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Broil King Baron S520 review: Cooks hot, whether you want it to or not

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The grill hovered between 450 and 500 degrees the whole time and burned the ribs to a crisp. The fact that the ribs were inedible is partly my fault -- the 3-hour time limit was standardized across all of our grill tests, but I obviously needed to pull the ribs out much, much sooner.

At the same time, the S520 doesn't offer any smart meat thermometers, only the temperature gauge on the lid, and you shouldn't open the lid more than absolutely necessary during a long cook. I wanted to let the test play out, as this was my first test with the grill, and I thought maybe the heat closer to the flames wasn't as bad as the heat accumulating at the top by the temperature gauge.

It was. The S520 runs hot, even on low. I ran the test again using indirect heat. I only turned on three burners and set them to low, and set the ribs on foil over the off burners for three hours. With only three lit burners on low, the grill held a temp around 300 degrees. The resulting ribs tasted great -- albeit a little more like tender, juicy roasted meat instead of hardy, smokey ribs.

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Even if you turn down the dials, this Broil King runs hot.

Chris Monroe/CNET

With all four grills, we ran formal temperature tests on medium heat while cooking chicken, and on high heat with burgers. The burger test doubles as a way to gauge how evenly the grill cooks across its surface.

The S520 runs too hot on medium as well with all five burners going, but we used indirect heat on our chicken tests and the Broil King grill fared pretty well. Across three tests, the S520 cooked a whole roughly 4.5-pound chicken in 1 hour, 22 minutes on average. We run our tests until our temperature probes confirm a food safe internal temp of 165 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the chicken.

That time was roughly the same time as the Weber Spirit II and distinctly faster than the 1 hour, 34 minute average of the Char-Broil Commercial Double Header. The Char-Broil Performance XL had the fastest average of 1 hour, 11 minutes.

The Char-Broil XL's chicken also tasted the best, with the best mix of crispy skin and juicy meat. The S520 produced chicken that looked a little burnt. Fortunately, it didn't taste burnt and the skin was lovely and crispy, but it was a little dry.

The Broil King S520 turned out the fastest time on burgers of the bunch. I wasn't surprised, given that this was a high heat test and we used all five burners. We cook six 5.3-ounce burgers at once with the test, each with its own temperature probe. We flip the burgers after 6 minutes then leave them on the grill until they all hit an internal temp of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

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The Broil King burgers missed medium, but had a tasty exterior char.

Chris Monroe/CNET

We're aiming for a consistent medium cook with some pink in the middle and a charred exterior. The Broil King finished the last burger in 12 minutes, 46 seconds on average. The pattern of finishing times shows the middle of the grill cooks burgers the quickest, as you'd expect. The right side of the grill cooked burgers the slowest, with the lower right corner finishing roughly 2 minutes behind the central burgers on average.

Still, the burgers all finished relatively close to each other, showing a fine propensity for even cooking. Thanks to flare-ups, and waiting for the last burger to finish, none had any pink remaining by the time I pulled them off of the grill. The edges were nicely charred. The Char-Broil Double Header aced this test. It took a little longer to finish the burgers, but they were still juicy and pink on the inside. 

Altogether, the tests confirm that the S520 runs hot on any setting. That could be beneficial if you're cooking lots of burgers at once and need the power, or if you want to sear a steak. You'll just want to keep a close eye on your food so it doesn't get burned. If you actually want medium or low heat, you'll want to turn off a couple of burners.

Read: 5 grilling myths you should stop believing

The verdict

If you like the idea of a powerful grill, the $650 Broil King Baron S520 will be right at home on your patio. If you're a beginner, or want a more balanced or feature-rich grill, look elsewhere. The $300 Char-Broil Performance XL, in particular, offers plenty of features and power at a reasonable price. The $700 Char-Broil Commercial Double Header lets you cook at two different temps for greatly expanded versatility. 

The Baron S520 is designed for veteran grillers who'd rather do away with frills and desire power above all else.

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