There are lots of things to consider when you’re out on your mission to buy a new grill. Everyone has a different budget, wants and needs. Saying there is a “best” grill is difficult so this outdoor grill buying guide should give you things to consider while you are on your journey.
This is the burning question. Not literally, I hope.
Some grills can both grill and smoke so if you plan on doing both then there are some really good combination type grills for that. Pellet grills come to mind. So does the Webber kettle grill.
If winter grilling doesn’t bother you then look into kamado style grills. The most well-known of these would be The Big Green Egg. They’re made of ceramic and the insulation makes them virtually impervious to temperature changes.
You will also want to consider how often you’ll be using your grill and the most people you’ll typically cook for at one time.
So how big is big enough?
Most grill manufacturers will pretty much brag about the “total square inches” of grilling surface. This will usually include a warming rack that sits above the main grill surface. That rack is great for slower cooking and to get the food higher above the heat source but you want to measure the main cooking grate first and consider the warming rack as a bonus. You’ll need to figure on about 100 square inches per person or 10″ x 10″. So if you are cooking for 4 people that’s 400 square inches.
Should you plan on cooking a turkey or chicken you’re also going to need enough inches above the grill surface so the lid doesn’t come in contact with the bird.
You will also want to look at how many burners it has if you are going with gas. The more burners the more space you generally need.
More burners also means more control over heat and temperature which is a great thing to have. You can just heat up one side if you don’t want to use the full surface. Or better yet, you can have a hot zone and a cooler zone to cook on at the same time.
You will also need to figure out how much room you have. Not only will you need enough for the grill but also for any accessory storage as well as a table or something convenient to set plates and stuff on if your grill doesn’t come with side shelves.
My rule of thumb is go as big as you can. It means you will always have enough space to cook without crowding the food together. You should leave a minimum of an inch between items for even cooking.
It also means you can cook enough food that you’re not split serving because you have 4 people but only enough space to cook for two.
One more thing about size. Size used to be a drawback when it came to portability in gas grills.
It used to be to save space you had to buy a little two hamburger propane grill but it had little or no temperature control. Or, you loaded up your big backyard grill which took up lots of space and was heavy and awkward to move. Now there are some really good gassers made for camping and tailgating that give you more space to grill and better temperature control and they just fold up for convenient storage.
How much should you spend on a new grill? Well, To quote the mechanic in National Lampoon’s Vacation “How Much You Got?”
As with anything you get what you pay for. Should you buy a cheap grill then you’re going to get cheap quality. You’ll probably be replacing it every year or two at the most. I’m talking most grills under $50.
One of the biggest problems with going cheap is that your results will be spotty at best.
You could have overcooked food to the point of shoe leather because you couldn’t get the food higher than 2″ above the heat source.
Or you could have under cooked food because of poor airflow because your charcoal is smothered. No fire is no bueno.
You’ll get lucky once in a while too and food will come out right but you want consistency.
I get it. Not many people have a bundle of money to drop on a grill. But buy as much quality in a grill as you can afford. You will end up recouping any extra money you spend on a better quality grill just with the dollars you save by cooking at home instead of going out. Remember, you’re going to ruin going out anyway and a better grill leads to that Smokin’, Grillin’, and Chillin’ lifestyle.
Gas and charcoal, and pellets OH MY! What kind do I get?
Sometimes your choice is made for you due to covenants and restrictions imposed by apartment complexes, HOAs and even some municipalities that won’t allow wood fired or charcoal grills.
Charcoal: This is the method I prefer. It’s very versatile as you can smoke grill and sear with charcoal.
Grill temperature on a good grill with practice is as easy to maintain as with any gas or pellet grill and in some cases as with the Pit Barrel Cooker is almost irrelevant.
With the variety of charcoal available you can get different flavors imparted into your food like hickory or mesquite with briquettes that have pieces of those woods actually put into them.
You can also get “lump charcoal” made from hardwood – usually oak – which is lighter, has no glues fillers or chemicals like some briquettes do. It also leaves about a quarter of the ash in your grill when it’s burned down. Beware though as it tends to burn hotter.
Should you use lump charcoal or charcoal with no chemical fillers you can use the ash on your garden. My wife does this all the time.
Another great advantage to charcoal is that you can both smoke low and slow and grill with a charcoal grill. You can also sear with charcoal
The drawbacks to charcoal are the amount of time you have to wait to get them up to cooking speed and the inconsistency between brands in the temperature it burns at and whether you are using briquettes or lump charcoal. This can be overcome if you have a grill that allows for decent airflow control.
One thing I will tell you to stay away from altogether is using lighter fluid or charcoal infused with lighter fluid or “match Light” style briquettes. No matter how long you leave that soak in you can still get that lighter fluid taste on your food. Especially if you add coals during your cook.
My recommendation is to always use a chimney which is a metal “basket” that you pour the charcoal into and it has a space in the bottom where you can stuff newspaper or an organic type of fire starter to ignite the bottom pieces and they will light the charcoal above them.
Gas: Gas grills are used by many mainly due to its convenience and with few exceptions they are accepted pretty much anywhere.
Should you get your gas grill converted from LP to natural gas you can have a plumbing guy connect it to your house for a never ending supply of fuel.
Gas grills heat up and are ready to cook faster. You can also get faster temperature control.
Another advantage is you’re not making space for and hauling around bags of charcoal or cleaning up ash.
Gas is more economical as compared to charcoal because you’ll spend about the same amount of money to fill a 20 pound propane tank once as you would spend on two 18 pound bags of charcoal. 18 pounds of charcoal will get you 6 to 8 cooks. You can get many more than that with 20 pounds of propane.
The main drawback to gas is short of buying a dedicated gas smoker you’ll have to be creative to get a low and slow smoke done on a regular gas grill. Under certain conditions like wind it will be all but impossible to smoke with a gas grill as temperatures will fluctuate or the burners will actually go out.
One other thing is that some people say they can taste the difference between gas and charcoal or pellet grilled food. With the preference being the taste you get on charcoal or pellet. That’s probably true as long as you’re just cooking without lots of heavy seasoning or marinades. I do believe food smoked on charcoal or pellets tastes better but some will probably argue that point.
Wood Pellets: Wood pellet grills are the new holy grail. And for good reason. The convenience factor is off the charts and they are really versatile. You can smoke, grill and some come with an infrared burner to sear but searing is generally not something you can do with a pellet grill as it will not get up to the proper sear temperature.
The best thing about pellet grills is that fill your hopper with whatever wood pellet you want to use and set the temperature. The pellets are automatically fed to the burner and once it hits your temperature you can start cooking. To maintain temperature you just make sure your hopper has pellets. You can figure on burning anywhere from .5 to 2.5 pounds of pellets per hour depending on your cook temperature. The average is each hopper holds about 5 pounds of pellets with really large units holding up to 40 pounds.
When it comes to pellet wood variety you can get alder, apple, cherry, hickory, mesquite oak and even pecan. Pricing on pellets varies so you’ll have to shop around for the best price. But overall, pellet grills are more economical than charcoal.
The main drawback to pellet grills is that they run on electricity so no power no pellets.
Another consideration is that there are mechanical parts involved and mechanical parts can and do break down.
Should you live in an area like I do in Minnesota, cold weather will not be friendly to pellet grill cooking. They have a hard time holding a consistent temperature. Fireproof insulation blankets can help you with this.
You might want to check with your HOA or apartment complex to see if these are allowed.
Expect to spend $600 to $1000 or more on a quality pellet grill.
The first thing to understand is that the more features you want the more you’ll probably spend on your new grill.
Here are some features to consider –
Number of burners: As mentioned before the number of burners on a gas grill can give you incredible flexibility but it will generally bring your price up as well.
With more burners you are generally getting more space to grill on and you have vastly better temperature control which can give you either indirect or even two zone cooking.
Built in thermometers: Speaking of temperature, built in thermometers are a popular addition to grills of any style. One thing you must know is that those thermometers can be off by as much as 40 degrees. Most pellet grills will have a temperature probe so they are a bit more reliable. My recommendation is either save your money if a thermometer costs extra and buy an external BBQ thermometer like a Thermapen or Thermoworks Smoke. They are accurate to about a degree.
Rotisserie: Cooking stuff like chicken or kabobs can be done much more easily with a rotisserie. Just remember you’ll need electricity to power the motor.
Side Burner: A side burner is nice to have if you need to make sauces, pan sear, fry, or sautee something without having to go back into the house and use your stove.
Stainless Steel Burners: Stainless steel burners are what you want to see. They are more reliable and durable than aluminum and lighter than cast iron. Cast iron is prone to rust which can clog your burner ports giving you inconsistent heat zones and temperature.
Stainless Steel Grates: Stainless steel grates are one feature I would highly recommend. They are durable and easy to clean. On top of that as compared to cast iron they don’t conduct too much heat. While those grill marks look cool they actually mean you have inconsistent cooking.
Cart: If your grill does not come with a cart a nice cart with side shelves and storage down below is nice to have. It gives you more room to work and a designated place for your grill and it’s related tools.
You’re going to find that with the right grill you will learn to create absolutely great food that rivals the best restaurants and at a fraction if the cost. I’ve ruined restaurants for my family and you can too. I’m a little proud of that. Who’s kidding who? I’m A LOT proud.
Use this outdoor grill buying guide to help you create your own “Smokin’, Grillin’ and Chillin’ Lifestyle” by getting the grill that suits YOU.
Now go ruin some restaurants.