With so many products to choose from, the grill market can be confusing for first-time buyers. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed by all the jargon used by stores and on the internet, so I wrote this guide, to help first time buyers, decide which grill is best for them. I’ll be cutting through the technical terms, and converting the jargon into English, so that next time you look at grills, you’ll feel like an expert. I’ll be answering questions like: What grates do you need? What are the different types of grills? How important is air-flow? and What role to vents and dampers play in the process of outdoor cooking?
What do you need your grill for?
The first question you should ask yourself when deciding on a grill, is what are you going to be using the grill for? If your going to be cooking mainly in the backyard, then the world is your oyster, and you don’t need to worry about size. If you’re going to be traveling further afield, to tailgating parties or on camping trips, then you’ll need something smaller. There is a range of portable grills and you’ll need to look for one that’s between 7 pounds and 50 pounds in weight. These will be easy to carry.
What grates do you need?
Grates are the most important things on a grill. If you choose a grill with the wrong grates, then no matter which other buying decisions you made, you’re going to end up with inferior food. Grates retain and disperse heat around the cooking surface, so they largely determine how the food tastes, whether it’s cooked evenly, and how quickly food is cooked. You’re looking for cast iron grates because these are the best; cast iron, retains heat better than any other metal, and food doesn’t stick to cast iron, which means they’ll be no burnt patches on your meat. Now, you may be reading this, with your heart set on a grill you’ve already seen, and loved its design, but checking its details, it doesn’t have cast iron grates. What do you do? Well, who am I to stand in your way, so as long as it has thick steel grates, which are the next best thing, it’s ok to buy. If however you purchase a grill with neither cast iron or thick steel grates, then any love you had for it, will quickly fade, with every serving of slowly cooked, poorly tasting food, that sticks to the grill.
Put a lid on it, because air-flow is important.
If you’ve been to enough cookouts, chances are you’ll have sat next to someone, usually someone in their forties or fifties, whose been grilling for a long time, and they start talking to you about air-flow regulation. Air-flow is the subject of complex and often heated debate among grill enthusiasts, but to those new to outdoor grilling, conversations about it, seem filled with incomprehensible technical jargon. It is however important, and it’s something you need to know about when buying a grill.
The best grills, have lids because lids allow you to regulate air-flow into the cooking area. For this reason, grills without lids, are generally, with a few exceptions, not as good as grills with lids. Regulation of air-flow is important because food, particularly meats, have a natural moisture barrier, which if broken, leads to a dry taste. Too much air-flow will break the moisture barrier, so instead of leaving the weather to decide how good your food tastes, you put a lid on it.
Dampers and Vents:
When you’ve picked out your grill with a lid, and made sure it’s got good cast iron or steel grates, the next thing to consider is dampers and vents. Dampers are found underneath your grill, and when buying one, you should know that opening them up completely, allows the maximum amount of oxygen in, while closing them completely, lets none in. The more air you let in, the hotter your grill gets, and limiting air-flow makes your grill lose heat, so dampers are how your grill regulates heat. Vents do basically the same job, except they’re on the top of the lid.
The best grills, have dampers and vents you can set, let whatever amount of air you like, into your food. The worst will have just two options: fully open, or fully closed. So don’t be shy, make sure to check what damper and vent settings the grill you’re looking at has.
The 3 main types of grill:
The benefits of having an electric grill are you can easily take them from the garden, into the home, if the weather gets bad, and cook just the same quality food. They’re usually small so are very portable, making it easy for you to do this. The downside is that you can’t really take them camping or tailgating unless you’re prepared to buy a generator. Electric grills are safer than other grills because there’s not a huge open flame, but food doesn’t ever seem to taste as good as it does on non-electric grills. Of course, if you live in a really cold area, an electric grill would be my recommendation, because of the indoor option.
Charcoal is considered classic grilling, and for many its the only type of grilling there is. The problem with charcoal is it’s heavy, and if you want to take your grill away camping with you; you might be hauling a lot of extra weight, so ask about how efficient the charcoal grill you’re looking at is, in terms of charcoal use. Charcoal grills tend to have the best taste, which is why they’re the most popular, but you’ve got to pay attention, to dampers and vents. How flexible are they? How many does your grill have? In my opinion, the best charcoal grills have cooking bowls, because the shape makes for wonderful air-flow, and they tend to reach ideal cooking temperature faster.
Propane or Gas grilling
When you’re looking at a propane or gas grill, bear in mind that you’re not going to get the same authentic classic experience of flame grilling charcoal, and you more often than not will have to buy a tank of propane or gas separately because your grill probably won’t come with one. Try and find a grill with a tray or easy loading system, so you can just slot your tank in. My next piece of advice is don’t be fooled by power!!!! You might read something like 52,000 BTU, 4 burners, 1 side burner, and think you’re onto a winner, but you’d be forgetting what we talked about in the section on grates. Power means nothing unless you have good grates, so check that the grates are made of cast iron or thick steel. You’d rather have 2 burners with cast iron grates, than 4 with thin stainless steel grates.
The best thing about gas or propane grills is that if you can fit them into your car, you really can take them anywhere. Gas and Propane costs less than charcoal and is much easier to haul around.
Most thermometers will be accurate, but digital thermometers are the best, and you can even get thermometers that measure the heat of the food itself, as well as the heat inside the cooking area. The most important thing is to find a grill, with a thermometer that looks easy to read and one that isn’t placed in an awkward position
20 years ago, grills were incredibly difficult to clean. If you liked cookouts, you also had to like scraping charred meat and other debris off the bottom of the grill for around an hour. These days you’ll be happy to know most grills are coated with porcelain enamel, which is non-stick, so only a wipe over is needed. If you don’t see the term porcelain-enamel on the packaging, or in grills online description, then cleaning will be difficult, and you should steer clear of these grills.
So, don’t worry about the jargon, just check each of the things I’ve mentioned here. What grates does the grill you’re looking at have? Does it have lots of dampers and vents? and Are they flexible? Look at the pro’s and Con’s, of owning each type of grill, and decide which is best for you. Find the thermometer, Where is it? How big is it? Is it digital? And always get a grill that has a porcelain-enamel coating for ease of cleaning.