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Buying Guide: Grills

By: Kelly Burgess on April 24, 2018

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 beneath it to flip or rearrange food. If the lid is completely removable, a lid rest is a convenient feature so you don't have to set the lid on the ground.
  • Resists rust. Any grill or smoker you purchase should have stainless steel or porcelain-coated burners to help avoid rusting, as well as rust-resistant outer materials.
  • 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, especially if you use it for indirect cooking or smoking.
  • Proportionally sized burners (gas grills). 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. Most large gas grills have four burners; smaller grills may have only one or two.
  • 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, although wearing an oven mitt when grilling is always a good safety measure.
  • 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

Where will you put your grill? A grill with side tables can take up a lot of room on a patio or deck, so be sure to measure your available space before you shop. If you're thinking of a small grill, you will need a heat-proof surface to use it on so that you don't have to squat down to cook.

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 convenience? If so, look for a model with features such as a side burner (gas grills), a charcoal storage bin (charcoal grills) and side tables or tool hooks. Under-grill storage is nice too.

What do you plan to cook? If you're just searing meats, like burgers, steaks or hot dogs, any type of gas or charcoal grill will do. If you want to cook larger items, like whole chickens, roasts, ham, or ribs, you need to be sure the cooking area is adequate and that the lid is roomy enough to accommodate larger items. Also, indirect cooking, which is often used for ribs and larger cuts of meat, is easier on a larger grill.

Do you have the luxury of time? If not, you may be best served by a gas grill; when using a charcoal grill, you need to wait 15 to 30 minutes after lighting before you can begin to cook. Larger items may require adding charcoal during the cooking process. .

Do you have access to natural gas? Using natural gas instead of propane will save you money in the long run and help you avoid trips to refill the propane tank -- though be sure to budget for the services of a licensed plumber to run the gas line in your initial cost. You'll also need to make sure that the grill you select can run on natural gas (or can be converted to do so).

How many people do you typically cook for? Estimate about 100 square inches of grilling surface per person. Too small of a grill could be frustrating if you have to cook in multiple batches to feed a crowd.

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 when you buy a grill, you will also need some other 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 grill light or rolling cart (around $25 to $50 each). When you buy a gas grill the propane tanks are sold separately and run about $30 to $50. With charcoal grills or smokers you'll need charcoal and wood chips.

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