All things considered, the perfect grill changes from one guy to the next. Ribs are your specialty, maybe, but your buddy is a steak man and your dad thinks charcoal is the only way to do it. Everyone is an expert and standing at the local hardware store staring at all the options just makes things harder. So before you get in the car, answer these questions to hone in on exactly what you need.
Question: How much am I willing to spend?
Before you go shopping for the perfect grill, figure out your bottom line. It’s like buying a car – the fancier you get with upgrades and options, the higher the price tag. And the list of possible features in the grill world isn’t short. You can pay for things like a smoker box, multiple-level cooking surfaces, rotisserie and side burners, lights and plenty more. Keep in mind that most of these extras won’t get as much use as the cooking surface itself, so only buy the features that you really want and know you’ll use. Remember, the grill is just a big tool. It’s the guy behind the grill who’s responsible for all that good eating.
Wondering about price point? It’s all over the map. You can spend less than $300 on a charcoal grill that will do its job nicely. The Weber Kettle is a trusty option that retails for under $100, while high-end charcoal grills can be as much as $2,000.
On the gas side, a respectable price range is $200 to $400. Double that, and you’re looking at a premium option. But the really expensive gas grills can run you $5,000 and higher. Be very clear – quality doesn’t always increase as the price point creeps upward. Read the reviews for yourself of some of the higher-end grills – they don’t necessarily out-perform those at half the price (or less!).
That’s not to say that quality doesn’t matter. Weber is like the Toyota of the grill world – they just keep running. The shiny stainless steel no-name brand at the hardware store, on the other hand, will probably last four or five years at most. Keep in mind that name brand grills have customer support, replacement parts and a company reputation, while store brand options may lack any or all of that. Don’t get hung up on the name alone, but definitely consider craftsmanship and materials when you’re comparing one grill to the next.
Question: What kind of fuel do I want?
The most well-known choices are gas or charcoal, but other options include logs, wood pellets and electric. If you’re like most people and you’ll be grilling steaks and other red meats, charcoal or gas is best so you can get that high heat for searing.
There are pros and cons to every fuel option, and this will really boil down to personal preference. Gas grills are consistent, fast and easy to clean, but you’ll likely pay more both to start and to operate. You can adjust cooking temperatures, which can be a big bonus too. Charcoal grills give food that classic barbeque flavor but they can take more time to prep and can have a steeper learning curve if you’re preparing something more complicated than burgers and dogs. They’re also messy and harder to clean.
Question: Am I feeding an army?
In other words, how much cooking surface do I need? The size of a barbeque relates directly to price, so begin your search by comparing square inches of primary cooking surface – that’s the main cooking grate – in a few different grills. Total cooking area, which is often listed, can include the warming rack suspended above the main grate, so keep that in mind. Remember, the primary function of that space is to warm, not to cook.
Wondering how much cooking space you actually need? Backyard wisdom forbids you from crowing the grill – leave at least half an inch between everything being cooked. So consider how many people you’re cooking for and go from there.
Once you have a ballpark figure, a fuel preference and an idea of size, your options will narrow down pretty quickly. Then you can pull the trigger on a great grill for your needs and let the summer barbeques begin.