No matter what the season, it's always grilling time. But with so many choices, which of the different types of grills is right for you?
There's nothing quite like the smell of the grill as you watch those juicy burgers, steaks, and hot dogs sizzle and smoke.
And don't be embarrassed if you get a bit excited from seeing a few flames jump up as you flip your meats, even the pros get that feeling from time to time.
But how do you find the right choice when there are so many different types of grills to choose from?
Thankfully, the answer to that burning question isn't hard to find: it all depends on you.
The Four Types of Grills
It's easy to feel overwhelmed when you walk into the store and see so many new, shiny grills. And while many of them appear similar, their quality and prices can vary dramatically. To find the best grill for your budget, you first need to understand the advantages and disadvantages of the four different types of grills on the market. The four types of grills include gas, charcoal, electric, and portable.
These are the most popular types of grills on the market. They operate using either bottled propane or natural gas from a utility provider. Most gas grills use propane, but they can be converted to natural gas relatively easily. Some folks will fiercely debate the virtues of propane or methane fuel for grills. But truly, there is little difference between the two (no matter how passionately your uncle Bob may rant otherwise at Thanksgiving).
But, we can say that natural gas grills are more convenient and less expensive than refilling propane tanks, by a mile. At the same time, you can't take your natural gas line with you on trips as you can a propane tank.
These grills work best for the impatient chef who wants to fire up the grill and cook a meal quickly. Plus, they are much easier to clean than charcoal grills.
However, there are some disadvantages, two of which are price and flavor. Some gas grills do offer small smoker boxes, where you can infuse a bit of smoke flavor. But, you can't really smoke meats as well without a charcoal grill or wood smoker. And inexpensive gas grills do exist, but the mechanisms they require ensure they will always cost more than most charcoal grills.
What To Look For In Gas Grills
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If you're looking for a budget gas grill, you want to find one with a black aluminum body with one or two burners. As a rule, cheaper grills generally don't last as long as some of the more expensive models. On the other hand, you can still find some great deals under $200 that can last you for years.
All it takes is ensuring that you give your grill the proper maintenance and cleaning it needs to operate at peak efficiency. Also, the lifetime of your grill can depend on where you live. For example, if you live in an area with high humidity, then your grill will deteriorate more quickly if left outside compared to drier areas.
Thankfully, painted aluminum doesn't rust or corrode quickly. You also want to find a model with porcelain covered steel grates. These grates produce fantastic grill marks and are much easier to clean than cheaper, stamped steel grill grates.
When you move up to higher-end gas grills, you can expect models that offer three to five burners, a nice stainless steel body, as well as the additional option of a side burner for heating pots and pans.
You'll find no shortage of hardcore traditionalists who wouldn't touch a gas grill with a 10-foot pole. They usually swear by charcoal grills, and for good reasons. These types of grills use charcoal briquettes as fuel and firepower for cooking.
Purists will tell you that nothing delivers the same quality of smoky flavor (except for a wood smoker) as charcoal. Charcoal burns at a higher temperature than gas, which allows a skilled grillmaster to sear meats faster. Finally, cooking with charcoal also has a certain romance that modern gas grills lack.
However, if you're looking to get started quickly, charcoal grills may not be right for you. These grills take a longer time to set up. Also, buying new charcoal can get expensive if you grill a lot. You also have to think about the quality of the charcoal briquettes, as they are not all created equal. Getting a charcoal grill ready takes at least 45 minutes. You need to pre-heat the grill by getting the coals nice and hot.
You'll also spend more time cleaning up your grill and disposing of burnt ashes when you're done. While these grills are typically less expensive than gas grills, there other factors to consider. For instance, the time it takes to cook, the maintenance effort, and cost of charcoal can easily make them more expensive than gas.
What To Look For In Charcoal Grills
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Your classic charcoal grill types of grills have a round, kettle style design. These grills are relatively straightforward with no frills. That said, other companies do offer some interesting variations in different shapes and sizes.
Kettle grills can give your food outstanding smoke flavor but work best for shorter cooking times. The reason you don't want to cook too long on kettle grills is that they retain much of their heat, making them extremely hot. The heat these grills produce can increase the risk of burning your food.
Horizontal barrel grills are another popular style. These grills were original, steel barrels cut in half. Best of all, when you add a side firebox, you've got yourself a pretty darn good smoker box. These grills are ideal for smoking meats at lower temperatures for longer durations.
A good example would be cooking a Texas-style brisket for 12 hours on this model. Plus, many horizontal barrel grills feature a charcoal tray that you can raise or lower to vary the intensity of the heat. You can't do that on a kettle grill.
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If you really want to get a rise out that grill snob uncle of yours, mention electric grills. These types of grills use electricity for cooking meat instead of using heated grill plates. This means you don't need fire, and you can cook both indoors and outdoors. They are also generally straightforward to clean compared to other types.
This type of grill may work best for city dwellers who can't use more traditional types of grills because of fire regulations. This also brings up another point. You should always check your local laws to ensure your grill doesn't violate any codes for your area.
Of course, the most significant disadvantage is taste. Electric grills do not produce the same flavor as gas or charcoal grills. They can provide some nice-looking superficial grill marks, but it's just not the same. You can forget about smoky flavor on these grills.
For people in the market for an electric grill, space is often the most essential factor. You'll want to find a grill that doesn't take up much space with a good warranty, as electric parts can break down.
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Portable grills are types of grills that operate on either propane or charcoal and travel very well.
These grills are great for tailgaters. You can fire them up in any parking lot before the big game, or cook a delicious meal for a romantic picnic in the countryside. These grills are typically smaller and have less cooking surface space than other types of grills.
While size can be an advantage, it can also be a disadvantage for these types of grills. You can forget about cooking 50 hamburgers at the same time on a portable grill. So if you're cooking for a large crowd, be ready to stay on grill duty all day.
When shopping for a portable grill, you want something that's lightweight and easy to move around. It also needs to be durable. After all, you don't want one that's going to get dinged up on the first outing. Also, look for one that has enough surface area for the number of people you expect to cook for. Most portable grills can accommodate food for between four to six people.
A Quick Word On Grates
You can expect the grilling surface to comprise of porcelain covered steel bars, bent stainless steel sheets, iron grates, or stainless steel bars.
While porcelain covered bars work best for most, Iron grates are of higher quality. But these grates do need to be removed and cleaned by hand. We recommend avoiding steel sheets. While bent steel sheets can look nice when new, they distribute heat poorly. Steel sheets also are tough to clean.
We consider stainless steel bars the ultimate grilling surface, but you'll typically find them on the higher end grills. Stainless steel bars are durable and easy to clean with a wire brush. Plus, they make the best grill marks.
Grill Safety Tips
The most crucial factor when grilling is safety. No matter how delicious your food turns out, it is not worth burning down your house or starting a forest fire. You also don't want to undercook your food and get everyone sick.
Here are just a few safety best practices you can use to ensure a safe grilling experience.
It's also important to cook food at the right internal temperature before serving. Make sure always to use a food thermometer. You want to place the thermometer on the thickest part of the meat, and it should never touch the bone, fat, or gristle. And always check the temperature in several places to ensure that the food cooks evenly.
Also, you never want to place cooked food on a plate previously used to store raw meat, seafood, poultry, or eggs. Make sure you have plenty of clean utensils and platters on hand.
Here are some base cooking temperatures for different types of meats.
You can avoid overcooking by moving food to the side of the grill rack not directly over the coals to keep it hot. And never allow raw poultry, eggs, meat, cooked food, fresh cut vegetables, or fruits to sit at room temperature for more than two hours before placing in the freezer or refrigerator. This time reduces to one hour for foods with a temperature of over 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Grilling Lifestyle
Now that you know the types of grills, you're ready to find the perfect canvas to make your grilling masterpieces. Remember, the different types of grills each have their pros and cons.
You may want to invest in more than one type of grill to serve different needs. Whichever type of grill you settle on, remember to practice safety. The last thing you'll need is a cool apron with a corny grilling phrase like “kiss the chef,” and you're all set! Welcome to the wonderful world of grilling.
Got any grill tips to share? Let us know in the comments below!