How to choose a grill
The days are getting longer and we are halfway through the month of January which means more and more folks are thinking about grills and grilling. While a number of us grill out on at least a weekly basis all year round, some folks don’t, and that’s fine I guess. But this time of year, regardless of how often you currently grill think about the upcoming spring and being able to stand behind a grill for longer periods of time, without freezing any limbs off. How to choose a grill – a topic that fits this time of year.
Jess Miller from jenreviews.com reached out to me recently with a great article on how to choose a grill. Perfect timing in my book. Mid-January basically sucks. For me personally, I have a ton of work, both at the day job and my home-based bookkeeping business. End of year work, W-2’s, 1099’s and the rest of the time-consuming tasks at hand. It’s nice to take a break every so often and think about warmer temps, being outside and grilling. In any event, here is her article, or you can read it right from her website HERE. Good stuff to think about and while this article mainly speaks about traditional grills, these basics will also be applicable to smokers as well!
1. Propane or Natural Gas – Which Is Better?
The first thing you choose when is the type of fuel you’d like to use for your gas grill. Gas grills come with either proper or natural gas installation. While using a natural gas grill requires you to install a constant gas line location for the grill, a propane gas grill needs you to maintain a tank for consistent use.
Natural gas: The best part about using natural gas is that most homes come with consistent natural gas supply for cooking. So you can immediately attach a natural gas connection to your grill. It’s that simple and efficient to use. (2)
Also, getting natural gas installed in your home saves time, effort, and money. You are not required to refill the gas tank. All you have to do is turn on the natural gas supply and you get steady heat.
The disadvantage of using natural gas is set up when you do not have a proper natural gas supply in your home. You might need to contact a professional to find the right spot for your gas grill. So there is only limited number of places where you can keep your natural gas grill, especially if it’s in your backyard.
Propane: Using a propane gas grill requires you to purchase a refillable tank to hold the liquid propane. Compared to using natural gas grills, propane gas grills can be placed anywhere without professional supervision. (3)
Plus, propane contains a higher amount of energy than natural gas, using less to offer stronger heat. It can be easily bought from any store, it’s that easy to find and common to use. If you’re using a gas grill away from cities, having a few extra propane tanks by your side isn’t a bad idea.
However, the drawback to using propane gas grills is the cost. Using propane for a longer period of time is going to cost you more than natural gas.
2. Looking At The Different Types
Grilling different kinds of meat for hamburgers, hot-dogs, and other food items is more common than you think. More and more people are buying a new outdoor grill for a good time. So based on what you like, there are two main types of gas grills that are compatible with both natural gas and propane oil use. They are freestanding and built-in gas grills.
Freestanding gas grill: Freestanding gas grills come in three different sizes ranging from small, mid-sized, and large grills. Small gas grills hold up to 18 burgers with durable fold-down shelves and no burners. They’re the least expensive gas grills on the market ranging from $100 to $200 only based on its build.
Mid-sized gas grills occupy a larger footprint than small units because some models offer extra features. Such as backlit knobs, burners, LED lights, etc. They can hold up to 28 burgers with higher warranties for as long as 10 years. Mid-sized gas grills cost from $150 to $2500 based on its build, features, and design.
Lastly, large gas grills more than 30 burgers at once. They occupy a larger and more stable cooking area. Plus, when using gas grills, it’s always safe to leave plenty of room at the sides because of the heat accumulation. These feature tougher grates, sliding drawers, side burners, and better storage space. Large gas grills cost from $350 to $3500 based on its features, design, and size.
Built-in gas grills: A built-in gas grill, like the name suggests, is non-portable and needs to be installed in a particular space. If you have an outdoor kitchen, it will be easier to buy a built-in gas grill than a freestanding one. That way you can blend the built-in gas grill with the décor of the kitchen.
Buying a built-in gas grill for the first time can feel challenging. Most units are compatible with natural and propane use. Plus, you can purchase customized built-in gas grills for counters and cabinets for a seamless and well-defined appearance.
3. Heat Distribution Settings
Most people struggle with hot-spots when using an old gas grill. But you don’t have to go through that! All you have to do when choosing a gas grill is looking for proper heat distribution settings. You need to make sure that there aren’t any cool spots hidden under the grates of the gas grill. (5)
With proper heat distribution, your food cooks faster and evenly. It also allows all patties and hot-dogs to cook at the same rate so nothing burns without your knowing. Believe it or not, with proper heat distribution, you can use a gas grill for baking, roasting, and heating food quickly.
If you’ve already purchased your gas grill, the best way to determine its heat distribution settings is move your hand over the grill and notice for any temperature difference.
Look for insulated and heavy-duty grates as they enhance heat distribution in gas grills. It helps circulate heat evenly and efficiently without losing air. It also helps eliminate heat spots to heighten over time causing extreme cooking temperatures and burnt layers of meat.
A well-insulated and coated grilling surface doesn’t rust or hold moisture and gravy after use. This is one of the best advantages for heat distribution that most consumers overlook when choosing a new gas grill.
Buying a gas grill with better stainless steel construction allows you to maintain balanced cooking temperatures which will also retain heat better than any other.
4. Considering The BTU Rating
Still lagging behind when it comes to understanding BTU ratings for a gas grill? Generally, people look for the highest BTU rating when choosing a gas grill. But that isn’t the right way to do it.
So if you find something that burns a lot of fuel, that’s nothing that right factor to consider. What you really need to consider is how hot the gas grill gets to cook meat and other types of food. But before we get into the details, let me simply the meaning of BTU rating for you.
BTU rating measures the heating of the grill. It is short for British Thermal Units. In fact, the BTU rating also measures how much fuel it burns. If looked at closely, you can still determine how powerful a gas grill really is with its proper BTU rating.
It’s also important to note that if you purchase the highest BTU rating gas grill with poor construction, the gas grill still lacks the proper stamina to heat the grates. This means the gas grill will release most of its BTUs into the environment rather than use it for cooking.
The main cooking grate of the gas grill is what the BTU rating measures. Some manufacturers lure you in by mentioning the potential BTU of the gas grill when you lump the burners together. But you need to make sure to check the BTU rating of the cooking grate only since that’s the main heating section of the grill.
You need a gas grill with durable and heavy-weight components to hold a higher BTU rating. A grill with a good ventilation system, metal parts, and thicker grates will be able to hold the heat better than a lightweight unit.
Lastly, look for a suitable BTU rating per square inch. With inefficient gas grill features, a good BTU rating will do you no good either. (6)
5. What Is It Made Of?
Next, you need to ensure the gas grill is made up of high-quality and durable materials for it to last longer. It also needs to assist heating without releasing too many BTUs in the air.
Traditionally, using a stainless steel gas grill can have its drawbacks, so most people prefer using cast iron cooking grates. Let’s learn a bit more about using each for the perfect grilling experience. (7)
Stainless steel: Using stainless steel cooking grates are costlier than cast iron grates. However, they don’t require the kind of maintenance cast iron grates do. It does crack, rust, or chip under pressure, and you only require a standard hard-bristle cleaning brush to clean them.
The disadvantages of using stainless steel is its poor retaining properties. It cannot hold heat long enough to grill effectively. So if you’re using a stainless steel gas grill, it might last long. (8)
Cast iron: There are many different variations of cast iron cooking grates. This includes porcelain-coated cast iron. It’s less expensive, more durable, and extremely efficient to use. Most porcelain-coated cast iron cooking grates are non-stick, leaving perfect grill marks on the meat as a result.
Cast iron grates are heavier than any other, making heat retention much more effective and powerful.
But cast iron grates require thorough cleaning to maintain its quality and performance. If the cast iron grates chip or crack under pressure, it might lead to rusting which isn’t good for your grill. With proper maintenance and cleaning, cast iron grates can last for a very long time.
Another important thing to watch out for when comparing grate material is coating. If your stainless steel grates have paint on them, it is more likely to rust.
Some brands also come with aluminum grates with a stronger durability capacity than stainless steel. But, truth be told, opting for cast iron cooking grates is the best way to go.
6. How Durable Is It?
A lot of factors contribute to a gas grill’s durability. The material, thickness of the grates, the stability of the grill’s legs, and the quality of other parts of the grill determine how long it will last. Apart from the basics, taking good care of a gas grill can also contribute to the lifespan of the gas grill. (9)
If there’s plenty of grease or rust buildup on the cooking grates, some pieces of the grates might fall off and remain impaired. Buying a more durable gas grill can eliminate such misgivings in no time.
Investing in higher-end units has its impressive benefits, but that means you’d have to invest an expensive amount. They also come with a longer warranty so replacing broken parts is cost-free! Compared to higher-end units, mid and low-range models offer shorter warranty and last for only a few years.
The best way to make the most of a gas grill is checking for a promising warranty. If your gas grill is constructed with corrosion-resistant, non-stick, and heavy-gauge materials, you need something as tough to maintain it. These are the kind of factors to maintain your gas grill for you, even in colder weathers.
Checking for a solid warranty is an excellent way to determine the good from the bad. If a gas grill comes with very limited information about its warranty, you can always contact customer support for more information. The way a company meets your personal needs says a lot about its products. That’s a norm most brands follow to create better quality products with durable performance.
7. Determining The Burner Type
There are two primary types of burners that gas grills use to grill effectively.
Infrared heating: Gas grills using infrared technology are more heat-efficient than any other. It’s the most popular grilling technology for outdoor use. It’s also a popular choice for budget-friendly shoppers who don’t want to compromise on heat retention.
With infrared burners, the grill heats up more quickly, cooks faster, and cooks evenly. It helps the BTUs reach higher temperatures without wasting energy. The most interesting quality about infrared burners is that they create higher temperatures for cooking than conventional burners. This boosts the heating process faster than normal grills.
Infrared burners are also famous for leaving behind grill marks or caramelization marks on the surface of meats. And who doesn’t like that?
However, infrared burners might be too powerful for cooking weak-fibers such as fish or vegetables. Because of the high intensity of heat, grilling them for too long can break down the pieces and even burn them. (10)
Conventional heating: Conventional heating is a conventional way of grilling different food items. It heats the grilling grates, the food, and the air around it. When using conventional burners, it’s always safe to place the gas grill in an open space to let the hot air out.
They’re more affordable than infrared burners and a practical alternative for occasional grillers. If you want to invest in something basic and valuable, buying conventional burners is the right way to go.
However, they’re more as energy-efficient and powerful as infrared burners. Plus, they dry out certain types of meat in lesser time. It is also the slowest form of grilling. This makes it completely different from infrared burners that cook faster and more efficiently than any other grill.
On an ending note, there are certain health concerns associated with both types of burners. To maintain healthy cooking conditions, using a thermos-device to determine the right temperature for browning and roasting is also very important. On top of that, you should know how to replace a gas grill burner in case of an emergency.
8. Considering Costs
As with gas grills, you definitely get what you pay for. The materials, cooking grates, and extra features determine the total price of the unit. So the more you pay for a gas grill, the better quality parts you get. Although some customized gas grills are cheaper than full-sized ones, not everyone has an outdoor kitchen, to begin with.
If you buy from local shops close to you, a decent quality gas grill will cost you not more than $300. Even though there are hundreds of gas grills that go above and beyond the $500 range, investing in a unit that’s just right for you is more important.
Small-sized gas grills fall between the $100 to $1500 range. You will find small-sized gas grills with stainless steel grates, cast iron parts, plenty of heating space, and steel carts for extra storage.
Medium-sized gas grills fall between the $250 to $2500 range. You will find them with extra burners, backlit knobs, extra storage space, and LED lights.
Lastly, large grills cost not less than $1000 up to $3000. They offer longer warranties, durable parts, porcelain-coated cooking grates, and sliding drawers for extra storage.
The size of your gas grill is a major price determinant. It has the ability to reduce costs based on convenience and raise the stakes based on your personal preference. The upfront cost of any gas grill also depends on the kind of fuel you use for it. This includes installation and maintenance of a gas grill.
So buying a more expensive gas grill that will last longer is much better than buying a short-lived one that will die after a few years, isn’t it?
9. Is It Safe?
Grilling, in any form, is not to be taken lightly. It comes with a few health risks if you’re not careful. Excessive heat exposure and release can cause extreme levels of carbon monoxide in the air. Which causes carbon monoxide poisoning among many other things. (11)
There are ways to ensure your gas grill is safe to use. One of them is considering only high-quality and tested materials that make up the gas grill. If you have proof of the certified grill’s safety, then using one that’ll last for years is ideal.
That said, the first thing you want to do to ensure the grill’s safety factor is making sure it’s stable. Gently rock the grill back and forth to make sure the legs don’t bend or crack under pressure. You don’t want to use a grill that might topple over unexpectedly.
There’s always a weight capacity of a gas grill. You can check it on the manufacturer’s instructions of the gas grill. It provides plenty of safety instructions on how to use and maintain a gas grill for years.
What you can do to keep your gas grill away from harm is keep it at a safe distance from walls and appliances. A high-quality and heavy-gauge gas grill is less likely to get affected by big flare-ups during grilling. But if the gas grill is lightweight, it might tip over or rust easily.
Having said that, preventing gas leaks and big flare-ups is something only a professional can handle. The least you could do is buy a gas grill with corrosion-resistant and thicker material strength. (12,13)
10. Picking A Thermometer
It’s important to use a thermometer for grilling, whether it comes with the unit or you have to purchase it separately. Without a thermometer, there’s plenty of room to make mistakes that might cost you a whole batch altogether.
Using a thermometer takes all the guesswork out of grilling different kinds of meat. If your gas grill comes with a thermometer, it means you can cook juicier and tender cuts of meat efficiently.
The newest generation of gas grills come with intelligent thermometer features via Bluetooth or digital control. So you can monitor your food from start to finish, even while you’re distracted. These thermometers display real-time temperatures to determine the doneness of the meat.
Back in the days, traditional methods of knowing when the meat is done is using the finger and poke test. But these methods are way unreliable now that thermometers are here. That said, there is an ideal cooking temperature for all kinds of meat. So relying on a thermometer is essential. (14)
There are certain factors you need to keep in mind when using a gas grill thermometer. For example, a hamburger takes less time to cook than a turkey leg. And when you’re grilling fish, it’s a whole different world. Some portions of fish are much thicker than the remaining part, so using a thermometer to fit the right temperature is important.
While barbecuing chicken, different temperatures determine the browning and caramelization of the meat. This is because all gas grills come with minor cold and hold spots that’s hard to beat down unless you have a thermometer.
11. Does It Have A Side Burner?
A side burner is something you use when you want to heat up different sauces or side-dishes along with the grilled food. It’s good to use a gas grill with a side burner as it adds versatility to the setup.
Most often, small-sized units don’t have sufficient space for a side burner, so buying one separately is a good option for budget-minded buyers. But mid-sized and large units offer plenty of burner space.
You can heat up a pot of corn, beans, or make a side salad while grilling the meat. It’s that simple and quick. If you want a bigger cooking area outdoors, using a side burner is a safer alternative. Side burners come in a variety of types including infrared burners, seared burners, etc.
Choosing any one is clearly a matter of personal preference and convenience. Most side burners are made up of stainless steel or high-quality brass. This makes them easier to clean and maintain alongside grilling grates.
So wouldn’t you like to have both your grilling meat and salad within hand’s reach the next time you choose to grill outdoors? I think you do!
12. Looking For Extra Features
If using extra features is an important factor for you, you might want to pay close attention to some of these additional features most modern gas grills have to offer.
Rotating BBQ rotisserie: Some high-end gas grills come with a rotating BBQ rotisserie that lets you roast different types of meat easily. A rotisserie is made up of a metal rod that goes through the food, secured with metal claws, for turning the food over heat for slow, but even cooking.
Electric igniters: Igniters, usually electric, make it easy for handling high temperatures. Only a few gas grills feature igniters for better control.
LED controls: Advanced gas grills feature LED light settings for better night-time control and display. Some grills light up the grilling surface with safe LED lights while illuminating other grill buttons and knobs.
Fuel gauge: A fuel gauge lets you know when propane is about to run out. So you’re informed well in advance when you have to refill the tank to prevent any sort of delay in grilling.
Multiple cooking surfaces: If you want multiple cooking surfaces, buying a more expensive grill will do the trick. It helps when you want a side burner, rotisserie, and a smoker box in your gas grill.
Pullout compartment: A pullout compartment is good for people using propane as their fuel type. Having a separate, but built-in pullout tank tray in the gas grill saves both space and effort. Connect the tank to your fuel gauge and you know when to refill it, all the time.
Dual-fuel valves: Some modern gas grills feature both natural gas and propane conversion kits. You can convert propane into natural gas using the conversion kit the gas grill provides you with. It costs around $100 more than the upfront cost of the gas grill.
Nearly everyone using gas grills understand what goes behind its marvel. A gas grill is literally useless if it lacks durable components and a heavy-gauge grilling surface. Gas grills with better warranty last longer than most. And when choosing a gas grill, you need to trust in a brand that stands behind its products in case of damage or replacement.
Before you buy a gas grill of your choice, you’ll want to understand the basic features and the importance of one. That’s when this guide on how to choose a gas grill comes in handy. You can print it out and take it with you when you’re searching for a good brand to trust.
Based on meticulous research, I’ve compiled a thorough list of all significant factors to consider. They speak about the durability, ease of use, functionality, and versatility of each gas grill. It’s more climate-friendly and efficient than charcoal grills, according to science. So next time you find yourself stuck, you can always fall back on this guide to clear your confusion. (15,16)
There are many famous gas grill brands that offer units in a wide range of options and features. The last thing to dwell over is whether the gas grill is certified for safe operation or not. You should be able to operate your gas grill, in open space and close to children, without any gas leak or flare up.
The best way to determine this is requested for a professional setup in your backyard. That way, the professionals lists down all the important instructions on how to use and maintain a gas grill. You will also find handy manual instructions guide on the box the grill comes in to help you navigate through the process.
Unless you opt for a customized gas grill, which is more expensive to use, using a standard gas grill is safe and efficient to use. Like any other kitchen appliance, such as an oven or gas stove, a gas grill is a valuable investment.