Tips for Buying A Grill
As kids, one of our most favorite family events was a backyard barbecue. Through our curious eyes, there was something both mysterious and fascinating about the barbecue and the process. We were amazed that a delicious chicken or mouth-watering hamburgers could be turned out on, what was for us, an old rusted box that was fed a half bag of charcoal along with a few squirts of lighting fluid. It didn’t have near the “sex appeal” of Mom’s ‘50’s-era range, but the results were extraordinary.
While we are sure that the barbecue, charcoal and lighting fluid had much to do with the success of the meal, we now know that it takes a patient and experienced chef. In our case, that was our dad. We marveled at how he would stand over the barbecue carefully monitoring every aspect of the process. What we didn’t know as kids was that, when it came to cooking and grilling, he had one up on most other dads. During World War II, Dad was a meat cutter in the U.S. Army and, thus, had more than his share of cooking experience.
Thanks to innovations in barbecue equipment, you neither need to spend time in the military or attend a culinary academy to barbecue like a pro. As a matter of fact, some of today’s high-end gas grills do everything but flip the burgers for you – and some will even do that using a rotisserie.
As with kitchen appliances, there are now more choices in outdoor cooking equipment (today’s term for what were once called barbecues) than ever before. Construction material, finish, cooking area, fuel type and accessories are a few of the features that can influence the lasting quality of the grill and, more importantly, the tastiness of the food that it produces.
What will work for you? Only you can answer that question. An inexpensive stamped steel pan with a flimsy grate may be all you need for those once-a-year cookouts on the beach. On the other hand, if you’re into serious back yard entertaining, you might want to consider investing in a high-end outdoor cooking center that will make you the envy of your neighborhood. And the prices are as diverse as the products. The beach model can usually be had for well under $50 but is considered a “disposable” model at best.
At the other end of the spectrum are the baronial outdoor cooking centers that contain everything but the kitchen sink – an option with some! These professional models range in price from $2000 to $5000 dollars depending upon the size, features and accessories. Pricier models offer better construction, a stainless steel housing (the Delorian of grills), heavy-gauge stainless steel burners, heavy-duty stainless steel or porcelain-coated steel grates and a more durable igniter.
Some models are designed to be built in while others are housed in an elaborate cart that makes grilling mobile. With proper care and maintenance, one of these babies should be the last grill you’ll ever buy. If you’re not at either end of the spectrum, chances are you that you will find a model somewhere in between that will suit both your needs and budget.
Speaking of budget, beyond the limits of your pocketbook, here’s what to look for when shopping for a new grill. Start with the type of fuel that best meets your needs. Charcoal models are the most portable, the least costly and, unfortunately, the most maintenance intense. If you don’t mind lugging bags of charcoal, waiting for the coals to heat or cleaning up the ash, a charcoal model may fit the bill just fine. Look for a heavy-duty model constructed of heavy gauge steel, cast iron or cast aluminum. It will give you the best bang for your buck.
If, on the other hand, the notion of toting charcoal leaves a bad taste in your mouth, your best bet is to upgrade to a gas grill. There are two basic types of gas grills – propane and natural gas. Which is better? All else being equal – natural gas. Natural gas is less expensive and will fuel a hotter fire. Plus, there are no propane bottles to lug around. However, natural gas units are designed to be stationary. Therefore, if you want gas and like the idea of portability, propane is the way to go. Though you’ll trade toting charcoal for a propane tank, you’ll get many more grilling sessions out of a tank of propane than you will from a bag of charcoal.
Less is not more when it comes to the number of burners on a gas grill. The more burners, the greater control of heat, the more thorough the cooking. For instance, indirect heating can be accomplished by using the gas burner on one end of the grill while placing the meat on the other. This can avoid burning that results from grease-fired flare-ups. Better models have a radiant burner that will speed rotisserie cooking. More burners usually mean more cooking area. Though you don’t need to use all of the cooking area it’s nice to have when cooking for a large group.
Ample lay down space for food preparation and cleanup, stove top side burners for cooking, a smoking tray for flavor enhancement, easy cleanup features, a thermometer for grilling perfection and a high-quality grill cover are features and accessories that will lend many years of enjoyment and the best that barbecuing has to offer.
Regardless of the model you choose, always follow manufacturer directions. NEVER use it in an enclosed area such as a garage or indoors to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning which can be deadly.
And remember to throw another shrimp on the barbe for your friends, the Carey Bros.
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