How to buy a gas bbq grill

kamado ceramic smoker/grill/bbq

ceramic kamado cookers can be used as a smoker or a grill or a barbeque.
ceramic kamado cookers can be used as a smoker or a grill or a barbeque.

This article is about how to buy a barbeque grill based on how you will use the appliance. Of course, I cannot know who is reading the article so I will not tell you what to buy but I can answer a lot of the questions I answer every day. I sell BBQ grills. I also provide BBQ grill maintenance service, grill parts, repairs and custom built outdoor kitchens. When a prospective client tells me s/he wants to buy a grill, it is my job to determine what barbeque grill will best suit the demands they will make of it.

Hard-core barbecue cooks will point out the phrase BBQ grill is a misnomer, or “wrongly named”. This is because a barbeque and a grill will cook food completely different. My job is to sort through the misconceptions of my clientele and determine what outdoor appliance will suit them best. Most of us do not need to understand the intricacies that make barbeque grills different from one another – we just need them to cook great food while we’re playing in the pool. But when deciding to buy something that will be a part of the home for the next ten to twenty years, it is a good idea to get the one that matches your needs.

Barbeque conducts heat and flavor with air inside a closed hood

Barbeque conducts heat and flavor with air inside a closed hood
Barbeque conducts heat and flavor with air inside a closed hood

Generally a barbeque is a process that takes some time – sometimes several days – and uses charcoal or wood as fuel.  When meats cook too slowly to sweat, a lot of moisture is retained and flavor preserved.  Wood and charcoal provide the fuel for heat but also fill the barbeque with flavor of their own as they burn.  The combination that keeps food moist and allows smoke to permeate the meat creates that tender smoky flavor that is the result of barbecue.

The best barbeques are ceramic Kamado cookers.  Ceramic holds the heat and smoke inside and venting allows enormous control over the amount of heat and cooking times.  Water smokers and smokers with an off-set box are also very useful in this category because they force an indirect convection – heat conducted through air as opposed to direct heat.  Indirect heat surrounds the food so everything cooks evenly together.

infrared gas grill

Infrared gas grills will create over a thousand degrees at the cooking surface within a minute of lighting the grill.
Infrared gas grills will create over a thousand degrees at the cooking surface within a minute of lighting the grill.

A grill is hot enough to cook at the grilling surface.  Grilling can be accomplished with wood and charcoal by cooking while the flames are still burning high.  A gas grill may often use some form of conduction like lava rocks, briquettes, or rods.  These conductors radiate heat to create a hotter environment at the surface of the grill grates with the goal of “searing” the meat.  When meat is seared, the outer layer is cooked to a finish so fast and thorough that moisture is stuck in the food.  Once seared, meat cannot drip and so there is less mess, no more flare-ups, uneven heating or flavor loss. 

infravection gas grill

infravection grills are infrared grills that give the owner the option to install a "blue flame" convection burner on one side of the cooking surface.
infravection grills are infrared grills that give the owner the option to install a "blue flame" convection burner on one side of the cooking surface.

The best grills use infrared technology.  Invented twenty years ago infrared burners pressurize gas to create an amazing amount of immediate heat.  A well-built infrared grill will provide over 1400 degrees at the cooking surface within three minutes of igniting the infrared burner.  Less effective grills that use conduction will heat up to over 800 degrees, usually within ten minutes.  Infrared grills were available exclusively to commercial clients for many years (the most expensive steak house in town probably has one) but are now available at the retail level.  An infrared grill will be the most expensive grill you have ever purchased -- and it is worth it.  I own a very small one and I prefer it to a gigantic convection style grill because the food is fast and flavorful.  Recently, a few grill companies have been putting infrared burners into low-cost grills made overseas.  There have been a lot of recalls on these products so be careful.

Most of the barbeque products we see on the market are neither barbeques nor grills.  They operate in between these extremes because it takes a great amount of skill and quality to create a grill or a barbeque.   A common gas barbeque is not meant to be a grill, is not designed to provide an even heat across the cooking surface. The heat can only get hot enough to cook food with the hood closed.  The hood traps air inside the BBQ and heat gets conducted through the air.  A typical gas barbeque will not get hotter than 475 degrees.  Homeowners sometimes attempt to cook on them as though they were a grill or complain that the heat is uneven across the surface of the barbeque cooking grates.  These are better referred to as broilers and are ubiquitous.  We have all had one, or many of these types of barbeques.  Well made gas barbeques will allow an even distribution of heat to mimic a grill and will use high quality manufacturing materials.  Material is important because at 450 degrees, your food is dripping.  Dripping grease is flammable and makes a mess, causes flare-ups and shortens the life of the grill.

dcs gas grill

304 Stainless Steel will have a lifetime warranty.
304 Stainless Steel will have a lifetime warranty.

infrared gas grill

This grill is infrared and has a blue-flame burner, steamer/fryer, smoker, wok ring, bbq tray and a griddle attachment.
This grill is infrared and has a blue-flame burner, steamer/fryer, smoker, wok ring, bbq tray and a griddle attachment.

When purchasing a grill, these are the first three categories to consider. Do I cook fast and hot, slow and smoky or somewhere in the middle? Of course we all will cook in a variety of fashions but my experience has been that most of us do one style of cooking more often than the rest. Look around your local gigantic hardware/houseware stores and you will see the answer is in the middle category. Most customers don’t know the difference between a grill, a barbeque, a broiler and a smoker. Our goal is to buy a BBQ grill that is great at what matters to us but capable of cooking in more versatile ranges.

Don’t be fooled by BTU’s.  While the textbook definition of British Thermal Units refers to the amount of heat created by a burner, barbeque manufacturers publish the volume of gas burned as indicative of heat.  This type of heat is actually caloric heat but barbecue companies will refer to the amount of gas consumed in an hour as a BTU.  If every BBQ grill used the same sized holes in the same sized burners in the same sized firebox, then fuel consumption would be a good indication of heat output.  Every grill is different so comparing BTU’s is generally useless.

Once you are able to determine if you are a barbeque, grill or broiler type of cook the next thing to look for is versatility.  We will often use high searing heat for steaks and lower heat for chicken.  Many barbeques today come with an extra burner or sear-zone allowing extra heat to be used when it’s needed.  Other options you may see are smoker trays with their own dedicated burner for slow smoking.  The more versatile the BBQ grill, the more options you have for cooking great food.                                     

Look at additional accessories.  Many barbeque grill companies have options to use a rotisserie.  Is the rotisserie an infrared burner built in to the back of the firebox with a high heat setting or is it a pipe burner with a heat shield used to direct radiant heat towards the spit?  Infrared will cook faster and provide a crisp outer texture.  A pipe burner will cook slower like a traditional rotisserie.  Is the motor and spit strong enough to hold a turkey or is it a grill part that will get damaged the first time you use it?

Beyond the technology of how a gas BBQ grill cooks, look at the manufacturer.  Take out your cell phone and call them from the number in the manual on display.  If you get a machine asking you to leave a message, walk away from that one.  If you get a real live human, tell them you have a damaged part (pick any part) and ask them for a replacement.  Is it possible to get replacement gas burners, cooking grates, ignition electrodes and caster wheels?  Make sure grill parts are available.  I have seen brand new grills crumble to pieces when replacement parts could not be found.

look at those cooking grates

cast stainless steel cooking grates will last forever.  These have a concave design to hold or channel grease as the food cooks giving you the ability to maximize the flavor.
cast stainless steel cooking grates will last forever. These have a concave design to hold or channel grease as the food cooks giving you the ability to maximize the flavor.

How well built is the cart, shelves and the structure of the grill?  Many American Made barbeque grill manufacturers will provide for a 25 years to life warranty on the entire structure because it is not holding tremendous heat nor drenched in grease or feeling an abrasive steel brush every week.  If there is not a good warranty with a human being on the other side of a telephone, chances are good you will be shopping for a barbeque grill again very soon.

The mistakes I have seen customers make are as diverse as the personalities of the backyard chefs making a buying decision.  The size of the cooking surface cannot always tell you how much food can be cooked.  A small infrared grill will cook more food than a huge broiler-style barbeque and in less time with better flavor!  Do not make a decision based solely on price.  If you buy something cheap, chances are good you will be looking for replacement BBQ grill parts before the year is over.  More money spent on a good product will save you money in the long run when you do not need to replace parts or buy another grill every eighteen months.  

porcelain coated gas barbeque

Stainless steel does not always indicate great quality.  This porcelain coating will look great many years after cheap stainless steel has been replaced.
Stainless steel does not always indicate great quality. This porcelain coating will look great many years after cheap stainless steel has been replaced.

If you are buying a barbecue grill made from stainless steel, learn about the types of stainless steel grills use.  Some types of stainless are no better than regular steel and will rust or discolor very quickly.   Grills that exceed 800 degrees should have concave grates to hold moisture and a double walled hood to stave-off discoloring from the intensity of the heat.  If your price range is lower, seriously consider a porcelain coating on a grill.  Porcelain is cooked onto the steel and can not peel or flake.  If 304 stainless steel with a lifetime warranty is not an option, do not try to hide it by buying cheap stainless steel – it gets ugly fast while porcelain will look good for ten years or more, depending on how you treat it.

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Charles_Trento 6 years ago

I would like more information on the infarared grills. I have heard amazing things. My wife keeps bugging me for one. Looks like the better way to grill.

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    I hope this helps you a little bit when it is time to purchase your next barbeque grill. Contact your local grill store – not the guys who also sell toilets, plants and candy. Contact a professional who has been trained to understand the products. A professional barbeque grill parts technician can help you find the product that will best suit your needs. Spend the extra money to get the better service. Customer service is not dead if you are willing to pay for the service – it will save you a lot of money and headaches in the long run.

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