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Here’s everything you need to know about buying a quality barbecue

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This article was originally published in the May 2016 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

BBQ expert David Zimmer answers all your pressing questions about finding the perfect grill for your lifestyle.

How much should I spend on a barbecue?

It really depends on your level of passion for outdoor cooking and the number of hungry mouths you regularly have around the cottage table. Expect to pay $400 to $500 for a well-built, smaller-sized gas grill or $800 to $1,000 for a high-quality, full-sized model. For a charcoal burner, $50 to $100 will get you going with a table-top model, and $400 to $500 will get you a top of the line, do-anything cooker. Obviously, you can pay more: outdoor kitchens, ceramic kamado cookers, and professional-grade smokers are in a different price echelon.

A warning: there are a lot of crappy grills out there, often at amazingly low prices. These poor performers, with no source for replacement parts, often fail within a year or two. (Just visit the scrap-metal pile at your cottage landfill, and you will see a few shiny examples.) Instead, look for brands by well-known manufacturers of grills and smokers. The good ones have been around for a while.

Should my first barbecue be gas or charcoal?

If you’re intimidated by the idea of lighting and managing a cooking fire, or if you just need to get food on the table pronto, then go with gas. But if you don’t mind a learning curve because you prize flavour over all else, charcoal is for you. Mastering a charcoal grill does take time; but, like learning to drive a stick shift, it is a skill that is never lost and will make using other types of cookers a snap.

What extras are worth getting on a barbecue?

Many grills offer built-in accessories such as side burners, warming drawers, and infrared searing stations. I would happily give up all of them, as long as I can have a dedicated rear rotisserie burner, a built-in box for smoking chips, and a replaceable, probe-style thermometer in the lid.

What maintenance will my new grill need?

Blessedly, modern grills don’t require much maintenance at all, aside from cleaning the cooking grates. If you really like to slop the sauce around or roast big cuts without a drip pan, it’s a good idea to make sure that the grease and glop is flowing into the “trap,” usually a foil pan. A grease-filled grill is a prime candidate for a runaway barbecue fire. (Been there, done that.) What’s worse is that those greasy drippings are acidic and will corrode the body and burners of your grill.

What parts of a barbecue wear out and how do I replace them?

Cooking grates, heat-deflecting drip bars or shields, and burners are the most common grill casualties because they live in the belly of the beast, where it’s hot and greasy. All are easy to replace and can usually just be lifted out, although some burners are fixed in place with a screw or two. This is where it pays to own a grill made by a well-established company: you can get high-quality replacement parts from the manufacturer. Third-party grill parts, sometimes called “universal fit,” are notoriously bad. Even if they do fit, they often fail prematurely.

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