You could read a thousand and one words on the minute details that surround grill shopping, but most people certainly don’t need to. Fact is, you can find a great grill by considering just three basic details. Here’s your cheat sheet to the best part of summer.
Primary Fuel Source
Generally speaking, there are four types of grills, and they’re bucketed by their primary fuel source, be it charcoal, gas, electricity or wood pellets. Deciding between them is a matter of weighing priorities, such as convenience and control.
Charcoal: Considered the purest form of everyday grilling. Charcoal’s ability to generate both extreme, meat-charring heat and low, slow burns makes it the best option when only considering the meal on the table. However, charcoal takes longer to light and reach temperature than any other grill types. It’s also messier and heat output can’t easily be changed halfway through a cook.
Gas: This is the most popular grill type. Gas grills are ready to cook with a few minutes after heating up, can change heat output on a dime and leave virtually no mess after cooking. The tradeoff? Gas grills won’t imbue food with the same smokey flavors you get with charcoal or wood, and most won’t exceed 500 to 550 degrees at grate-level.
Electricity: Electric grills build heat with the push of a button. Most use infrared heat instead of a flame, so they produce much less smoke than any other form of grilling. As such, they won’t impart the same fire-grilled flavor a gas, pellet or charcoal grill will, and they are susceptible to malfunction if water or grease from cooking reaches vital circuitry.
Wood Pellets: A hybrid of electricity and wood grilling. Wood pellet grills monitor and maintain whatever temperature you choose — typically from sub-200 to 500 degrees — and come with fairly significant heat-up times. They’re able to operate both as a smoker and a grill, though the 500-degree cap isn’t ideal for quickly searing meats.
Grill space is a common area for marketing tomfoolery — it’s not uncommon to add inches from warming and smoking racks to the total grill space, inflating the size of the actual cook space. To figure the actual grill space, calculate its area based on the dimensions of the grill itself.
Once you know how many servings you can prepare at once, you need only consider how many mouths you plan to feed. A safe size for a family of four is 300 to 350 square inches — enough room to grill burgers for a crowd (the average burger takes up 20 square inches on a grill), a handful of steaks with plenty of space in-between or larger items like ribs or pork butts.
Materials & Durability
The best argument against buying a grill online comes from considering the thing’s makeup. What do “high-grade steel” or “rugged wheels” really mean? The only way to know is to get a look for yourself.
Grills made completely of stainless steel sound good, but if the steel is thin and cheap, it’ll hardly insulate heat. Those thin, lightweight grates? They’ll warp with rapid heat change. In the grilling world, weight is generally a strong indicator of quality.
A final rule of thumb: products with the least areas for a malfunction to occur have the least malfunctions. Like with Weber’s all-time-great kettle grills, the fewer screws, bolts, buttons, cables and moving parts, the longer it’ll last.