The BBQ Buying Guide
If you want to spend more time outdoors this summer and get the most out of your patio, then you’ll definitely want to take some time to find the perfect BBQ for your home. But if you’re new to the outdoor cooking world, it may not be easy to decide what kind of grill is right for you. What kind of burner should you get? What kind of heat? Natural gas? Propane? What about BTUs? Don’t worry, I’ll go over the different kinds of BBQs out there in this guide so that you can choose the right one for you and your needs.
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Choosing your BBQ type
Some people might think “heat is heat” but in reality, the fuel type will colour your entire BBQing experience. Whether you decide to use an electric or charcoal grill, for example, will have an impact on the flavour of your food and grill maintenance, so choose carefully. Additionally, many rental or strata agreements prohibit the use of certain types of grills so make sure to check your contract if this applies to you.
Save time and money with natural gas BBQs
Natural gas grills are a popular choice among grilling enthusiasts with an outdoor natural gas line set up in their home. They offer several advantages over other fuel types. First of all, natural gas is relatively affordable. Also, since it comes from a gas line in your home, you’ll never have to worry about running out of fuel in the middle of cooking. Natural gas burns more efficiently (which is good for the environment), and is cleaner than propane or charcoal too.
However, since your grill would be tied to a natural gas line in your home, it makes it impossible to move it around to different areas of your yard. If you want the freedom to move your BBQ wherever you fancy, or keep it further from your home, a natural gas grill might not be for you. Something else to consider is that, while using natural gas will save you money in the long term, natural gas BBQs tend to cost more upfront, and if you don’t already have a gas line, it can be pretty pricey to have one set up. As with any natural gas line, you could also run the risk of a gas leak if your line becomes damaged or is improperly maintained.
With that in mind, a natural gas grill like the Napoleon R525NK BBQ is the perfect option for those with the right setup planning to do a lot of grilling throughout the year. It will save you time and money in the long run.
Taste the meat, not the heat with propane BBQs
Propane and natural gas may seem similar, but there are several key differences. The biggest one is that propane is not delivered to your grill through a gas line, but from a propane tank. Some grills might not come with a tank included, so you may have to purchase it separately.
The great thing about a propane tank is its portability. With a mobile fuel source, you can move your BBQ almost anywhere you’d like and as often as you’d like. When you run out of gas, you can easily refill or exchange your tank at most hardware stores or gas stations. A propane grill like the Napoleon Triumph 410 is easy to set up, fast to heat, and is famously known to not alter the flavour of your meat as it cooks. If tasting that pure, unadulterated meat flavour is what barbecuing is all about for you, you should strongly consider propane.
Downsides to using propane include its cost. Natural gas is a less expensive fuel than propane, so if you plan to do a lot of grilling, propane will likely cost you more in the long run. Since propane relies on tanks instead of a gas line, you could also run out of fuel in the middle of your BBQ bash so if you end up going with propane, make sure you check your fuel level prior to any cooking to stay on the safe side.
Get the classic BBQ flavour with charcoal BBQs
Now that we’ve covered your gas options, let’s take a look at charcoal. A charcoal BBQ like this Charcoal Grill from Char-Broil burns charcoal instead of gas, and the heat from the burning coals cooks your food. Unlike gas, charcoal will not instantly ignite, so you’ll need some lighter fluid, a BBQ lighter, or another kind of fire starter (like a chimney starter) to get the flames going.
Many BBQ enthusiasts absolutely swear by charcoal. Not only is charcoal a less expensive fuel than natural gas or propane, but it is widely considered to produce the best possible flavours in meat. Charcoal is known to bring the classic smoky flavour to meats, which gas grills just can’t replicate. Charcoal also burns hotter than gas, making it perfect for searing. As they aren’t tied to a gas line and don’t require a cumbersome tank, charcoal grills are easy to transport.
Charcoal may be affordable and flavourful, but there is a trade-off when it comes to convenience. First of all, charcoal is messy. It’s black, it’s dusty, and has a way of getting everywhere. If you’re working with charcoal, you’re nearly guaranteed to get your hands covered in black soot fast, which can be annoying when you’re handling food. Second, you’ll have to empty your grill of the burnt up ash after the fact, which can be a challenge itself. Charcoal and ash can also easily get blown around by the wind, so they’re not the best choice for balcony use (if you want to keep your neighbours happy, anyway). Finally, charcoal is not the most efficient fuel source, and requires more fuel per cooking session. It can be tricky to get it to start, and it takes longer to heat up than gas. If you’re environmentally conscious or just an impatient backyard chef, you might want to rethink charcoal. Nevertheless, charcoal is the way to go if you want to get that smoky, perfectly seared BBQ flavour in your meats.
Enjoy the simplicity and health benefits of electric BBQs
Finally, electric BBQs offer yet another type of heat. You may have deduced this, but an electric grill uses electricity instead of flames to heat and cook food, much like an electric oven. You can use an electric BBQ pretty much anywhere with access to an electrical outlet.
The benefits of electric grills like the Patio Bistro 240 from Char-Broil come from their simplicity and ease of use. Both the cost of the grill and fuel tend to be on the cheaper side, and since all you need is an electrical outlet, you’ll be grilling in no time. Without charcoal or gas to worry about, electric grills are super easy to set up, use, and clean. Another benefit of electric BBQs are their health and safety benefits. Since they don’t use flames, fewer carcinogens end up in your food, and you’ll have no need to worry about leaking gas fumes or the dangers of handling a pressurized propane tank. Since they’re so safe to use, electric grills are also almost universally allowed by rental and strata contracts.
The main drawback of an electric BBQ comes down to taste. Cooking without a flame may have a ton of health and safety benefits, but the flame is where that classic grill flavour comes from, making electric grills a less popular choice among dedicated BBQers. Electric grills also aren’t as powerful as other types, and take longer to heat up and cook through food. Since they can’t cook at higher heats, it makes it difficult to get that nice sear on your meat. Many people love cooking with their electric BBQ due to their simplicity, but if you’re already used to that flame-grilled taste, you might find the flavour from an electric grill underwhelming.
We’ve gone over the main types of standard BBQs, but that’s not all the grilling world has to offer. There are two more specialty BBQs we need to talk about: the smoker and portable grill.
Let your creative juices flow with a smoker
A smoker, like this Vertical Charcoal Smoker from Dyna-Glo, is a specialized grill that burns at a lower heat to cook food very slowly, usually a few hours at least. It burns either charcoal or wood pellets to fill the inside of the grill with smoke to make smoked cheeses, meats, or jerkies. This method allows the food to be fully infused with that delicious smoky flavour and creates super tender meats for that fall-off-the-bone texture.
The really cool thing about a smoker is that if you’re using wood pellets, you can try out different types of wood to produce different flavours in your meats and cheeses. You can try hickory, maple, applewood and more to infuse your cooking with unique and delicious flavours. The possibilities are endless! If you’re looking for a different kind of grilling experience and want to get a little creative, go for a smoker.
Take your BBQ on the road with a portable BBQ
A portable BBQ is exactly what it sounds like: a BBQ designed to be easily transported to campsites, picnics, or wherever your outdoor adventure takes you. Usually they are designed to either be used on a raised surface like a picnic table, or come with a collapsible stand. They can come in almost any fuel type, like the Napoleon Charcoal Portable Grill, although natural gas is rare for obvious reasons (being tied to a gas line tends to defeat the purpose of a portable BBQ).
Portable BBQs are convenient, but being so compact can limit what you’re able to cook. You’ll be fine with burgers and hot dogs, but you probably won’t be able to roast a whole chicken. If you’re interested in a portable grill, pay special attention to the size of the grilling area as well as the grill’s weight: you’ll want it to be light enough to carry easily, while being large enough to be able to cook what you need.
All about BTUs
Now that you’ve chosen what type of BBQ you need, the next thing on our list is to look at BTUs. If you’re new to the BBQ world, fear not. Figuring out how many BTUs you need isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds.
Just what are BTUs?
BTUs (stands for British Thermal Units) simply measure how hot a BBQ can get: the higher the BTUs, the hotter your grill. But hotter isn’t always better. When a grill gets super hot, that means it’s burning more fuel, possibly more than the size of your grill requires. That means it’s not using your fuel efficiently, effectively wasting it and costing you money. You need to strike a good balance between the number of BTUs and the size of your BBQ, which you can easily find with some simple math.
How many BTUs should my BBQ have?
The sweet spot is about 80 to 100 BTUs per square inch of cooking surface. So if you want a grill with 400 square inches of cooking area, you should be aiming for a minimum of 32,000 BTUs (400 x 80 = 32,000) and a maximum of 40,000 BTUs (400 x 100 = 40,000). Don’t forget: higher heats mean better searing, so if you’re looking to do a lot of searing, aim for the higher end of the range.
Choosing a BBQ with the right burners
Some gas and electric grills not only have multiple burners, but multiple kinds of burners. Having more than one burner allows you to cook different things at the same time, and at different temperatures, just like the burners on a typical stove top. For example, you could be searing a steak at a high heat on one burner, while simmering some sauces at a lower heat on a different burner at the same time. That can be pretty useful when you’re juggling a few different types of food at once.
How many burners do I need?
How many burners you need depends on what you intend to use the grill for, as well as your space restrictions. If you plan on throwing a big BBQ bash where you’re cooking different things at once, you’ll want at least a few different burners. However, while having a lot of burners may be great, it usually requires a larger grill to contain them all. If you’re going to be grilling on a balcony or with limited space, you should keep this in mind and maybe limit your number of burners.
In addition to regular burners, some BBQ models may have special types of burners. A side burner is an extra burner off to the side of your grill or on a separate side shelf, like on this Dyna-Glo Propane BBQ. These are great for heating sauces or making a side dish while your entree is on the main burner. They can also be used to brew coffee or tea to go with dessert afterwards.
Back burners (also called rear burners) are a burner towards the back of your grill, similar to the back burners on a typical stovetop. Like side burners, a back burner can be used for side dishes or sauces, but may also be equipped for a rotisserie attachment to allow for roasting. If you want to try new cooking techniques and get creative with your grill, having at least one side or back burner is a must.
Don’t overlook your BBQ’s materials
A commonly overlooked factor when purchasing a BBQ are the materials it’s made of. The materials of different parts of your BBQ can make a huge difference in its longevity, and even how it performs in cooking.
You should pay special attention to the materials of your BBQ’s grates before making your purchase, as this material will likely have the most impact in your grilling experience. The most common grate materials are stainless steel and cast iron, and each have their own benefits. Stainless steel is the more affordable of the two, but it’s not as durable and can lose its non-stick qualities over time.
On the other hand, cast iron is an incredibly durable material that can last virtually forever if well-maintained. Cast iron gets super hot and can hold heat for a long time, making it great for roasting and searing. Of course, that also means it takes much longer to heat up than stainless steel. Cast iron is also more expensive, and requires regular cleaning and oiling to avoid rusting and stay in good condition, so don’t take the responsibility too lightly.
Both stainless steel and cast iron can sometimes come with a porcelain coating. A porcelain coating is added to protect the underlying material and improve its aesthetic appearance. But be warned: porcelain can get chipped with wear and tear. To prevent this, never clean porcelain with a metal brush.
You should also pay attention to the materials used in the body of your BBQ (sometimes called the BBQ finish). They can come in a variety of materials, but bodies are most commonly made of either stainless steel or aluminum. That’s because both of these metals are resistant to corrosion and will help keep your BBQ in top shape for years to come.
Some BBQ bodies are also painted to give a pop of colour to your outdoor space and protect it from the elements. But be careful. Some paints can become chipped over time, leaving the underlying material exposed and vulnerable to rusting. Of course, protecting your BBQ with a cover can help prevent this, regardless of the materials used.
Deck out your BBQ with the hottest features
Technology advances every single day, and BBQs are no exception. If you want the absolute best BBQ season you can get, be on the lookout for some of these awesome features that can add that extra oopmh to your cooking.
A warming rack on a BBQ is an extra grate to hold food just above the heat to keep it nice and warm while you continue to cook. This is a great feature if you intend to make sides or sauces with your grill so you can keep them warm while you work on the main course. You can also use it to warm your burger buns so they’re nice and toasty once your patties are ready.
A grease tray is a removable tray below your cooking surface to collect the fat drippings and other waste from your food as it cooks. Since the tray is removable, it’s easy to just slide out and empty, which is much easier than trying to clean out grease from the grill itself. If you hate the after-BBQ cleanup, a grease tray is a must.
Did you know some BBQs use infrared technology? An infrared burner, like the ones found in this Napoleon Natural Gas BBQ, can use infrared to radiate heat directly into the food instead of just heating up the air around it. It means that not only does your food cook faster from more direct heat, but it prevents the hot air from drying it out, improving moisture retention and making for some of the juiciest meats you could hope for.
Some BBQs have side shelves available to hold utensils, plates, or whatever else you need within arm’s reach. They’re super convenient, and some can even fold down for storage or if you need a little extra space. If your grill has a side burner, it might appear on the side shelf.
Some propane BBQs can be converted to use a natural gas line with the help of a conversion kit. A convertible BBQ allows you to keep your options open, and take advantage of the cheaper fuel from your natural gas line, while still having the freedom of a propane tank to move your grill around as needed. If you want the best of both worlds in a gas grill, get a convertible BBQ.
Essential BBQ accessories
So you’ve picked out your BBQ, it has the perfect amount of BTUs and burners, it’s made of quality materials, and you have all the coolest features. Now it’s time to accessorize that BBQ!
BBQ tongs and utensils
You shouldn’t use regular cooking utensils that you would use in your kitchen with a BBQ. For BBQing, you’ll need long-handled materials that are specifically meant for BBQs. These long handles keep your arms and hands farther from the heat and out of harm’s way. As for which utensils you should have, no self-respecting BBQer should be without a BBQ fork, spatula, and tongs.
Grill mitts and aprons
Even the most experienced BBQers need to remember their safety gear. Wearing grill mitts and a grill apron protects both you and your clothing from the intense heat and possible hot splatter from grease or sauces. Always keep your safety in mind when grilling, and never cook on a grill without the proper equipment.
Grill brushes and scrapers
If you want to keep your BBQ in good condition, you’ll have to take good care of it. Unfortunately, that includes cleaning it regularly. After every BBQ session, use a brush or scraper to keep your grill’s grates clean. If you’re worried about scratching your grates with a metal brush, you can use a wooden scraper to keep them clean while still keeping them in perfect condition (especially if they have a porcelain coating).
A BBQ cover protects your grill from the rain and other elements when it’s not in use. Not only does it keep the outside of your grill dry and clean, but it prevents rust and other damage, prolonging the lifespan of your BBQ. Unless you live in a magical land that has perfect weather at all times, a BBQ cover is mandatory. Luckily, many BBQs come with a well-fitting cover included.
If you’re curious about making your own smoked meats and cheeses, but aren’t ready to commit to buying a smoker, consider picking up a smoker box to use with your regular BBQ. A smoker box is a small metal box that you can fill with wood pellets to produce smoke. Just place the box in the grill with your meat, close the lid, and let your BBQ fill with rich smoke to get that delicious smoky flavour without committing to a smoker.
A grill basket is a wire basket that makes it easier to cook foods that are on the delicate side, or just trickier to cook on a grill. Just load your veggies, salmon, or chicken wings into the grill basket and place it on your grill for the freedom to cook whatever you need on your BBQ.
BBQ lighters and chimney starters
A BBQ lighter is a must for lighting charcoal. But if you’re struggling with the lighter, using a chimney starter is an easy way to get your charcoal burning in a snap. Simply fill the chimney with charcoal, then place newspaper in the grate below and light it up. Your charcoal will be burning in no time, and you can simply pour it into your grill and get started.
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