What the best grill does

  • Provides easy access to the cooking space. The lid, when opened, should completely clear the grilling space so you don't have to reach underneath it to flip or rearrange food.
  • Resists rust. Gas grills should have stainless-steel or porcelain-coated burners to help avoid rusting.
  • Retains heat. The grill should feature thick walls, with no gaps around the lid to help retain heat. This solid construction will contribute to quality grilling.
  • Btu rating of 80 to 100 per square inch. If the lid fits snugly and the grates have a heavy construction, this Btu rating should be sufficient for a standard gas grill.
  • Rungs that measure ¼-inch wide or more. Rungs this size are easy to clean.
  • Proportionally sized burners. A large gas-grill casting with a little burner equals a lot of hot and cold spots. So be sure that the burners are proportional to the grill's size.
  • A handle that's sufficiently far from the lid. Grip the handle of any model you're considering; if your knuckles or fingers are too close to the lid, you may burn yourself when cooking.
  • A warranty of five years or more. This should keep you from having to spend money on parts that shouldn't have broken in the first place. Many manufacturer warranties cover major grill components for five years or more.
  • At least 3 inches of space between food and the lid. If you plan to cook whole chickens or turkeys, you will need air circulation for proper cooking.

Know before you go

How much space do you have? Side burners can take up a lot of room on a patio or deck, so be sure to measure your available space before you shop.

Will you use the grill for slow cooking? If so (and if you're choosing a charcoal model) it's helpful to choose one with hinged grates, to make adding coals easier.

Do you plan to smoke meats? If so, choose a charcoal grill with smoking capabilities built in.

Are you willing to pay more for ease of use? If so, look for a model with features such as a built-in thermometer, charcoal storage bin (for charcoal grills) and side tables or tool hooks.

Do you want an intense smoked flavor? If so, opt for a charcoal grill.

Do you plan to cook whole birds or roasts? If so, consider a grill with a rotisserie burner.

Do you have the luxury of time? If not, you may be best off with a gas grill; when using a charcoal grill, you need to wait 15 to 30 minutes after lighting before you can begin to cook.

Do you have access to natural gas? A natural-gas conversion kit can cost between $50 and $100, says Derrick Riches of About.com. Using natural gas instead of propane will save you money in the long run and help you avoid trips to refill the propane tank.

How many people do you typically cook for? Estimate about 100 square inches of grilling space per person.

Do you value durability over convenience, or vice versa? Charcoal grills tend to last longer than gas ones, because they have fewer moving parts; but a gas grill wins out in terms of convenience.

Value expectations: the dollars and cents of it

Keep in mind that many consumers start out shopping for a grill and end up also purchasing a range of accessories, such as a grill cover (around $15 to $50); tools ($20 to $50 or more); a cleaning brush (between $10 and $25); and possibly a handle light or rolling cart (around $25 to $50 each). Propane tanks are often sold separately from gas grills and run about $30 to $50; and if you buy a portable gas grill, you may still opt for a propane tank and adapter hose (around $20), so you can avoid those pesky propane canisters.

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