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Tips & Techniques of the BBQ Guru : Choosing a Grill

The first step in grilling is choosing the right grill. There are two types to choose from:

  • charcoal
  • gas.

The choice comes down to one of lifestyle and you should first ask yourself a couple of questions . . .

Do you enjoy the challenge of building and maintaining a fire? Or, do you need precise heat control? Do you enjoy the smell of food cooked over hot coals? Or, is the grilled taste the most important aspect? Do you need that primal hands-on experience? Or, would you prefer the easier one-touch heat settings?

A major manufacturer of both charcoal and gas grills has done extensive taste testing and the results showed there is no difference in taste between the two. So, it comes down to one of personal preference. Again a lifestyle choice. In other words, how do you plan on using your new grill? How often will you use your grill? How many people do you normally cook for? Are the fuel choices(gas or charcoal) available in your area? Is cost an issue? Gas grills are more expensive initially but charcoal grills will cost more to operate over the long run.

Don't worry . . . both are great choices and whatever you choose will reward you with some of the best food you have tasted. After you have chosen what type of grill you want, look for these three features:

1. Look for a pre-assembled grill that has been welded together. These welds will assure sturdy construction and will further help to fend off rust. Easy assembly and die-cut parts for a tight fit are essential. The fewer number of parts to assemble, the less hassles you will encounter in the future.
2. Warranties are very important. Look for a grill with a long warranty period. Does the manufacturer trust it's own quality control issues? A long warranty period will answer this question. Look for five years on charcoal grills and ten years on gas grills.
3. Always look at the company behind the grill. Do they have a reputation for great customer service and quality products? Replacement parts are also a consideration. Be sure replacement parts are easily accessible. Preferably you should be able to buy the standard parts at a retail store near you . . . grates, ignition systems, covers, etc.

As in many consumer purchases, you will get what you pay for. A low end gas grill, while inexpensive, will also result in inferior parts and therefore a frustrating cooking experience. My advice has always been, if you cannot afford a top quality gas grill, go with a top quality charcoal grill. Here in the US, you can find a good quality, small gas grill for around $300. If you cannot afford that, then a good quality charcoal grill is available for under $100. The important word here is QUALITY. What do I mean by that? Well, let's look at both gas and charcoal grills. Look for the following features when assessing grills.

Charcoal Grills

  • Construction
Look for a grill made of high-grade steel and a porcelain-enamel coating. The coating should be baked on and not just sprayed on. This will prevent rusting, peeling and fading. Leg couplings and grate supports should be welded for added strength. The lid should be heavy and fit tightly.
  • Basic Features
Cooking and charcoal grates should be nickel-plated or stainless steel. Both of these will clean up very easily and are also rust resistant. Make sure the handles are of wood or plastic. These will stay cool to the touch.
  • Added Features
Easy disposal of ashes is a must. Some grills offer a one-touch system that sweeps the ashes into a disposal pan. A thermometer is always nice for keeping an eye on the temperature.

Gas Grills

  • Construction
Same as the charcoal grills . . . baked on porcelain-enamel finish, high-grade steel and welded legs. A simple lifting of the lid will tell you a lot. The heavier the better.
  • Basic Features
The cooking system is critical in a gas grill. You should have a minimum of three independent burners. This will allow the most precise fire control and will insure the ability to cook using indirect heat. These burners should run along each side, either side-to-side or front-to-back, and down the middle of the grill. This will avoid hot spots and assures total utilization of the entire cook surface. Look for a flare-up prevention system. A series of angled steel plates should be located just below the cooking grate. These will collect the drippings and immediately vaporize them resulting in that grilled flavor you are looking to attain. Avoid grills that use lava rocks, as they collect grease and are prone to flare-ups. The cooking grates should be stainless steel or a baked on porcelain-enamel finish. Cast iron grates will hold the heat better, but are very labor intensive as they will need constant re-seasoning.
  • Added Features
Look for side tables and condiment holders. Locking wheels are also a nice feature as these will prevent rolling in high wind environments. As far as side burners, I would personally avoid these. I used mine exactly 5 times and never again. Save yourself a few extra bucks and avoid the side burners. An extra side table is a much more efficient use of space.

Finally, a word on BTUs. BTUs are NOT a measure of the cooking power of a grill! They are only an indication of the volume of gas a grill can burn. A better engineered unit can use less BTUs and cook more efficiently.

So, you should now be comfortable taking the first step in your grilling experience, buying a grill. As always, I will gladly answer any questions you may have. Just drop me an e-mail. Keep in mind, I may not have access to the exact grill you are considering.

In other articles, we will cover the basics of grilling, including some tips and techniques, some simple basic recipes and then on to more challenging fare, using in-direct heat and how to cook several different cuts of meat.

Team Double Smoke

Kevin Taylor - BBQ GuruKevin Taylor is know as the BBQ Guru on the RecipeGoldmine website for his expertise in the art of the Barbecue and Smoking. Over the last twenty years barbecuing has caught on fast in the UK but for most of us it is still an unexplored form of cuisine - a few chops and some sausages.

With the help of Kevin Hub-UK is hoping to bring to you a series of articles and recipes over the summer which will change your way of life and bring great pleasure to you, your family and friends as you enjoy the long summer evenings.

Kevin Taylor is a regular contributor at RecipeGoldmine - click here to visit the website.