Outdoor cooking has been around since the dawn of time and over this period of time it has undergone many innovations, some intuitive and some technological to the point that it now can be someone challenging to get the right grill for your home.
A significant portion of the art of grilling is down to personal preference, however there are somethings that can help make the experience better and that is the grill itself. Of course, having the right accessories can help and improve the experience as well but without a good grill the accessories are just stuff in a drawer.
The very first consideration and the one that causes the most debate is the fuel source. The choices are charcoal, gas and electric. Honestly, electric outdoor grills are few and far between and are at best indoor grills. They do not function nor provide the same flavor as the outdoor grills and therefore will be outside the scope of this guide. That leaves us with charcoal and gas, the two contenders in the culinary arts debate on grilling.
Charcoal is, without getting into the chemical composition, carbon and elements of ash that have been burned down from organic sources. The most common is wood charcoal. For grilling there are two basic types of charcoal, lump and briquette.
Briquette charcoal is charcoal that has been broken down, mixed with chemicals and fillers and then shaped into small square like pieces to facilitate lighting and burning. Sometimes there are other additives such as bits of wood and others to add flavor. The drawback to briquette charcoal is the additives can leave chemical residue on both the grill and the food altering flavor.
Lump charcoal by contrast is usually natural lumps of wood that have been burned to the charcoal state and thus have no chemicals or additives. There is one overall disadvantage to using charcoal and that is it takes longer to light and have the heat correct for cooking. Many people consider this only a slight disadvantage because the is a boost in flavor.
Gas or Propane
Gas grills include both propane and natural gas grills. Frequently, the term gas is used to describe propane as there are fewer natural gas grills on the market. Both propane and natural gas is a hydrocarbon gas that ignites and burns easily. It is stored as a liquid and is very portable and can easily be used in a variety of conditions.
Gas grills typically have multiple burners and usually a side burner for warming or searing. The advantages over charcoal is gas lights faster and has a consistent burn. Heat is measures in BTU or British Thermal Units, the more btu’s the hotter the heat or specifically the more energy being used. This goes into another advantage over charcoal grills in that gas grills can be much larger without resulting in a loss of heat or having to add more insulation to protect the heat.
Of course it also makes it easier to control the heat by using burners as they are independently controlled making heat adjustments easier and faster. As opposed to that of charcoal, which uses a combination of vents and dampeners to maintain and control the heat.
Getting the Right Grill
After deciding as to which fuel source to use, there are a couple of other factors to take into consideration. Charcoal grills need to be able to be cleaned quickly and the ash removed. If charcoal is the fuel source of choice then getting a charcoal grill with easy to clean and remove ash pans is a must. This is especially important for patio or bistro grills that will be used at apartments. If deciding to go with a gas grill, the main point is to find one that is easy to hookup and easy to clean both the unit and the grates. It is usually recommended to use cast iron grates in both charcoal and gas grills as they distribute the heat and produce the characteristic grill marks.
They are also by far the easiest to clean, only have to use a grill brush to remove the particulates. Finally, there is size. The choice comes down to a grill or grilling station. A grilling station, even for charcoal, is a larger grill with plenty of shelf space and below the grill storage. For many folks, the size is limited by budget and space constraints but for those who are cooking for a large group or will be cooking for a large group, the larger cooking surface area of the grilling station comes in handy and produces less work for the grilling chef.
Getting the right grill is not as complicated or challenging as it might seem. Finding the one with the features desired is now easier thanks to the innovations and technological changes over the centuries. For those that want both charcoal and gas, there are combo grills. Those who want a combination of a grill, plus smoker and roaster, there are those as well for both gas and charcoal.
Of course, it is imperative that with any new grill the owner read and follow the safety and cleaning instructions in order to get the longest life out of their new grill.
As always, it is better to be safe than sorry and be sure to properly sight where the grill will be placed so there are no safety issues such as accidental tipping or people bumping into the grill Practicing safe grilling will keep the outdoor cooking experience fun, taste and safe.