There’s nothing quite like enjoying a delicious barbecue with family and friends. These days when it comes to outdoor cooking, there are a lot of great products with a wide range of features and functionality to choose from. If you’re in the market for a new barbecue grill this summer, here are four of the best options available.
Before the first gas-powered grills were introduced in the early 1950’s, outdoor cooking with charcoal was the only option for backyard chefs. Cooking outdoors using charcoal goes back to precolonial days. Embers are created by heating charcoal, either in lump form or briquettes, to searing meat with an open flame to deliver that smokey taste we associate with great outdoor cooking.
Getting charcoal to the right temperature for cooking takes time. Coals are heated using newspaper, lighter fluid, or (best option) an electric heating coil. You may begin cooking once coals turn a grayish white. While cooking with charcoal gives food that unique outdoor flavor, it offers less control over the temperature and consistency of the cooking surface. Even with these limitations, cooking with charcoal does a beautiful job of trapping in the flavor of almost any kind of meat. To enhance flavor and add a smokey touch, try using flavored wood chips — mesquite, mulberry, oak and hickory to name a few.
Pros of charcoal grills
- Excellent taste and flavor of food
- Open flame traps in flavor
Cons of charcoal grills
- Takes up to 30 minutes to reach cooking temperature
- Charcoal and wood chips are an additional expense
- Lighter fluid, newspaper or heating coil required
- Requires an open space to avoid possible fire starting from a single spark
- Burning coal and lighter fluid use raises both health and environmental concerns
The charcoal grill is ideal for: Those who enjoy their meat flame-seared and who have the time to wait for goals to reach the right temperature
Propane and Natural Gas grills
The propane or natural gas grill is by far the most popular barbecue grill. No charcoal to deal with and no waiting time, make cooking on a gas grill convenient and fast. A gas grill provides even heat control and is available in a wide variety of models and in every price range.
Cooking on a gas grill won’t give you the kind of flavor you get from an open flame. But, unlike the charcoal grill, many gas grills have additional features like a rotisserie or multiple burners. Gas grills can be used indoors or out. They offer greater heat control to maintain a consistent cooking surface temperature. Many models come with heat diffusers to prevent sudden flare-ups due to dripping grease. More expensive grills come with inside lights, and illuminated controls.
Pros of gas grills
- Easy to use
- Heat up quickly
- Best at medium and high temps
- Great for searing meats at a high temperature
- Available in a wide range of prices, sizes with various features and functionality
- No health or environmental concerns
Cons of gas grills
- Additional cost of propane or natural gas
- Uses highly flammable fuel
- Good ventilation is required which can lead to some heat loss
- Tanks must be changed periodically
- Possibility of gas leaks, fires, and even explosions
- Requires regular cleaning to avoid fires from the accumulation of grease and carbon
The gas grill is ideal for: Busy people looking for a fast and convenient way to enjoy outdoor cuisine all year round.
The electric grill is the most serious rival to the gas grill for overall convenience. While there is no flame, electrically heated coils provide excellent temperature control. Electric grills tend to be used indoors primarily but all you need is a convenient outlet on your patio, porch, or deck for cooking outside.
Pros of electric grills
- Can be used indoors or out
- Comes in a wide range of sizes
- Convenient for apartment dwellers
- No coals or tanks of fuel required
- Better temperature control than gas or charcoal grills
Cons of electric grills
- Tend to be more expensive than gas grills
- Lacks the flavor of open flame cooking
- Not good for searing meats
- Takes longer to heat and cook than with gas
- Releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
- Not as good as pellet grill at low temperatures for slow cooking
The electric grill is ideal for: Those with limited space who enjoy indoor cooking year round.
There are many outdoor cooks who’ll tell you that when it comes to taste, it’s not about the temperature it’s about the smoke. The wood pellet grill, which is often referred to as a wood smoker, uses hardwood pellets to heat the cooking surface. Temperature is controlled by the amount of pellets dispensed through an auger, or hole, from the hopper into the fire pot. There the pellets are ignited by a hot rod with flames stoked by a variable speed fan to create convection heat. The convection fan circulates both smoke and heat around the food. Drippings are captured in a tray that sits over the fire pot so no direct flame or flare-ups come in contact with the food. The more pellets burned, the higher the temperature.
Pellet grills have come a long way from the traditional smoker. Some sport high-tech innovations such as meat probes with Bluetooth and WiFi capability and LCD screens for temperature monitoring. Some pellet grills may even be programed to keep meat warm once cooking is completed
Pros of pellet grills
- Ready to cook within 15 minutes
- Once the hopper is filled there’s nothing more to do
- Convection fan makes for efficient cooking using less pellets
- Cooking surface and occasional fire pot cleaning make for easy maintenance
- Multi-purpose lets you roast, bake, or barbecue
- Choose from a variety of flavored pellets
Cons of pellet grills
- Generally more expensive than gas or charcoal grills expect to pay at minimum $400.00
- Smoking pellets are considered a speciality item and are not always easy to find
- Like an electric grill the pellet grill needs to plugged in
- Not good for searing meats
The pellet grill is ideal for: The serious outdoor cook with a big budget who’s looking for versatility and time savings.
Choose the outdoor grill that’s right for you
When it comes to choosing a grill, consider overall ease of use, temperature range and control, additional features, and functionality. If you’re looking for time savings and convenience, gas, electric, and pellet are the way to go. If you like kicking it old school and enjoy a leisurely barbecue, charcoal may be right for you. Whatever your living situation and cooking preference you may have, there’s plenty to choose from. Enjoy!