What kind of grill is best for you? With so many options, choosing your grill can seem like quite the daunting task. First and foremost, the grill should fit your lifestyle, fall within your budget range, and satisfy your grilling needs. What are those needs? We can help you figure that out with the basic information about grilling and comparison points between gas, briquette charcoal, and ceramic lump charcoal grills provided below. Additional factors to consider are: prep, cooking, and cleaning time, temperature and moisture control, flavor, size, safety, durability, and multiple cooking functions.
At the most basic level, a grill is an apparatus that cooks food by heating it from directly below or with radiant heat. The roasted aroma of grilled food is caused by the Maillard reaction, a chemical process that only occurs when foods reach 310˚F and above. There are several types of grills, but most use either gas or charcoal, resulting in the great debate over which is best to cook with. Gas grills use propane or natural gas and either cook the food directly or heat certain elements that radiate enough heat to cook the food. Charcoal grills use briquettes (compressed, flammable blocks) or naturally lumped charcoal to cook food.
Gas Grills- Propane & Natural Gas
PRO: Gas grills are extremely convenient, easy to light up, and quick to shut down. There is no lighter fluid and no ash to clean up. Because gas grills are the most common, they tend to offer more frills, such as multiple burners, warmers, shelves, and accessories. Temperatures are simple to control and gas burns clean, which doesn’t affect the flavor of the food as much as charcoal does. Gas grills may also be configured for either indirect or multi-zone cooking, and some use infrared technology, which increases cooking speed due to the intense heat without contact from the flame. A decent quality gas grill for your family should cost you between $500-$1500.
CON: Because cooking with gas doesn’t infuse with the food the way charcoal does, some would say the food lacks flavor. The “grilled” taste we search for happens only when food drippings vaporize in high heat. If the grill is equipped with infrared it will be even more powerful than you might think. Dense meats can take the infrared heat, but fish and vegetables might be harder to cook. While temperatures are easy to control, heat measurements may be misleading because the air temperature above the piece of meat (where the thermometers are usually located) will be lower than the temperature hitting the meat from below, especially if the meat is right on top of the flames. Metal grills become very hot during use (be careful not to burn yourself) and radiate so much heat that they pull moisture from the food, resulting in a very dry final product. Finally, make sure you check your fuel tank to avoid running out in the middle of your grilling activities.
Briquette Charcoal Grills
PRO: Briquette charcoal grills are loved by grill enthusiasts due to their burn rate, their ability to create heat, the uniformity in size (of the charcoal), and the overall quality of the finished product. It is easier to get the crisp outside and the pink inside of meat when cooking with charcoal, and, of course, it emits the strong smoke flavor sought after in grilled or barbecued foods. These grills are generally inexpensive – you can get one for as low as $20, with an average price of $75-$150. Briquette charcoal is readily available through multiple brands and offers features such a mesquite flavors and ready-to-light versions. The large grilling area provides space for both direct and indirect grilling and, if you know how to control the air vents, you could even use it as a smoker. Briquette charcoal grills take up less space than most gas grills, so they are a smart choice if you have limited space.
CON: Briquette charcoal has the longest start time, taking typically between 20-30 minutes to start. Charcoal is also dirty to handle and can be hard to light. Briquette charcoal produces quite a bit of ash, so if you grill a lot, get a model with an ash catcher. It is best for basic foods because temperatures are hard to gauge and, like all metal grills, it radiates heat and pulls moisture from the food. There may be flare ups, which can light food on fire, and coals and sparks might escape the grill, posing quite a fire hazard if left unattended. Sometimes, you have to add more charcoal in the middle of grilling and, worse, if you don’t allow enough oxygen in the grill, it can deposit soot all over your food.
Ceramic Charcoal Grills
PRO: If you are an avid griller and your first priority is taste, then you might want to consider a ceramic grill. Using a combination of a ceramic shell, natural lump charcoal, and facilitated air flow, ceramic grills are able to offer superior taste while retaining the moisture of the food at high temperatures. Enthusiasts love natural lump charcoal because of its smoky aroma, its high production of heat, and its lack of the binders/fillers used to make briquettes. It is made of natural hardwood and burns cleaner, hotter, and longer while still providing the wood-fired flavor. No lighter fluid is needed and the all-natural charcoal produces less carcinogens and less ash than a briquette. Ceramic grills are ready to use in 15 minutes and you can cook at temperatures as low as 225°F or well over 750°F, meaning you can use this grill as an oven, a grill, or a smoker. Accessories are available, but the grill will cost you between $850-$1000.
CON: Ceramic grills have a learning curve, but practice makes perfect when it comes to adjusting the airflow and achieving the right temperature. These grills are a bit heavy, weighing around 150 pounds, and while the ceramic is not fragile, it can chip or break if dropped with significant force.
Grills – Quick and Easy Facts
- Taste: possible “grilled” taste, but not likely
- Moisture: uninsulated, tends to dry out foods
- Ease: quick start-up and shutdown
- Start-up: lights immediately, ready in minutes
- Temp: low to 500˚F
- Heat Source: LP gas or natural gas
- Cleaning: must clean burners, ignitor box, drip trays, grates, ash
- Space: needs the most space
- Fuel Cost: about $1/hour
- Price: $100 – $1500
- Features: side burners might be needed to keep food warm
- Other: could add a smoke box for flavor
Briquette Charcoal Grill
- Taste: modest smoke flavor, slight after-taste from briquette additives
- Moisture: uninsulated, can dry out food if temperature isn’t checked
- Ease: significant temperature guesswork
- Start-up: longest start-up, 20-30 minutes
- Temp: low to near 700˚F
- Heat Source: Briquette charcoal
- Cleaning: produces lots of ash, must scrape grates
- Space: smaller, limited area
- Fuel Cost: $3-4 per cooking, depending on brand
- Price: $20 – $150, $500 deluxe
- Features: ash can catcher can be added, adjustable grates
- Other: best for basic foods
Ceramic Kamado Style Grill
- Taste: true wood fire flavor
- Moisture: insulated, and circulation retains moisture
- Ease: quick-lighting lump charcoal, temperature control
- Start-up: ready to cook in 15 minutes
- Temp: 225˚F – 750˚F
- Heat Source: natural lump charcoal
- Cleaning: 1/3 the ash of briquettes, scrape grates
- Space: smaller, limited area
- Fuel Cost: $1.50-1.75, depending on brand
- Price: $850-$1000
- Features: heat deflectors available, can add grill table
- Other: can be used as a smoker
Making Your Decision about Gas Grills
After deciding what kind of griller you’d like to be and what your priorities are, all you have to do is pick your grill and light it up! Don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t be afraid to try new things – there is no way to practice grilling fake food, so just go for it! You never know what amazing recipe you will create. One grilling website suggested putting birds, fish, veggies, pizzas, and breads on the gas grill and saving the red meats for the charcoal grill. If you’re a beginner and are looking for the cheapest and easiest way, try a gas grill. If your first priority is flavor but you aren’t sure how much you will grill or can’t spend too much money, try the briquette. If this is your next hobby and you want to wow every mouth that tastes your food, go with the ceramic grill.
Grilling Tips to Get You Started
- If the food takes less than 20 minutes to cook, use direct heat (boneless chicken, steaks, fish fillets, hamburgers, and hot dogs).
- If it takes longer than 20 minutes to cook, use indirect heat (whole turkeys, bone-in chicken, ribs, and briskets).
- If you allow the fat to drip out of the meat, grilled foods have the potential to be lower in saturated fat than non-grilled foods.
Marinating meat helps reduce the amount of carcinogens produced while cooking at such high temperatures. These carcinogens are usually caused by fats and juices dripping onto the fire, the filler products used to create the briquettes, and/or the lighter fluid that is doused on the charcoal. We recommend additive-free lump charcoal, which is just charred wood, and avoiding lighter fluid altogether. However, you can mitigate the amount of carcinogens created by what you choose to marinate with. Olive oil, vitamin E, oregano, rosemary, garlic, mint, basil, marjoram, sage, cherries, and savory have successfully reduced the formation of carcinogens.
To marinate, use a 1:3 ratio of acidity to oil. The acidity (lemon juice, vinegar, mango chutney) tenderizes the meat and provides a certain tanginess while the oil provides moisture and richness. But don’t overdo it! The size and delicacy of the food should match the time of the soak, but stay between 30 minutes to 2 hours no matter what.
For ribs, think slow and low! A low temperature and slow cooking time is magic, but don’t sauce the ribs (if using a sweet rub) until the final 30 minutes of cooking because sugar burns at 265˚F. Keep the temp low or add the sweet stuff at the end. Have you tried melting jam for a glaze? Brush it on at the end of cooking time.
- Be delicate with your meat! Rubbing in seasoning too hard can damage the meat fibers and texture before you even get started. After you marinate steaks, pat them dry on both sides so they sear instead of steam.
- Lightly coat veggies in olive oil to avoid sticking and drying out.
- Kabob ingredients stay juicier if they are touching one another, so get those chicken pieces cozy without cramming them on the stick.
- Like to flip your meat? Resist! The richest steaks are turned only once or twice. For steaks, turn them when the juices start to bubble up on the uncooked side.
- Have a flare up? Don’t use water! Simply put the lid back on the grill and snuff it out by removing the oxygen.
- Starved? Start with an appetizer and let your meat rest to allow the juices to redistribute.
- No grill brush? Crumple some heavy-duty aluminum foil until it’s the size of an orange. Use locking tongs or your hand for a handle and brush away.
Finally, don’t make my father’s most famous mistake by putting cooked food back on the plate that held raw meat. You will contaminate your masterpiece and run the risk of making people sick instead of flooring them with your grill skills.
Chad’s Grill Recommendations
Saber Stainless Steel 300
If you are looking for a GAS grill, Chad suggests the Saber Stainless Steel 300 grill for a smaller space. Great for small patios, this grill offers independent zonal control, 30% less propane consumption, and an easy-access grease tray for cleaning.
Saber Cast 500 Infrared Grill
If you have a family of 4, or just want something a bit bigger than the Saber 300, Chad suggests the Saber Cast 500 Infrared Grill. Stainless steel burners, front access grease tray, and a 675 square inches of cooking space.
TEC Sterling G4000 Infrared Built-In Grill
If you’re looking for grilling gold, check out the TEC Sterling G4000 Infrared Built-In Grill. TEC has been researching and innovating the best infrared technology for the past 50 years, all to offer you flare-proof, 100% infrared grilling that is ready in just 7 minutes. The Built-In TEC also boasts stainless steel cooking grates, uniform distribution of heat, an enhanced charbroiled flavor, and a large grilling area.
Dancock 1900 and Bull Bison 30-inch.
Looking for CHARCOAL grill instead? Chad can’t decide between the Dancock 1900 and the Bull Bison 30-inch. The Dancook features a patented liner design that helps the charcoal burn more efficiently, easy ash collection, and an aluminum side workspace. The Bull Bison offers stainless steel, manual charcoal elevation adjustment, and multiple air flow controls.
Kamado BigJoe Ceramic Grill on Cart
Want a CERAMIC CHARCOAL grill instead? Chad loves the Kamado BigJoe Ceramic Grill on Cart and uses it to cook his amazing concoctions for the Garden Gates team every afternoon. You can sear, roast, or smoke with the Kamado BigJoe’s wide temperature range.
Kamado Infinity Series Large Grill Dome
If tailgating is your passion, check out the Kamado Infinity Series Large Grill Dome. You can smoke, BBQ, bake, grill, and sear because the thick ceramic insulates the heat, allowing for reliable temperature control and less fuel consumption.
Chad Everett Harris is a outdoor enthusiast that became passionate about grilling when his online retail business sold outdoor grills year ago. Today, Chad love to create unusual meal using the grill. His favorite, blueberry pie.