The Best Grills for Backyard Cookouts
The industry has introduced new technologies that make grilling your favorite meals even easier and more fun.
When you think backyard entertaining and dining al fresco, a grill is almost always in the picture, charring hot dogs to corn cobs and everything in between. Whether you’re looking to update an existing grill that’s seen better days or you’re planning to construct a full outdoor kitchen, start with this shopping guide. Ahead, we’ve outlined the features that tend to be the most desirable as well as selected the following five top-rated models that fit the bill of the best grill.
- BEST ALL-AROUND BACKYARD GRILL: Weber Spirit II 2-Burner Propane Grill
- BEST CHARCOAL GRILL: Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill
- BEST TABLE-TOP GRILL: Weber Liquid Propane Grill
- BEST BUILT-IN GAS GRILL: Bull Outdoor Built-In Natural Gas Grill
- BEST PELLET GRILL: Traeger Renegade Elite Wood Pellet Grill
Choosing the Right Grill
The Fuel Factor
- Charcoal: The original outdoor fuel for grills, charcoal (in the form of briquettes) is still a top seller because it offers the outdoor cook a high degree of temperature control—the more briquettes used, the hotter the cooking temperature. This type of grill lends foods a distinctive smoky flavor that’s reminiscent of campfire cooking. They’re also some of the most affordable grills, running $50 to $200, depending on size and quality.
- Propane: The bestsellers on the market today are powered by propane gas that comes in refillable 20-lb. tanks, readily available at supermarkets and home-improvement stores. The grills feature burners and automatic igniters that fire up at a touch and adjust the heat at a turn of a dial. Propane grills are portable, although the size varies from small table-top models to large upright versions. Expect to pay $100 to $1,100 for a propane grill, depending on size, quality, and added options.
- Natural Gas: Since natural gas does not come in handy tanks like propane, outdoor grills that run on natural gas are typically designed to be permanently installed in an outdoor kitchen and connected to the home’s natural gas line (a job for a licensed plumber). With a natural gas grill, you won’t have to worry about hauling propane tanks, but you’ll pay more, up to $4,000 for a top-of-the-line model with all the bells and whistles.
- Pellet: Like charcoal grills, pellet grills impart a light smoky flavor to foods from the choice of hardwood pellets burning—maple, cherry, oak, or mesquite, all available at DIY and farm-supply stores. A fuel box holds the pellets and automatically dispenses them into the grill’s fire chamber as needed to maintain a preset temperature for cooking or for smoking meats over a lower heat. Because an automatic dispenser on a pellet grill requires electricity to run, you’ll also need an exterior outlet or an extension cord to cook.
Sizing it Up
When sizing a grill, the most important measurement is its total cooking surface. A small grill that’s suitable for cooking 10 to 12 hamburger patties should have at least 300 square inches of cooking surface. A medium to large grill with 450 to 500 square inches of cooking surface will hold up to 24 hamburger patties. Some grills come with attached side burners that will hold a small griddle or pot, which helps extend the cooking area. When it comes to grill size, it’s usually better to go bigger than you think you’ll need in case you want to cook additional items, such as corn on the cob or shish-kabobs.
Assessing Other Options
What makes a grill stand out on the market and in the hearts of grillmasters is often the extras. You’ll find a surplus of options out there, all designed to tailor the best grill for your usual backyard cookouts. But you don’t really need to shell out for one with “the works;” use the list below to determine which matter most to you before you start shopping.
- Grates: The bars that hold the food are especially easy to clean and extra-durable when made with stainless steel and porcelain-coated iron or porcelain-coated steel grates. Uncoated cast-iron grates, however, tend to rust and corrode if they aren’t cleaned and hand-dried after use—or if the grill is located in an area with high humidity. Avoid grills with thin steel or aluminum grates (typically the cheapest brands) because they may rust, bend, or otherwise wear out in just a few months.
- Infrared technology: Prized for uniform heat distribution, infrared technology is found in some higher-end gas grills. The gas warms a radiant heating element, which then radiates heat throughout the grill’s cooking chamber. Users report radiant heat offers a consistent cooking temperature, which can be desirable if you’re cooking a large cut of meat like a roast or baking a stone-pan pizza.
- Rotisserie: If you’re planning to grill the Thanksgiving turkey or a smaller chicken on occasion, a rotisserie will come in handy. Some grills include a steel bar (or it else offer it separately) for inserting through a large cut of meat or a whole bird, which is then suspended in the center of the cooking chamber. From the outside, you can manually rotate the meat as it cooks, or—if the grill has an automatic rotisserie—it will slowly rotate the meat for you.
- Side burners: Many gas grills come with one or more side burners, which can be used to heat pots and pans of extra food, just as you would cook on a stovetop.
- Griddles: If you’re ready to make every meal outdoors, including pancakes on weekend mornings, you’ll benefit from a grill that comes with a griddle surface. Some such grills feature only a large griddle surfaces (no grates), while others break up the cooking surface with both grates and a griddle.
Our Top Picks
Your personal cooking style, your budget, and your family’s favorite foods are all important considerations when choosing the best grill for your backyard. You likely can’t go wrong with any of the following five, though, which meet our tough standards and impress barbecue lovers like yourself.
BEST ALL-AROUND BACKYARD GRILL: Weber Spirit II 2-Burner Propane Grill ($349)
Most homeowners will love the Weber Spirit II 2-Burner Propane Grill, equipped with 450 square inches of cooking surface and easy-to-clean porcelain-enameled cast-iron grates. It comes with a grease collection pan, a temperature gauge, a fuel gauge (so you’ll know when the propane tank is nearing empty), and an automatic ignition switch. Amazon buyers award the Weber grill 4.5 stars for its performance and not least of all its handy open cart design, which leaves room for the propane tank. Available from Amazon.
BEST CHARCOAL GRILL: Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill ($164)
For the best in charcoal-cooked foods, look no further than Weber’s Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill. You can prepare up to 13 burgers at one time in its 380-square-inch cooking area (using an included burger press), and each burger will have that campfire taste! That extra flavor earns the grill 4.6 stars from Amazon shoppers, as does the ease of use. The lid and the bowl of the cooker are porcelain-enameled to resist rust, and an ash catcher is located beneath the bowl to make clean up a snap. It comes with a built-in lid thermometer and a stainless steel cooking grate. Available from Amazon.
BEST TABLE-TOP GRILL: Weber Liquid Propane Grill ($209)
Don’t sweat it if you don’t have room on your deck or patio for a large grill. With the 4.7-star Weber Tabletop Propane Grill, you don’t need extra space to enjoy cooking out. This smaller grill features automatic ignition and 189 square inches of enamel-coated cast-iron grates, or enough space to grill four large burgers at once. The durable enameled body and lid make it easy to move from your patio table to a tailgating event. You may even select one of the grill’s eight colors to match your team. Available from Amazon.
BEST BUILT-IN GAS GRILL: Bull Outdoor Products Built-In Natural Gas Grill ($1,949)
Add 600 square inches of cooking area (stainless steel grates) and a rotisserie to your outdoor kitchen with this impressive stationary grill from Bull Outdoor Products. It connects directly to your home’s gas line to bring your extensive range of cooking to your backyard. Plus, the built-in grill features two handy internal lights so you can see what you’re cooking even after dark. Amazon shoppers appreciate its “indoor kitchen quality” and sleek good looks, awarding the Bull grill 4.3 stars. Available from Amazon.
BEST PELLET GRILL: Traeger Renegade Elite Wood Pellet Grill ($699)
If you want that distinctive campfire taste with the versatility to do all of your outdoor cooking, check out the Traeger Renegade Elite Wood Pellet Grill. Amazon buyers award the Traeger grill 4.3 stars for the ability to grill, barbeque, and even bake, all in the same unit. The Traeger’s temperature control dispenses hardwood pellets as needed to maintain a uniform cooking temperature, so you can roast a turkey or bake a loaf of bread in the cooking chamber. The Traeger grill offers 380 square inches of cooking surface—enough for 13 burgers at the same time—and it comes with a handy tool caddy and an automatic ignition. Available from Amazon.
Additional reporting by Lisa Iannucci.