The late summer into early fall is the ideal time to be outdoors. The temps have cooled down, but it's still warm enough to be outside for long periods of time, making it peak season for hosting cookouts and barbecues in your backyard. And that means you'll have to have a grill that performs well and meets all your most carnivorous needs.
Considering that Labor Day weekend is coming up -- a time dedicated to cooking your favorite summer staples, from burgers to ribs -- you'll need to start thinking about which grill is best for you. Picking the right one involves a lot of factors and can quickly get overwhelming. To help, we've gathered our best tips for finding the perfect grill.
What kind of grill is right for you? The answer depends on what cooking style and level of convenience you expect from your grill. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type, so knowing their key characteristics will put you well on your way to a match made in barbecue heaven.
Gas grills are one of the most common fuel types. Built in a cart style, gas grills use either an attachable liquid propane tank or natural gas via a conversion kit connecting the grill to your home's natural gas supply line.
The debate over natural gas or liquid propane burns hot. Natural gas burns cleaner in terms of greenhouse gases, it's cheaper to use and you won't have to bother with refilling propane tanks.
However, you won't be able to move your grill around since it's connected to a gas line. Liquid propane is the more popular fuel choice, and it's portable. It's also pricier and needs refilling. The good news is many gas grills can accommodate both, so you don't have to choose right away.
With a gas grill, you'll have more control over the heat and how it is distributed across your cooking surface. Gas grills such as the Char-Broil Commercial 3-burner are great for adjusting between high heat for searing and lower heat for steady cooking. If you're looking to cook meats like whole chickens or racks of ribs for hours at a time, however, you'll have better results with a charcoal grill, pellet grill or smoker.
Charcoal grills offer the traditional smokiness most people think of when they imagine grilled flavor. They come in lots of shapes and sizes, including the original Weber Kettle that introduced the charcoal grill design so widely recognized today. Charcoal grills have their quirks though, so you'll need to be prepared to put in some work if you go this route.
Charcoal grills burn using charcoal briquettes or lumps of charcoal. That's where the smoky flavor comes from. You'll need to spend a little more time lighting the briquettes and preheating the grill than you will with a gas grill. You'll also need to clean the grill and dispose of the charcoal ash when you're done grilling.
Charcoal grills might not be as precise or customizable as a gas grill when it comes to cooking, but they have a distinct flavor and are the most affordable option. You can find small, portable charcoal grills for as little as $50.
Pellet grills, like the Traeger Timberline 850, burn wood pellets and have an onboard computer to heat up to your desired temperature and add smoky, wood-fired flavor to your food. Pellet grills yield tasty meat, especially when slow cooked, but the pellets can be expensive and harder to find than propane or charcoal. Be prepared to call around or order online.
Pellet grills use a hopper on the side to hold the food-grade wood pellets. Once you've ignited the grill with a switch and set the temperature, those pellets are moved into a burn pot by a rotating auger connected to the hopper. Pellet grills come in barrel or cart styles and prices range from around $350 to $1,300.
What size grill do I need?
Once you've decided what fuel type is right for you, think about the size grill you need. Most small to medium charcoal grills and two-burner gas grills will do just fine if you're cooking for four people or fewer on an occasional basis. The Weber Spirit E-210 is a good example of a two-burner grill with plenty space. Grills are often measured in square inches. Grills in the 400-500 square inch range are large enough for most people.
If you're the center of the neighborhood barbecue scene or have a large household, consider a larger model with four, five or even more burners. If you're dead set on having a gas grill, but also want to cook meats like whole chickens or racks of ribs with indirect heat, you'll want at least a three-burner model.
What extra features do I want my grill to have?
At the most basic level, a grill should just cook well. In addition to taking the right steps to prep your grill, there are a handful of extra features you can look for that will enhance your experience. For example, a side burner is a great place to heat up sauces or sides without dashing between your kitchen stovetop and patio.
If you think you might move your grill around during the season, make sure your grill comes with wheels on all four legs and an option to lock them.
You can even up your grill with smarts. The Weber iGrill system is now on its third generation with the Weber iGrill 3. This accessory allows you to monitor the internal temperature of your food via the Weber iGrill app, probe device and iGrill compatible Weber grill like the Weber Genesis II E-335 on our gas grills best list. Traeger's app lets you remotely control the grill's temperature, set timers and view recipes with the tap of a button.
No matter which grill is right for you, getting outside with friends, family and food is one of the best ways to spend a weekend.
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