Here's What You Should Know Before You Barbecue
Rising temps, ceaseless rain, and blossoming trees means one thing: summertime is right around the corner. And while we’re already dreaming about long, sunny days spent outdoors gardening, sipping rosé, and relishing a new beach read, we all know what summer really means: grill season.
Whether you’re new to grilling at home or fancy yourself a seasoned pitmaster, now’s a good time to start pondering your outdoor grill possibilities for the months ahead. Perhaps you swear by your easy-to-operate gas grill but want to try your hand at charcoal or pellet grilling this year, or you’ve downsized to a smaller living space and no longer have the space for your five-burner propane BBQ. Before you buy a new outdoor grill (find our favorite options in each category here), let’s run through your options.
First, the type of grill you should purchase is determined by a number of factors, including (but not limited to) the amount of space you have to store it, the flavors you want to impart on the foods you’re cooking, the ideal amount of time and attention you’d like to spend cooking, and the amount of experience you have behind the barbecue. There are two main types of grills—gas and charcoal—however electric and wood pellet grills are increasingly popular. Here are a few basics you should know about each.
This is the most popular type of outdoor barbecue grill and is much-loved for its convenience factor. Gas grills ignite with the push of a button, and they heat up and cook quickly. And thanks to temperature control knobs, they give the cook a lot of control over the heat setting. Most gas grills offer multiple burners, which means you can create various cooking zones—one for searing steaks, say, and another for gently warming up sauce. They won’t get as hot as charcoal, however—they typically peak in the 400°F to 600°F range. Propane grills require a 20-pound propane tank that can be used for about 25 hours of grilling time before having to be replaced; natural gas grills have an unlimited fuel supply, but require you to install a natural gas line from the grill to your home (which limit their mobility). Gas grills are a smart option for those who want to grill frequently and without fuss—they’re one of the easier types to clean, too.
These deliver high heat—up to 700°F—and impart mouthwatering char-grilled flavor into burgers, chicken wings, ribs, and so on. Charcoal grills are typically the least expensive grill option, and can be used to grill both directly (you can sear right over the coals), indirectly (if you push the charcoals to one side, you’ll be able cook foods slower), and can even be used to smoke foods. The cons? Charcoal grills require briquettes or lump charcoal for fuel, which can be tricky to ignite, especially if you’re new to grilling. No knobs here, so temperature regulation takes more technique than gas grilling. Finally, the heat up/cool down process takes longer due to the high heat retention, and charcoal ash commands more cleanup. Nothing can replace the delicious barbecue flavor of charcoal briquettes, though, so grill purists willing to work for it are best-suited to this style. (Note: kamado grills, like the Big Green Egg, are a style of charcoal grill made from ceramic that use consistent convection heat.)
Wood pellet grills are an increasingly popular style on the market. They use hardwood pellets as their heat source, and offer a combination of desirable features from both gas and charcoal style grills. For instance, pellet grills are electronically powered—they tout user-friendly knobs, variable temperature settings, and can be ignited by a power switch—and give your food an irreplaceable hardwood smoked flavor (think hickory, mesquite, or maple). A hopper beside the grill fills it with pellets to maintain your set temperature; there’s also no need for natural gas or propane as they plug into a standard electrical outlet. Pellet grills are less available than other more common grill types and can be pricey.
These can’t be beat for convenience or user-friendly features, but electric grills don’t get nearly as hot as other options, so you’ll forgo much of the delicious char-grill-flavor goodness when using one. Still, they plug in (what could be easier than that to ignite?), heat up quickly, don’t need fuel, and are super easy to clean and cook with. Thanks to their smaller size and lack of charcoal/gas, electric grills are a great option for those in condos or apartments with limited outside space—and grill safety restrictions.