When the weather gets nice, one of the best ways to enjoy the great outdoors is by gathering up friends and family and cooking a delicious meal over a hot grill. Nothing beats the taste of your favorite food grilled over an open flame. If you’re looking to buy your first outdoor grill, here are the things you’ll need to know.
The most important decision to make when buying a grill is what type of fuel you’ll be using. There are five major grill types. Each has its pros, and its cons and the correct choice depends mostly on your own needs and habits.
The most basic type of grill is the charcoal grill. They’re very simple, basically giant steel bowls that hold smoldering charcoal which makes them affordable and very dependable. Many grilling purists swear by charcoal because, as it burns, it adds a smoky flavor to the meats being cooked.
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A charcoal grill is also capable of producing very high heat which is great for searing meat but reaching those temperatures can take upwards of 20 minutes and the heat isn’t always evenly distributed throughout the cooking area. Cleanup of coal ash can also be messy. Charcoal grills are usually banded on apartment and condominium balconies because of the risk of fire from stray hot embers.
Liquid propane and natural gas grills use gas to fuel their flame, just like the stovetop in your kitchen. They start with the push of a button, get up to heat very quickly, and provide even heat levels throughout the grilling surface. Gas grills have their own crowd of supporters who like that neutral odorless flames that let you taste the meat, not the heat. A gas grill won’t add a smoky taste to your meats unless you choose to add them by using flavored woodchips or some other method. Gas fuel also makes for easier cleanup.
The only waste from a grilling session is the fat and juice that drips off of the meat. But gas grills also have their disadvantages. More working parts mean more potential things that can go wrong. Grease buildup can clog burners and render your grill inoperable, so it’s important to keep your grill clean. You’ll also need to be aware of your fuel supply. Every gas griller has experienced the pain of running out of propane halfway through grilling which is a surefire way to ruin dinner. To avoid that hassle, consider a natural gas grill.
These grills are permanently plumbed to the same gas supply that fuels your home stove and furnace which means you’ll never run out of gas. The downside is that you’ll be unable to move your natural gas grill around your outdoor space freely.
Electric grills plug into a standard wall outlet and use an electric heating element to cook food. Like gas grills, they don’t alter the flavor of the food being cooked. The heat is very even and easy to control, but electric grills usually can’t reach the high-temperature levels of charcoal or gas grills. One plus to electric grills is that they’re the only type of grill that can safely be used indoors.
Wood pellet grills are a newer form of grill quickly growing in popularity. Fuelled by hardwood pellets, these cookers offer many of the benefits of both charcoal and gas grills. Wood pellet grills use a digital control system to automatically dispense the necessary amount of wood pellets from a hopper into the grill based on your temperature settings. An induction fan pulls in and circulates outside air creating a convection cooking process.
This precise control gives wood pellet grills the even cooking surface of a gas grill, but because the pellets create smoke as they burn, food takes on the smoky flavors of charcoal cooking. You can even buy them in specific flavors. The result is the best of the two types of grilling. Many grilling aficionados see wood pellet grills as the way of the future.
Smokers offer another way to cook outdoors. Smoking is the process of cooking meat over indirect heat at lower temperatures and for long periods of time. As the name suggests, your food is exposed to a large amount of smoke over that time, taking on a strong smoky flavor. The mild cooking method also helps to preserve the food’s natural flavors and moisture, creating tender meat that falls off the bone. If you’re serious about smoking, consider a dedicated smoker.
Similar to grills, they’re usually taller than they are wide with the door that opens to the front. Foods are placed on racks above one another or hung from hooks at the top of the unit. The heating element, which also produces the smoke, is located at the bottom.
Dedicated smokers are available in charcoal, wood, electric, and gas versions. Want to give smoking a try without buying a dedicated smoker? Add a smoker box to your gas or charcoal grill. This simple receptacle holds flavored woodchips and lets the smoke permeate your grill without leaving an ashy mess everywhere.
Grills are measured by square inches of cooking area. Primary cooking area describes the size of the grate directly over the heating element which is suitable for full temperature cooking. The secondary cooking area usually refers to an elevated grate that doesn’t get as hot as the main grate.
It’s good for warming buns or lightly cooking veggies but doesn’t get hot enough to grill a piece of meat fully. The primary cooking area measurement along with some simple math will help determine the right sized grill for your needs. An average burger, four inches in diameter, needs around 20 square inches of cooking space.
So a 200 square inch grill, which is a pretty small grill, can cook ten burgers at once. A slab of ribs might need a 100 square inches, so if you’re cooking multiple slabs at once, you’ll want a larger grill.
Having too small a grill for a large party will be inconvenient but so is having a large fuel hungry grill if you only often cook for one or two other people. Taking time to consider your cooking habits will help you decide exactly the right size grill to buy.
Here are some features to look for when picking your perfect grill. A common add-on to gas grills, side burners let you sauté or boil an additional menu item outdoors as your main dish cooks on the grill. This convenience saves repeated trips indoors and lets you cook a multi-course meal all at your grill.
The rotisserie is a motorized skewer that continuously rotates your meat over the cooking surface providing even cooking for large pieces of meat. Rotisserie cooking is often used to cook entire animals and helps keep natural juices in it. It also allows for easy basting as the entire surface of the meat becomes accessible with every revolution. Infrared burners typically utilize a ceramic surface which sits between the flame and the grill grate and gets ultra hot. This surface radiates that intense heat directly into the meat producing a searing effect.
If you love your steaks rare, this is a great way to get a nice browning on the outside and trap the juices inside. There’s no better way to cook at a tailgate than on a grill. Look for models specifically made to be portable. They’ll usually offer compact size and lightweight with convenient options like fold-out side trays and detachable legs.
Armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to buy your first grill. Whether you choose gas or charcoal, you’re about to enter into a whole new world of delicious cooking options. Happy grilling.