How To Choose Outdoor Grills
Choosing Your Grill
Grilling has blossomed into a near year round activity. More than 70 percent of Americans report that they own at least one grill or smoker. And whether you’re normally preparing a quick meal just for yourself or a full spread for friends and family, it’s never been easier to find the right grill with the right features to match almost any budget.
Before you start shopping for grills, here are a few things to consider:
• Gas, charcoal or electric? No matter which side of the gas versus charcoal debate you fall on, we think
this decision comes down to matters of convenience, functionality and personal preference. For quick,
no-fuss operation and easier cleanup, go with gas. If you’re more of a traditionalist or if you grill lots of
red meat, make it charcoal.
• Size is important. Carefully weigh considerations such as the number of people you ordinarily cook for
and your available grilling space when choosing your grill. As a rule of thumb, if you typically cook for
your family or small groups, 600 to 900 square inches of cooking surface should suffice. By comparison,
most portable grills provide about 200 square inches of cooking area.
• Materials, workmanship and durability are keys to long-lasting enjoyment of your new grill. The grill hood
and cook box should be constructed from cast aluminum, cast iron, enamel bonded steel or stainless
steel for durability. Handles need to be sturdy and heat-resistant. Look for stainless steel carts with
welded joints. Sturdy casters with wheel locks are ideal.
• Not all stainless steel is equal. Most gas grills use some stainless steel in their construction, but there are
several different grades. Stainless steel graded 304 is considered commercial grade and is the most
durable. How can you tell if the stainless is 304? If a magnet sticks to it, then it isn’t 304.
|Today’s gas grills offer convenience, control and versatility that is virtually unmatched by other types of grills. But these are just a few of the reasons why many grillers are now choosing to go with gas. Gas grills not only come in a wide selection of sizes and models, now some of the most moderately priced gas grills offer features once found only on more expensive models.|
Whether you choose to go with a propane or natural gas grill, there are some advantages that both share:
• Gas grills offer quick start up, reach the optimum cooking temperature in 10 to 15 minutes, and cook
foods evenly across the entire grilling surface.
• Temperature control knobs allow you to regulate heat more precisely. You can create different heat
zones for searing, cooking or warming foods on the grill.
• Cleanup is quick and easy and there are no hot coals or messy ash to deal with after you are
Gas Grill Fuel Types
|Gas grills are available in two basic fuel types: propane, also called liquid propane, and natural gas. In terms of the grilling experience, there is not much difference between the two. But there are some variables to consider in price, availability and ease of use.|
What about BTU? BTU stands for British thermal units, and a BTU is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit. In terms of grilling, it tells you how much gas a grill uses and the amount of heat it generates. Typically, gas grills range from 15,000 to 60,000 BTU per hour.
• Don’t be taken in by inflated claims about BTU. High BTU doesn’t guarantee faster preheating or better
grilling performance. The heat your grill actually produces is a combination of design, proximity of the
cooking grid to the heat source and BTU.
• The typical gas grill will reach temperatures between 400 to 600 F, which is a much more meaningful
measure to the average griller trying to get dinner on the table after a long day of work or play.
• Dual fuel gas grills that allow you to easily cook with either liquid propane or natural gas are another
convenient option to consider.
Propane (also called liquid propane) grills are by far the most common type of gas grill used by grillers.
• Propane tanks are portable, widely available and can be easily stored or refilled. A 20-pound tank can
last you about 25 hours of grilling time depending on your grill.
• Propane gas grills offer far more flexibility in terms of grill placement because they do not require a
dedicated gas pipeline.
• Propane also contains more than twice the cooking energy per BTU than natural gas. There’s about
2,500 BTU in 1 cubic foot of propane versus about 1,000 in the same amount of natural gas.
Natural Gas Grills
Natural gas is abundant, less expensive than propane or charcoal, and will never run out unless you accidently forget to pay the gas bill.
• Natural gas grills require the installation of a dedicated pipeline by a certified professional to provide fuel
to the grill.
• And, unlike propane grills, once the gas line is installed, your natural gas grill will be stuck in place,
so give careful consideration to the placement of your grill before installing the gas line.
Gas Grill Features
|You can really turn up the heat on your outdoor cooking experience with the wide variety of features and add-ons available for gas grills.|
Burners: Gas grills with stainless steel, cast iron or cast brass burners offer the highest quality and durability. Burners should run the length of the cook box and offer independent temperature control. Grills with only “high,” “medium” and “low” settings provide less than optimal heat control.
Grates: The surface where your food cooks is important, and that’s why quality grill grates make a big difference. Thick stainless steel rods or cast iron grates offer greater heat retention, sear foods beautifully and produce excellent grill marks. Wide, closely spaced bars sear better than thin, round rods.
Add-ons: Side burners for preparing and warming side dishes and motorized rotisseries for slow-cooking meats and vegetables bring added flavor to the outdoor grilling experience.
Infrared burners: These burners are a must if you want to prepare restaurant-quality steaks on your gas grill. Infrared burners use a gas flame to superheat a ceramic, glass or metal plate that radiates up to 700 F. If you love your steak well-done on the outside and red to pink on the inside, infrared burners are your best bet.
Smoker box: A smoker box filled with wood chips can infuse meats and vegetables with a taste of the rich, savory wood flavor some find lacking in food prepared on gas grills. Some gas grills have built-in smoker boxes or trays.
Ignition: Make sure your gas grill has a manual ignition hole allowing you to start your grill by lighter or match, just in case the electric starter fails.
Gas Grill Warranty
|Make sure to read the warranty on your grill. Lifetime warranties are best, but make sure yours provides at least five to 10 years of coverage on the burners.|
|Over the years, charcoal grills have become synonymous with outdoor grilling. There’s something about their simple design and the ritual of lighting the fire that produces not only a certain sense of nostalgia, but also deliciously cooked food. Many charcoal enthusiasts are of the opinion that charcoal imparts a special flavor and aroma to foods unmatched by any other type of grill.|
No matter which side you take in the great flavor debate, here are a few important things to consider when shopping for a charcoal grill:
• A grill fueled by charcoal can get a lot hotter than the standard gas grill. Charcoal grills typically cook
at temperatures up to 700 F, which is perfect for grilling steaks and other large cuts of meat.
• Using a charcoal chimney or electric charcoal starter to ignite charcoal helps preserve the smoky
good taste of food cooked over charcoal. Chimney starters work particularly well because they light
charcoal faster and don’t require an electrical outlet.
• Lighting charcoal and getting it to the optimum cooking temperature takes a little longer than gas or
electric. After 20 to 30 minutes, your charcoal should be hot and ready for grilling.
• Charcoal grills with high-capacity ash catchers or charcoal access drawers make cleanup much easier.
Tips for Cooking with Charcoal: The 2-Zone Setup
Unfortunately, charcoal grills don’t have temperature control knobs. But by using the 2-zone setup when cooking on charcoal grills, you can better regulate heat to ensure foods will be moist, tender and cooked to perfection when they come off the grill.
• A 2-zone setup creates a hot direct heat zone on the grill surface for browning and searing, and a cooler
indirect heat zone where food can cook more slowly by convection airflow.
• The technique is fairly straightforward. When the coals are hot and ready for grilling, bank them to one
side of the grill to create your direct heat zone. Place an aluminum pan half-filled with water opposite the
coals for a low-temp zone where foods can cook via convection heat.
• The advantage of the 2-zone setup is that it provides an area for searing foods quickly by direct heat
while simultaneously cooking other foods more slowly over a longer period of time.
Charcoal Grill Features
When using charcoal grills, the important features to look for are ones that make it easier to regulate heat and enhance your grilling experience.
• Opt for a grill with a side table or workspace for food staging and prep when possible. Tool racks for easy
access to cooking utensils come in handy, too.
• Cast iron sear grate insets retain heat and sear meat to perfection, leaving nice dark grill marks.
• Charcoal grills with cranks or levers allowing you to raise or lower the charcoal bed provide greater
• Hinged cooking grates let you easily add charcoal when cooking long and slow.
• Built-in thermometers tell you when the grill has reached optimum cooking temperature.
• Offset smokers are a nice option for preparing slow-roast, smoked meats.
|Electric grills are a convenient option if you live in an apartment or condo with a small patio or balcony. They require little more than an electrical outlet, and electric grills heat up quickly, cook food evenly and are easy to clean.|
• Electric grills are available in a variety of sizes and styles including tabletop and portable models.
• Deep, dark pronounced grill marks are one of the many pleasures of cooking on electric grills.
• Smaller on average than other types of grills, electric grills are less than ideal for cooking large meals.
• If you don’t care to buy, store or mess with charcoal, propane or other types of fuel, an electric grill may
be perfect for you.
|With portable grills you can enjoy deliciously grilled food while relaxing at the park or beach, camping out over an extended weekend, or wherever you want to do a little outdoor cooking. Portable grills come in many different styles and models, and also offer you the choice of gas, charcoal or electric depending on your preferred grilling method.|
|Nothing cooks ribs, salmon, bacon or pulled pork quite like a smoker. Smokers cook by indirect smoke heat, infusing meats through-and-through with delicious hardwood smoke flavor. Choices range from simple standalone charcoal, wood, gas or electric bullet-shaped cookers to all-in-one smoker grills.|
Grill Tools and Accessories
• Grill covers not only protect your grill from the elements but keep it operating at peak performance for a longer
period of time.
• A good set of grill tools including essential cooking tools and utensils such as tongs, a long-handled fork
and spatula are a must.
• Grill toppers and baskets allow you to cook veggies, meats and seafood with ease.
• Flavored wood chips add a rich, smoky taste and flavor to your meats and vegetables.
• Grill cleaning tools like brushes and cleaning blocks make cleanup much easier.
• Heavy-duty suede or leather gloves come in handy when you have to lift a hot grate or rearrange coals.
See our Grills and Outdoor Cooking Pinterest board for more ideas, tips and recipes.