A barbecue buying guide should start with the charcoal vs gas grill issue because that must be decided first. For most of us, anyway.
If you live in an apartment or condo that restricts fumes and smoke, you may have no option but an electric grill. But the vast majority of barbecue buyers choose between charcoal and gas grills and need a barbecue buying guide more.
According to the HPBA (Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association)...
And, they say, "owning a charcoal grill and a gas grill is also common." That's one solution to the gas vs charcoal question.
Taste or convenience?: The charcoal vs gas grill issue is largely a taste vs convenience issue. Or is it? Taste tests actually reveal no significant flavor difference between gas and charcoal grills.
A gas grill is ready when you are, just turn it on. It's easy to clean and there are no ashes to dump or messy coals to deal with. And features? You'll never use all the features available. Bottom line: The majority of barbecue grill owners have gas grills and love them.
On the other hand, every barbecue cook-off contestant swears by charcoal grilling. They wouldn't dream of using anything else. Charcoal grills are simpler and less expensive, and they're gaining in features and convenience, too.
But if it's not a matter of superior taste, (and we're not saying yea or nay) why would anyone fool with charcoal? Admit it, you love being Master and Commander of the Coals. It's not an easy job, but satisfying.
Environmental concerns: There is another issue, an environmental one, where the electric grill shines. Electric grills have no open flame, so they are perfectly safe for the environment. Just plug them in and go. On the other hand, they have no open flame. Is that really barbecuing?
Charcoal grills are the worst environmentally because of their smoke and noxious lighter fluid fumes. But you can eliminate fumes by using a charcoal chimney starter to light your coals. It's simple and inexpensive, around $12 to $20.
Gas grills are somewhere in between. They use propane or natural gas which are at least natural products and only mildly noxious.
Charcoal gas grills are a modern option. They are charcoal
grills with a small propane tank for lighting the coals, just like a
gas grill. The best of both worlds?
Let's take a look at the features and pricing part of the barbecue buying guide for individual grill types.
Charcoal grills are relatively inexpensive. High end units range from $300-400, charcoal-gas combos a little more. A basic unit costs between $50 and $150. But the rule of thumb with charcoal grills is "spend a hundred dollars more." For $100 more you can get enough features to keep the average griller happy for a long time.
Minimum features your charcoal grill should have:
Step-ups include shelves and warming racks, smoking ability,
workspace, storage space, larger cooking grids, rust-proof ash-catchers,
and porcelain-enameled cooking grates. High end grates are made of cast
iron, porcelain-coated aluminum or even stainless steel. Gas-charcoal
Gas grills start at about $100 and end at around $10,000 for the gourmet/entertainer who wants all the bells and whistles. Quite a range. You can purchase a very nice model with lots of premium features for $700-$1500. The most popular models are under $300, but grills in the $400-$600 range are gaining in popularity, according to the HPBA.
Minimum features your gas grill should have:
Step-ups include shelves and warming racks, flip-up workspace,
enclosed storage space, large cooking areas with up to 6 burners,
improved cooking grates (as above), side burners for cooking sauces,
rotisseries and infrared cooking abilities, smoker boxes or drawers, and
stainless steel construction. You have custom design and built-in
options that include the use of natural gas, if you have it, for
convenient, no-refill barbecuing.
Small electric grills start at about $100 and full-featured units tip the scales at $2500.
Electric grills have most of the features of other grills,
although it is harder to find one with a large cooking area. The size
and other features of your grill will depend largely on your
circumstances. But to get the most out of your grilling experience, look
for a unit with very high cooking temperatures, 600° or higher, a
non-stick cooking grid, and a smoker box. Step up to stainless steel
construction, rotisseries, and built-ins.
You don't really need a barbecue buying guide to tell you to use common sense when buying a grill. You get what you pay for, so buy quality.
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