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How to buy a barbecue grill

Updated on January 6, 2018

Do you need a new grill?

  • You may only need to fix or clean your old grill.
    • Follow the instructions in the manual to clean the burner ports and manifolds. When people say that their grill is "dead" a thorough cleaning can sometimes bring it back to life. Clean out all openings with a pipe cleaner or brush. To clean the grates, turn the grill on high for about a half-hour. This will burn off residue on the grates. Then use a wire grill brush to scrub the rest. Do not use a hose/soap to clean the inside of a grill!
    • Check for gas leaks. Just like the mechanics at the garage check your tires for leaks - wipe down the hose and all connections with sudsy water. Then turn on the valve. If bubbles appear, you have leak. Try a new hose or patch the one you have. It may also be trouble with the connection to the tank.
    • Replace old parts. Try replacing grates or burners that are rusty or have weak spots. Clean lava rocks are better distributors of heat, so try replacing those.
    • And of course, make sure there is gas in that tank!
  • If this seems like too much work, or if this won't salvage your grill, it's time for a new one.

Important features to consider when buying a grill

BTUs - In the store you will see the grill's BTU/hr rating displayed. This is a measure of heating power. The grill's inside temperature also depends on the grill's design and size. So consider the BTU/hr as well as the number of burners, side burners and size.

Number of burners -- Many grills come with two burners controlled separately or one burner with dual controls. This will help you control where the heat is. Some higher end grills have three burners for even more precise control. Consider what you will use your grill for when choosing the number of burners. Also steel burners can eventually rust, so look for stainless steel or porcelain coated.

Side burners - A side burner can be helpful for cooking a side dish while you grill. This will save you from running back and forth to the kitchen.

Propane tanks -- Most come with a tank, but beware some are at an extra cost. An old tank may not fit on a new grill, as the attachments have changed. Fortunately, this makes hook-up easier. One method of seeing how much gas is in the tank is weighing it on your household scale. Some grills have a device that weighs the tank and indicates its fullness. These inevitably get out of whack with use. A new method is a magnet back card that indicates through color change when the gas is low. This costs a few dollars extra but seems worth it.

Rotisserie - If you enjoy the old fashioned pig roast or just cooking something with a long stick through it and watching it turn, be sure to get a grill with a rotisserie.

Should I assemble my grill or have the retailer do it?

  • Most grills take at least an hour to assemble, sometimes closer to two.
    • Do you have the time to do it?
    • Are you handy? Do you spend Christmas Eve in frustration trying to put together the children's toys or is it a joy? This might be fun for you and give you a sense of ownership. It might be torture. Only you can decide.
  • Having the retailer assemble the grill usually requires a small fee of about $20.

What to look for in a grill?

  • Appearance and features
    • Burners - Many grills come with two burners controlled separately or one burner with dual controls. This will help you control where the heat is. The greater control you have over where the heat is hitting your food the greater possibility you have for success.
    • Extras - Are the "extras" such as warming racks, side burners and shelves important to you?
    • Igniter - Many grills have an igniter that creates a spark to light the gas. These can be with a push button or rotary igniter.
    • Fuel tanks - Most come with a tank, but beware some are at an extra cost. An old tank may not fit on a new grill, as the attachments have changed.
    • Thermometer - Many grills have a thermometer on the lid, which measures the air temperature inside when the lid is closed.
    • Do you want your grill to coordinate with your wood deck? You may want to purchase one with wooden slats and handles.
  • Cart - Grills are mounted on portable carts. Be sure that it is sturdy. Make sure it doesn't rock back and forth.
    • Wheels - Many carts come with 4 wheels and/or locking casters for easy movement. Some come with two wheels and need to be lifted at one end to move.
    • Extra shelves and burners
  • Size
    • When looking for a grill, size is very important. You want to purchase a grill that will fit your needs now and in the future. Don't just plan on your summer dinners for you and the family. Think of all those reunions, summer gatherings, birthday parties, and neighborhood barbecues that may come up. Will you want to be able to accommodate larger numbers?
  • Type of Gas
    • Natural - Having a gas line run outside to hook up a grill is a nice, efficient way to power that grill. It also eliminates the need for the seemingly always-empty fuel tank.
    • Propane - This requires using a fuel tank that is refillable.

Basics of grilling

  • Always open your grill first. Then light it.
  • Be sure to let your grill heat up properly. Don't stick meat on a cold grill. It will stick.
  • Keep the lid closed for cooking.
  • Read your owner's manual thoroughly before grilling.
  • When you are first using your grill, keep a stopwatch nearby. Note how long you cooked things for and how they turned out. This will help you learn how your grill works, as each performs differently.
  • When grilling, keep the grill away from overhangs and in an open area.
  • Watch your clothing. Be sure long sleeves are away from flames and heat. Watch long hair as well.
  • Store gas tank outdoors-even when empty.
  • Keep your grill clean. If it won't wipe up, burn it off. Turn the grill on high, let it heat up, and then scrub it with a wire brush.
  • If the grill won't light after a couple tries, turn off the gas. Let it sit for a few minutes and try again.
  • Be sure to close off the propane tank when finished grilling.
  • Sauces tend to burn, so apply them in the last couple minutes.
  • There are lots of grill cookbooks and special grilling accessories from tools to spices. Check them out and have fun!!


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