Gentlement, start your...grills!
I’ve been grilling a long time, so I can’t tell you how many grills I’ve gone through in my lifetime. I’ve decided to lay all my experience on the table right here.
Let me start off by saying that I’m not trying to sell you any specific grill. This article focuses on knowing how to choose a grill. There’s no sales pitch here, just information.
Why should you read this? Because knowing how to choose a grill is more important than you might think. Why? In my opinion, grilling is about making memories more than about cooking.
I don’t know about you, but some of my favorite lifetime memories involve grilling outdoors with family and friends. In my family, it’s always the men who grill. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met quite a few women who can throw down an amazing steak on the grill, but in my home it was always us guys who labor over the flames. I write from my personal experience, I mean no offense, ladies!
As a kid, I was taught that grilling is an American tradition. Heck, it’s even a rite of passage. The first time I ever handed my eldest son the tongs and stepped away from the grill, he beamed as his younger brothers looked on in awe and pride.
In order to make these kinds of memories, you want to have the best equipment you can get. The goal is not only to hand your boy the tongs, but also to tell him why you chose the grill in front of him. We’re talking about a legacy that will be passed on for generations. When your son leaves the nest and needs to choose his own grill, you’ll have equipped him to make the right choice and pass on the same knowledge to his own children.
In this ultimate guide on how to choose a grill, I’m attempting to address all the questions you might have before making your purchasing decision. Feel free to scroll down to whatever section you need, but I’ve listed the considerations in an order I hope will best serve the majority.
Now in a perfect world, every man would own both a charcoal grill and a gas grill. There are reasons to have each. Maybe I’ll talk about charcoal grills in another article. For now, we’ll focus on what most folks are looking for: the perfect gas grill.
5 Reasons to Choose a Gas Grill over Charcoal
- Quick start up. With a charcoal grill, you have to mess with briquettes, fluid and flare-up and then wait for what seems like forever for the coals to heat. With a gas grill, a simple push of a button puts you at a precise cooking temperature and ready to start cooking in 10-15 minutes. No muss, no fuss.
- Food cooks evenly. With charcoal, you are going to have hotspots. It’s the nature of working with coals. But use a good gas grill, and more importantly, a good cooking grid, and you won’t have this problem. I’ll cover cooking grids in a moment.
- Flexibility. With temperature control knobs, you can set up a variety of heat zones for cooking foods, or even just keeping them warm. Can’t do that on a charcoal grill. With gas, you can even cook things at different temperatures at the same time. What a concept, right?
- Quick and easy cleanup. Cleaning charcoal grills involves waiting for the coals to cool down and ashes are everywhere. With a good gas grill, you simply turn off the fuel and wipe it all down.
- Cost. Though you’ll pay more for a gas grill up front, over the long haul you’ll actually save money if you buy a good one. Gas burns cleaner and cheaper than charcoal all day long.
Ok, so it’s clear that gas grills have advantages that charcoal can’t compete with. So now that we know we’re going with a gasser, let’s find out how to choose the right one.
How Much Are You Willing to Spend?
If you’re like me, you want the best value for your money. You can get a good gas grill that will last you a long time for several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on your budget. You don’t want to go cheap, but you don’t have to go crazy.
On the off chance you have money to burn (pun intended), stop reading now and take your $25,195 and go buy the KS1000HS from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet.
But the rest of us still have some questions to answer. I think you’ll find that you’ll be able to use this information to find the perfect grill for you and your family. Just keep in mind that spending more money doesn’t always net you the best grill. It’s about the parts that make up the whole. So read on, my friends.
Things to Consider: Grill Construction
One sure sign of a cheap and ineffective grill is a wobbly grill. Poor construction and materials make for a flimsy piece of equipment that isn’t going to last you long. So when you are out looking at grills, don’t be afraid to knock them around a little. Push on a corner to see if it wobbles. If it does, keep shopping.
Also look for a grill with nice, smooth edges in the construction. If a grill you’re looking at has sharp edges, that’s typically a warning of subpar construction and you should steer away from it. Lastly, when it comes to the basics, pick a grill with four wheels instead of two when possible. If a company cut costs on wheels, what else did they cut costs on?
As for material, the material of choice for grills is stainless steel. Don’t be fooled by a shiny stainless steel grill. There are various types of stainless steel out there and not all of them are good.
You want to find a grill with commercial grade stainless steel if at all possible. The cheaper stainless will rust, while commercial grade is by far the best you can get. How can you tell if your grill is commercial grade? Easy, put a magnet on the side of the grill. If the magnet sticks to the grill, it isn’t commercial grade. When you put a magnet on commercial grade stainless, it won’t stick.
So in short, if your magnet ends up on the floor, that’s a grade of stainless that will last you and your family a long time.
You will find some grills out there with porcelain coating. Porcelain is great, but it’s prone to chip and eventually rust. So if you’re investing in a porcelain grill, make sure you buy a cover for it and keep the kids’ bikes, bats, balls and toys away from it.
What the Heck Are BTUs Anyway?
BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, and it’s a measure of how much fuel is used more than how hot the grill gets. Sure, folks measure heat by BTUs, but this is deceptive. Don’t think for a moment that the more BTUs you have, the hotter the grill gets. It doesn’t work that way. How hot your grill will get depends more on the design and material of the grill and how close the cooking grid is to the surface of the burners than how many BTUs you have.
Bottom line: Don’t get too caught up with BTUs. As a matter of fact, you can probably just ignore them when making your purchasing decision.
How Big Should My Grill Be?
When it comes to grill size, a good rule of thumb is 100 square inches of cooking space per person you want to feed.
So if you have a family of four and you aren’t planning on doing any entertaining, 400 square inches should be adequate. A 600-900 square inch cooking space should be enough for family and a few close friends. But if you’re looking to throw some serious parties, look for a grill with a cooking space of 1,000 or more square inches of cooking space.
Keep in mind that you should probably measure the space at home where you plan to put your grill before you go looking. Don’t be that guy who buys a grill for a specific cooking space and forgets to measure first.
Fuel and Fuel Sources for Your Gas Grill
A gas grill can be fueled by one of two methods, a propane tank or direct gas from the house if you have that set up. If you buy a grill that isn’t set up for a direct gas connection, no worries. You can buy a conversion kit with dual fuel valves for $80-$100.
If you can direct connect your grill, that’s the preferred fueling method. If you can’t, then keep in mind that a standard 20-pound tank of propane will last 8-9 hours depending on your cooking temperature and the number of burners you run while cooking.
Burners Are Everything!
Speaking of burners, try to buy a grill with at least three burners, so you can get adequate heat distribution over your cooking surface. Also, remember that many recipes call for “indirect grilling,” when you put food to the side of the heat source instead of directly over a flame. In order to indirect grill properly, you’ll need at least three burners.
Size does matter. If you’re getting a grill with a cooking grid over 36” wide, you’ll want to start looking at four burners for your grill. Anything less, and you’ll run into low temperature spots on the grill.
Look for a warranty on the burners. They are the most commonly replaced items on grills. If you find a grill that has a 10-year or lifetime warranty on burners, you probably have an excellent product in hand.
Burner construction matters, too. When looking at grill burners, make sure they’re made of tubular stainless steel, cast stainless steel or cast brass. You probably won’t find too many with cast stainless or cast brass, as these are only on high-end models. But if you do find one at a good price, then go for the gusto.
Lastly, for burners, keep in mind they should run the entire length of the cooking grid, and each burner should have its own temperature control knob. One knob for two or three burners = no good.
Cooking Grid and Cooking Grates
When you’re reading about cooking area in a grill manual, be careful! Some companies include racks and side burners in this figure. When you’re considering cooking area, you should only consider the main cooking area.
The importance of high-quality grill grates cannot be overstated. Ultimately, this is where your food touches the grill. Keep in mind that wide bars that are closely spaced are actually better than round rods with lots of space in the middle. The goal of the burners is to heat your grates, not to allow fire to peek through and singe your food! Let the grates do the cooking.
There are pros and cons to different grill grate materials. Here’s the breakdown:
- Porcelain-coated cast-iron grates: Excellent for heat retention and super easy to clean. They wear well and are rust resistant. Arguably, they’re the best for non-stick cooking. Be careful not to chip them, though. If you do, they will rust!
- Stainless steel grates: Rust-resistant, have good heat retention and leave nice grill marks, but they are prone to food sticking to them. This can be solved with a thin coating of olive oil or non-stick cooking spray while the grill is cool, before cooking.
- Cast iron grates: Great for heat retention, heat distribution and grill marks, but they require regular curing to prevent rust.
What about Infrared?
If you like seared food and restaurant quality steaks, you’ll want to have infrared as part of your grill setup. If you’ve ever watched a cooking show, you know chefs sear foods at ludicrous temperatures, and no gas grill is going to get that hot. This is where infrared comes in.
Infrared can reach searing temperatures quickly, typically in less than eight minutes. It basically works by heating up a metal box with its own cooking grate and lid. The burner heats up the box, and the food sears once it is placed in the box, which means that it browns and caramelizes meat.
Infrared is not for everyone. But if it’s your thing, go for it.
Wear and Tear
The three most commonly replaced items on a gas grill are the burners, igniter and cooking grates. So look for good warranties on these three items.
This article is about how to choose a grill, so I won’t spend too much time on accessories. But here are some to consider:
- Grill cover: to protect your investment
- Propane tank pull-out shelf: makes life easier
- Fuel gauge: nothing worse than running out of fuel in the middle of a meal
- Foldout shelves: gotta have a place to prepare your food
- Side burners: perfect for sauces
- Ice box: for when you want a cold one (grilling is a hot business)
- Pull-out grease tray: much easier to clean
- LED lights under the hood: for those after-sunset grill nights
And there are plenty of other accoutrements like deep fryers, rotisseries, etc. But don’t get too caught up in all that. Most accessories can be purchased as you go along. The important thing is to know how to choose a grill!
Every red-blooded American man wants to experience that moment when the family is gathered, the smell of grilled steak fills the air and the sizzling sound of raw meat hitting the grill makes heads turn so hard that folks in the yard get whiplash.
My mother, bless her heart, didn’t get herself a set of quality kitchen knives until she was in her late 70s. She never really used them much by that time. This saddened me. By the time she pulled the trigger on the purchase, my mother had lost 50 years of use.
One of the things I’ve learned in life is that if I’m going to get something I know I’m going to use frequently, then I want to get the best I can afford as soon as I can afford it. So there it is, guys. Buy early, buy safely and buy the best for your family.
Hope this guide is helpful to you and that you make wonderful memories with your families.