Summer is here, and so is barbecue season. A lot of us will be in the market for a new grill this year, and if you havent been barbecue-shopping for a few years, prepare for a bit of a shock. Theyve gone very high-tech, running anywhere from $150 to $20,000, and, at the upper end of the price spectrum, come with a panoply of options and functions that rival a fully loaded kitchen.
Below, a brief guide to the ins and outs of barbecue buying
Barbecue aficionados will tell you time and time again that charcoal is the most flavourful, the richest, the most authenticgrilling experience. Its also the cheapest, generally speaking. (A very basic but well-built Weber Kettle retails for around $180.) However, its also the smokiest and most time-consuming method.
Propane and gas can provide excellent grilling as well, and remain the most popular. As far as electric grilling, purists will tell you that it isnt really barbecuing at all (no flame means no barbecue.) But it does generate a perfectly even heat, some condo and apartment dwellers may have no other choice, as gas hookups and propane arent allowed in every building.
A barbecues heat output is measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units), but more BTUs don’t always make for a better barbecue, or even a more powerful one.
“People buy barbecues with wasted BTUs”, says Nash Shivji, owner of the Vancouver-area BBQ Shop. He recalls a recent customer who bought a 50,000 BTU barbecue at a different shop and found it didn’t heat the grill evenly, leaving some spots cold.
So he tells his buddy to buy one with more BTUs, says Shivji. But that’s a waste. If its engineered well, even a lower BTU grill can still distribute heat evenly, and use less fuel.
“A barbecue should be able to reach about 550 degrees internally”, says Shivji. “Much more than that and you’re wasting power”. Shivji recommends a major brand such as Weber, Broil King or Napoleon, all of which he says will heat up sufficiently regardless of BTUs.
Really bare-bones models retail for barely more than $100, but theyre probably poorly built, says Mark Herberman, sales manager at Torontos Sobies Barbecues. Youre going to replace it in a year or two, and a barbecue should last for many, many years.
Herberman, like Shivji, is a devotee of the well-known big brands Weber, Broil King and Napoleon. There are plenty of other good grills out there, but buying one of these reliable domestic models ensures that replacement parts will be available in years to come, an important consideration if you want to be able to troubleshoot small problems down the road instead of buying a whole new grill.
If cost is a major factor, going with a cheaper construction material say, cast aluminum can save money. But it wont be as sturdy, and itll need more care and protection from the elements. If you go too cheap on the construction, warns Shivji, You might think youre ahead a $100, and you end up behind $250. (A true barbecue devotee, he likes stainless steel.)
No point buying a massive, fuel-quaffing behemoth to feed a family of four. A decent rule of thumb is to allocate 50 or 60 square inches of cooking space per food portion (this depends, of course, on how big you consider a portion to be.) Then add 50-100 inches of elbow room.
Barbecues dont come in standard sizes they vary from brand to brand, so a mid-sized Weber will be slightly different from a mid-sized Napoleon.
Dont go too tiny either. Chances are youll want space to warm up veggies and other side dishes, and be ready for unexpected guests.
You can really start to customize your grill here, but you can also find yourself shelling out a lot of money for features youll barely use.
A few recommendations from our experts:
My Napoleon has a sizzle zone that gets to 1,800 degrees, says Shivji. You throw a raw steak on that and sear it, then quickly transfer it to the regular grill, and it tastes incredible.
Shivji also likes optional charcoal trays ( $50 – $75) on gas grills, which allow you to switch your fuel source. You can use gas when they want something quick, after work maybe, but when family and friends are around on nice lazy summer days, you can do a long charcoal roast.
Says Sobie’s Herberman, I love a rotisserie ($75 – $175). Whatever is coming out is self-basting the meat.
If you’re not sure what features you might end up using and which might be a waste of money, go for a bare-bones model onto which you can add features later. Ask a salesperson, as some grills can’t accommodate many after-purchase features. Others are more flexible though, with the ability to accommodate future side burners ($150 $250) and rotisseries.
Also, a flare-up control system can lengthen the lifespan of your cooking elements.
Overall, buying a barbecue is pretty straightforward. Spend more money and youll probably get a better grill. At the lower end of the price spectrum, it gets harder to separate clunkers from quality makes.
Basic tips: buy a reputable name brand, and splash out on the sturdiest construction you can.
Last, figure out which features youll actually want and use and stop there. Happy grilling.