Shopping For a New Grill
SHOPPING FOR A NEW GRILL
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:
- Are you a “winter warrior” who prides himself on grilling in cold weather?
- Are there any restrictions on your right to grill on your property? (Many condos don’t allow charcoal or even gas.)
- Do you like to smoke as well as grill? (As I said before, smoking on a gas grill is nearly impossible.)
- Do you mainly stick to foods that can be direct-grilled, such as steaks, chops, chicken breasts, shrimp, or fish fillets? Or do you enjoy indirect grilling— ribs, larger cuts of beef or pork, whole chickens, turkey, or whole fish?
- Would a rotisserie be useful to you? (Answer “yes” if you like to grill whole chickens or duck.)
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.
- Kettle type grills (best epitomized by the Weber)
- Front loaders (great for burning wood as well as charcoal), like the Barbeques Galore Barbechef and Charbroil CB940.
- Open grills, like hibachis or the table grills used by caterers.
Here’s what to look for:
- Heavy-gauge metal construction with a tight-fitting lid (unless you’re buying a hibachi, in which case there’s no lid—the metal should still be heavy duty); especially good if you live in a colder climate as the lid helps retain heat
- A baked-on porcelain-enamel coating
- Sturdy welded supports and heatproof handles
- A secondary grate at the bottom of the grill for holding wood or coals in an even layer
- Adjustable vents on the top and bottom for heat regulation (top vents are not available on hibachis)
- A well-manufactured grill grate—preferably with hinged sides so fresh coals can be added easily; my favorite material is cast iron, followed by bar steel, pressed steel, and porcelainized enamel
- A thermometer built into the lid
- Though rather difficult to find in the U.S., height-adjustable grill grates (one brand is The Grillery; see www.grillery.com)
- One or more side tables for workspace (you can never have enough workspace)
- A butane igniter to light the charcoal; (such as the one found in the Weber Performer)
- An ash catcher for easy cleaning and disposal of charcoal debris
- If you like to burn wood, look for a front-loading grill
- Options such as a tool holder, weather-proof cover, baskets for corralling charcoal when indirect grilling, and a rotisserie.
Here are gas grill features to look for:
- Sturdy construction with heavy-gauge metal (preferably stainless steel) and tight welds
- Cast iron or bar steel grill grates, followed in desirability by pressed steel and porcelainized enamel
- Electric ignition
- At least two independent burners, and preferably 3 or 4 (you need multiple burners for indirect grilling)
- Enough BTUs to support the cooking space. (British Thermal Units are defined as the heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit.) A rule of thumb is approximately 100 BTUs per square inch of cooking space (not including warming racks), or 50,000 BTUs for 500 square inches of cooking space
- And very important, an easy-to-empty drip pan or grease collection
- A multi-year warranty and good local service support
- Easy access to replacement parts (igniters are especially prone to failure)
- A gas gauge (you wouldn’t believe how many gas grills lack them)
- A built-in thermometer
- Side tables for workspace (did I say you can never have enough work space?)
- Fittings for a rotisserie
- Smoker box—more because the sight of rising smoke will make you feel good than because it will actually impart a smoke flavor
- A warming rack
- A tool and/or condiment rack
- Locking wheels to prevent rolling
- A side burner (optional—useful for frying the biscuits)
- A spider guard for keeping insects from clogging burners and fittings
- Weather-proof cover
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.
Yield: Serves 4
Advance Preparation: 2 to 4 hours for marinating the chicken
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.