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Tips for Finding the Grill of Your Dreams

Some say that picking out a barbecue grill isn’t just shopping. It’s choosing a lifestyle! Choose wisely, and it could be the centerpiece of your back yard, with friends and family gathered around to enjoy your cooking and make memories to last a lifetime. Choose poorly, and it could be a complete disaster, and make you reconsider that vegetarian diet.

If you’re shopping for a grill of your own, here are some basic tips to help you make this momentous decision.

The Basics: Gas vs. Charcoal

Charcoal

Pros: Cheaper, less equipment, traditional “smoky” flavor
Cons: Slower, less control over the heat, more clean-up

 

Charcoal is the fuel of choice for barbecue traditionalists. The traditional smoky flavor charcoal brings can light up the senses, and the smell of a charcoal grill wafting down the street can give anyone a hankering for whatever that grill is offering up.

Charcoal is more affordable than natural gas. Charcoal grills are more portable, and smaller models can load into the back of a car or truck with little trouble. They are also perfect for smoking meat.

On the downside, charcoal can be a demanding taskmaster. No matter what starter you use, briquettes typically take at least 15 minutes before you are ready to put the meat on. Tending a charcoal grill requires patience and skill.

Between the heat, the smoke, and the ashes, a charcoal grill also takes much more work cleaning up.

Never leave a charcoal grill uncovered and unattended, even after you’re done with it – a gust of wind or an excited pet could knock it over, or blow embers out of the grill, and turn your barbecue into a four-alarm disaster.

Propane / Natural Gas

Pros: Cleaner, faster, more control over the heat
Cons: More expensive, lacks the traditional “smoky” flavor of charcoal

Gas grills are for those who want to spend more time with the food than with the fire. They are faster, more convenient, and versatile. Heat is on instantly, and there are no ashes to clean up.

Gas grills fall into two categories: natural gas and liquid propane. Natural gas pulls fuel directly from the gas line in your home, whereas propane grills run on canisters of propane you can buy at your local hardware store, grocery store, or gas station. When you buy a gas grill, make sure you purchase the model that hooks up to what you have waiting for it at home.

These grills are typically far more adjustable than charcoal. You can turn the heat up or down with the turn of a knob, and some models even allow for different settings in different areas of the grill.

On the downside, you may miss the distinctive, smoky flavor of a charcoal-grilled dish.

Gas grills can also be much more expensive. They require more equipment beforehand to manage the fuel. Natural gas grills installed at your home can’t travel with you, either, so don’t expect to take them camping or tailgating.

Sizing your grill

When shopping for your grill, size matters. The main factor when sizing grills is the cooking area. Just how much food to you need to handle?

A grill with 350 square inches of cooking surface will handle roughly 15 burgers at a time. This is more than enough for most family gatherings.

For larger parties, you’ll need more. Larger grills can offer 400 to 600 square inches of grilling space. This translates to cooking 18 to 25 burgers at one time. Beyond that, you’re getting into professional barbecue territory, and the sky’s the limit!

Make sure your eyes aren’t bigger than your stomach. You’ll need to maintain and clean the entire grill, no matter how small the meal is.

Grilling surfaces

There are three common types of cooking grates: coated aluminum, cast iron, and stainless steel. Each have their own pros and cons to be aware of.

Coated aluminum grates are the most common, and the most affordable. Aluminum is an excellent head conductor. It is also the least durable option, and the most prone to warping and becoming brittle.

Cast iron grates have recently become popular. These are more durable and retain heat the best, which means a more consistent temperature across the cooking surface. Cast iron is also prone to cracking, unfortunately.

Stainless steel is the most expensive option. This is the most durable, and the easiest to clean. Stainless steel is also extremely corrosion resistant. On the downside, it isn’t as conductive as aluminum, nor does it retain heat as well as cast iron.

Extras

Grills now come with dozens of options that are worth looking into. Some of these are extravagant, while others are so basic that you won’t miss them until you realize they’re gone.

Prep surface: If your grill doesn’t have a prep surface attached, make sure you have one handy. These small tables are lifesavers when you’re managing large amounts of food.

Rotisseries: Many gas grills now have rotisserie attachments, for cooking large joints of meat or small animals, such as chickens. If you purchase one, make sure it will turn at a constant speed.

Warming compartment: these can come in the form of attached compartments, or racks held higher above the cooking surface. They take up a fair amount of space, but are very useful in keeping the first round of food warm as you cook the rest.

Temperature gauge: These built-in gauges with exterior dials keep you from wasting heat opening up the grill to check on it. Make sure the gauge is situated in the center of the grill, to ensure an accurate reading.

What you choose is entirely up to you and visions of barbecue to come. Whichever one you choose, we wish you the best of luck in finding the grill of your dreams!

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