Grilled food is a summer taste sensation. But not all grills produce the same flavors, and some require more skill than others. Since there are so many products on the market, answer these questions before you go shopping.
WHAT’S YOUR BUDGET?
A basic charcoal kettle grill and a bag of briquettes can cost an affordable $120, while a quality gas grill can run $500 and up, notes Gavin DiPinto, a corporate chef with the Certified Angus Beef brand. Your bank account will narrow your choices.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU GRILL AND FOR HOW MANY?
Knowing how many ribs or steaks you regularly cook for family and friends will determine the grill size.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO COOK?
Do you primarily cook burgers and dogs? Or do you plop a Thanksgiving turkey and pizza on the grate?
DO YOU FACE RESTRICTIONS?
If open-flame appliances are forbidden in your condo or apartment complex, consider an electric grill. Today’s models come in a variety of sizes, and most are portable. Note that they won’t get as hot as a traditional grill. Moreover, the food won’t taste the same as though you’d used charcoal or wood chips.
DO YOU WANT THAT “GRILLED FOOD” FLAVOR?
A gas grill also doesn’t deliver the telltale taste—unless it comes with a dedicated drawer or device for wood chips. And some prefer the clean flavor of the food.
Others like the charcoal effect. “It’s the taste you remember from the cookouts when you were young,” says Shawn Hill of Indianapolis, who founded the blog The Grilling Dad.
Charcoal briquettes are affordable. But some prefer lump charcoal or wood, such as cherry or hickory. In Argentina, home chefs sprinkle the meat with seasoning salt and let wood work its magic, notes Matthew Brothers, founder of Nuke BBQ USA in Miami, which makes gaucho grills.
If you enjoy a smokier flavor—and tender meats—add a smoker to your arsenal. “That’s how you get the fall-off-the-bone ribs and tender brisket,” Hill explains.
Electric or pellet models have fine temperature controls. (Pellets are compressed hardwood sawdust.)
Cuisinart now offers the Twin Oaks Pellet & Gas Grill. “It’s a three-burner gas grill and large pellet grill,” explains David Faulkner, culinary innovation director for The Fulham Group, the licensee for Cuisinart Outdoor Grilling Products.
ARE YOU A PURIST?
Grilling with charcoal is an experience, maintains Chris Lilly, a world championship pit master and spokesperson for Kingsford, which makes charcoal. “It could be time spent around the grill with family and friends or quiet mediation with only the sizzle of the juices hitting the flames.”
Michael Ollier, another corporate chef with the Certified Angus Beef brand, agrees. “If you enjoy the process of setting up the charcoal, building your chimney, taming the flame, and getting the perfect steak, the charcoal grill is for you.”
DO YOU WANT TO “MASTER” THE GRILL?
To be sure, grilling with charcoal requires “patience, skill, and a lot of practice to master,” Hill says. Once the charcoal is ready, grillers play with the vents, the charcoal heap’s size, and food placement.
While there are charcoal grills with forced air, digitalized fans, and temperature controls, they’re usually pricey, notes Jim Mumford of Kalamazoo, Michigan, who writes the blog Jim Cooks Food Good.
Look for charcoal grills with a hinged grate so you can add coals as needed, recommends Jess Pryles, creator of Hardcore Carnivore and another Kingsford spokesperson.
DO YOU HAVE TIME?
Since charcoal briquettes heat slowly, plan ahead. Pryles uses a charcoal chimney and allots 15 minutes to the startup phase. A grill with an ignition burner eliminates the need for pretreated charcoal or lighter fluid. Smokers also take time; some meats can cook for hours to achieve the right texture and flavor.
Gas grills, however, are undeniably convenient. Attach a propane tank to the grill, press the igniter, and you’re good to go. The burners offer precise grilling options; it’s simple to move the food away from direct heat. (Some grills also boast side burners.) The cleanup is also faster.
DO YOU LIKE BELLS AND WHISTLES?
Gas grill accessories include rotisseries, ceramic-back wall burners, and smoker boxes. Most people won’t use half the gadgets, Mumford maintains. But if you like options, look for a gas model with scalability.
Cuisinart now has Bluetooth technologies that connect through the EasyConnect app so you can monitor a pellet grill or Bluetooth thermometer.
CAN YOU KAMADO?
Based on an Asian design, kamado grills are charcoal grills that emit and maintain a high heat like “cast iron,” Ollier says. “One chimney of coals could last four hours if you need it to.” As a result, you have a variety of cooking options, including baking.
The sturdy grills are pricy. Still, if you like a lot of versatility, Pinto says, “a kamado just might do.”