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Grill buying guide: How to buy the right grill for you

If you're in the market for a new grill this season, here's how to narrow down your options to find the perfect fit for your backyard.

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Gas grills offer control over heat levels and the option to cook with indirect heat.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Grilling season is in full swing, and if you're in the market for a new grill, there are plenty of options out there. Whether it's a pellet grill, a classic charcoal model or a gas grill, these outdoor cookers can get the job done. Picking the right grill for you means deciding on fuel type, size, price, style and extra features.

All that can get overwhelming quickly, so we've gathered our best tips for finding the perfect fit for your patio. Here are a few key features to consider. 

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Fuel type

There are hundreds of grills out there, and narrowing down your options can be intimidating. Pinpointing the right fuel for your fire is a great place to start.

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.

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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 like the Char-Broil Performance 475 are great for adjusting between high heat for searing and lower heat for steady cooking. However, if you're looking to cook meats like whole chickens or racks of ribs for hours at a time, you'll have better results with a charcoal grill, pellet grill or smoker. 

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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. However, charcoal grills have their quirks, 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. 


The Traeger Timberline 850 is a pellet grill with a companion app for temperature control. 

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Pellet grills

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.

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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 less 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. 


Weber and KitchenAid offer grills in bright, festive colors. 

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Your grill shouldn't just cook, it should look good doing it, and there are some seriously stylish models out there. You might not have a preference when it comes to how your grill looks, and that's fine. But if you're looking for a stylish cooker to crown your backyard, manufacturers give you plenty of options.

Traditional black and stainless grills are readily available, but Weber and KitchenAid both offer colorful enamel models, too. Aside from color, consider whether you'd like your grill to have cabinet doors. These doors hide propane tanks and keep them from sitting on the ground beside your grill. 

Extra features

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.  


Weber's iGrill system includes a Bluetooth thermometer and it's compatible with iOS and most Android devices.


You can even up your grill with smarts. The Weber iGrill system allows you to monitor the internal temperature of your food via the Weber iGrill app, probe device and iGrill compatible Weber grill. 

Traeger's app lets you remotely control the grill's temperature, set timers and view recipes with the tap of a button. Char-Broil's SmartChef 420 grill is Wi-Fi-enabled and pairs with an app to monitor temperature and cooking time. 

No matter which grill is right for you, getting outside with friends, family and food is one of the best ways to spend your spring and summer months. 

First published last year.

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