Gas Grill Advice Needed

I want to buy a gas grill for the back patio and have noticed (in Home Depot and other such stores) seemingly almost identical grills sell for from $149 - $999. They all have a good enough size grill surface and use a propane tank. What accounts for the variation in price? What features am I really going to miss if I pay less than $200 for one? I’m not planning to do any real smoking or anything - just burgers, chicken teriyaki and vegetables. Advice from your experience?

We got a fairly cheap one, and while it has worked just fine for the two summers we’ve had it, it is starting to get a little loosey-goosey around some of the bolts, and the igniter has given up. In other words, it was built fairly cheaply, and is starting to fall apart. I think I will pay a little more for our next one, and hopefully it will last a little longer. Oh yeah - one feature I would have liked is the thermometer on the hood, so I know what the temperature inside is. We got one with the side burner, and I think I’ve used it once.

As for using it, turn the propane tank valve off between uses. I didn’t used to think that was important, until I lost an entire tank of propane in a very short time due to leakage.

What’s the difference between a $129 Char-Broil and a $500 Holland Grill? On the cooking side, not a whole lot (although the Holland won’t flare up, ever.)

When it comes to durability, though, you get what you pay for. A high-dollar grill will last a lot longer than a mid-range grill, which will last longer than the $29 Wal-Mart “burner and a metal stand” grill.

The important thing to remember is that you want as much surface area and as many BTUs as possible for the amount you decide to spend. More BTUs = hotter and faster to heat up. The more surface area, the more room you have to cook. Side burners, corn racks and automatic basters are just a waste of money, IMO. I want as big and hot a grill as I can get.

I have a small Holland Grill that was given to me as a gift, and I love it. $350 for a little tailgate grill sounds like a lot until you realize that grill will last 10 years at least and never flares up, plus allows me to cook just about whatever I want.

$129 Fiesta gas grill after four years sitting in the rain = bucket of rust.

I was able to pulverize it with bare hands. plus the sparker died after a year, so I had to light it by throwing lit matches at it. Flash-singed my eyebrows more than once.

$320 Kenmore grill (I’m too cheap for the $500 Weber) after three years sitting in the rain = no rust yet. looking good for several more years.

Cooks illustrated did a bunch of tests and the Webers came out the best.

I have had more than my share of gas grills over the last 15 years and here are the items that I think are important (BTW - FWIW I grill about four to five time per week year round and have had the grill now for four years though it is a top of the line unit):
[ul]
[li]Quality materials of construction for the body - I now use and prefer stainless steel for durability[/li][li]Good quality igniters and more importantly well built and durable flame dispersing units. I’ve had so-called “good” units where the gas burners just disintegrated after a couple of years[/li][li]Good quality system for catching fallen bits and pieces and grease - the can hanging from a piece of wire is just plain bad design[/li][li]top quality grill plates that will not fall apart and will not warp [/li][li]No lava rocks - good ceramic units to evenly disperse the heat[/li][li]Good temperature and flame control. You can buy a decent “oven thermometer” as a separate unit so don’t bother with the useless builtin temperature gauges[/li][li]I can place the unit within two inches of a wall behind the unit and still open the top without any problems. [/li][li]It also has two side burners, which if I had to do over again I would not have gotten.[/li][/ul]

Also, I never have to shut the gas off after each use. The controls are that good on the unit I have but as the saying goes you get what you pay for. I have to clean the outside off every week or so due to the damn sand storms.

Also, please don’t get me started on gas versus charcoal - I can’t tell any difference in taste but I can at least control a gas grill. Starting and maintaining a charcoal fire - what a joke!

Whoa. You had me until the last line. I’ll get back to that.

To the OP: the main thing, as others have said is build quality, and Waterman here lays out a lot of places where the build quality comes into play (lids, grease traps, grates, etc.)

Side burners are useless. If you’re making sauces or whatnot, do it on your stovetop where you don’t have breezes, can see the flames better, have your utensils. Side burners are a gimmick that take up space.

One thing that can’t be stressed enough is that grilling is about high heat close to the food. So you need a grill with high BTUs. I DOUBT that those $150 Wal-mart grills are going to provide the kind of heat you need to grill properly – to really sear the outside of a burger to keep in the juices and heat up the grate enough so that the outside of meat sears and pulls away properly. A lot of gas grills out there just aren’t for people doing real grilling. Now, a lot are. . .but a gas grill with one little gas “pipeline” on each side of the bottom with a metal plate over it to “disperse” the heat just isn’t grilling. It will basically “roast” your food, not grill it, and probably char part of it, while undercooking other parts.

So, the manner in which the gas grill disperses the heat is a critical factor in grill quality.

Back to what waterman said. . .while I’m a long time charcoal user, I’m not one who claims that the taste is superior, and that really is the crux of it. That’s TYPICALLY where the debate rages and the charcoal marketing departments like to fan those flames. If your charcoal is flavoring your meat, you’re doing something wrong, because the purpose of grilling is to get high heat close to the food.

However, on the topic of lighting and maintaining a charcoal fire. That’s a matter of personal preference and “what a joke” is not a valid criticism. About the best response I can offer is, “controlling the heat on a gas grill – what a joke!”

On fire. . .

  1. It’s fun and feels good to light a fire to cook your food. It’s definitely more work than gas, though.

  2. It’s not difficult.

  3. Maintaining and managing the charcoal is not only part of the fun, but is essential to advanced grilling, leading into. . .

. . .the most important difference. . .

  1. You simply can not control heat with a gas grill like I’m able to do with my charcoal grill. They are physically incapable of it. No gas grill on earth gives you the option of putting that kind of heat that close to the meat. No gas grill gives you the option of a ring of fire with space in the middle. No gas grill allows for the fine variations I can create by stacking coals in various formations. Only high quality gas grills allow for the perfect distribution of even heat I can achieve with my charcoal. Basically with gas, you have 2 things you can do: set the burners at the same temperature, or set them at different temperatures. The variations with charcoal are endless.

Trunk - I would agree with what you have stated up to the point of controlling temperature on charcoal grills. The charcoal grills I have owned (at least one Weber) were difficult and not easy to control (at least for me). I admittedly never took the time to try achieving different temperatures etc by varying the method of loading the charcoal so in that respect I am guilty of lack of experience.

I can attain searingly high temperatures on my grass grill with both burners on high. In addition, I can control the temperatures on each half of the grill, within reason, by adjusting the gas rate. This has allowed me cook on direct high on one side and direct (or indirect) medium, for example, on the other half.

I should also have emphasized that my previous post was obviously my own experience and for anyone else - YMMV.

A couple of things to look for (or avoid) in shopping for a gas grill:

Look for a grill with three burners. This allows you to cook indirectly. You put the food over the middle burner (turned off) and heat the grill with the two other burners. Thus, no heat is directly under the food.

Spring for a rotisserie (spit) if your budget allows. We cook using the rotisserie quite often and love it.

Look for a grill with an external thermometer. That way you can adjust the temperature without opening the lid to check.

Avoid a grill with a window. The window will turn black and will be useless in a few months.

Now for an unpaid advertisement
I bought a Weber Genesis grill 13 years ago. I use it two to three times a week. I have replaced a couple of components (grills and flavorizer bars) but other than that, it still works great. I never use a grill cover and have had a zero rust problem. I spent $500 for the Weber 13 years ago so over the (so far) life of the grill it’s cost <$50 per year (including the cost to replace the components). I am very satisfied with the purchase.

I have a friend who is, let’s say, frugal (I should call him “freaking cheap”). For years and years I have been praising my Weber to him (he was using a cheap, $150 grill). Finally, he sprang for a Weber Genesis about a year ago (~$600) and now he a total convert. He can’t say enough about his new grill.
End of unpaid advertisement

Regarding the charcoal verse gas debate. A couple of years ago the *San Jose Mercury News * did a blind taste test with several foods cooked over both. The testers were both chefs and ordinary folks. The results? Not one of the tasters could tell which food was cook over the charcoal and which food was cooked with gas.

For indirect grilling, I’d also say to get one with a top rack. That way, you can either put stuff up there to finish cooking, thus being able to get more on the grill, or you can use it for indirect cooking while still using all three burners and the main grill.

I picked up a three burner Centro yesterday, from Canadian Tire. It has a stainless steel top and large grilling area. I picked it up for 370.00 before taxes. It seems to be a Weber wannabe. It came with a side burner, but it is hard to find anything in that style/price range without one. I am looking forward to using the side burner to saute my mushrooms while BBQing the steak without having to run in and out all the time.

We bought a Weber Genesis (silver series) 3 years ago and we’ll never go back to cheap grills. With the cheaper grills, you end up replacing them every year or two. The ignitors go out, the lava rocks or whatever get full of grease so they don’t work right and cause flame-ups. The burner holes burn out so it doesn’t heat evenly. Cheap grills suck and only make grilling a frustrating experience.

The Weber still starts first time, everytime. We never have flame-ups. It cooks very evenly. We got the three burner grill so that we can do indirect grilling and we love it. Since buying the Weber, mr.stretch grills 3-7 times a week, all year round–even in the dead of winter, I can get him out there making me ribs.

We paid $500 at the time and made sure to get the stainless steel grates, which last longer. It’s been worth every penny and more.

I agree with other posters that side burners are a waste of money. We never used ours on previous grills, and they just take up space. We also didn’t get one with a special wood chip drawer for smoking; chips in foil or in a cheap smoker box work just as well. Get something with lots of grill space and high BTUs, and you’ll be happy.

One other difference between the cheapos and the pricier ones that I haven’t seen mentioned yet is the grilling surface itself. The cheaper models will have stainless steel or aluminum grids, which are okay, but not great. I can’t imagine having one of those type that are made of the painted, lightweight aluminum; seems like they’d get destroyed in a flash.

Quality grills will have grilling surfaces made of cast iron or ceramic-coated cast iron. Pick 'em up; they’ll be very heavy. All that extra mass will hold onto loads of heat and transfer it to your food on contact. They’re very sturdy and should last you a lifetime.

One thing I’d like to add, IF you use your grill alot AND have natural gas service where you live, do a LPG/NG price comparison. In my case, the plumbing required to hook up my grill to my NG service paid for itself in a couple years time - plus I don’t have to ever worry about filling my 20# LPG tank or running out of gas at inopportune times.

I looked into this too, and it was going to cost me over $300 more than the tank option. I bought a second tank for $28.00 and will always have a backup.

I’ll be looking at NG when we upgrade our grill next year. We already heat and cook with NG, so it shouldn’t take too much to add it outdoors.

We have an inexpensive Weber, with which I’m mostly satisfied. When I upgrade, I’ll be looking for a hotter grill (more BTUs), more surface area (both cooking and work), and preferably side-by-side burners. My small grill has two burners, front and back, which meants I always have to dirty two grates when cooking food. Also, the warming rack gets in the way of the back burner, and I’m never smart enough to take it out before it heats up to 2000 degrees Celcius. :cool:

I like a side burner. When I’ve used one (my grill doesn’t have it, my parents does), it allows my to reduce my sauces or to cook a more fussy dish without a constant to and fro into the kitchen to check a pot. It’s certainly not as good a cooking surface as indoors, but it is more than adequate.

I do a lot of grilling and some barbequing–there IS a big difference–and would add this: If you’re looking for really flavorful meat, consider getting a gas smoker.
The better ones are competitively priced with the traditional grills, but the smokers let you either grill or smoke.

Smoke-infused pork loin or beef brisket is out of this world, something my Weber Silver can’t touch. If I don’t want to smoky taste, I could the meat that way. I smoked a pork loin last week for about 3 hours and my guests couldn’t stop raving. Smoky, salt-tinged exterior and slightly pink juicy interior. Damn.

Unpossible.

Sorry about the gramo but, no not unpossible, old chap. My smoker can be configured for that arrangement.