Ask any griller about their fuel source preference, and you're sure to get them fired up. Without prescribing a particular method, it's important for us to present the facts about and benefits of each.
A charcoal grill is all about combustion. Charcoal briquettes are inexpensive and easy to get, and burn with a slow, high heat and natural flavor that passes on to your food. You'll need to plan, though - charcoal takes 15 to 30 minutes to reach proper heat levels. Sizes of charcoal grills range from super-small travel grills ideal for camping trips and tailgates to full-size grills and smokers capable of cooking at volume. For the most manual, and most "traditional" grilling experience, choose a charcoal grill.
Gas grills are extremely popular at home and professionally for their low operation cost and high ease-of-use. Gas burns clean and hot and ignites immediately with built-in lighters, meaning you can cook on-demand with less waste. Also, the advanced designs of many gas grills let you carefully manage temperatures across the grill surface with easy knob controls. There are two types of gas grills to choose from.
- Propane Propane-powered gas grills mostly use standard 20 lb. tanks, easily filled for around $20 at your local grocery store or gas station. A full LP tank lasts around 9 hours of cooking time, of course dependent on how many burners are running and how much gas is flowing.
- Natural Gas Natural gas hookups make your outdoor grill part of your home's existing natural gas system, the same that powers your hot water heater and other appliances. This option is the cheapest, and there's never a risk of running out of fuel. For the lowest-maintenance gas grilling experience, choose a natural gas or natural gas convertible grill.
Electric grills haven't always had the best reputation, but that's changed. For apartment-dweller and occasional grillers these compact and efficient cookers bring the advantages of high-heat cooking indoors.
The manual heat management of charcoal can be too much to deal when you cook frequently, casually, or often. Gas grills offer the options of anywhere from 2 - 8 burners and any number of variable heat outputs. The heat produced by an individual burner and by a grill as a whole is measured in BTUs - British Thermal Units.
A BTU is the amount of energy needed to heat or cool 1 lb. of water by one degree Fahrenheit. Very generally, you want about 100 BTUs per square inch of cooking space. So, a grill that puts out 40,000 BTUs on 400 square inches heats about the same as one that puts out 90,000 BTUs on 900 square inches.
But pure power isn't the whole story. Output alone can give you an idea about how much gas your grill can move, but it's important to consider:
The size of the burners themselves - are they large enough that they cover the entire cooking surface? Even heating is important.
Maximum total temperature - a good grill should be able to reach at least 600 degrees F.
Material and construction of the housing - How is the grill body made? It should be completely sealed with high-quality welding and made from steel. The best are made with polished seams and double-lined commercial-grade 304 stainless steel.
So, the size of your grill isn't everything. But it's certainly important! You have to have enough surface area to cook what you want. So, you usually only cook for 4? What about on the 4th of July when more come over or if you'd like to grill corn on the cob while you make the steaks? Though space is important and there are some giant grills, we always prefer to err on the side of size. After all, with a gas grill, you never have to use all the burners at once.
Gas grills offer the most versatility, via not only an increased number of burners but with specialized zones for different types of cooking. Look for side burners, which allow you to throw on a skillet or pot and make sauces and side dishes without dashing inside, and super-hot infrared zones designed to sear steaks perfectly.
Here's our rule of thumb: how many burners do you think you'll need? Get a grill with at least one more than that.
Just because the grill's outside doesn't mean you can ignore its maintenance. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Cooking on the grill brings out grease and salt in your food and high heat lets these things build up and harden. A dirty grill is not only gross, it can be unhealthy.
- Every use Basic cleaning maintenance should be performed after every use. That means cleaning the grates thoroughly. While the grill is still warm (it doesn't have to be red hot), use a stiff wire brush to remove any excess food particles and get rid of grease on the grates and heat reflectors.
- Every once in a while Further cleaning should be done several times a season. This means removing the grills and other removable parts and removing all the build-up from below. This is good for your grill and really good for the smells that it emits. You don't want to be re-grilling burnt bits.
- Every year Once a season, it's important to take apart the major parts of your grill and clean them thoroughly with soapy water. Disconnect all of the gas lines, disassemble the parts above the burners, and clean all touch points. This will help keep you and your family safe from harmful buildup and dangerous problems that you might not be able to see otherwise.
If you're properly cleaning your grill, keep it covered and it'll last you for years. A good weatherproof cover protects your grill from corrosive elements, harmful sun, unhygienic dirt, and just about everything else. Our favorite covers offer full coverage and cinch at the bottom, but the best cover for your grill is the one the manufacturer prescribes.
Questions? Of course. We've only seared the surface here, but we have a highly trained team of specialists ready to answer all your grills and outdoor cooking questions. Hayneedle.com brings in representatives from the best grill manufacturers to train our team directly.
They're standing by ready to help you choose, install, and use your outdoor kitchen.
Call us today - let's get cooking!