Barbecues are no longer just for summer; neither are they a regional phenomenon. People grill outdoors year-round, even in snowy climates. Back in the ’60s, on summer weekends, families gathered for hamburger and hot dog cook-outs. Over the years, with improvements to grills and people open to experimenting with the grills, menus have expanded to chicken, steaks, fish, vegetables, and more. There’s nothing tastier than food cooked by applying direct heat.
There are three types of barbecue grills: charcoal, gas, and electric. For years, charcoal grills were the only type of grill available. We all remember the Weber kettle drum and the hibachi, which could be transported anywhere. Best gas grills were widely introduced in the ’80s and were an instant hit. They are by far the most popular type of grill. Electric grills are less common but some people prefer them for simplicity.
The great debate among grilling aficionados’ centers on the merits of charcoal over gas grilling. In most barbecue competitions, charcoal is the choice of competitors. Your average home griller, however, will usually select a gas grill.
Barbecue grills can be found in all types of stores from Sears, Target, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowes, hardware stores, such as Ace and True-Value, and specialty stores. Gas grills cost more. Likewise, they range in price from under $100 to over $3000, depending on fuel source, brand, options, accessories, style, and quality. While the expression “You get what you pay for” is generally true, higher cost does not necessarily mean the best grill. Most gas grills are adequate for general barbecuing.
Electric grills have been around for several years. They are not as popular as either gas or charcoal grills but appeal to a certain segment of the population. An electric grill is similar to an electric oven on wheels. There is no need for a natural gas outlet or a gas grill. The one requirement is an electric outlet.
Cleanup is fairly easy with an electric grill and many are self-cleaning. The cooking temperature can be controlled much like the indoor electric oven. Electric grills are favored by those wanting the ability to cook while outdoors and have minimal cleanup.
When I was growing up, charcoal grills were the only type of grill widely available. Some grillers still prefer them over other types and they can generally be found for use by the public in parks and other recreational areas. Charcoal grills vary in price range; however, they are relatively inexpensive. The Weber grill is frequently the grill of choice among charcoal grillers. You start with a bag of Kingsford (or another brand) charcoal briquettes, which are compressed chunks of carbon, pile them into a pyramid shape, apply a bit of charcoal lighter fluid, light with a match, and wait for the coals to glow a brilliant red. You can also find egg carton shaped briquettes that travel well and are already saturated with lighter fluid.
As you can see, using charcoal as the barbecue fuel is a bit of work and requires time and patience. It also involves more post-grilling cleanup. However, the final result of charcoal grilling is unequaled as it’s the only way to get the charcoal flavor. You can also add flavors to the coals for a smokier taste.
If using a charcoal grill, patience is very important. The lighter fluid, if used, must be completely burned off, else the food will absorb the odor resulting in an objectionable taste. It also takes a bit of time for the charcoal to be cooking ready…so sit back with your soda or beer and enjoy the outdoors. After grilling, the embers need time to cool down and must be disposed of safely. Keep at least one extra bag of briquettes on hand, as they are used only once.
Gas grills are by far the most common and popular grills used at present. Today’s gas grills, however, are not the same as they were twenty years ago when you attached a propane tank, lit the gas, and grilled. Advancements in technology, along with add-ons and accessories, have made gas grills an everyday cooking tool. When you purchase a gas grill today, you must decide if you want it powered by natural gas or by propane.
Natural gas grills are a great option. They produce a consistent, high heat, which results in evenly cooked food. Clean-up is easy and some models come with self-cleaning features, similar to your self-cleaning oven. The major disadvantage with a natural gas grill is the need for a gas outlet for connecting the grill. Best gas grills under 300 also must remain in the location of the natural gas outlet and cannot be moved to different locations.
Propane is the most common fuel source for gas grills. It requires the use of a refillable propane tank. Tank size varies but 20-gallons is the most common size and the tanks can be refilled or exchanged in many places. Propane produces a high heat but not as high as natural gas. Gas grills are convenient and can be moved to various locations as they are not tied to a heat source. The major downside is that the tank can run out of fuel in the middle of cooking. A back-up tank is recommended.
A converter kit can be purchased for many gas grills to transfer from one fuel source type to the other.
There are a number of factors to consider when purchasing a gas grill. It is important to match your cooking needs and budget to the proper grill.
- Size – you should determine the number of people who will generally be served when using your grill, the main cooking area of the grill, and how much food it will hold
- Menu – consider what your grilling needs are: basically hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, and steaks? Do you need a rotisserie burner for cooking whole chickens, turkeys, or roasts? Side burners are a popular option for both preparing and warming side dishes.
- Safety – the grill must be positioned in a stable location. Check the grill cart, firebox, lid, and shelves for sharp edges and corners and there should be adequate room between the lid handle and the lid to prevent burning your fingers. The grill should be located in an area away from foot traffic, buildings, trees, and brush and never locate a grill indoors….even a garage is not safe. A fireproof mat underneath is recommended.
- Grill quality – the most important parts of the grill are the burners and the cooking grates. The burners are the main source of heat for cooking food. They can be made of stainless steel, aluminum steel, cast iron or cast bronze, or porcelain-coated cast iron. You will want heavy-duty cooking grates. Grates made of stainless steel or cast iron are best. They are sturdy and resist rust. Porcelain-coated grates are easier to clean and are rustproof until they chip. Wide close-spaced bars sear better than thin round rods.
- Accessories and options – most gas grills offer add-ons and accessories which will affect the cost of the grill. It is important to determine which of these you need. These include side burners, an electronic ignition, cartwheels, an infrared radiant burner, grilling tool hangers, service doors, stainless steel trim, and so on. A recent trend is the use of a flattop grill, where the food cooks on a griddle-like surface and is not exposed to an open flame.
Most Popular Brands
Most gas grill manufacturers offer a wide range of grills and options, spanning multiple price ranges. The most well-known makes of gas grills are:
- Weber grills, widely known and sold in the U.S., are known for the durability, dependability, quality of their products. Prices range from $130 – $3000.
- Char-Broil and Kenmore (Sears) account for about 50% of gas grills sold. Prices range from $100 – $750.
- Ducane was acquired by Weber in the early 2000s. Ducane grills are also known for their durability and dependability. Prices range from $130 – $3000.
- Fiesta grills range from about $200 – $900. They are sold at Home Depot and several regional retailers.
- Jenn-Air grills range in price from $600 – $1500
- Napoleon grills are manufactured in Canada. Prices range from $380 – $2500.
- Vermont Castings grills are manufactured in Canada. Prices range from $450 – $1600.