At least there should be. But if my mail is any indication, most new grill buyers get anxious when they face the staggering array of grills and options out there. I get scores of letters like the following every summer:
Good morning, Steven,
I do have most of your books and have a question for you. I am in the market to purchase the ultimate BBQ and looking on the web, but I am only getting confused. Could you suggest a few options to me and I will check them out?
London, Ontario, Canada
Well, sorry, Dave: there’s no “one size fits all” answer. To help you I have to ask you a few questions—questions you should ask yourself before you hit the display floor with the big checkbook. The key is to understand your “grilling profile”—which is essential to buying the right grill for you.
How much money are you willing to spend?
This might be the decisive factor that pushes you toward one purchase or another. Frankly, it’s difficult to spend more than $300 on a good charcoal grill unless you’re drawn to the charismatic, steroidal Weber 60020 Ranch I use on the set of BBQ U. (And every serious grill master should own one). But you can easily spend ten times that on a premium gas grill. So determine your budget first. Hint: try to stretch a little. You’ll want a grill you can grow with and grow into.
Charcoal or gas?
There was a time when mentioning the “Charcoal Versus Gas” question in mixed company—like politics or religion—was a socially incendiary act likely to spark partisan arguments. But the battle lines, definitive since the 1950s when utility companies introduced the first gas pedestal grills, are beginning to blur—especially with the advent of stainless steel “super grills,” which burn as hot as charcoal grills. Some grills even burn multiple fuels, like the Kalamazoo Bread Breaker. (See www.kalamazoogourmet.com.)
In a nutshell, buy a charcoal grill if you enjoy the process (lighting the coals, messing with fire, waltzing the food from hot spots to cool spots). Buy a charcoal grill if you like smoked foods: it’s virtually impossible to smoke on a gas grill.
Buy a gas grill if you’re more destination—and results—oriented, i.e., if your main goal is to get dinner on the table fast.
Hint: More and more Americans are quietly investing in both a charcoal grill and a gas grill, the former for leisurely live fire cooking and smoking, and the latter for weekday convenience. It’s a good way to have your metaphorical cake and eat it, too.
What is your grilling personality?
Size does matter. If you’re known for frequent and epic grilled feasts, your equipment requirements will obviously be different from those of a griller who grills once or twice a week for the immediate family and occasional guests. The former will want at the very least a good size charcoal grill (or a couple of kettle grills), a 4- to 6-burner gas grill, and maybe even a smoker.
The latter can get away with a single kettle grill or 3-burner gas grill.
If your need for more grill space spikes only once or twice a year (not that anyone reading this newsletter falls into that category) or you live in an apartment with a balcony, you might get by with a hibachi grill (one of my favorites is made by Lodge in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee).
And if you stage the occasional block party for the whole neighborhood, consider supplementing your own equipment with a couple of table grills from a party rental place.
There are other considerations, too:
Point being, decide what you want and need before you shop so you don’t waste money on options that aren’t important to you.
Here’s what to look for:
Here are gas grill features to look for:
For a summary of different types of grills and their primary characteristics, see pages 30 and 31 in BBQ USA. Since 2003 when that book was published, infrared grills and hybrid, multi-fuel grills—grills that can cook with a charcoal, wood, gas, and infrared—have also appeared in the marketplace.
In a nutshell, infrared grills use a gas-fired ceramic mesh or plate to generate the heat and they burn hot. Real hot. Screaming hot. Like 800 to 1000 degrees. Today, many grills have infrared burners. They’re great for searing and putting a steakhouse-quality char on steaks and chops. If you like to grill steaks, a straight infrared grill may be for you. If you like to grill a wide range of foods, you may want to buy a conventional gas grill with one infrared searing burner.
Whatever your preference, below you’ll find a new recipe that works well on any type of grill.
For the spice paste:
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or as needed
4 bone-in half chicken breasts with skin attached (each half 7 to 8 ounces)
Lemon wedges for serving
1) Make the spice paste: Place the onion, garlic, ginger, paprika, salt, coriander, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade. Puree into a coarse paste, running the machine in short bursts. Add enough oil to obtain a thick paste (a little looser than mayonnaise). Correct the seasoning, adding salt or lemon juice. The spice paste should be highly seasoned.
2) Rinse the chicken breasts under cold running water, then drain and blot dry with paper towels. Arrange in a baking dish. Rub the paste all over the chicken breasts on both sides. Let the breasts marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 1 to 2 hours, or more—the longer, the more flavorful.
3) Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate.
4) Place the chicken breasts, skin side up, in the center of the grate, away from the heat. Indirect grill until lightly browned and cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes.
5) Move each chicken breast directly over the fire and grill until darkly browned, 1 to 2 minutes per side (starting skin side down). When chicken is cooked, the internal temperature will be 170 degrees on a meat thermometer.) Transfer the chicken breasts to plates or a platter. Let rest for 3 minutes, then serve with lemon wedges for squeezing.
Note: you can also grill the chicken using the direct method. In this case, preheat half your grill to medium and the other half to low. Start grilling the breasts skin side down over the medium heat. Grill breasts until golden brown and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes per side. Move the chicken over the low zone of the grill if the dripping fat causes flare-ups. To test for doneness, poke a breast in the thickest part with your finger; it should feel firm to the touch. Transfer the grilled chicken breasts to a platter or plates and serve at once.
Steven Raichlen's official newsletter, Up in Smoke, is available exclusively on barbecuebible.com. Culled from experiences on the barbecue trail and beyond, Steven brings you reviews you can use, recipes, answers to your questions, special BBQ store discounts, and more. The newsletter is FREE and comes out every month. It is available first only to subscribers to the newsletter and then posted a month later in the newsletter archives. Sign up today!