Kristen Hicks on June 26, 2015 1 Comment The backyard BBQ is one of the standard settings for great summer moments. The combination of good weather, great friends, and tasty food is hard to beat. If you want to successfully pull off that last part, finding the right grill can make all the difference. While a summer BBQ is nothing if not an opportunity to appreciate the simple things in life, determining the right grill to go with the occasion can actually be pretty complicated. You have a lot of options and none of them is inherently the best. You have to figure out which of your many choices is the best for what you want to get out of a grill. Skip Ahead: Types of Grills Other Grilling Categories to Consider Factors to Consider Before Buying Brand Comparison The 4 Main Types of Grills To start, you’ll want to hone in on which of the main types of grilling products is your preference. Each type of grill offers different benefits and they all have their defenders. 1. Charcoal Grills For many grill buyers, the choice comes down to the two most popular options: charcoal grills versus gas grills. Charcoal grills win handily in terms of upfront cost, but the supplies you buy for each use will be a little more expensive than with alternative options. One of the biggest arguments grilling lovers make for charcoal grills is about taste. Charcoal grills tend to be better for searing meat and produce smoke that provides extra flavoring to the food. Benefits: Generally, charcoal grills are very affordable (although there are high-end models out there that get costly). Gets hotter than alternative types of grills. Many grilling enthusiasts swear by the flavor – particularly for the types of meat that require slow cooking like thick steaks, chicken, and turkey. To Keep in Mind: While cheaper upfront, the cost of charcoal and lighter fluid for each use comes out to be more than the cost of gas or electricity. It takes longer to heat up the grill to get started. Cleaning this type of grill may sometimes be a hassle. 2. Gas Grills Gas grills will cost you. They’re the most expensive category on our list, although you can find gas grills on the lower end that cost less than high-end versions of products in the other categories. The cost per BBQ of using gas as your fuel does come out to less than the cost of using coal (but more than the cost of electric). Gas grills tend to win on ease of use and time it takes to get started, and they’re one of the most environmentally friendly grilling options. And for all those connoisseurs who claim the flavor of meats cooked on a gas grill will just never compare, you can find a fair share of detractors. In fact, the vast majority of the world’s greatest steakhouses grill with gas. Wired goes so far as to call it “objectively, scientifically better” than charcoal. Benefits: Easy to use and clean. You have constant control over the temperature and it takes little time to get it started. Gas grills are better for the environment. Flavor for quick-to-cook meats like hot dogs or burgers same as with charcoal. To Keep in Mind: Gas grills cost more upfront (but less than charcoal for each use). They don’t get as hot as charcoal – causing some to insist the flavor isn’t as good (although it’s an issue hotly debated amongst grillers). Working with propane can be dangerous, if you’re not careful. 3. Electric Grills Electric grills tend to be smaller than their gas and electric counterparts and as such are more portable and even safe to use inside (which takes some of the fun out of the idea of an afternoon BBQ, but may come in handy at other times). They’re affordable, both in terms of upfront and per-use cost. Their portability is limited by where you can find available outlets and they earn a lot of criticism from grilling purists who find the flavor unimpressive. But they’re often the best choice for people living in apartments who have limitations on what kind of grills they’re allowed to use. Benefits: Most all-around affordable option. Easy to use. Safe to use inside and allowed in apartment buildings with restrictions. To Keep in Mind: You won’t get that smoky BBQ flavor. You can only use them when close to an electrical outlet. 4. Smokers Smokers are technically a different category than grills, but they’re an important product category to consider in your search. Smokers are going to cook your meat via a much slower process, but one that provides the coveted smoky flavor (hence the name) that many grillers crave. You can find both gas and charcoal smokers, and there’s a wide price range roughly comparable to the price range of the different types of grills. Benefits: Most experts seem to be in consensus that a smoker provides the best flavor of all your options. You can find a variety of options with different price points. It’s usually easier to keep the temperature consistent with smokers than with grills. To Keep in Mind: Smokers are for slow cooking – expect a lot of time between when you start cooking and start eating. They’re not practical for casual BBQs that involve hot dogs and burgers rather than heavier meats like ribs and steaks. Other Grilling Categories to Consider Besides the four main types of grills listed above, here are a few other types of less-common grills that you may want to consider. 1. Outdoor Stoves and Burners Outdoor stoves and burners are more commonly used for camping than backyard BBQs. As such, they’re usually small enough to be conveniently portable and quite a bit cheaper than most of the grills and smokers you’d be likely to use in your backyard. Most of them are fueled by gas. 2. Kamado Grills Kamado grills are round or egg-shaped grills usually made of ceramics that are designed to hold in the heat of grilling more effectively, They’re usually charcoal grills and can get fairly pricy, but they’re growing in popularity and reputation due to the quality of flavor they produce. They have a reputation for grilling meat that’s especially juicy, but can also be used for dishes less associated with grilling, like pizza and paella. 3. Portable Grills Like outdoor stoves, portable grills are usually used for camping, or sometimes tailgating. The term applies to any grill you can easily fit into a car to take from one location to another. That can mean something as simple as a George Foreman Grill, or something closer in size to your typical backyard grill but designed to be easy to fit into a smaller space due to detachable or foldable parts. 8 Factors to Consider Before Buying To ensure that you buy the best grill or smoker for your home, here are a few things you should keep in mind. 1. Size There are grills you can’t fit much more than a hamburger on and grills you can easily cook enough on for a big party. You can save money on a smaller grill, but it will cut down on your ability to host and mean that cooking for multiple people takes longer. Consider how many people you’ll want to be cooking for during your typical backyard BBQs and compare that to the cooking surface available in the different models you consider. 2. Price Naturally, price has to be a consideration for most shoppers and grills and smokers come in a huge range of prices. You want to be sure to consider not only the sticker price of the grill itself, but all the more long-term factors that relate to overall costs, like: The type of fuel the grill or smoker uses. The accessories you’ll need. How much maintenance is required. How long it’s likely to last. If it’s the type of grill you’ll want in the long term, or if you may find yourself wanting to trade up down the line. As with most things, going with one of the cheaper grills can be tempting, but may end up costing you more in the long term based on its quality and what you want out of it. 3. Durability Do you want something that will just suffice for now? Or do you want a grill you can count on for years to come? If the latter, take some time to research the durability and reputation of different brands and their grills. If you get one of a high enough quality now, you can save yourself the trouble of doing any grill shopping again for many years. 4. Maintenance With charcoal grills, you have to worry about dumping ashes after each use and cleaning them carefully so they won’t rust. Smokers and gas electronic grills require less work to maintain, but do still need basic cleaning after each use and a more thorough cleaning each season. You know your habits better than anyone – how much maintenance are you likely to keep up with, and how likely are you to begrudge the work if you go with charcoal? 5. Temperature Heat has everything to do with how your food will taste. Some types of food taste great when cooked on high heat for short periods of time and some do best on low heat for hours. How hot your grill gets, how long it takes to heat up, and how easy it is to keep the temperature consistent are all factors that vary with different types of grills and have an influence on how your favorite types of meat will come out. Which choice is right for you will depend on your preferences in terms of meat, flavor, and convenience. 6. Flavor and Texture Flavor is directly related to temperature, but deserves its own entry. I mean, we’re talking about food here – flavor’s got to be a priority. Well-cooked meat is one thing, but if you want that smoky flavor BBQ lovers really crave, a smoker or charcoal grill are probably the best options to consider. 7. Safety The biggest safety concern to keep in mind when grilling comes with gas grills. Propane is extremely flammable and if you’re not careful you can cause an explosion that hurts anyone standing close to the grill. For any type of grill or smoker, anyone using it should be careful about burns and anyone with respiratory illnesses should be cautious about how much smoke they’re exposed to. Recent research also suggests that smoked meats could be linked to cancer, with gas grills faring slightly better on this point, but the risks seem to be minimal all around. 8. Portability If you’re looking for the best grill or smoker for backyard BBQs then portability shouldn’t be much of a concern, but if you want something you can take camping or tailgating then it’s worth considering some of your smaller and lighter options. All four of the main types of grills we described can be found in portable versions, and smaller grills will typically be some of your most affordable choices. Brand Comparison There are too many brands out there selling grills and smokers to cover them all here, but we’ve researched what people are saying online about some of the best and most popular to get a feel for what customers can expect of each. Bayou Classic Bayou Classic’s most popular grill is the Cypress Ceramic Grill, a charcoal grill in the kamado style. Customers praise the grill’s aesthetics, results (for meat and baking) and cost in comparison to comparable products. Bayou Classic also sells a number of outdoor stoves for camping and a couple of high-end smokers. Cal Flame Cal Flame is known for selling attractive built-in gas grills in a number of sizes for outdoor kitchens. Most of their models have large cooking surfaces and multiple burners. Cal Flame reviews are somewhat mixed. They get consistently high marks for their look and price, but you should be careful with maintenance to avoid rust. Charbroil Charbroil has a reputation for being one of the best budget brands for grills. While the popularity of the brand means that they have their share of both good and bad reviews, overall people seem satisfied with the value for the price. Some people do find that it can be a pain to clean their grill and the quality of the steel makes this another brand you have to be careful with to avoid rust. Fiesta Fiesta grills are popular in part because of their availability at a number of the nation’s big retailers. They’re seen as basically reliable budget grills that get the job done and sometime feature nifty add-ons like helpful lighting for night grilling and condiment trays. Fire Sense Fire Sense offers a few varieties of charcoal grills that are built to last. While the list of grills they sell is short, they tend to have unique and attractive special features, like a grill that can double as a fire pit and one made of Japanese table clay meant to be especially suited to grilling. Kenmore Kenmore’s a popular, trusted brand name, but with grills that generally get middle-of-the-road reviews. Many customers really enjoy the value for the price for the first year or so, but find the stainless steel grills susceptible to rust after that. The upfront costs for many models are appealing, but be prepared to purchase replacement parts and/or a new grill within a few years if you go this route. Kenyon Kenyon’s known for selling high-end electrical grills. Although electrical grills in general get a bit of a bad rap, reviews of Kenyon’s products reveal customers that are satisfied with the flavor of the food they make on their Kenyon grills, even if they started out skeptical. Laguna Laguna makes affordable, portable charcoal grills. They vary in size from those perfect for camping to those that provide enough cooking space for parties of up to 12 people. Napoleon Napoleon sells a line of high-end grills with a wide range of options. They offer both charcoal and gas, as well as small, affordable portable grills and large luxury backyard models. Napoleon grills get consistently solid reviews, so whatever model of theirs feels right for you is probably a safe bet. Outdoor Greatroom Outdoor Greatroom is a brand all about comfortable outdoor living. Most of their grills are designed to be a useful complement to a larger outdoor kitchen. You can buy outdoor kitchens with the grills already installed, or purchase just the grill itself to be installed as part of the kitchen you already have. Saffire Saffire sells a line of high-end kamado grills. The grills come in different styles and colors and have an aesthetic that can add a little character to any patio. Many of the reviews of their grills comment on the cost, as the grills are a little pricier than many of the kamado grills on the market, but on the whole customers seem happy with their grill’s performance. Sunstone Grills Sunstone Grills specializes in high-quality stainless steel gas grills with a large cooking area and the ability to cook at different temperatures in different areas. If your BBQ guests want both burgers and chicken, you can multi-task and get all the food done more quickly and just right. Weber Weber’s a popular brand available at many of the national retailers. They’re a bit more expensive than some of the other common brands, but do have a reputation for durability to help account for the pricing difference. The grills are easy to use and reliable – great for grilling newbies – but most don’t provide the kind of grilling flavor the connoisseurs really appreciate. Final Thoughts Whether you’re looking for the easiest option to feed lots of people at your next backyard BBQ or the smoker that will produce the perfect texture and flavor you crave, the world of grills and smokers has a wide array of options for you to choose from. If you’re still not too sure which option would work best for your needs, our experts may be able to help. Just get in touch with any specific questions you have.