Backyard Buying Guide – Grills
Ah, grilling. It’s hard to beat a summer evening outside, cooking delicious meats (and the occasional vegetable) with the power of fire. As fairly evolved primates, omnivorousness and fire are our birthrights, and grills combine the twin primal desires of eating and burning things. Let’s learn more, shall we?
Kinds of Grills
Gas grills are the most popular style of grill. These grills are fueled by a propane tank, or sometimes by a connection to a natural gas line. Gas grills are great for novice grillers and often include convenient features such as push-button starters, adjustable temperature dials, and side burners. Gas grills tend to be larger than charcoal grills and require a decent amount of deck or patio space, though smaller, portable gas grills are available as well.
For an authentic barbeque taste, there’s nothing like a charcoal-grilled burger. If you love the taste of food grilled over a charcoal flame, this is the type of grill for you. A classic charcoal grill requires only a little learning to use, and even an inexpensive model can last a long time.
Pellet grills use small pellets of hardwood as fuel for grilling or smoking food. They can heat up as fast as a gas grill, but they also add the smoky flavor of wood to your food. Pellet grills operate via a pellet-filled storage bin, which distributes the wood to a burning box at an adjustable rate, depending on what you're grilling or smoking. Pellet grills are excellent but fairly complex grills; they may be a better choice for an experienced griller.
To my knowledge, this host of Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild has not grilled any bears.
Which Grill Suits Your Needs?
Pros and Cons of Gas Grills
The primary advantage of gas grills is their ease of use. Gas grills merely require you to turn them on, allow a few minutes for preheating, and begin cooking. It's easy to adjust the temperature with the controls and get a steady, regulated temperature, much the way you do on a stove. When you're done, shut everything off, scrape the cooking grates, and go enjoy your meal. Finally, gas is the most cost-effective fuel, making gas a good choice for those who grill often.
However, gas grills are more expensive and bulkier than charcoal grills. Out of the box, they don't offer the same smoky flavor as charcoal, though accessories such as flavor briquettes and wood smokers can help to provide that level of flavor.
Pros and Cons of Charcoal Grills
Though some taste tests have found that gas and charcoal offer comparable flavors, many people simply prefer the rich, smoky flavor that is imparted by charcoal. Charcoal grills are also better for smoking and searing food. Generally speaking, charcoal grills are considerably cheaper than gas grills and can be found for as little as $10 or $20.
On the other hand, charcoal requires more time and skill to use (and clean) and isn't a good option for those who just want to make a quick meal. Charcoal needs to be heated until it's grey and hot, which can take 20 to 30 minutes. If you fail to let lighter fluid burn off, your meal will taste as though it's been saturated in fuel. Unlike gas grills, you can’t adjust the temperature of a charcoal grill except by varying the amount of charcoal you put in. They create more smoke and fumes, and some people believe that the added char is unhealthy. Charcoal is also less cost-effective than fuel for gas grills, so it may be a better choice for those who grill less frequently.
Pros and Cons of Pellet Grills
Pellet grills have the speed of a gas grill combined with the enhanced flavor of a charcoal grill, and are great for smoking various foods. They give a lot of options to the experienced griller.
Pellet grills, however, are the most expensive grills. They also have a high barrier to entry and are not for the novice griller. This is also the least common type of grill, so finding fuel may be slightly harder than for a gas or charcoal grill, and will also be more expensive.
Now that you've decided which type of grill you want, it's time to figure out how big of a grill you need. First of all, will you be grilling in an apartment with a balcony, or in the yard of a home? Secondly, what do you plan on grilling? If you think you'll mainly use your grill for a few burgers, hot dogs, and vegetables, you don't need a large grilling area. On the other hand, if you think you'll be entertaining guests a lot and using your grill for racks of ribs or dozens of burgers, you’ll need a grill large enough to accommodate big orders. If you plan to use your charcoal or pellet grill as a smoker, keep in mind that you'll also need a lid tall enough to fit over large portions of meat.
If you know you will use special features such as a rotisserie, side burner, multilevel cooking surfaces, or a smoker box, you should plan on buying a larger grill (typically a gas model) and spending more for these extra features. If you're not sure that you will use all those extras, opt for a basic grill. You can always upgrade later.