and awkward to move around, and sudden flare ups may pose a fire hazard. Also, there is nothing so inconvenient as getting ready to cook after firing up your gas grill only to realize that you are down to the last bit of gas in the tank, and your guests are arriving and/or hungry already.
But if speed and convenience are your priorities and mobility and high heat cooking are not, then you may want to consider a gas grill over the other types of grills.
BRING THE ACTION INSIDE
Ah, indoor grills. Grilling purists may turn up their noses at the very mention of these, but we won’t do that. Indoor grills are the perfect solution for those of us who don’t have a backyard or a patio or who are stuck inside due to inclement weather but who want to enjoy grilled food at home.
Indoor grills are generally much smaller than outdoor grills because they are designed to fit on a kitchen countertop without looking too much out of place. Because smoke and vapors can be an issue when it comes to cooking indoors, a number of indoor grill models are “smokeless,” meaning that they feature technology which eliminates or significantly reduces the occurrence of smoke. After all, you don’t want to have to worry about accidentally setting off the smoke alarm in your building. Due to the fact that indoor grills are so much smaller, they often have much smaller cooking surfaces and are usually not suitable for entertaining large parties. Some indoor grills consist of one flat and open cooking surface or grate, while other indoor grills function more like panini presses, with a clamshell design. The latter type of indoor grill is also known as a contact grill, since the food is sandwiched between the two grill surfaces and thus both sides of the food are in contact with the grilling area.
Indoor grills generally have cooking surfaces which have a nonstick coating. This allows the grills to be cleaned more easily and reduces the need for the addition of cooking oils. Also, the grease management systems of these indoor grills generally consists of a drip tray which collects the grease and which can then be easily removed and washed or placed in the dishwasher.
The vast majority of grills specifically designed for indoor use are electric, so they require an outlet in order to function. Other than electricity, you don’t have to worry about any type of fuel. These electric grills are also exceedingly convenient and easy to turn on and to set at a certain temperature, since all they require is a press of a button. They also heat up fairly fast, getting the cooking surface up to an acceptable temperature in about five minutes (or possibly even less than that).
So the advantages of indoor grills are as follows: they can be used indoors, they manage smoke and vapors more effectively, they have simple and easy to clean grease management systems, their nonstick cooking surfaces allow for easy cleaning, they do not take up too much space on your kitchen countertop or on your balcony, they can be used at any time of year (even in the dead of winter), you don’t need to worry about any type of fuel source other than making sure that they are plugged into an outlet, you only have to push a button or two to turn them on and to adjust the temperature, and they heat up quickly and conveniently.
So what’s the problem? Why doesn’t everyone just go and buy an indoor grill? What are some of the disadvantages? Well, one obvious disadvantage is the decreased cooking surface area available on most indoor grills. Even the largest indoor grills will not be able to cater to a large group of people. Indoor grills, depending on the size, may be good for feeding as few as one person or up to four or six people. So you may be able to cook for your family using an indoor grill, but you certainly won’t be able to throw a barbecue party with an indoor grill.
Another distinct disadvantage of indoor grills is the fact that they may not get hot enough to achieve the perfect sear on many types of meat. For instance, an indoor grill will never get as hot as a charcoal grill (which can reach a temperature of up to 700 degrees F).
Yet another disadvantage is the fact that indoor grills do not use a flame to cook (whether charcoal fueled or gas fueled), so it is difficult or impossible to achieve that charbroiled or flame-broiled taste that is so key to great barbecue grilling. Some grilling enthusiasts complain that the food cooked by an indoor grill comes out tasting somewhat bland or tasteless. However, good flavor using an indoor grill can generally be achieved with the right techniques and practice. In fact many of our recipes can be made with an indoor grill!
Generally speaking, unless you belong to that unfortunate subset of people who cannot utilize an outdoor grill due to zoning regulations or space constraints (such as the lack of a backyard, patio, balcony, etc.), an indoor grill will not serve as a full time substitute for a proper full size outdoor grill. But an indoor grill can certainly work in a pinch and provide some of that longed for grilled taste at a time when outside grilling is not possible. Also, if you think of an indoor grill as just another convenient kitchen appliance for cooking food (like a microwave) instead of as a means of achieving grilling perfection, you may be much more satisfied with your indoor grill, as it will offer you an ingenious and convenient way to cook all manner of things.
GRILL ON THE ROAD
As awesome as it may be to have a top of the line luxury gas grill, you may be left out in the cold if you have the urge to grill during a camping trip or a tailgate party. While charcoal grills are generally more portable than gas grills, they may still be somewhat inconvenient to carry around or take up too much of your precious trunk space during a road trip or a camping trip. And an indoor grill, while small, would not work in those situations either, since indoor grills require electricity and you are unlikely to find an outlet in the middle of the woods. (Indoor grills are also best used indoors, as you might have already astutely discerned.)
This is where the portable grill comes into play. This is a grill (usually either a charcoal or a propane grill) that is specifically designed with portability in mind. The best portable grills will be light enough and compact enough to be transported easily but will still provide adequate grilling power to feed you and your family and/or friends
A portable grill generally consists of a cooking apparatus which is somewhat condensed in size but without too much reduction in burner power as well as some sort of supportive framework which can also be folded up and locked away for easy carrying. Some portable grills, for instance, fold up into the size and shape of a small wheeled suitcase when they are in portable mode but unfold to offer a full stand and side shelves as housing for the cooking apparatus.
Other portable grills do not come with their own full size collapsible stand and instead have shorter foldable legs which elevate the cooking surface just above the ground or the tabletop on which they are set. Oftentimes the manufacturer will also offer a foldable cart of some sort which can be purchased separately to further elevate the grill, so you do not need to sit on the ground or squat while you are cooking
Regardless what kind of stand the portable grill has, it must have at least the following three major features to qualify as a decent portable grill: adequate cooking power, durability, and portability. If a grill lacks decent cooking power, then it will not provide a suitable meal in a timely and efficient manner for you and your adventure buddies. So you must ensure that the portable grill has an adequately powerful burner or cooking temperature.
The next factor, durability, is important with all grills, but especially with portable grills, since they will undoubtedly experience much more movement and jostling than other types of grills. A grill you take on a camping trip should be as hardy, sturdy, and durable as all of your other camping gear.
The final thing to consider is portability. If you plan to go on frequent trips and grill by yourself in a remote location, make sure you are able to carry the grill easily and set it up without straining your back or risking injury to yourself. But if you never grill alone in remote locations and you always have someone who can help you carry the grill, you may be okay with getting a grill that is on the heavier side (but still compact in size). For instance, if you want wood-fired smoky flavor in a portable grill, the 60 pound Traeger Ranger grill and smoker will give you the smoky flavor you desire, but the grill may be too heavy for one person to carry easily. So take a friend with you or just do your meat smoking at home beforehand. But make sure you balance the portability of a grill with its usability and grilling power. If a grill is super light and you can carry it everywhere but lacks enough power to grill even a simple fillet of salmon, then you’ve got a problem.
So basically, a portable grill is a convenient thing to have, especially when it comes to hikes, camping trips, tailgate parties, picnics in the park, or even a friend’s house for a balcony grilling session. Just make sure you get the right mix of quality, cooking performance, durability, and portability (as well as any other features you consider useful or essential). Also, when you bring your portable grill, don’t forget to bring enough fuel (whether it be propane cylinders, charcoal, or wood pellets).
THAT CLASSIC SMOKEY TASTE
BBQ SMOKER GRILLS
A smoker or a smoker grill is a type of barbecue grill that is able to achieve and maintain a low and slow cooking temperature (around 180 to 200 degrees F) for a long period of period of time, enabling the food to be infused with the smoke emitted by the burning of the fuel and take on a smoky or wood-fired taste.
Because smokers or smoker grills are generally more expensive than regular grills and because smoking meats properly takes so much time and energy, we often only get smokehouse flavor from a restaurant. But it is altogether possible and even simple to achieve this kind of smokehouse wood-fired flavor at home. You just need the right smoker grill.
Meat can be smoked in one of two ways: using wood pellets or using charcoal. Certain woods (such as mesquite or hickory) will impart a particular kind of flavor through their smoke. You need wood pellets to get that wood-fired taste, but charcoal on its own can impart a smoky flavor as well. Some smokers use a combination of charcoal and wood pellets to achieve a particular flavor profile.
Wood pellet smokers usually function in the following way: wood pellets are added to a hopper. Then the grill is turned on, and the pellets are fed into a firebox to provide fuel for the fire, which lies underneath or offset from the cooking surface. The food is positioned on the cooking surface and the lid to the smoker grill is shut. The smoke and low heat from the fire circulate through the enclosed cooking space for several hours at a low cooking temperature (the longer the time, the better). This infuses the food on the cooking surface with the flavor of the smoke.
Charcoal smokers work in a similar fashion (without the hopper full of wood pellets). Usually the charcoal resides in a charcoal tray or at the bottom of the smoker, and its ignition and slow, low burning is kept going for as many hours as are necessary. Those who eat smoked meat would doubtless agree with us in saying that it is well worth the wait.
Since a smoker often doubles as or is attached to a conventional grill, a smoker grill will often have many options for cooking due to the range of temperatures achievable by the grill, everything from the low smoking temperatures to a high heat sear.
If you are in the market for a smoker grill, be sure to get one that suits not only your budget but also your tastes and your preferences. For instance, if you absolutely must have that wood-fired taste, then you should get a wood pellet smoker grill (or at least a grill that has wood pellets as a fuel option). If budget is a major constraint, you may want to consider a high value option from Weber or Dyna-Glo. The Weber cooker and smoker is one of our favorite picks for best value (overall cooking quality and performance for the price).
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
A gas grill will usually last between 5 and 15 years, although Americans on average get rid of their grills after a mere three years. Charcoal grills will generally last longer than that, due to their relatively simpler design and build.
If you are having problems with your grill, you may want to do some research or consult a repair service, the manufacturer, or a grilling expert before you assume that it is broken and throw it out completely. It is possible that even if there is a problem, it is covered by the manufacturer’s warranty and can thus be easily fixed. It may be only one simple, easily replaceable part which requires fixing, so don’t be too hasty to toss out your grill.
You can indeed use LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) for a barbecue grill which is labelled propane only. LPG consists mainly of propane and butane, and a gas grill will not perceive any difference between burning propane and burning butane. So it is perfectly fine to use an LPG tank for a grill that is marked for propane only.
Do not substitute natural gas as a fuel for a gas grill which requires propane (or vice versa) unless it is specially designed to accept both fuels. It is generally possible to convert a propane gas grill into a natural gas grill, but it almost always requires some changing of parts, such as the regulator.
Not many people know that there is a difference between barbecuing and grilling! In fact we have wrote an entire article that breaksdown teh difference between bbq and grilling!
OUR FINAL THOUGHTS
If you are having trouble deciding between a charcoal grill and a gas grill, you can of course go for a grill that utilizes both options, like this model from Royal Gourmet. You can also take a look at articles which discuss the best charcoal grills and the best gas grills in order to help you decide. The article on charcoal grills also includes some information on kamado grills, which are intriguing as both a charcoal grill choice as well as a portable grill choice.
But if you are not having quite that much trouble, then you can’t go wrong with either a charcoal grill from Weber or a gas grill from Weber. Weber offers close to unbeatable quality for what is generally a fairly decent or reasonable price point. Or, for a top of the line luxury gas grill, check out this model from Napoleon.
Click here for recommendations on the best indoor grills.
You can read this article on portable grills if you are trying to pick one out (or you can just go with a Weber portable grill to play things safe).
And last but not least, check out the link here for a detailed overview of the best smokers.
We hope this buying guide has been a help to you in figuring out how to get started on your barbecue grill journey. Enjoy!
FIND YOUR PERFECT GRILL
Our Grill Reviews
Buying your first Grill? Or simply looking to upgrade your existing model? We have researched the best grills to fit any budget and space. Explore our reviews below.