Ultimate Guide to Buying a Grill
One of the most thrilling days for any grill master is the moment when you buy a brand-new grill. It doesn't matter if you're picking up a portable charcoal camping grill or the newest high-end smoker, the thrill of a new grill is an exciting adventure for anyone. We want you to pick the best grill out there and we know there are a ton of options to pick between, so we put together this ultimate guide to buying a grill or smoker. We want that thrill you felt when you bought your grill to just keep getting better each time you fire it up. A great grill will last you for years, it'll help you be a better cook, and your fantastic grill will be the center of attention at your next barbecue get together.
Grill and Smoker Buying Guide
We could have just thrown a few grills on this page and told you that this is what you should pick between, but that's not going to make you a better griller, and it won't let you know why one choice is better than another. Instead, we're going to look at the best way to pick a grill that's perfect for you by helping identify the questions you should ask before buying. Once you know the right things to ask, picking the perfect grill is easy.
Questions to Consider When Buying a New Grill
There are a series of questions you need to ask yourself before you even start shopping for a new grill. The answers you come up with will help direct your search and that's the best way to buy the right grill that will make you happy season after season. Let's help you answer the questions that matter and then we can get into some of our favorite grills and smokers we think will make your decision easier.
What is Your Budget?
This is one of those questions you have to ask yourself upfront. Sometimes it's not a fun question to answer, but knowing just how much you can afford to spend on a new grill or smoker is essential. You have a few options to consider when it comes to affording the grill or smoker you want most. There are many financing options available, but use caution when signing the paperwork–sometimes the interest you pay will double the price of the grill.
How Big of a Cooking Area Do You Need?
Every grill master dreams of pulling back the hood on a massive grill or smoker–we're talking room for a whole pig. But you need to be honest with yourself about the size that makes the most sense for you and your cooking style. You'll also need to consider the space you have to set your brand new grill up. Don't make the mistake of bringing home that fantastic new equipment only to realize it won't fit where you need it.
You should also consider how much food you grill at a time. You'll be much happier with an appropriate size grill. Think about how often you cook lots of food versus the number of times you're only grilling a few hamburgers when you start shopping. Having too much grilling space isn't economical because you'll waste fuel heating an oversized grill.
How Much Heat Capacity Do You Need?
One favorite boast you'll find on grill packaging is the heat capacity measured in BTUs. A BTU (British Thermal Unit) is the amount of heat energy it takes to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit at sea level. Many grills you'll see when shopping will boast about how many BTUs the grill makes but that doesn't tell you much about how good a grill will be.
Here is what you need to know about BTUs and your grill. Higher BTUs only indicate that the grill will hit its maximum temperature quicker than lower BTU grills. In general, a grill will top out at around 550 degrees. Now, it's pretty rare that you are going to grill anything at that heat. Higher BTU levels will get your grill hot quickly, but they are less efficient since it takes more fuel to make more heat.
Rather than consider the total BTU of a grill, you should look at the number of burners and the cooking area for each burner. Here is a little formula that helps you understand what the BTU for a grill means when you are cooking: BTU of the burner/Square inch of the cooking area=BTUs per square inch. You want a grill that hits between about 70 and 100 BTU per square inch. The good news is that almost every grill out there regardless of size or BTUs will hit that target.
What Grill Features Do You Want?
Some features can make your grilling experience better and it can be worth it to spend a little more to get a few features. One of the things you should consider first and foremost is the grilling surface. You'll find grill surfaces made from coated steel, stainless steel, and cast iron. Each surface type offers benefits and drawbacks.
- Stainless Steel – This grill type is common, inexpensive, and lightweight. It does an adequate job as long as the surface is in good condition. Over time, the temperature will cause the stainless steel grill grates to degrade and you'll need to replace them.
- Coated Steel – These are often ceramic coated. The main advantages are a better non-stick surface and superior heat retention. Unfortunately, coated grates are susceptible to cracking and scratching which can allow rust to corrode the grate.
- Cast Iron – Cast iron grates offer superior heat retention and excellent resistance to corrosion. The downside to cast iron grates is the weight and the need to properly treat the metal to give it a non-stick surface.
What's the Best Cooking Surface?
The best surface is going to depend on a few factors. We tend to choose cast iron over any other cooking surface because of the superior cooking properties cast iron grates can provide. Barbecue grills with cast iron grates do tend to cost more money than grills with other types and are most common on larger grills.
A helpful tip when shopping for stainless steel grates is to try and find high-quality heavy-duty grates. These will hold up longer and give you a better experience. Enamel grills are falling out of favor because they are expensive to replace and unreliable.
Other Important Features
A feature that sets high-quality grills apart from inferior models is superior airflow control. Airflow is vital to getting the temperature of your grill constant and steady. Better airflow allows you to have more control over how quickly you cook. Look for easy to use bottom and top airflow controls and you'll enjoy your grill more.
Lots of grills offer a convenient side burner that's ideal to warm a pot, fix a side dish, or keep a basting sauce hot. A side burner grill can be convenient, but if it's not a feature you'll actually use, you're just paying extra. Grills with this feature tend to be larger and bulkier also.
Charcoal grills with opening grates let the cook add and move coals. Grills lacking this feature require you to remove the hot grill to adjust your fuel. Doing so is inconvenient and dangerous.
How Much Should I Spend on a Grill?
You should spend what it takes to get the type of grill with the features you need. The real question is how do you avoid paying too much? The tips above will help you find the right grill for your needs without buying too much grill. You should also consider how you want to fuel your grill. Gas grills with large, high BTU burners will go through fuel rapidly, while charcoal grills require more effort to maintain the ideal cooking temperature. Smokers and kamado grills tend to be higher cost items, but you'll also get tons of use out of them.
Gas vs Charcoal Grills
One of the big decisions you'll have to make when buying a grill is gas vs charcoal. Both types can provide you a superior cooking experience when you select a good-quality grill. There are certain features making one type better and there are some pitfalls to look out for when selecting a gas or charcoal grill.
Pros and Cons of Gas Grills
Grilling with gas is incredibly convenient. Your grill heats up quickly, it's reasonably easy to control temperature, and there is no waste to clean up after you've grilled your meal. You will want to buy a gas grill if you don't want to deal with ashes, coals, and hauling around bags of charcoal. Most gas grills are set up to burn propane gas.
Propane is a fuel gas that is liquid when under pressure but a vapor at room temperature. It's also highly volatile. Propane tanks range in size from five-pound tanks common on grills to several hundred-pound tanks with months of capacity for a whole house. You will need to have a propane tank that meets certain safety requirements and it will need to be refilled periodically. A large BTU gas grill will consume more propane than a smaller one even at the same temperature.
Most propane gas grills can be converted to run on natural gas, the type running to your house appliances. It's a good idea to hire a professional to connect the grill to your house, but doing so makes gas grilling even more convenient.
The biggest drawback to gas grills is the lack of flavor the grill gives to food. While charcoal and pellet grills contribute to the smoke flavor from the fuel, propane and natural gas are both clean-burning fuel sources that do not add flavor to the meat.
Pros and Cons of Charcoal Grills
We have to admit that there is something about cooking on charcoal we love. Maybe it's the smoky smell or the primal feel of grilling over a fire, charcoal is one of our favorite ways to cook. There is a whole process that goes into starting a charcoal grill, getting the temperature to the optimal place, and keeping it where we want it that makes cooking on charcoal special.
With that said, charcoal grilling is substantially more difficult than gas grilling. A charcoal grill requires more attention when you are grilling and there is a significant amount of additional cleaning you'll need to do. Learning to get a charcoal grill to cook how you want it to takes time and practice, but once you know your grill, a world of flavorful grilling opens for you.
Charcoal comes in briquets and lump. Briquets are manufactured products that are primarily made from compressed wood shavings and other products. Lump charcoal is a natural wood product most often made from cut chunks of hardwoods. Briquets are less expensive to buy, but lump charcoal lasts longer and has the ability to add an excellent smoky flavor.
Pellet Smokers and Kamado Grills
Pellet smokers combine the simplicity of a gas grill with the flavor of a charcoal grill. Pellet smokers are super-versatile because it's easy to get the temperature right where you want it to be and keep it there. You can select different types of hardwood and fruitwood pellets to add unique flavors and a smoker can quickly come up to hot enough temperatures to sear a steak.
A kamado grill is a type of charcoal grill popular in Ancient Asian culinary tradition. A kamado differs from the charcoal grill many Americans are familiar with in that they tend to use ceramic shells to retain heat and provide the ability to get lower temperatures for proper smoking of meat. A good-quality kamado grill is a wonderful cooking tool, and most designs provide excellent airflow control over typical charcoal grills.
Our Favorite Backyard Smoker and Grill
We've gone through our fair share of grills over the years. From low-cost portable charcoal affairs to high-end gas grills, we've tried out lots of styles of grills. We have found a few products that are simply superior to everything else. We highly recommend these products.
Our Traeger is often the star of our YouTube channel. We use it for smoking, searing, and grilling. A few features of this pellet smoker make it stand out for us. The pellet hopper and delivery system are just flawless–it allows us to get the temperature and keep it there without waste. The 885 model is a big smoker, and we often load it up with lots of meat. You can save a bit of money buying smaller models of Traeger pellet smokers.
Pellet fuel lets us change and blend the types of pellets we are using. It's fast and simple to switch from an applewood pellet for smoking bacon to an oak and hickory blend to flavor a steak. Pellets leave very little waste once they burn, so cleanup is faster than charcoal.
Big Green Egg
Sometimes, charcoal grilling is the ideal way to make a meal. When it comes to charcoal grills, we've fallen in love with our Big Green Egg. It gives us the ability to cook with our favorite lump charcoal and the ingenious airflow controls let us take the temperature way down for low and slow cooking. There are lots of models of Big Green Egg kamado grills on the market from little tabletop models to extra-large models.
The Big Green Egg is our go-to for grilling chicken, burgers, and kebabs. While a Big Green Egg is more expensive than most charcoal grills out there, the quality is top-notch and your cooking experience will make the additional money worth spending.
Our favorite gas grill to use is our Blackstone Griddle. While it's not a "grill" in the classic sense, the gas griddle is a phenomenal cooking instrument that provides a huge amount of versatility. This is the best way to fry bacon, sear fish, and saute vegetables. Blackstone griddles are well-built and are very affordable.
A griddle like the ones from Blackstone is limited in that you won't get the smoky flavor from pellets and charcoal, so it can't replace either our Traeger or our Big Green Egg, but it does provide a wonderful tool for easy grilling without mess and hassle.
Know What You Want In Your Next Grill
Shopping for a new grill can be a hassle. It seems like there are so many products out there at all different prices, all promising to be the best. Any time you are shopping for a grill, consider first how you will use the grill, what you plan to cook, how often you'll use the grill, and how large of a meal you'll probably cook at once. It's also important to consider whether cooking with charcoal is worth the hassle, or if gas grilling is just simpler.
We always recommend that you buy the best barbecue grill within your budget–rather than the biggest, hottest, or the one with the most numerous features. A high-quality grill is going to offer you better results than anything else. We hope you have success shopping for your next grill.
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