A Guide to Understanding Grills
Indoor kitchens can be limiting, with space shortages and smoke hazards. Outdoor cooking appliances, such as barbecue grills, are incredibly useful for parties, family get-togethers or just a nice dinner for two. With a variety of fuel sources to choose from and many great features included, grills have become the latest hit among cooking families. You can choose to go classic with a charcoal grill, or go more modern with gas-fueled units, infrared grills and even electric options.
Types of Grills
- Gas-fueled grills: Gas grills are fueled by either propane or natural gas. A gas flame cooks the food, either directly or by heating grilling elements that create the necessary heat to cook food. These grills are available in all kinds of sizes and have many optional features to choose from, either for ease or for flavor control.
- Infrared grills: These work by igniting gases to heat a ceramic tile, causing the tile to emit infrared radiation that cooks the food. The high temperatures allow users to cook and sear items more quickly. Rather than heating the air like a gas-fueled grill does, an infrared grill heats the food directly, requiring less pre-heat time and less food drying. However, infrared grills tend to be more expensive, and they are difficult to move and repair.
- Charcoal grills: Using either charcoal briquettes or all-natural lump charcoal, charcoal grills transform the coal into embers, radiating the necessary heat to cook the food. While charcoal grills may cook food more evenly, improper control of the coals or the use of excess lighter fluid can cause food to form an unsavory flavor.
- Electric grills: Ideal for occupants of an apartment or other area that cannot accommodate charcoal or gas units, there are electric outdoor grills. While they do not provide the same power as gas units, they are relatively inexpensive and use ceramic briquettes.
Important Grill Features
- Quality burners are made of high-quality stainless steel, cast iron or cast brass, and they typically carry a warranty of 10 years or longer.
- Heavy-duty grates made of stainless steel or cast iron are sturdy and more likely to resist rust. However, with bare cast iron, you have to season the grates with cooking oil to prevent rust. Porcelain-coated grates clean easier and are completely rustproof unless chipped. Look for grates that are wide and closely spaced, as they sear better than thin, round rods do.
- Quality construction is extremely important. You need to ensure that the cart, wheels, lid and firebox are all sturdy and well put-together. Stainless steel carts with welded joints are sturdier than painted steel carts with nuts and bolts are. If your unit has wheels or casters at all four corners, then the grill will be easier to move. Wheels with a full axle are better than those bolted to the frame, because they will not bend. For the lid and firebox, choose stainless or porcelain-coated steel to enhance durability.
- Electronic igniters shorten prep time and are less likely to cause accidents. Available in push buttons or knobs, electronic lighters are convenient and safe. Make sure a grill with electronic igniters still has lighting holes for a match or lighter on the side or bottom of the grill, just in case the igniter fails.
All grills have an extremely extensive price range. Depending on size, portability, heat capacity and brand, grills can cost anywhere from $20 to $5,000.
Portable gas grills for picnics, camping and other outings can start between $20 and $60 and cost anywhere up to $230. Propane canisters of that small size are usually sold separately for $10 or so. Backyard gas grills made of mostly aluminum can range from $100 to $400, while higher-end grills with more durable construction and built-in features can range between $500 and $1,500. The most top-of-the-line units can cost anywhere upwards of $5,000, depending on size, durability and stainless steel options. Models such as these often have push-button ignition, rotisserie, infrared burner, smokers and halogen work lights.
Charcoal grills have a similar price range, with small portable units costing under $100 and typical residential units ranging from $150 to $3,000, depending on size, material and built-in features. Hoods for charcoal grills will often add to the overall unit cost. Lighter fluid and chimney starters are also sold separately, as are covers and grill utensils.
Grill To-Do List
- Know what and who you'll be grilling for. Will you grill for camping trips, family get-togethers, picnics or something else entirely? Always know where your grill will be needed, because the available space there and the portability factor will play directly into which grill units work for you. Choosing a grill should be based on the space available for using it, the number of people you plan to feed and the type of food you will cook.
- Don't stick to custom stores. Big-box discount stores like Target and Wal-Mart are just as likely to sell quality grills as home improvement stores such as Lowe's or Home Depot. Even online retailers have quality grills. Look at the list of features and the materials used to build the unit when determining which to buy, not the price tag on or the store from which you buy it.