Check out our grills and smokers buying guide to find the right tools for your next summer cookout without breaking the bank.
Covered in this guide:
Types of grills and how to choose
How to grill
How to preheat a grill
By this time of year, grill lovers across the country have already grilled up dozens of burgers, steaks and probably a few other not-so-traditional food items. It’s true what they say: The more you grill, the more you want to grill.
Just like there is no shortage of meats, veggies or even fruit you can throw on the grill, there is also a wide variety of grills available.
Factors to Consider
Whether you’re buying your first grill or looking to upgrade from an older model, there are some important aspects of outdoor cooking to consider before committing. The type of fuel affects flavor as well as set-up and clean-up time. You should also think about your grill size, how long it takes to heat up, specific features you need (like a side-burner or wheels), and your overall budget. This buyer’s guide will illustrate the differences between many popular styles of grills.
Grills for Different Spaces
Depending on the size of your living space and how many people you like to grill for, it’s important to consider the size of your grill.
Small Grills – For small spaces such as an apartment, small balcony or rooftop, consider space saving grills that can be easily moved and managed. These grills typically include one to two burners.
Medium Grills – Provide hot, medium and low heat zones and are ideal for smaller group entertaining and immediate family meals.
Large Grills – Typically consist of four to five burners and are good for large backyard barbeques and other big gatherings.
The standard grill size is between 34 and 40 inches with three to five burners depending on the type of grill being used.
Types of Grills
This is the perfect grill for a grill master-in-training. This might be the type you’re most familiar with, and with good reason. Fueled by propane, gas grills, or propane-powered grills, fire up with the push of a button and are ideal for grill owners who prefer to have easily controllable heat settings. Plus, they can reach their highest temperatures fast. Not everyone likes strong smoky flavors that typically come from a traditional charcoal grill—choose a gas grill if you want to err on the side of less smoky. Along with ease and convenience, these units are also versatile. Multiple burners allow you to cook up enough for a backyard graduation party or just a few cuts for a family dinner. The end tables give enough space to hold plates and utensils, so everything stays within arm’s reach. Easy cleanup and easy cooking make this style ideal for just about anyone. Char-Broil and Weber are some of the most trusted brands for gas grills. A reminder, gas grills will typically require you to spend more money upfront as opposed to charcoal grills that require consistent replenishment of lump charcoal or briquettes (on average more expensive than gas tanks).
Let’s be honest, some foods are just better when they’re smoked. Pellet-style smokers use small pellets that burn slowly and give off the perfect amount of smoke. These pellets come in a variety of flavors to give a delicious zest to pork, beef and just about anything you can imagine. In addition to wireless connectivity, pellet grills provide a variety of advantages for grillers including the ability to bake and grill at the same time, accommodating a wide range of temperature changes, and even distribution of heat for optimal cooking consistency. Shop Traeger and Oklahoma Joes for a reliable pellet grill.
You don’t need a backyard or large porch to hone your grilling skills. Modern electric grills allow urbanites and city dwellers to experience the joys of the grilling lifestyle. All you need to do is plug in and enjoy. These are also a perfect choice for people who only occasionally grill and when they do, grill very little.
Kamado grills date back to ancient China, and like traditional charcoal grills, use charcoal as a heat source, but have a more controllable, ceramic ventilation system characteristic of Japanese mushikamado. In addition to Kamado grills requiring less charcoal than conventional charcoal grills due to its ceramic composition, Kamado grills can last a lifetime. Given that Kamado grills are cleaned routinely well, these models can be passed along as a family heirloom if cleaned correctly for future generations to enjoy.
Portable Charcoal Grills
From the trunk of your car to the state park campsite you visit every summer, portable charcoal grills are easy to assemble and are ideal for adventurers and grillers who enjoy taking the experience of grilling back to the basics.
In many ways, charcoal is how backyard grilling began. In fact, grilling purists still prefer charcoal to any other grill type—it’s an American tradition.
Charcoal grills come fully equipped with high heat and are a little less expensive in the short term than a gas grill. Charcoal grills will give your chicken, steak, salmon, and brats that nostalgic smoky flavor you crave during the warmer months. Note — they do require a little more of a concerted effort with cleaning—skip to this section for cleaning accessory recommendations.
Many get griddles and grills confused. Although they can do similar things for burgers and hotdogs, griddles can do more with other foods because of their different heating surface. Griddles have a flat cooking surface that can be used for a ton of options, like eggs, veggies, and other foods that would fall through the grates of a grill.
For the ultimate juicy, southern tender BBQ taste that every aspiring griller is chasing after, consider a smoker. It’s ideal for serving large groups. If a healthier grill diet is something that you’d like to incorporate into your diet more consistently, try a gas or charcoal grill—they are better at burning off fats and retain more vital nutrients than the process of smoking does.
Just like there are electric grills, so there are electric smokers. Some units have a plug-and-play design that features a remote control digital readout. Simply load the hopper and you can watch your favorite foods smoke from the window on the door.
Along with these main types of smokers, there are numerous differences among the various models. Each grill-master has his or her preferences on what works best for their style.
→A pair of tongs – for turning and lifting food without damaging the texture of the meat.
→ A spatula – for flipping food on the grill grate in order to evenly distribute heat.
→ Metal skewers – for conducting heat in the center of shish kabobs or corn on the cob. Plus, since they’re metal, they’re ideal for long-term use.
→ Rimmed baking sheets – for using your grill like an oven to roast and toast food. Opt for metal since they can retain and manage high heats better than glass or ceramic baking sheets.
→ A cooling rack -for when food cools off, air can circulate 360 degrees around it (as opposed to just leaving it on a cutting board or a grill tray that isn’t perforated or vented).
→ A meat thermometer – for eliminating the guesswork around wondering if you’ve killed off hazardous bacteria or overcooked.
→ A carving board – for initial prep and for cutting portions after the food is cooked.
→ A grill cover – to protect your grill from the elements with a grill cover to keep it clean and safe for a longer performance.
The Basics of How to Grill
First clean, then preheat, then light.
How to Clean a Grill
Unless your grill is brand new and has never been used, it’s important to clean a grill prior to any food preparation in order to keep things sanitary and safe.
For gas grills – First make sure the gas is turned off. Then remove the grill grates and any extraneous metal pieces left on the burners. Suck out any debris with a handheld vacuum.Wipe the grill down with soap and water. Then take your grill brush to eliminate any stubborn stains or hard-to-remove residue.
For charcoal grills – this is where your grill brush will be your best friend. Otherwise, ball up some aluminum tin foil to create the same scratchy texture that can pick up and remove debris. Scrub the grill and the grill grate with the grill brush. Empty the ash catcher. Then, wipe down the grill with a rag, soap and water.
Properly preheating a gas grill will take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes, whereas achieving a medium heat with a charcoal grill can take 25 to 30 minutes (and 5 to 10 minutes for high heat).
For gas grills – turn the knob. Different foods call for different temperatures. High heat foods (ranges from 450° to 600° Fahrenheit) include steak, chicken, and fish. Low heat foods (ranges from 225° to 250° Fahrenheit) are typically the ones that taste the best after slow cooking. These include: barbeque ribs, pork shoulder, and other smoked meats.
For charcoal grills – light the grill by building a charcoal fire at the bottom of the grill and topping it off with a grill grate. Make sure to leave a little bit of open, charcoal-free space under the grill grate, so that you can set food aside if it’s cooking too fast. Once you’ve cleared a little bit of space, pour (lightly douse) lighter fluid onto your mound of coal and carefully hold up a lit match or lighter to the mound.