Updated April 2014
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Grills are an integral tool in a cook's arsenal

If you're one of those people who just love to barbeque, we've got good news. The grills category continues to improve, with models that are quicker to start, better at retaining heat and easier to clean than ever before. While gas grills are simpler to use and charcoal models better at imparting that delicious barbequed taste, recent innovations are blurring the distinction between the two types.

Charcoal grills may be considered the purist's choice. Charcoal takes longer to light than a gas grill and controlling a charcoal grill's heat isn't as simple as twiddling a gas grill's temperature dial. But enthusiasts say the extra trouble is worth it for the flavor that cooking over charcoal imparts. Charcoal grills tend to be less expensive than gas grills too, with basic models starting as low as $100 and most premium units topping out at $300 or $400. Many are built to last and they do -- for years or even decades.

Gas grills are quicker and easier to heat and require less fiddling.  It's also easier to control the cooking temperature as they have knobs more like an oven's. Many also have temperature gauges. You pay for the convenience, though, because gas grills generally cost more. You can find a few basic models starting at about $150, but most start at a few hundred dollars and go up into the thousands. Among gas grills, however, experts and owners agree that a more expensive grill doesn't always guarantee better cooking results.

Portable grills are available in both charcoal and gas models. These are great choices for camping, tailgating or picnics -- or if you just have a small patio or deck and need a smaller grill. Charcoal portables are available for less than $100, while gas portables usually run between $150 and $400. The best portable grills are small, or are designed to fold up for easy transport. In spite of their smaller size, they should offer a relatively large cooking surface so you don't have to grill too many batches to produce a family meal.

Because grills use fire or gas, it's not surprising that some models would end up on the Consumer Product Safety Commission's list of recalled products. If you're planning to buy a used model or shop at an outlet other than a conventional retailer, it pays to check the CPSC list before buying.

To determine our top-rated models, we analyzed expert and owner reviews of gas and charcoal grills, focusing specifically on performance, ease of use, safety and cost of ownership. We also considered grill prices and the relative value different models offer. Our research includes several professional test results; we also analyzed user ratings and comments on retail and opinion-based websites, which describe consumers' experiences over time.

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