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Grilling season is upon us, and If you're in the market for a new grill there are dozens of options out there. We tested four gas grills at the CNET Smart Home. I spent the better part of two weeks grilling on the Char-Broil Performance XL. This five-burner grill offers a lot for the money. It looks good, performs well and at $299, it was the most affordable grill we tested. I'd recommend the Char-Broil Performance XL to beginners and grillmasters alike.
The Char-Broil Performance XL has a classic look with its stainless steel design and black detail. Grill grates above the five stainless steel burners are made of a rust-resistant porcelain-coated cast iron. A temperature gauge on the lid displays the grill's interior temperature. A cabinet beneath the grill with double doors houses the liquid propane tank and grease collection tray. This grill uses a standard, 20-pound liquid propane tank, and it cannot be converted to use natural gas.
The Char-Broil Performance XL includes a convenient side burner for heating up side dishes or sauces. Char-Broil warns that using the side burner with a pot larger than 6 quarts could exceed the weight limit of the burner's shelf. A full 6-quart pot is pretty large, so I'd expect most people wouldn't be inconvenienced by a weight restriction there.
I do have a few issues with the design of this grill. The knob controls could feel sturdier. Quality isn't totally lacking, but unlike other grills we tested, there's no indicator for a medium heat setting. It's also a bit too easy to turn the burner past high and shut it off completely. Other grills we tested like the Broil King Baron S520 had a nice, sturdy catch point to stop the knob from turning past its highest setting. The Char-Broil Performance XL also doesn't offer any sort of tool rack like we saw on the Weber Spirit II E-310 and Broil King Baron S520 we tested.
Minor design complaints aside, I enjoyed cooking on the Performance XL. The temperature gauge made it easy to monitor low heat and long cook times for dishes like ribs and chicken, and because the grill has five burners, you can choose a two-on, three-off or three-on, two-off configuration for indirect heat.
We tested our grills by cooking chicken, ribs and burgers. That allowed us to compare indirect medium, indirect low and direct high heat grilling conditions across all four grills. Test involved temperature probes inserted into each piece of meat (two for chicken, one in each breast) and connected to a datalogger and computer program to monitor the temperature in real time. For chicken, we needed a food-safe internal temperature of 165 degrees. For the burgers and ribs the target temperature was 145 degrees. Once each piece of meat on the grill had reached its food-safe temperature, we removed the meat, logged the time and allowed it to rest before giving it a good old fashioned taste test. Here's how it went with the Char-Broil Performance XL
I seasoned the chicken with a dry rub, set it out for 15 minutes, then grilled it over medium indirect heat until it reached 165 degrees. For a five-burner grill, that meant three burners on medium and the chicken set to cook above the two unlit burners. I repeated this two more times for a total of three cooked chickens.
With the Performance XL, my chickens took on average of 1 hour, 11 minutes to fully cook, not including a 10-minute preheat. That's faster than the other three grills we tested, and the chickens from this grill were easily the favorite of the group. The skin was crispy and the chicken tender and juicy.
We cooked our first round of ribs with five burners set to low heat for 3 hours. The results were not good. My ribs were burnt and basically inedible. The same went for the Broil King Baron S520. Ribs from the Weber Spirit Ii E-310 and Char-Broil Commercial Double Header fared much better, though they weren't tender enough to be considered a well-executed rib.
Next, we tried low, indirect heat. I kept three burners on low and placed the rack of ribs above the two unlit burners. We stuck with a 3-hour cook time in both tests. This time, the ribs emerged juicy and tender. Ribs from the Broil King Baron S520 also came out much better with low, indirect heat.
Burger testing is perhaps the trickiest grill test we perform. We each cooked six 5.3-ounce burgers over high heat with all burners on. Inside each burger, we place a thermal couple probe to monitor the status of each patty. When the last burger reaches 145 degrees, the batch of six is done. That helps us see if there are any hot or cold spots on the grill.
The Performance XL cooked burgers in an average time of 13 minutes, 57 seconds to reach 145 degrees as a batch. Across the grill, there weren't any obvious hot spots. The burgers cooked evenly, though on high heat they were more well done than I prefer. None of my burger tested rendered burgers with a pink center, but the grill was consistent in its cooking and in 18 burgers, the largest average time difference was less than 2 minutes.
Our favorite burgers came from the Char-Broil Commercial Double Header. This grill seemed to cook a bit gentler and left the burgers without a tasty char, but the centers were a consistent medium well. The burgers finished within an average of 2 minutes, 49 seconds of one another.
We tested four grills from major manufacturers: the Broil King Baron, the Char-Broil Commercial Double Header, the Weber Spirit II E-310 and the Char-Broil Performance XL. Here's how they stack up on some basic grill specifications:
|Char-Broil Performance XL||Broil King Baron S520||Char-Broil Commercial Double Header||Weber Spirit II E-310|
|Color finish||Stainless||Stainless||Stainless||Red, blue, black, white|
|Number of burners||5||5||4 (2 per compartment)||3|
|Main burners BTUs||45,000||50,000||36,000||30,000|
|Number of side burners||1||0||1||0|
|Side burner BTUs||10,000||N/A||13,000||N/A|
|Dimensions (height, width, depth)||45.1 x 57.1 x 25.4 inches||45.5 x 63.5 x 24 inches||48 x 66.3 x 24 inches||44.5 x 52 x 27 inches|
|Weight||113 pounds||170 pounds||205 pounds||114 pounds|
|Temperature gauge||Yes||Yes||Yes (1 per compartment)||Yes|
|Propane tank scale||No||No||No||Yes|
If you're looking for pure BTU count and cooking power, the $649 Broil King Baron S520 has the highest output of the grills we tested. This grill consistently ran hotter than the others, though, so we'd recommend it for experienced grillers looking for a lot of power.
The $699 Char-Broil Commercial Double Header features a dual grill design with two separate grill enclosures and a side burner. This arrangement works well for grillers looking to cook with two temperature zones at the same time and anyone serving up food for a large crowd.
Weber's Spirit II E-310 is a great-looking (we loved the bright red) three-burner grill that cooked food well, but not great. With an MSRP of $599, it's a bit overpriced for what it is, but we really liked the size and design. This grill also had the tool rack and medium-heat knob indicators I missed on the Char-Broil Performance XL.
At $299, this grill offers a lot of bang for the buck. What I can't speak to is how well it will hold up over multiple grilling seasons. We tested smaller, more expensive grills like the Weber Spirit II E-310 and didn't find them nearly as adept at cooking whole chickens, racks of ribs or burgers. If you're looking for a midrange grill that's easy to operate, cooks well and looks good, too, the Char-Broil Performance XL is a great choice.