Whether you just want to cook a couple of burgers or feed a party of friends barbecue ribs, this buying guide has all the info to make your next grill purchase simple. We’ve tested hundreds of models over the years. Our tests gauge temperature ranges, heating evenness, and whether a brand is prone to flare-ups. Gas grills are the most popular grills in America so we’ll focus on their key features and technologies. But if charcoal is your thing or you’ve only got space for an electric model, we’ve got some solid buying tips for those, too.
Here are three questions to chew on before you buy:
– How much do you want to spend?
– How much food do you want to grill at once?
– How much space do you have?
Let’s talk about price first. Gas grills range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. But know this: spending more doesn’t always give you better cooking performance. You can cook a great meal on a low price grill.
Next, how much cooking space do you need? We call this cooking area. Manufacturers may include racks and side burners in their cooking area measurements or they may designate grills according to the number of burners. But we judge grills by how much food the main cooking area will hold and we group them accordingly in our ratings. So before you buy, take a look at the actual cooking area to see if it’s enough space for how many people you usually grill for.
And don’t forget about the variety of foods you grill. If you keep it basic with burgers, chicken, and hot dogs, plenty of grills will do the trick. But if you plan on cooking a lot of fish or slow cooking pork, you’ll want a grill that scored well on our temperature range and indirect cooking tests.
You also have to think about how much space you have. Some larger grills span a full six feet so measure your deck or patio before you buy. Look the grill over carefully. You want a sturdy grill with smooth edges. Sharp edges can be dangerous if you bump into them while grilling.
One more thing to consider: propane or natural gas. Most grills use propane but some grills have dual fuel valves for conversion to natural gas. You can also buy a conversion kit for about $50 to $100.
Now that you’ve narrowed down the basics, let’s talk features. Pay close attention to a grills grates, burners, and the igniter. These parts get a lot of wear and tear and play a big role in the quality of your grill. Look for grates made of stainless steel, which resists rust. Grills with coated cast iron grates also perform well in our tests, but over time, those coatings may chip or rust.
When it comes to starting your grill, an electronic igniter is the way to go. One push and your burners are on. Rotary igniters built into the knobs or nonelectric push-button ones may require several clicks or pushes.
Burners are the most commonly replaced part on a grill. You’ll see many burners, especially on lower price grills, come with warranties of five years or less. But higher end grills should come with longer ones that last at least 10 years or even a lifetime.
When it comes to the exterior of the grill, many people like the look of stainless steel. But not all stainless steel is created equal. Higher grades are better at resisting rust, but keep in mind a better quality stainless steel grill can cost you hundreds, sometimes thousands more, depending on the size of the grill and its features. Porcelain coated exteriors are a less expensive alternative. This type won’t show fingerprints or scratch like stainless steel can, but if the coating chips, it can rust.
After you’ve got the basic squared away, you can focus on the fun stuff. Serious grillers can deck out their models with rotisserie, fridges, and deep fryers. Some manufacturers claim better cooking, hotter grilling, and faster heating with certain features. But you might not need all of these to grill a perfectly tasty steak.
For example, manufacturers often tout British thermal units, or BTUs, which show you how much gas a grill uses and how much heat it can create. But our tests find that more BTUs don’t necessarily mean faster heating or better cooking. So it’s best to keep BTUs out of your buying decision.
Manufacturers might utilize infrared technology and add a single rotisserie burner or a side searing burner, which can be helpful, LED lights under the hood and on the control knobs definitely come in handy if you tend to grill after sundown. Some grills have space to work outside the cooking area. Fold-out shelves, for instance, let you prep food right next to the grill. Side burners are helpful when preparing accoutrements to a dish, like a special sauce.
On some grills you can even find side deep fryers, ice boxes, fridges, and drawers for steaming and storage. Some grills even come with a smoke box or a conventional oven. A propane pull-out shelf is a great way to get your fuel tank attached to the grill with less strain and a fuel gauge can tell you when it’s time to change the tank. A pullout grease tray makes cleaning up easier and look for grills with four wheels vs. two, which makes moving your grill a lot easier.
Remember no matter which grill you choose, you can always soup it up with aftermarket accessories. Many can help you expand what cuisine you prepare on the grill, such as rib cookers, pizza stones or boxes for artisan pies, baskets and woks, as well as stir-fried tools and griddles. There are even robots that will clean it all up when you’re done.
But you might be surprised at the different foods you can cook on a regular grill without any accessories. Everything from a grilled Caesar salad to pound cake and fruit for dessert. Just watch what this celebrity chef cooked up in our labs.
When you crave that smoky grilled flavor, only the classic charcoal grill will do. They typically cost $200 to $500. But you can find some for as little as $100 while high-end models can cost in the thousands. Cooking with charcoal takes longer but there are starter chimneys you can buy to get the charcoal hotter faster. Wheels make for easy moving. Some have moveable racks so you can add more charcoal without disrupting food that’s cooking and others have removable ash catchers for faster cleanup.
An electric grill can come in handy if you live in a city, apartment, or condo that won’t allow an open flame. Electric grills, surprise, use electricity to heat grill plates. Price ranges from about $250 to more than $500. The downside is these are smaller so you can’t feed an army and you’ll have to plug these grills in so you’ll need access to a power source.
And for tailgaters, campers, or anyone who wants to grill on the go, consider portable models. They also come in handy as an extra grill when you don’t want to fire up the big grill and are a good option for apartment and condo dwellers with limited space. These typically cost around $100 and up. They use a smaller liquid propane tank and come in a range of sizes. Some have short legs you can set on the ground or a table. Others can fold up and then open to standing height. Look for models with latches to lock the lid when you’re carrying the grill.
No matter which grill you have, remember to clean it after each use, and consult your owner’s manual for additional maintenance instructions for your grill.