We're a month away from Memorial Day, the official start of BBQ season, and some of us might be thinking about buying a new grill. Beyond the well-worn charcoal versus gas debate, there are other considerations to take into account when shopping for an outdoor cooker — here's a brief guide to help you find the best grill for you.
Charcoal, Gas, or Electric?
There's a lot of debate between hard-core backyard barbecuers about the merits of charcoal versus gas, and we won't attempt to sort it all out here. We'll just clarify that charcoal grills favor the "low and slow" method of cooking which provides a smokey flavor, gas grills usually have a higher flame with less smoke, and electric grills are the fastest of the three with very little flavor added through the grill itself. The kind of grill you buy may also depend on your city code — many urban areas don't allow propane grills, for example.
Weber is the classic American charcoal grill-maker (they also make gas and electric models) and their site offers a grill selector where you can input your requirements and preferences. Shown: Weber 741001 22-1/2" One-Touch Silver Kettle Charcoal Grill, $90.
Spearheaded by Alex Siow and Robert Brunner — the former Director of Design at Apple and partner at Pentagram — Fuego is a new company that's positioned itself at the forefront of high-style gas grilling. Shown: Fuego EG02AMG Element 21-Inch Dual-Zone Gas Grill, $500.
They market themselves as an affordable brand that specializes in electric grilling technologies. They explain their Infrared system: "Fed by the flames, these surfaces get super hot super quick." Shown: Char Broil Patio Bistro Infrared Electric Grill, $181.
What Do You Want to Cook?
For hamburgers and hot dogs, a classic kettle grill is fine. If you want to cook a whole bird or roast, you might want a model with a rotisserie. For someone who's into searing and cooking side dishes on the grill, consider an option with a griddle.
If you're cooking a small meal, Lodge makes heavy-duty camp grills with two adjustable heights for cooking over charcoal. These are simple, classic designs that use heavy cast iron walls to retain even, consistent heat. Shown: Lodge Logic Sportsman's Grill, $107.
Big Green Egg
The Kamado-style Big Green Egg is a charcoal grill, but it's able to maintain consistent low temperatures for a long time, so it works as a smoker as well. Starting at $700, it's large enough to cook a whole turkey.
The Grillery Standard is a handmade charcoal grill that includes a cast aluminum crankwheel, which lets the grill-master adjust the height of the food over the flame. Designed for gourmet grillers, it sells for $2,475.
How Much Space Have You Got?
If you've got a tiny apartment with a balcony, a gas grill might not be the best option, since gas can flare up and isn't safe in a tight urban space. If you've got a big backyard, your options are broader. If you've got no outdoor space at all, a portable grill that you can take to the park or the beach might be your best choice.
Crate and Barrel
One of the most popular portable charcoal grills is Weber's Smokey Joe, a tabletop model that's small enough for a beach or a balcony. Crate and Barrel sells an eye-catching grass green enamel version for $50.
Highly rated by Consumer Reports, Vermont Castings' gas grills are made in Canada. They tend to be big, beautiful, and kitted out with lots of slick features. Shown: Vermont Castings VCS301SS 301 Signature Series, $945.
If you're looking for a grill that's portable but still big enough to cook burgers for a family, Coleman makes collapsible standing models designed for campers. Shown: Paul Jr. Designs Coleman RoadTrip Grill, $200.
What's Your Budget?
In general, the higher the grill's price, the more bells and whistles it includes and the more likely it is to be made from higher-end materials like stainless steel. A basic charcoal kettle grill might be cheaper than a propane grill with a rotisserie and side burners, but for someone who prefers that classic smoky charcoal flavor, it's a better buy.
Well Traveled Living
This company makes smart, modern, and affordable portable grills. (You might remember their folding notebook grill, released a few years back.) Shown left is the ceramic charcoal HotSpot Large Yakatori Charcoal Grill, $36.
The Portable Kitchen
Sleeker than your average backyard standup, this cast aluminum Grill and Smoker PK99740 sells for $280. They say: "The heavy cast aluminum construction reflects heat... causing food to cook more evenly without constant turning or repositioning."
If you really want to shell out some cash on a shiny new grill, Viking makes some beautiful stainless steel outdoor ranges equipped with rotisseries and seamless finishes. Shown: 41" Ultra-Premium T-Series Grill with TruSear Infrared Burner, $4,880.
Top Photo: Fuego Element Grill