Nothing can beat the taste and satisfaction that you get from inviting guests over and cooking for them outdoors on your patio or in your garden. There are so many different types of outdoor grills that all give food their own unique flavour. It can be a really tough decision making up your mind which type of grill you want let alone what brand or model. You may think that what you want is an outdoor gas grill only to do some research and find that what you really want is a pellet smoker.
The purpose of this article is to discuss all the different types of outdoor cooking appliances to help you decide what you are looking for. We will be taking a look at the best outdoor grills and will take a look at charcoal, liquid propane, natural gas and even electric. We will make recommendations for each type of grill and show you where you can read more detailed outdoor grill reviews.
Later on we will take a look at pellet smokers and how their unique ability to flavour foods might make them a more attractive option to a traditional charcoal and outdoor gas grills.
Before we wrap things up we will take a quick look at outdoor pizza ovens and essential grilling accessories that you ought to have.
- 1 Charcoal Grills – Lack Sophistication but Great Smoky Flavor
- 2 What are the Best Rated Charcoal Grills?
- 3 Charcoal vs Gas
- 4 Buying a Combination Gas and Charcoal Grill
- 5 What is the Best Gas Charcoal Combo Grill?
- 6 Liquid Propane vs Natural Gas
- 7 Infrared Grills vs Regular Gas Grills
- 8 What are the Best Outdoor Gas Grills?
- 9 Pellet Grills and Wood Smokers
- 10 Electric Grills
- 11 Portable Grills
- 12 Outdoor Kitchens and Built-in Grills
- 13 Essential Grill Buying Tips
- 14 Essential Outdoor Grill Accessories
- 15 Outdoor Pizza Ovens
Charcoal Grills – Lack Sophistication but Great Smoky Flavor
Charcoal grills tend to be the least complicated of grills and therefore if you are looking to buy a very cheap grill you will probably be looking at a charcoal grill. However grilling isn’t about sophistication, it’s all about the flavour and charcoal grills for many people are the best grills because they produce the best flavored food. It’s the smoke which flavors the food and charcoal grills produce a lot more smoke than gas grills. This is why the food cooked on charcoal grill tastes so much different.
The major downside of charcoal grills is that you don’t have much control over them. With gas grills you just turn a knob to control the flame. With charcoal grills you have to let the heat out if gets too hot by opening a vent. More sophisticated charcoal grills allow you to adjust the distance between the charcoal and the food.
Cheaper charcoal grills can be a pain to clean up afterwards. Unless you want to turn the grill upside down after use and shake the ash out you should look for one that has a removable ash tray.
There is huge variation in price with charcoal grills starting at a just a few bucks to upwards of $1000. Their lack of complexity usually means that the price is determined by their size and build quality rather than the number of features. You should make sure that any charcoal grill you decide to purchase is not too flimsy. A sturdy grill will do a much better job of retaining the heat. Look for charcoal grills that are either made from stainless steel or ceramics. You should also check that the cooking grates are made of similar quality materials.
What are the Best Rated Charcoal Grills?
When it comes to finding the best charcoal grill for your requirements and budget we will make recommendations here based on price and size. Firstly we believe that the best small charcoal grill for less than $200 is a choice between the Weber Original Kettle grill and the Big Green Egg.
Weber barbecue grills are very popular and have a great reputation among grilling enthusiast for decades. For a bit more money the best Weber charcoal grill would be the Performer Deluxe.
Other top rated charcoal grills for bigger budgets are the Napoleon Kettle and the Broil King Steel Keg. You can read our article here for a more detailed look at the top charcoal grills and our charcoal grill reviews.
Charcoal vs Gas
Charcoal grills do a better job of searing foods than gas grills because they produce more direct infrared heat. Some of the more expensive gas grills compensate for this by coming with a sear burner. However a sear burner can only sear one or two steaks at once compared with a charcoal grill which is searing everything on its grilling surface at the same time.
Charcoal grills typically reach temperatures of up to 900° compared to the regular burners on a gas grill that usually struggle to reach 500°. It is this additional heat that makes meat crisp on the outside whilst leaving them pink or red inside.
The all important factor for choosing a charcoal grill is flavour as food grilled with charcoal simply tastes better. Charcoal grilled food tastes better as the molecules being burnt are complex and organic. Gas on the other hand is a simple molecule that burns without producing any additional flavour as when combusted it only releases carbon dioxide and water.
The smoke you see coming from a gas grill is coming from the juices dripping off the food onto of the surface of the grill which cause it to flare up. However because gas grills cook so much quicker the food isn’t exposed to the smoke for as long so that it does not have such a significant impact on the flavour of the food.
What are the Disadvantages of Charcoal Compared to Gas?
Charcoal grills come with some big disadvantages with the main one being is that it is hard to regulate the temperature inside the grill. Most charcoal grill comes with a built in thermometer but these are ineffective as they are usually mounted on the lid and not near the food. As a result it takes a lot more practice with a charcoal grill to be able to get the best results of it.
There is also the fact that charcoal is a dirty fuel that leaves behind a lot of ash and there is also an increased fire risk which means they are often banned from apartment balconies.
What are the Advantages of Gas Compared to Charcoal?
It should be clear by now that the main advantage of charcoal grills are the improved flavour. So let’s take a look at the advantages of gas grills. With gas grills you get convenience and you get greater control. They ignite straight away with their electronic ignition and heat up much more quickly. Gas is a clean fuel which does not leave behind any ash, however the grease from the food can still be an effort to clean up afterwards.
The temperatures inside a gas grill are far easier to maintain, however they are affected by the weather. You will often find some variability with the dial settings depending on whether the weather is fine, raining or cold.
Gas grills are so much more versatile than charcoal grills as there are a lot more accessories that you can get for them. One common accessory that often comes as an optional extra with many gas grills but rarely with charcoal grills is a rotisserie. This enables you to turn food on a motorized spit. These are great for grilling whole chickens.
You will often find that gas grills come with a side burner that allow you to heat up a saucepan of sauce on the side. Other common accessories are fish baskets, side tables, storage cabinets and even night lights.
All of these additional features that come with gas grills and the fact that gas burners make them more complex means they are usually a lot more expensive.
Choosing Between Charcoal and Gas
When it comes to choosing between charcoal and gas you need to make a choice between taste (charcoal) and convenience (gas). If taste is more important to you then the cheaper prices of charcoal grills are likely sway you away from buying a gas grill.
Many people buy one of each as the two types of grill serve different functions. If you don’t have the money or the space for two grills but are torn between making a decision between charcoal or gas grills then you may be interested in a combo grill.
Buying a Combination Gas and Charcoal Grill
Seven out ten grill owners will tell you that grilling is all about the flavor. The problems is flavor does not always equal convenience and nothing is more convenient than a gas grill. With a gas grill you just press the electric ignition button and it turns on instantly and about 10 minutes later or less it’s ready to go. If it gets too hot you just turn it down.
The additional time it takes to cook with a charcoal grill means that most people only use them in fine weather. With a combo grill (hybrid grill) you get the best of both worlds with a combination of charcoal and natural gas.
Some combo grills have a single firebox that you can only grill with either charcoal or gas but not both at the same time. Other combo grills have two fireboxes; one charcoal and the other gas. This means you can be grilling with both charcoal and gas at the same time.
A dual gas charcoal grill certainly solves the dilemma over which type of grill to buy and they are a great alternative to buying two grills like some people do. Gas grills are the best for catering for guests and charcoal is best for slow cooking foods. You can see why people will want the best of both worlds. Hybrid grills enable you to have it all with a single grill.
What is the Best Gas Charcoal Combo Grill?
There is not such a big choice of combo grills with many grill manufacturer not making them at all and those that do usually only make one or two different models. We are big fans of Weber grills, but alas there doesn’t seem be a Weber gas and charcoal grill combo. Our recommendations for a dual charcoal and gas grill combo would be one of the following from either Dyna-Glo, Smoke Hollow, Char-Broil or Char-Griller.
Liquid Propane vs Natural Gas
The main advantage of running a natural gas outdoor grill over liquid propane is that it is cheaper to run at about one third of the cost. They both have a small carbon footprint but natural gas burns more cleanly. However the disadvantage is that your gas supply will need to be extended to where you want to use your grill. You may not even have a gas supply in which case getting you home hooked up to gas could be quite expensive.
However despite the increased cost of burning propane they are more popular because it contains more energy and gives you more heat. One cubic foot of propane contains 2,500 BTU compared to 1,000 BTU for natural gas. As a result grilling purists will usually tell you that cooking with propane is a far more authentic barbecue experience. As a result liquid propane grills are more popular than natural gas grills with roughly two propane grills sold for every natural gas grill.
Choosing a grill based on upon whether it burns liquid propane is actually an easy decision as virtually all gas grills can burn both. Most gas grills comes ready for liquid propane as standard with the option of purchasing a natural gas conversion kit. When you buy a natural gas model of a grill you are usually getting the same grill as the liquid propane but it will also come ready fitted with the connection needed to connect it your gas supply.
Most grill manufacturers make natural gas conversion kits for their grills. This mean that if you purchase an outdoor propane grill you can convert it to gas after you have purchased it. This isn’t always the case so make sure that you check before purchasing if you think that you might want to use natural gas in the future.
Infrared Grills vs Regular Gas Grills
Assuming you have made up your mind that you want a gas grill instead of a charcoal grill, the next decision you will need to make is what kind of burners you want. Gas grills come equipped with either regular burners which cook via convection or they have infrared burners.
With an infrared burner the flame is fully enclosed which prevents convection due to having no airflow over the flame. When there is no convection the burners are only able to emit radiant heat.
With infrared grills you do not get flare-ups as there is no exposed flamed for juices to drip into. Infrared grills heat up a lot quicker in about half the time it takes to heat up are regular gas grill. They are also able to reach much higher temperatures which make them better for searing meats.
The main disadvantage of infrared grills is that the increased heat intensity makes them harder to cook with. This isn’t so much of a problem when cooking meat but it does not make grilling fish and vegetables a lot harder.
Regular grills give you more precise and steady control over the flame and the temperature which makes them easier to cook with.
Naturally with pros and cons to both regular and infrared burners some grill manufacturers make grills with both regular and infrared burners. This means that you can quickly sear steaks on the infrared burner before transferring them to the regular gas burner where they can finish cooking.
What are the Best Outdoor Gas Grills?
We are big fans of Weber gas grills and have written about them extensively elsewhere on this website. Weber however use conventional burners whilst some people prefer infrared burners. We have just discussed the difference between the two types of burners.
Due to the different types of burners, we will recommend that you read our Weber outdoor gas grill reviews if you interested in conventional burners. For more information about our recommend infrared grills please take a look at our Char Broil Tru Infrared 3 Burner grill review.
Pellet Grills and Wood Smokers
To even be considering a pellet grill you should have by now ruled out gas grills as an option as you are looking for the perfect barbecue taste as opposed to speed and convenience. You will have already read about my opinions on charcoal grills earlier in this article with regards to how they make your food taste much better than gas grills. But before you make a final decision that you want a charcoal grill please take a moment to consider pellet grills as well.
Pellet grills, in my opinion are a big step up from charcoal grills in terms of flavor as the wood pellets add even more flavor. The other big plus with wood pellets is that they are made from different types of wood which all give the food different flavours.
Type of Wood Pellets
The most popular types of wood pellets are:
- Hickory: Sweet and smoky for that traditional Southern flavor.
- Mesquites: Has a stronger woody taste that adds the perfect flavor to beef, lamb and duck.
- Oak: Has a more subtle flavor than hickory but is stronger than fruitwood. Oak is ideal for red meat, game, pork and fish.
- Fruitwood: Perfect for poultry as well and as pork and veal.
What are the Disadvantages of Pellet Grills?
The big drawback back of pellet grills of course is that they take literally hours to cook your food e.g. ribs will typically take 3-4 hours. As a result they are a very much hands off cooking experience as you would likely start them cooking hours before your guests arrive. Most smokers have automated hoppers which feeds in the wood pellets automatically so they can be left unattended.
Smokers are an inconvenient way to grill your food as it takes so damn long but at least they do it for you on autopilot which also makes them convenient as they can be left all alone. But if it’s taste you are after then they simple can’t be beat. This is the reason that they are so consistently winning barbecuing competitions. However, the amazing taste and their virtually hands-off ease of use means that some barbecue purists are likely to regard pellet smokers as cheating.
It’s not just taste and ease of use that pellet grills excel at as they are the most versatile type of grill. They can be used to grill, smoke, sear, roast, barbecue and bake.
They don’t tend to be cheap either as they have the most sophisticated parts with their automated mechanical pellet feeders and convection fans. This means that they need an electrical supply and are also more likely to breakdown and required spare parts.
Whilst the pellet grill themselves are expensive the fuel costs are a lot cheaper than charcoal with a bag of pellets costing about one fifth that of a bag of charcoal.
You can read our pellet grill reviews elsewhere on this website where we take look at the best wood pellet grills and pellet smokers. We recommend REC-TEC grills if you are looking for the best pellet smoker and if your pockets are deep enough. However, the next best thing would be the Camp Chef PG24. We rounded up our pellet smoker reviews with a look at the much cheaper pellet smokers from Traeger.
Electric grills in my opinion and most likely any other grilling enthusiasts opinion is don’t bother. The reason being is there is nothing authentic about the flavour you get from an electric grill. The only thing that they have going for them is convenience as they can be used anywhere where there is an electrical outlet. They can be used indoors unlike other types of grill.
Electric grills don’t generate the high temperatures that you get from gas and charcoal grills. As a result they are pretty hopeless at searing. The only scenario under which I would recommend an electric grill is where you are forbidden by law local laws from using a gas or a charcoal grill. They are only really ideal for a small balcony.
In all other situations I would recommend any kind of grill but electric. Electric grills aren’t very popular compared to other types of grills for obvious reasons and they are always small as they are only used where portability is important or where there is not much space such as balconies.
A portable grills is a great idea if you are into camping as well as catering for small gatherings at home on the patio as well.
We have just discussed electric grills which I have said were good for their convenience and portability but not much else. However if I was to recommend a portable grill it would have to be either a propane or a charcoal one.
However when it comes to portable grills, propane is far more convenient as you only need to carry a one-pound propane tank with you. This is far more convenient than lugging around sacks of charcoal briquettes.
You will need to make a decision when buying a portable grill whether portability (gas) is more important than a smoky barbecue flavor (charcoal).
Our recommendation for a portable Charcoal grill would be the Weber Smoky Joe. We would also suggest any one of the Weber Q grills if you want to take a gas grill with you. You can read our Weber Q3200 review elsewhere on this blog.
Outdoor Kitchens and Built-in Grills
If you are serious about outdoor cooking and you have the added budget then you might be interested in a having an outdoor kitchen. Some of the grill manufacturers such as Weber make built-in versions of their grills. These are perfect for outdoor kitchens as you can have your outdoor kitchen brickwork designed to be built around them. You can have you own custom work surfaces built on either side of the grill to prepare your food.
Built-in grills are expensive enough by themselves and you will likely to spend many times the cost of the grill on having and outdoor kitchen built around. These are definitely a luxury for people with big budgets.
You need to think carefully when buying outdoor. If your grill dies or you want a better grill you may find it hard to replace it with a grill that fits your outdoor kitchen.
Essential Grill Buying Tips
There are several important things that you need to take into account when making a decision about buying a grill.
Is the Grill Going to be Big Enough?
Cooking area: Most online stores tell you the size of a grills main cooking area in square inches. Sometimes they will conveniently tell you how many burgers can be cooked which to me is far more convenient measurement.
When trying to calculate yourself how many burgers will git on a grill it is important to leave ½” around of space around each side of the burger. You don’t want to overcrowd your grill.
Let’s say you want to cook 4” burgers, these would take up 25 square inches each allowing for ½” of space around each burger. Now you simply divide the size of the main grilling area by 25 to get the total number of burgers you can cook at the same time.
Another usual measurement to consider is that the ideal portion size for a single person is 72 square inches. Simply divide the main grilling area by 72 to get an idea of how many people you can cook for at once.
Head Space: The distance between the grilling surface and the top of lid when it is closed is important if you want to be able to cook a whole chicken. Make sure that you have a least 12” of head space.
Check the Essential Features
Burners: If you are buying a gas grill make sure that the burners are made of stainless steel to avoid corrosion or rust. The best grade of stainless steel is 304.
Ignition: Gas grills these days come with electric ignition and whilst they are usually reliable they are the most likely component to fail. To avoid not being able to use you grill if the ignition fails it is a good idea to check that the grill has a manual ignition hole. This will allow you to light the grill with a long wooden match or a stick lighter.
Don’t Forget These Important Extras
Thermometers: The built in thermometers that come fitted into grills these are rarely any good. This is because they are mounted in the lid which is too far away from the food. I recommend that you purchase a good quality thermometer that you stick into your food so that you know when it’s cooked all the way through.
Storage: If you are buying a large grill then you are probably going to leave it outside in which case it is essential that you buy a cover. If you do have room in the garage or the storage shed then make sure your grill comes on castors so you can wheel it into storage.
Rotisserie: Do you want to be able to cook whole chickens or turkeys? If you do then it is recommended that you get a grill with a rotisserie. In most case this will rule out charcoal grills as they rarely have them. However they are a common feature with gas grills and can usually be purchased separately for many makes. Remember that they are motorized and need an electrical outlet to operate.
Warranties: These are more important with gas and pellet grills as there is more that can go wrong. With gas grills it is common for the burners to have a separate warranty to the main grills. The length of warranty can vary a lot between manufacturers. That should you give you an indication of how the quality varies between different grills if one has 5 years warranty and another one only 2 years.
Essential Outdoor Grill Accessories
In order to get the best out of your grill you going to need some accessories. This is a list of the most essential ones.
Stainless steel spatula: You will need one of these to move food around on the grill and to flip it over.
Tongs: You will need a decent pair of tongs for taking hot food off the grill and either on to the warming rack or your guest’s plates.
Chimney Starters: These are for charcoal grills only. One of the disadvantages of charcoal grilling is how long it takes the charcoal to get going. Charcoal chimneys get your charcoal going without the need for lighter fluid. With one of these you can get your charcoal going in about 10 minutes with only a single match. Your food will never taste of lighter fluid again.
Grill Gauge: These are for measuring how much propane you have left in the tank. It simply attaches by a hook to the propane tank. You then lift the tank and it weighs the tank to determine how much propane you have left. There’s nothing worse than running out of propane before you have finished grilling.
Suede Grill Gloves: You need hand protection when working a grill and suede grill gloves can protect your hands from temperatures up to 475°.
Fish Basket: It is hard to move fish or vegetables around on the surface of a grill without it getting stuck or falling through the grates. A fish basket will solve this problem.
Outdoor Pizza Ovens
The topic of outdoor cooking is dominated by grills but we shouldn’t wrap up without a brief mention of pizza ovens. The secret to making great pizzas are the scorching hot temperatures that you get from a dedicate pizza oven. If you are series about pizza then you may want to take a look at our roundup of the best outdoor pizza ovens.