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How to Buy a Grill

Our gas grills are an excellent value when considering price, quality, and performance. Check out these grills perfect for any griller!

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The snow has melted, the robins are back, and it’s time to recycle that old piece of junk out back and get serious about amping up your outdoor cooking chops. But an online search or a trip to the big box store can be daunting.

There are too many grills to count, too many options. There are small disposable units for tailgating, and huge monsters that attach to your tailgate and have as many wheels as your SUV.

And they range in price. A nice hibachi that can make great steaks (really) can be had for only $15, and not long ago I saw a stainless steel job with six wheels in my neighborhood hardware store that said “Financing Available”!

A good grill is an essential tool for the modern cook, not just as a backyard diversion, but a second oven. What it does best is create meat, seafood, and vegetables with a unique flavor, and, because of the high heat, it can come closer to turning out steakhouse meat than anything you can do with most indoor ovens. If configured properly it can even smoke roast low and slow as well as a dedicated smoker.

This article is a guide to helping you decide what features you want when shopping for a grill. But there is no single answer to the question “What is the best grill?” because the question lacks two essential words: “for me”. Before you go shopping, ask your self what you want to cook. Ribs? Steaks? Two very very different cooking processes are needed.

Things to look for

Fuel. Fuel. Decide if you want gas, charcoal, wood pellet, or electric. Let’s do a process of elimination.

Electrics do not impart the same flavor as grills that actually have combustion going on, like charcoal, gas, or pellets. Combustion gases create flavor. Nor do they get hot enough to get red meats to a dark brown surface without overcooking the interior. I recommend them only for people in buildings where gas and charcoal are not allowed.

Wood pellet burners are the most sophisticated with digital thermostat controls. They are great for smoking, although the smoke flavor is delicate and not as powerful as charcoal fueled smokers.

On the down side, they give everything a smoke flavor, and sometimes you just don’t want it. Nor do they get hot enough for a great sear on steaks. I recommend them as a second grill to people who love smoked foods. Click the link for more on the subject. This is a hot new category.

That leaves gas and charcoal. Now this is a debate like Mac vs PC or Democrat vs. Republican or Omnivore vs. Vegan. It is a quasi religion fueled by a lot of misinformation. Each has advantages and disadvantages and the choice is not as easy as proponents would like you to think. For the facts, read my article on Charcoal vs. Gas. Please do so before you comment below “Charcoal Uber Alles!” Here’s a quick summary:

Gas is really easy to get up to temp and there is little cleanup. But only those with sear burners or infrared burners get hot enough to do steaks properly (click here to read more about the special techniques needed for cooking steakhouse steaks). But for chicken, fish, veggies, they are as good as charcoal if not better.

Charcoal takes longer to set up and clean up, but it generates more heat and imparts a slightly different flavor.

Charcoal grills should allow you to push the coals on one side and leave the other side without coals. They need tight lids and dampers that can be opened or closed to control oxygen to the fire and thus control the heat.

Some have the ability to raise and lower the coals. This is a very good thing because heat dissipates according to the inverse square law which states that the energy delivered to the meat is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source of the energy. In plain English, this means that means that if the charcoal is 2” from the meat there is 4 times as much energy delivered to the meat than when the coals are 4” away, not double.

For gas grills, you want at least two burners so one can be on and one off. But the more the better. With three or four burners you can have hot, medium, and low zones. You also need a lid that closes fairly tight for smoking. Alas, very few gassers seal tightly. You also want even heat across the cooking surface. Watch out for hot spots over the burners.

Pellet Grills are the most advanced of them all. They usually have digital thermostat control. Set it and forget it. Some even have ports for plugging in meat thermometers. The day is not far away when this will come to other grills.

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