Buyer’s Guide: Grills

The industry has introduced new technologies that make grilling your favorite meals even easier and more fun.


Photo: Char-Broil

Nearly 8 out of 10 (or 77 percent) households own an outdoor barbecue grill or smoker, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association  in Arlington, VA. Consumers are becoming more particular about what their grills should do. “They’re demanding the same kind of performance outside that they get inside, with the same kind of control,” says Rob Schwing, VP of marketing and product development at Char-Broil , in Columbus, GA. The industry has responded by developing more state-of-the-art technologies.

Infrared is Hot
Consumers want grills to replicate that great steakhouse taste that they love so much but can’t seem to duplicate on their home grill. Now they can come closer, thanks to an infrared grill technology that replicates the high temperatures and flavors that restaurants use. Although infrared is reserved for the higher-end grills, more manufacturers are incorporating it into their designs this year. “The biggest different between infrared and other grills is the heat,” says grilling expert Alicia Kaper of CSN Stores . “It’s a higher temperature than gas, electric, and charcoal and provides the best searing ability. You don’t use hot air, so your food won’t dry out, and it’s so hot that it cuts down on half the time and energy you would usually use to cook.”

Surface Trends
Say good-bye to food with black grill lines. New flattop grills cook on an even surface and trap the flames away from the food. And with the increase in steel costs, porcelain is now the new stainless steel. Many grill makers are now offering more affordable porcelain grills that come in a variety of colors to match your outdoor kitchen or patio set.

Size Matters
Bruce Frankel, the founder of SpitJack, a website that sells grills, fire pits, and whole hog cookers, says that when buying grills, his customers think about BTUs (unit of energy). “The more BTUs, the better,” he says. “Men want firepower, and I don’t see grilling any other way.”

On the other hand, Deidra Darsa, media relations manager of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), says portable grills are a big hit. “People want grills they can use at home and take to tailgating parties and on picnics,” she says. 

Grills Go Green
Many consumers are interested in energy-efficient grills that don’t harm the environment. Although the most popular style of grilling uses propane gas, which emits harmful greenhouse gases, manufacturers are now working on grills that run on less gas.

Consumers are also looking into grilling alternatives, including pellet grills. Similar to pellet stoves, which use small wood pellets, pellet grills are becoming increasingly more popular. The pellets—the energy source that cooks the food—come in a variety of flavors, such as hickory, oak, and mesquite. A pellet grill requires electricity, but the wood pellets are made from recycled sawdust, making it a renewable fuel.

How to Choose a Grill
There are charcoal, gas, electric, and wood pellet grills. Grilling with charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal is less expensive than a natural-gas grill and adds great flavor. Gas grills can be heated with natural or propane gas. Natural-gas grills are probably the cheapest and most energy-efficient way to barbeque, and unlike with propane, there’s no need to refill the tank. Electric grills are safe—no open flames—and don’t require the purchase of charcoal or starter fluids. Pellet grills, which use small wood pellets in a variety of flavors, are becoming increasingly more popular and require electricity; the fuel (wood pellets) is made from recycled sawdust. Water or charcoal smokers are also gaining in popularity.

There are many grills to choose from, but Darsa recommends examining your lifestyle to narrow your options. “What kinds of food do you like to cook?” she suggests asking yourself. “If you don’t like the taste of charcoaled foods, you won’t want that type of grill. For more extravagant culinary tastes, you may want a more elaborate grill that has more burners and does more things.”

The HPBA website lists questions you should ask yourself before purchasing a grill and recommends looking at fuel type, size, features, style, budget, and grill use to determine the right grill for you.