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Different Types of Outdoor Grills

Updated on November 26, 2017

Outdoor cooking has been around since prehistoric man discovered fire. Luckily for us, grilling food has evolved far beyond crouching over an open fire. In fact, there are so many styles of outdoor grills available, you might have trouble choosing the right one. Breaking them down into the four main types will make the selection process a much easier.

1. Charcoal Grill

Purists will tell you charcoal grilling is the only way to go. This type of grill depends on chunks of lightweight black carbon to create heat. If you choose the charcoal version, be patient--you have to wait for the coals to glow. But for honest-to-goodness outdoor cooked flavor, nothing beats the low-tech simplicity of a charcoal grill.

When shopping for a charcoal grill look for hinged, plated steel or ceramic grates for easy charcoal access and quick clean up. You can choose from popular kettles, ceramic eggs, barrels and a variety of designs in between. Kettle grills are great for short grilling times. Egg-shape and barrel grills are designed to use offset heat for low and slow cooking.

Popular kettle style charcoal grill.
Popular kettle style charcoal grill. | Source

Pros: For those who love the ritual of cooking over briquettes, nothing beats a charcoal grill. Charcoal heats to a higher temperature than gas. If you are skilled at the art of grilling, you know searing meat quickly over hot coals allows for a perfectly caramelized crust, resulting in flavorful, tender meat.

Cons: Using a charcoal grill requires some advance planning. First, you need to make sure you have plenty of charcoal and some sort of starter. Set aside 30 minutes to get the coals glowing red. When you're done cooking, you’ll have to wait until the grill cools down before you can properly dispose of the ashes.

Price: Quality charcoal grills can be had for as little as $100. However, most are priced in the $150 to $300 range. If you are so inclined, you can also find top-of-the-line models from $1,000 to $2,500.

2. Gas Grill

Of the 25 million grills/smokers purchased within North America, 57% were of the gas variety. Gas grills are either fueled by bottled propane or natural gas. If your home has an exterior natural gas spigot, most propane models can easily connect to your gas line. This will eliminate the need to refill your propane tank at the last minute.

Less expensive gas grills typically feature black aluminum cases and have single or dual burners. For most weekend chefs, these models are more than sufficient. If maintained properly, basic gas grills will easily serve you for five to seven years.

A gas grill will save you grilling time.
A gas grill will save you grilling time. | Source

Most high end models feature stainless steel cases with three to five burners, multiple side burners and a rotisserie attachment. The grates are made from stainless steel or porcelain for easy cleanup. You can also find models with warming shelves, digital thermometers, heat zone separators and wood chip smoker drawers.

Pros: Gas models are ready for cooking in a matter of minutes and are a great option for a quick meal. There's no messy cleanup. Just scrub down of the cooking grates and empty the grease trap at the end or beginning of each meal.

Cons: Smoke flavor is less intense when compared to charcoal grills. The price of propane and natural gas make gas grilling more expensive than charcoal. Gas is not the most cost-effective method for slow cooking.

Price: Gas grills start at around $150 and can easily cost upwards of several thousand dollars.

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Pellet Grill

Pellet grills create heat by burning composite hardwood pellets. The pellets come in a variety of flavors like oak, hickory, apple, alder, maple and cherry. The grills feature a hopper to hold the pellets and an electric auger feeds them into the firebox.

Pellet grills impart wood flavor to everything from steaks to slow smoked ribs.
Pellet grills impart wood flavor to everything from steaks to slow smoked ribs. | Source

Most pellet grills are equipped with an electronic ignition element to instantly ignite the pellets. For ease of grilling, invest in a grill with a digital thermostat and computer system that automatically adds the perfect amount of pellets to maintain a constant grilling temperature. Other features include an easily accessible grease and ash trap for quick cleanup and a viewing window to monitor the hopper's pellet level.

Pros: Pellet grills perform well whether you are slow smoking at a low temperature or searing steaks on high heat. They are as quick and convenient as gas grills. Wood pellets impart a deep smoke flavor to grilled foods that other grill types can't match.

Cons: A 20-pound bag of pellets starts at about $15. A bag will last 6-8 hours for slow smoking, but will burn quickly during several regular grilling sessions. Unlike charcoal or propane, pellet grills require electricity to operate.

Price: Depending on quality and features, pellet grills range in price from the low hundreds to several thousand dollars. If price is a factor in your decision, you can find decent pellet grills for under $500 and better models for less than $1,000.

Electric Grill

While electric grills may not be huge sellers, they do provide a grilling alternative for apartment and city dwellers who live in areas where gas and charcoal grills are prohibited.

Electric grills are compact and extremely easy to use. They have a main heating element that works more like an electric oven rather than cooking over coals or an open flame. Food rests on a flat griddle-like surface or grates. Infared grills are gaining in popularity. The technology is used to heat up quickly, uses less energy, creates an even heat source, prevents flare-ups and locks in juices by transferring heat directly to the food.

Electric grills are great for apartment dwellers.
Electric grills are great for apartment dwellers. | Source

Pros: Electric grills don't take up as much room as conventional grills. They can be a space saver for apartment and condo dwellers. These grills are safer than cooking over open flames.

Cons: They do not impart a charred or smoky flavor to foods. May be costly to operate depending on your local electricity rates.

Price: Electric grills range in price from $90 to $600.

How to Clean Your Outdoor Grill

4. Portable Grills

Portable grills can create heat via propane, charcoal or electricity. The common factor is their small size, making them easily transportable. Look for grills that are sturdy and made from durable weather and heat resistant materials.

A portable grill is perfect for weekend tailgating or a dinner party on the patio.
A portable grill is perfect for weekend tailgating or a dinner party on the patio. | Source

Pros: Great for camping, picnics and tailgating. Portable grills are reasonably priced. Better models are miniature versions of the big guys and do a respectable job.

Cons: The obvious negative is the size. You are limited to cooking a small amount of food at one time.

Price: These little grills will set you back anywhere between $50 and $300.

© 2013 lindacee

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    • lindacee profile image
      Author

      lindacee 5 years ago from Arizona

      WillStarr, my grandmother's house had a built-in brick barbeque grill. It was the reason for many family backyard get togethers. Ah, memories! :)

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Before portable steel charcoal grills became popular, many homes had a permanent backyard stone and firebrick grill that used woods like oak and hickory. We cooked a lot of hamburgers, corn, and hot dogs on just such a grill, and in Iowa, we called that a picnic.

    • lindacee profile image
      Author

      lindacee 5 years ago from Arizona

      Bedbugabscond, had friends that did the same thing and it worked just fine! Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

    • Bedbugabscond profile image

      Melody Trent 5 years ago from United States

      A friend of mine had an old propane grill that was broken. He knew I had wanted a grill for a long time. He modified the grill in a number of ways and was able to convert it to charcoal. Then he gave it to me!

    • lindacee profile image
      Author

      lindacee 5 years ago from Arizona

      I love grilling too, Vespawoolf. We had gas grills before moving to Uruguay, but I became hooked on wood fire cooking while down there. Nothing beats Sunday asado on the parrilla! Thanks for reading and comenting. :)

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 5 years ago from Peru, South America

      Growing up in the Midwest means we are really into outdoor grilling. We have used all of these types of grills and I have to admit that I prefer the smoky flavor imparted by all but the electric grill, although it is great to have in a pinch. Thank you--very useful information!

    • lindacee profile image
      Author

      lindacee 5 years ago from Arizona

      Hi Jackie! In doing my research, I saw electric grills that look like larger versions of the George Foreman type, but they also have some with grates just like gas or charcoal grills. I am a big fan of grilled vegetables--I like them almost as much as grilled meat! :)

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I haven't tried the electric, I think I could go for that. Summers are so hot grilling is usually a misery for me but electric is how I know how to cook, lol, and it is better outside than in some days. Think I will try it. Thanks for the idea! Just adore that grilled corn.

    • lindacee profile image
      Author

      lindacee 5 years ago from Arizona

      WillStarr, that sounds like an incredible grilling device! I should have included the category "homemade grills". Those are the best ones! Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I built my own ranch type grill. It's 5 feet long and 30 inches wide. I use a wagon wheel as a crank to lift and lower the grate, and it uses lump mesquite charcoal and mesquite wood. I can cook a whole hog on it, and it's quite a conversation piece.

      Great Hub! I love to barbecue!

    • lindacee profile image
      Author

      lindacee 5 years ago from Arizona

      Thank you Carol! There are too many choices out there today. I also prefer grilling over a gas flame for the convenience and health reasons. Looking forward to getting back into a house so we can have an outdoor grill again. Apartment living is not conducive to grilling! :)

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      Like everything else in life we have so many choices. I like the gas bbq --even though real charcoal adds flavor it does not add health benefits...And it is convenient and easy. However, you certainly did a great job in explaining the different types. Voting up and sharing.

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