How to Choose the Perfect Grill for Summer Fun
Warm weather is right around the corner - can you feel it?
Yep. Good old Punxsutawney Phil saw no sign of a shadow this Groundhog Day, and much of the country has already experienced that tantalizing first pre-spring warm-up. Your bulbs are just itching to shoot up out of the just-thawing ground. It's about that time.
And with that warmer weather comes the glorious scent of just-cut grass, fresh soil, sunscreen, citronella, and grills lit up all over the neighborhood.
Ah, charred meat!
If you followed my advice from this post, you created a huge backyard space that you've now divided up into a few different "outdoor rooms," one of which you've reserved for cooking.
This grilling season, don't be the guy who's always showing up to other people's parties with a six-pack and some chips and salsa. Be the envy of your neighbors by transforming your own patio into the Grand Central of grilling. Let your friends bring the beer for once!
Here are the top three factors to consider as you're choosing that hunka-hunka burning summer love:
Power: What lights your fire?
That is, how does this thing get cookin'?
Of course, there's charcoal. (Did you know charcoal is actually made of wood?) Charcoal grills have that classic backyard appeal, give your food a smoky flavor and are relatively inexpensive to operate. All you need is a bag of charcoal, some lighter fluid and a match!
A step up from plain ol' charcoal is a ceramic grill. Specifically, I'm talking about the Big Green Egg, an American version of the ancient "kamado" cooker. This grill has a cult following for a reason: It's a grill, it's a smoker, it's a barbecue, and the ceramic walls maintain balanced heat, even when it's freezing outside. I'll return to this in a moment.
Gas grills are the next step up. For these, you'll need a propane or natural gas tank, which you can buy at most hardware stores then hook up to the grill to power it. (There are even refillable canisters that help you save money and natural resources.) The first outdoor gas grill came about in the '60s and has become a favorite because it's so easy to control the cooking temperature.
Finally, the new kid on the grilling block: Infrared. It's the OUTDOOR COOKING OF THE FUTURE. Where other grills cook food with hot air, this uses propane or natural gas to heat a surface, which cooks the food directly. Infrared grills' benefits include less preheating and, because they can cook quickly, less drying out.
Appearance: How does she look?
There are plenty of design aspects you can take into consideration when you're picking out a grill. And if you're thinking, "But all that matters is how it COOKS!" I've got a couple of thoughts for you.
You may think all that matters is how it cooks, but someone else in your family might care about aesthetics.
Design actually can have a huge bearing on how a grill cooks and how well it will work for your lifestyle.
Here are some questions to ask when you're making your choice:
What's it made of? What color is it? How big is it, and how much food can it actually accommodate? Does the top come off completely, or is it hinged? Is it on wheels and light enough to move easily (say, for a tailgate?), or is it anchored into a complete outdoor kitchen setup? What is the cooking surface like - what's it made of? Are there multiple racks to accommodate for different foods?
There are aesthetic, usage and even safety issues that you should think about when buying a grill.
Consider this: A metal grill absorbs and transfers more heat to the outer surface than, say, a ceramic one. If you have small, curious children who like to touch things, this might be a factor.
Finances: How much is this hot date gonna cost?
Chances are this won't be your last consideration but instead one of the first. These days, you can spend as much or as little on a grill as you want.
Those Big Green Eggs I mentioned? Depending on how big you go, they cost as little as about $250 and as much as almost $1,000 - and that's before you start throwing in accessories.
An infrared model from Char-Broil's RED series runs in about the same price range as those Big Green Eggs, depending on the number of burners, bells and whistles you're looking for.
Stainless steel, gas-powered grills can run you up to $2,500 and even more if you choose a super-high-end brand like Viking.
If you blew the bank building a kickin' patio and find yourself desperate to have a cookout on whatever meager budget remains, you can get a basic Weber charcoal grill - dome lid, plain-Jane cooking surface - for well under $100 at your local hardware store.
Or, if you're really desperate, one website suggests that you can also just...make a grill. But since we're fresh out of cinder blocks over here, I'm going to stick to my Kenmore gas grill from Sears.