So you’ve decided to take the plunge and start cooking outside this summer. Grills are a great way to expand your culinary skills as well as getting some fresh air on nice days, plus they smell great. Whether you want to try grilling corn on the cob, hot dogs, or something more adventuresome like cooking salmon, there is one for everyone. To help figure out which one is best for you, we have a few pointers to help you choose the grill that is best for you.
Charcoal vs Propane vs Natural Gas vs Electric
Charcoal, gas, and electric grills all have their benefits and weaknesses. Let’s go through some of them together.
Liquid propane is very conveniently stored in tanks, so it is easy to refill and move. Propane contains more energy than natural gas as measured in BTU. The main disadvantage is the possibility of running out of fuel while cooking.
Much less expensive than propane, and you never have to run to the store for a refill since it won’t run out of fuel. The catch is that the grill will be basically stuck in one place. Also, don’t try to set it up yourself; call a professional to connect it to your gas line. Gas leaks have catastrophic consequences.
Charcoal gives a very nice smokey flavor that is hard to match with other grill types. They are portable and good for taking on the road. They are also usually the cheapest type of grill, although really high-end models still run a pretty penny. They have a long setup time to get the charcoal lit properly, and less consistent temperature, so be careful with them. The cost of charcoal adds up fast too if used frequently.
Electric tops can be used in locations where an open flame is not allowed such as condos or apartments, and even indoors. They are generally small, so great for tight spaces. They use no fuel and create no smoke, so they are very clean. No smoke flavor from cooking might turn some users away, however.
Size and mobility
Large grills are better for large functions like family reunions or parties, while smaller ones are aimed for campers and tailgaters. Going big can have several advantages.
- More burners and larger grilling area holds more food when cooking for large groups.
- Large exterior dimensions also mean you will need a large outdoor space, like a patio or a deck.
Let’s look at why you might want a compact grill.
- Small grills are great for apartment decks and camping.
- They are easier to carry and move for camping, games, etc.
- Cost is considerably lower
As grills get larger, many have some space for storing utensils, scrapers, and anything else you might need for a barbeque. Storage is typically open and exposed on less expensive models, so spending a few extra bucks for security might be needed.
Some high-end charcoal models even have a pull-out bin to keep bags of charcoal dry and off the ground. If you plan on cooking out a lot, keeping your fuel covered and closeby is really worth it.
Not all grates are made the same
Different grate materials cook food in unique ways. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the three most common.
- Stainless steel is the most durable and won’t rust like cast iron. It is also much easier to clean; just wiping it down removes any residue.
- Cast iron holds a lot of heat and gives great searing marks. It is also very easy to clean.
- Porcelain-coated grates are durable and easy to clean like stainless steel while able to make sear marks like cast iron. They are rust-resistant, but are brittle and need extra care to ensure they don’t chip or crack.
Matches or lighters are an option to light gas grills, but most newer models have a built-in sparker.
- Piezo starters make a noticeable “click” sound and do not need a battery.
- Electronic ignitions use a battery to produce constant sparking like a gas stovetop.
- Hot surface ignition systems operate similarly to glow plugs in diesel motors. A conductive element turns red-hot to ignite the flame. This system will cost more and is less common than other ignition types.
Many accessories are available, either included with the grills or separate. They are worth looking at, especially if you have specific cooking needs.
- A fitted cover. Most large stationary grills have covers to prolong the lifespan of your grill and get the most of your money.
- App control. Some newer grills have the option to sync up with an app on your smartphone. Great for multitasking and cooking lots of food at once.
- Rotisseries are an option for chicken, turkey, and similar, but need a bigger grill to fit properly.
- A precision thermometer is a good way to make sure no one gets food poisoning.
- Side burners are pretty common on larger grills. They are great for heating a can of beans while cooking other food on the main fire.
- iGrill compatibility. Weber makes a wireless tracking system that notifies you when your food finishes. For newcomers to grilling and experts alike, it is certainly worth looking into.
- Smoke boxes are a way to infuse a desirable smokey flavor into your food while using a gas grill.
A Few Last Things To Keep In Mind
- Know what kind of food you will be cooking, and how frequently. Heavy use will need something sturdier than camping use. Delicate food will also need fancier controls to maintain consistent cooking conditions.
- BTU (British Thermal Unit) measurement of the grill. This will give you a rough idea of how much heat the grill delivers.
- Keep in mind that BTU count just tells you how much fuel it burns, and larger grills will naturally burn more fuel. Actual heat delivery must be calculated by BTU per square inch, or “heat flux”, something they never tell you. Typical flux is perhaps 85.
- Check manufacturer warranties, and then make sure you don’t accidentally void. You wouldn’t want to spend a few grand only to have the grill fail a year later and not be able to replace it.
- Check reviews before buying. The grilling community is vast and has many diverse opinions on the best methods and tricks, so use the internet to find what others think of a product before committing.