Summer and fall are prime grilling times. Unsafe conditions can exist due to failure to observe standard safety procedures, or with a little too much alcohol involvement. Read these safety tips now on Foodal, and protect your friends and family.
Foodal’s Ultimate BBQ Grill Buying Guide
There’s no doubt that we enjoy grilling season here at Foodal.
For your entertainment and information, we’ve written several posts on different cooking methods for the grill, along with some delicious recipes.
But if you’re still on the fence about whether or not to invest, let’s outline a few of the benefits and fun features of outdoor cooking to help with your decision making.
After that, we’ll cover the different styles and sizes of grills available, what to look for in construction, fun and useful gear, and cleaning and maintenance for the best performance.
Utility Bill Savings
By keeping your oven and stove turned off in warm weather, the AC in your home won’t have to work as hard to keep your house cool, which means lower utility costs.
Food cooked on a grate has less residual grease than items prepared using other methods, as the fat drains away while cooking.
And if you follow healthy grilling guidelines like marinating meats before cooking, not only will you enjoy greater health benefits, proteins will also retain more moisture for an end result that’s juicy and delicious.
Different Cooking Styles
It’s pretty easy to get stuck in a rut by cooking in the same manner day after day. Today’s barbecues offer a wide range of styles to experiment with and expand your repertoire to include:
Infrared Burners for Super Searing of Proteins
Rotisseries for cooking whole poultry, roasts, or a gyro loaf; indirect heat for slow-roasting meats; smoker features for adding unique flavor; baskets to contain veggies and whole fish; and you can make your favorite pizza on the grill as well.
Cooking on the grill allows us to experience many different flavors from around the globe (or even from our own backyards), which many of us might not try otherwise.
Moroccan kebabs, Greek gyros, Thai satay, Mexican elote, or American pulled pork are all naturals for an outdoor cookout – some recipes to get you started can be found in this post on street foods.
Fresh Smelling Kitchen
Cooking outside means less smoke and greasy residue in your kitchen, and no lingering odors. This makes it a great option if you enjoy healthy fish and seafood, but don’t appreciate the fishy fragrance that remains after cooking them!
Fast and Easy Cleanup
One of the most compelling reasons to grill is the quick and easy cleanup. Aside from the regular plates, cutlery, and serving dishes you might use, there’s very little washing up to do.
Usually, there are no pots or pans, and you can even serve directly from the grate, to eliminate serving dishes – now who doesn’t like that idea?
Expand Your Space
Whether you have a luxurious outdoor patio for entertaining a crowd, or a modest apartment balcony, having a barbecue adds to your existing space by drawing your guests outdoors. And more space is always appreciated when company comes over.
A barbecue is a great reason to gather with neighbors, friends, and family for a casual get-together, or to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and special events.
Once your barbecue is set in place, all you have to do is turn it on or add some charcoal, light it up, wait for it to heat, and prep your meal.
Easy to use, both gas and charcoal supplies are readily available – and the selection of models runs from modest, inexpensive styles right through to deluxe outdoor kitchens.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the benefits to grilling, let’s check out the different styles and sizes from which to choose.
Barbecues come in a huge variety of styles, sizes, fuel types, and price ranges – there’s truly a model for every taste and budget.
Here’s a breakdown of the most common styles and sizes for the home enthusiast:
The most popular style of backyard barbecues, gas models, can be powered by either liquid propane (LP) or natural gas (NG).
The majority run on bottled propane, and most newer models can be converted to natural gas with the purchase of a converter kit.
Both fuels provide a clean-burning power source. Natural gas has the advantages of convenience and lower fuel costs and you won’t have to buy a tank, however, they’re limited in terms of positioning to an area in close proximity to the gas line. Plus, any natural gas hook-up will have to be installed by a certified gas fitter or a licensed HVAC contractor.
Propane has the advantage of being portable, and in general, retail prices are a bit less than for NG models.
Gas is suitable for the home cook who likes the quick-lighting ability, and doesn’t want to deal with the cleanup of ashes that comes from charcoal.
But gas does have its downside in terms of flavor and price. While some models come with a smoke feature, purists claim that the taste doesn’t compare to that of a charcoal barbecue.
And because they have more operating parts and components, prices for gas models are higher than for charcoal styles, even on the least expensive units.
These barbecues use either charcoal briquettes or natural hardwood charcoal as a fuel source, which provides the nuanced, smoky flavor traditionalists enjoy.
Briquettes burn more evenly than hardwood lumps, however they do contain binding additives and produce more ash.
Natural hardwood or lump charcoal burns hotter and comes in a variety of “flavors,” according to the type of tree the wood came from. But the lumps aren’t of perfect uniform size, and the bag may contain an excess amount of dust at the bottom, which can block the oxygen flow needed for even burning.
Decidedly more time consuming to use and messier to clean up than gas, charcoal is best suited for those who prefer the smoky flavors of using wood and who don’t mind the time required for charcoal to heat.
Charcoal does take time to prep the coals – you’re looking at about 45 minutes compared to gas, which is ready just a few minutes after lighting.
Also, charcoal – particularly the natural hardwood type – is more expensive than gas. And then there’s the time and effort required to clean up and dispose of the ashes.
But, because of their simpler design and construction, prices are much more reasonable for charcoal barbecues than for their gas counterparts.
Powered by electricity, outdoor electric grills require no flame or fire power, and cook by heating a heavy-gauge plate or grate via a heating element.
Well suited for city or apartment dwellers, who may be restricted or prohibited from using any open flame source such as gas or charcoal, electric models have made some significant performance strides in recent years.
While many electric models produce great char marks and provide very satisfactory results, the flavor is usually less smoky than with either gas or charcoal units – but if it’s all you can use, it’s a great option.
Barbecue sizes range from small, compact models all the way up to deluxe outdoor kitchen styles. And as overall dimensions can vary greatly, look to the cooking surface area to get a better idea of your size requirements.
Base your decision on the largest number of people you’ll be cooking for on a regular basis.
- 150 square inches is good for two people, or about 9 4-inch hamburger patties.
- 300 square inches will cook for 4-5 people, or 18 burgers.
- 400 square inches works for 6-7 people, and 25 burgers.
- 500 square inches will serve 8+ people, or about 31 patties.
Portable grills can run on propane, charcoal, or electricity. The common denominator is that they can be easily packed up and transported from one spot to another.
Of course, with electric models you’ll need access to a nearby electrical outlet, so they’re not always the best option for using away from home.
Portable grills are best suited for the tailgater, camper, or picnicker who enjoys being able to have a cookout in different locations.
Compact units may have some of the features of full-sized models, such as warming racks or a side burner, but overall dimensions and features will be limited in favor of saving space.
These are deal for cooking on small patios or tight-fitting balconies, or for those who only plan to grill for 1-4 people at most.
Full Size Models
Full size barbecues can be fairly basic in design, or have a full complement of features. Most will have dual burners for at least two cooking zones, plus warming racks and side trays.
Higher end models will have extra features such as side burners, smokers, rotisseries, infrared burners, backlit controls, and so on. These are good for cooking for 4-10 people, depending on the size of the primary cooking area.
These grills are good for areas where space isn’t an issue – and while they’ll have rolling casters for tucking out of the way when not in use, moving into a storage spot in the garage or shed after each use can be awkward, due to their size.
Built-in grills are best suited for outdoor kitchen areas that have a permanent cover to protect them from the elements, and are usually full-sized with numerous top-end features. These are designed for those who do a lot of outdoor entertaining, and will usually serve in the range of 6-10 people.
That’s our primer on styles and sizes, so let’s move on to elements of construction to give you an idea of what makes a good grill “good.”
The following are the fundamental construction, safety, and satisfaction issues we consider in our reviews before we recommend any type of grill:
Barbecues that pitch or tilt because of top-heavy lids or poor design are an extreme safety hazard, and should be avoided.
Cookbox (Firebox) Construction
Seamless construction and welded joints in the cookbox offer greater longevity and efficiency (i.e. less hot air loss) than those held together with nuts, bolts, and cotter pins.
If issues do arise, being able to contact customer service easily, and getting an efficient response, is mandatory for satisfaction.
Any unfinished edges or sharp metal corners can give nasty cuts, or inadvertently hook onto loose clothing – definitely a safety issue.
For the healthiest grilling, flare-ups need to be kept to a minimum. Some manufacturers now include deflectors, or flavorizer bars, that prevent fat from dripping onto the flames, which reduces the chance of flare-ups.
A well-fitted lid is another factor in heating efficiency, as heat loss through gaping edges increases cooking times and fuel consumption.
To prevent knuckle singeing, the handle needs to have adequate clearance from the lid to provide a safe and secure purchase.
A higher price doesn’t always mean robust materials have been used in manufacturing. And in any price range, the better the quality of all the materials, the longer your unit will last.
Rust and Corrosion Resistance
A firebox of stainless steel or powder-coated, heavy gauge cast aluminum gives greater rust and corrosion resistance than painted steel or thin, stamped aluminum.
A grill needs to be manufactured so that all components fit together to provide a secure, stable, and safe cooking environment.
Wheels need to be large enough to handle the size of the grill in order to provide a stable foundation, and to move easily. Portable models will need a cart to sit on, or some other level, non-flammable surface for a sturdy foundation.
Few things are as frustrating as partially assembling a large item like a barbecue, only to find that important pieces are missing.
After looking at overall construction and safety issues, these fundamental features should receive close scrutiny when making your selection.
BTUs are the number used to indicate the amount of fuel a BBQ can consume to heat the grate area in an hour. Generally speaking, the larger the grill, the greater the amount of fuel needed to heat the area.
Burners are the most often replaced component, so getting the best quality materials in your price range is an important factor. Burners constructed of hefty materials like stainless steel, cast iron, cast aluminum, brass, and even ceramic will last longer than those manufactured from stamped aluminum or plain steel.
For any size larger than a portable model, look for a minimum of two burners, which is essential for both direct and indirect or two-zone cooking.
The cooking area will help to determine your size requirements. To calculate the primary cooking area, simply multiply the width by the depth of the grate to find the total number of square inches.
Grates and Grill Plates
Grates are subject to a lot of wear and tear, and need to be constructed of sturdy materials.
Stainless steel rods, cast iron, and porcelain coatings all provide a durable cooking surface with a long life span.
Avoid lightweight materials such as aluminum and chrome-painted wire grates, as stamped aluminum is subject to quick burn-through, and applications of chrome over wire tend to flake and peel after just a bit of use.
Heat Flux Rating
Heat flux gives a good indication of how much heat will be transferred to the cooking area. To calculate heat flux, divide the number of BTUs for the primary cooking surface by the area of the grate for the same surface.
A good sear will be delivered with a heat flux in the range of 85-100.
Ignition systems usually involve one of three methods for gas grills. A Piezo electric ignition provides a spark via friction, a battery powered electric ignition gives a more consistent spark, and a hot surface ignition superheats a small rod that then ignites the gas.
For charcoal models, the use of a chimney lighter to hold the coals above a flame source quickly ignites the coal edges.
Or, you can choose to use a fluid or gel-form fire starter to assist with lighting coals.
The overall size of the barbecue should also be taken into consideration, as it can take up a significant area of your patio or storage space.
Thermostats that are built into barbecues are known to be of lower quality, even on higher end models. For reliable temperatures, get a meat thermometer or a thermometer probe that can be clamped onto the grate.
Warming racks are pretty much a standard feature on all but portable models. Use them to free up space on the main cooking grate by transferring foods that are almost done to finish off cooking, or for warming rolls.
Extras for Your Cooking Enjoyment
A few extras can add greater levels of convenience and enjoyment to your grilling experience, but none of these features ar considered essential.
Cabinet storage usually provides a spot to hold a propane tank, and may offer some extra space to store utensils.
A cover helps to protect your barbecue during storage and from the elements, which will add to the life of your grill.
Infrared burners can quickly deliver extreme heat for searing purposes, and many newer models have dedicated infrared burners for the rotisserie area as well.
Rotisseries are a nice touch for grilling whole chickens, gyro loafs, or roasts.
Side burners are a nice added convenience for making a sauce or holding cooked items. Look for ones that have a flush mounted lid that converts to a shelf when not in use.
Smoker boxes on gas models are for those who enjoy a hint of smoky flavor in their grilled items.
Okay, that’s it for features, so let’s move on to some accessories that can add to your cooking and your enjoyment.
To get the most enjoyment out of your barbecue this season, only a few basic accessories are necessary – a long-handled fork, tongs, a spatula, and a stiff brush to clean the grate.
A BBQ meat thermometer should be included in the essentials as well. Otherwise, you’ll be tempted to cut open whatever’s cooking to check for doneness, which releases all of the lovely, flavorful juices that keep meats, seafood, and poultry moist and succulent.
In addition to the basics, there’s an enormous number of tools and utensils out there that can add greatly to the convenience and enjoyment of cooking outdoors.
And as most accessories are sold separately, they always make great gifts for the barbecue chef in your home. In the US, men do the grilling 68% of the time, so think Father’s Day, everyone…
- A standard utensil set will include a long-handled fork, tongs, and a spatula.
- A basting brush or mop for saucing is needed as well.
- Plus, a long-handled, stainless steel brush to clean the grate after each use is a barbecuing must, and may or may not be included in a utensil set.
Once you have the basics in place, there’s all sorts of fun to be had expanding your barbecue kit bag.
Useful Utensils and Cool Tools
- A couple of useful utensils for the grillmeister are a chef’s knife, and a multi-purpose tool with a corkscrew and bottle opener.
- A set of steak knives is always a necessity for the carnivores.
- A carving knife and fork for cooking up large roasts, poultry, racks of lamb, and ribs.
- Sturdy kitchen shears always get a good workout during barbecue season.
- A set of stainless steel skewers is great for making kebabs and grilling chunky veggies.
- A pizza stone or steel is great for building up the thermal mass for recreating that pizza oven effect that allows the quick backing of whole pies and other Italian inspired breads.
- A metal pizza peel or pizza spatula is another handy utensil for the Q, particularly for preparing whole fish, flatbreads, and pizza.
- If you like your proteins plump and juicy, use a marinade injector.
- Having a cutting board close by is a smart idea that’s always useful.
- An oven mitt or a set of heat-resistant hand protectors help to prevent burns when grabbing hot items, and a kitchen towel with a rivet in one corner to hang from a tool hook is handy as well.
- Use a chef’s apron with pockets to keep small tools and utensils at your fingertips – and you’ll always have somewhere to wipe your hands in a pinch!
- Salt and pepper grinders are also a good addition to the grillmaster’s kit.
- Woodchip smoker boxes for use on a gas grill are appreciated by those who enjoy a smoky flavor.
- Packets of hardwood chips or lumps come in handy for smoking.
- Selecting a set of hardwood planks for the cooking grate is a great way to try out a new cooking method.
- Grill baskets make cooking fish and smaller veggies simple and easy, and these come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.
- Griddles and woks for the grate also make good additions to your accessory set.
- A rotating skewer rack ensures that those kebabs are perfectly grilled on all sides.
- For those who prefer something a little more elegant than a beer can, an upright chicken roaster fits the bill.
- Heavy-gauge stainless steel racks for ribs and roasts make handling these large items on the grate much simpler.
- Rack stands are also available for roasting whole tomatoes and peppers.
- If your barbecue doesn’t come with a rotisserie, a kit with motor and spit forks cooks up delicious roasts and whole chickens. But do check your user’s manual first to ensure that your model is compatible with a rotisserie unit.
- You can even get a six-skewer shish kebab wheel for the rotisserie that ensures even cooking of these items.
- Or, try a tumble basket attachment that will evenly roast small pieces.
Gadgets and Maintenance
- For kettle-shaped charcoal barbecues, a tool hook bracket that slips over the lip of the cookbox is very handy for keeping utensils close by.
- A cover will help to retain the finish of your BBQ, and keep it free of dust, sap, dirt, and bird droppings. It also keeps the rain off, which protects against rust.
- Clamp-on LED lights make evening entertaining or grilling in the winter easier.
- Besides a meat thermometer for the BBQ, a clamp-on grate thermometer gives an accurate temperature reading at the cooking level.
- A chimney starter for charcoal barbecues is an efficient and easy way to light grills without having to use petroleum-based starters.
- Charcoal kettle models often don’t come with a warming rack, but one can be purchased separately to give extra space on the grate.
- A spare tank of propane is a great investment for LP models. Having one on hand will prevent the disappointment of running out of fuel before your meal is ready.
- A bottle of stainless steel cleaner will keep your barbecue clean and looking great for the whole season.
- A small C02 fire extinguisher to store in the cabinet or close by is needed for grilling safety.
So far we’ve looked at all the fun aspects of grilling, but they do have to be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis for the best performance. Let’s see how these chores can be done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Contrary to what those with dirty barbecues will tell you, leaving grease and burnt-on food on the cooking grate does not improve the flavor of your favorite foods.
Indeed, the baked-on black crust on the grate is a combination of carbon, grease, and oil – and it tastes bad (this imparts bad flavors to your food?). Plus, in warm weather, grease can quickly turn rancid.
Certainly there are better condiments than rancid grease and carbon for your pricey filet mignon or wild sockeye salmon!
So before you cook anything, a quick cleanup of the grate is needed to keep flavors fresh, and to keep your grill performing as it should.
Deflectors and flavorizer bars should be cleaned after every 5-10 barbecues, depending on how coated they become.
And, a thorough cleaning should be done a couple of times a year, including before your grill goes into storage for the winter (unless you’re cooking outdoors year-round).
Be sure to check out our complete guide to cleaning and maintaining your grill.
3 Keys to Successful Grilling
Outdoor cooking involves three components for success – a grill of decent quality that will deliver reliable results, a good selection of foods that everyone present will enjoy, and good company to share the fruits of your labor with.
Of course, that doesn’t mean barbecuing should be reserved only for when friends and family come to visit – appreciating your own company is good enough reason to fire up the Q!
And because they’re so easy and convenient to use, it’s a great way to quickly prepare a healthy meal for just one or two people.
Written by Lorna Kring
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