Few things capture the essence of a beautiful afternoon better than the smell of a backyard barbecue. And whether your passion burns charcoal or gas, there’s nothing more important than picking the right grill for the job. With spring well underway and summer just around the corner, Roadfly is proud to bring you this simple guide to grilling.
Now many of you might be thinking that a grill is a grill – but you’d be wrong for thinking so. Die-hard grilling enthusiasts will swear on their steaks that charcoal is the only way to properly grill. Practical backyard barbequers applaud gas grills for their convenience and ease of use. But which is best? Which one is right for you?
Charcoal grills have been around for ages, and as a result the design of a charcoal grill hasn’t changed much. The typical charcoal grill resembles a clam-shelled orb, with a pit for charcoal and a lid. Charcoal grills are relatively inexpensive, and range in price from $22 to just over $100. Weber seems to have this segment of the market cornered – almost everyone at one time or another has owned a Weber charcoal grill.
Gas grills have been around for quite some time as well, but unlike charcoal grills, their design varies greatly based on the manufacturer. Once again, Weber is one of the most respected names in this category, but companies like Broilmaster, Coleman, Ducane, Jenn-Air, Sunbeam, and Viking all have a strong presence. There are two types of gas grills to consider – Liquid Petroleum (LP) and natural gas. Generally speaking, LP is preferred as it burns hotter than natural gas. The benefit of a natural gas grill is that it can be plumbed into an existing natural gas line, and thus does not require an auxiliary tank that requires refilling.
In addition to charcoal and gas, there are electric and “pellet” grills, but neither are very popular, so we won’t include them in this article. And last but not least, there’s the smoker category, but they aren’t really grills at all, and are best saved for another story altogether.
Choosing between a charcoal or a gas grill boils down to convenience and placement. Charcoal grills tend to require a bit more effort, a little more skill and a wide, open, well-ventilated area for operation. A charcoal grill is not well suited to use in any covered or enclosed area.
A gas grill is often easier to use, more convenient (it can be used year round, even in inclimate conditions), and can be used (cautiously) under a covered deck or porch. Gas grills are easier to clean and don’t leave ashes behind – a plus in our book. They tend to cost at least twice as much as a charcoal grill, so price can play an important role in the purchasing decision.
We’ll focus on the most obvious, most popular grill – the Weber charcoal grill. Weber offers three different “types” of the charcoal grill, in varying sizes. Weber offers the “Silver,” “Gold,” and “Platinum” charcoal grills in 18-1/2″ and 22-1/2″ sizes. For all practical purposes, the Silver and Gold models are nearly identical, while the Platinum includes an integrated workspace (non-heated) and a large, high-capacity ash catcher with integrated one-touch cleaning system (both of these features are found on the Weber Gold series as well).
All of Weber’s charcoal grills include sturdy frames and high-quality wheels, which help make moving the grill easy. We prefer the 22-1/2″ Gold Series Weber grill for its handy ash system and robust construction. The large cooking surface offers plenty of room to cook on.
Accessory choices are somewhat limited, but we have found one device that no charcoal griller should be without – a Chimney Starter. Available from almost any hardware or grill supply store for well under $20, these things make charcoal grilling a snap. They also make the food taste better, as there’s no lighter fluid to mess around with.
Charcoal grilling techniques vary greatly, but most experts agree that cooking with indirect heat is one of the most preferable ways to grill. Indirect heat allows food to cook evenly via convection, and helps to reduce the ever-dreaded “flare-up.” With proper food placement, the cook can sear foods with indirect heat, all without having to rearrange the charcoal.
All things considered, charcoal grills offer an inexpensive way to cook up a tasty backyard meal. Just be prepared to deal with the ashes and be ready for a few “flare-ups” if you’re cooking something a little greasy. We recommend you buy the biggest grill you can afford, as the extra real estate will be appreciated when you have guests over (and when you’re grilling, there’s always bound to be someone “dropping by”). You may also want to consider alternative forms of charcoal, including hardwood chunks – yum!
As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of gas grill manufacturers to choose from. In our opinion, the Weber Genesis series of gas grills represent a great mix of quality, performance and price. For just under $500, you can get your hands on an entry-level, feature-packed Weber Genesis grill. Now, $500 might sound like a lot of cash for a grill, but believe us, it’s well worth it. One of our editors has had his Genesis grill for over 15 years and it’s still going strong. Weber sure does know how to build a quality grill.
Gas grilles offer the convenience of quick heating, better “flame control” (flare-ups), easier clean-up and less maintenance. Folks who live in a climate that’s subject to harsh winters appreciate that they can grille a steak any time of the year – most gas grilles work flawlessly in the winter. On the downside, gas grilles sacrifice a lot of that woody, smoky, charcoal taste, but in a blind comparison test, tasters were unable to discern the difference between two steaks grilled over gas and charcoal.
Most gas grill jockeys cook over indirect heat, much like their charcoal burning brethren do. When buying a gas grill, look for one that has at least three separate burners under the main cook surface – this will allow you the most flexibility when cooking with both indirect and direct heat. More burners usually means more BTU (British Thermal Units, or the “power rating” for a grill), and more BTU means a hotter cooking surface, which is perfect for searing a thick steak or heating a cast iron grill skillet. What? You mean you don’t use your grill for routine daily tasks like eggs and bacon? Try it – you’ll like it!
Don’t let another beautiful summer day pass without at least contemplating “grilling out.” Gather up some fresh hamburger or a nice steak, fire up your grill and enjoy the entire grilling experience. Whether you’re cooking over charcoal or some form of petroleum fuel, there’s nothing quite like the taste and fun of a backyard barbeque. Heck, you may just want to call the neighbors and invite them to participate in the fun.
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Editor’s Hamburger Recipe:
Some of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had are completely homemade – it’s simple, and by grinding your own hamburger, you can safely cook the meat to whatever temperature you desire. This means you don’t have to suffer through another, dry and overcooked burger! (Thanks to Alton Brown for the recipe idea)
Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl (large)
Wax or parchment paper
Grill of your choice
12oz Sirloin Steak
12oz Chuck Steak
Fresh Ground Pepper
Add half of each type of beef to the food processor and “pulse” 8-10 times, for approximately 1 “long second” per pulse. The beef should still be slightly chunky, so be careful to not overprocess it. Remove and process the rest of the beef in the same manner. Place the ground beef in a large stainless steel bowl. Cover and return to the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.
After the beef has chilled, prepare a large sheet of waxed paper (you’ll put the hamburgers on the paper). Loosely form patties that are approximately 6oz each and place them on the paper. Salt both sides of the patty liberally with Kosher salt (don’t use table salt!). Allow the beef to rest while you preheat your grill. The salt will draw a slight amount of moisture to the surface of the patty, which will result in a delicious, flaky crust.
Cook the burgers over indirect heat until they reach desired doneness – do not “smash” them with your flipper! I prefer medium/medium-rare. Once done cooking, remove the burgers from the grill, pepper lightly and allow them to rest for at least 5 minutes. Enjoy with your favorite toppings (I like American cheese and a toasted, buttered bun with just a hint of garlic).
Yield: 4 servings