What type of grill is best for you?

Close-up of a man's hand as he seasons meat on a grill. Photo by Bondar Illia/Shutterstock

If you’re planning on throwing some steaks on the barbie this summer and need to pick up a new grill, you may have more options than you think! Not all grills are created equal and there are many things to consider before choosing one.

Charcoal grills are praised for producing superior flavour, especially in red meats. The dry searing heat caramelizes meat, seals in precious juices, and creates a desirable smoky flavour, but they’re also time consuming and temperamental. They take at least 30 minutes to heat up, need constant attention, and require a large supply of expensive charcoal briquettes. They will definitely impress your party guests, but they’re a bit of a pain when you want to prepare a quick meal.

Gas grills, which run on propane or natural gas, are the most commonly used, and have the most versatility. They produce an “authentic” grilled flavour like charcoal, but they’re convenient and consistent with easy to control heat settings that even the novice griller can master. With multiple burners, you can cook different types of food at various heats, all at the same time. Some models even come with side burners so you’re able to cook sauces and side dishes without running inside to the stove.

Electric grills are a great option if you need something more portable or plan to do some indoor barbecuing, but be sure you get a quality model, capable of reaching high cooking temperatures. Low-grade electric grills aren’t hot enough to cook tender cuts of meat and can produce dry, rubbery food.

What makes a quality grill?
Pay close attention to the material of all the components. A good quality grill will have thick, high-grade stainless steel on the interior and exterior. Flimsier steels are mixed with other metals, such as lead, that will break down over time. You want high quality burners that won’t rust and a sturdy exterior that can stand up to the elements. Don’t be dazzled by a barbecue that shines on the showroom floor—if it’s not stainless steel, it is vulnerable to corrosion the second you wheel it out the door.

When it comes to the all-important grilling surface, it’s a battle between cast iron and stainless steel. Cast iron is popular among grill enthusiasts because it gives you a better sear and produces picture perfect grill marks on your food. It’s a safe bet that the chef at your favourite restaurant is flipping your gourmet burger on a cast iron grill. The downside is that cast iron is difficult to clean and harder to maintain. Stainless steel grills will stand up to any amount of scraping and scrubbing and still come out swinging!

Don’t Forget…
The small details make a difference. The heat shield (also referred to as the heat plate or flavour bar) is a set of wavy metal bars that are arranged over the burners. They protect against flare-ups and prevent food and grease from falling inside the burners. Watch out for barbecues with heat shields that don’t cover the entire cooking surface. If there are big gaps in between the burners, it can create a huge mess.

Don’t worry about big numbers that don’t mean anything
BTU (British Thermal Unit) is a fancy measurement that determines the amount of heat output by the burners per hour. Stats like “50,000 BTU” may sound impressive, but they don’t have much practical application. Nearly all grills produce adequate heat and plenty of cheap models boast high BTUs. Don’t be swayed by the numbers when looking for value for your money.

Bells and whistles
There are tons of accessories and add-ons available for grills, but most experts recommend keeping it simple. Buy a good set of tools for basting, flipping and scraping and choose one or two extras you’ll get repeated use from. Esayas Berhe, grilling expert at barbecue specialty store Sobies, always recommends his two favourite accessories to customers: a griddle, so you can cook and flip fish and thin vegetables without pieces falling through the bars, and a grill basket, so you can cook small pieces of meat, like chicken wings, and flip them all at once instead of one at a time.

The Price
So what can you get for your money?

Under $300
If you don’t have a lot of money to spend, you can opt for a good a quality charcoal grill. They’re typically lower-priced because they have fewer components, but frequent charcoal purchases are more expensive than the occasional propane refill and it may end up costing you more in the long run, depending on how often you grill.

$300 – $800
You can find an entry-level gas grill that may last you eight to ten years; perfect for the novice griller.

$800 – $1500
You’ll get a top-of-the-line grill made from the highest quality materials that could be with you for 15-20 years.

Over $1500
At this point, you’re just showing off for your neighbours, but you’ll look really hot standing over this baby!