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How to Choose the Right Grill

According to the 2015 State of the Barbecue Industry Report published by the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA), 37% of U.S. adults are planning to buy a new grill. But which grill is best? Different grill types have a strong outcome on how the food cooks and how the flavors turn out. There are three main types of grills: charcoal, gas, and electric (along with their high-end subsets, infrared grills). Each type of grill comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages —the key is to choose the best fit based on your environment and grilling needs.

bbq grill cta

Charcoal Grills

When shopping for grills, 37.6% of consumers who bought a grill in the past year chose charcoal grills — making them second only to gas grills in popularity (TraQline: 4Q End Q2 2016). Why is this type of grill so widely accepted? Charcoal grills are lauded for their wood-smoked flavor. While gas grills may heat more quickly, the flavor that’s delivered through the smoke and radiant heat of a charcoal grill is one that others can’t replicate. While a good gas grill can exceed temperatures of 500 degrees Fahrenheit, charcoal grills can go even higher (if properly and safely tended). This high heat is ideal for certain grill techniques like searing steaks.

On the other hand, charcoal grills are messy and require regular cleaning to function well. They’re also a lot harder to control in terms of temperature. While a gas grill can be set to a specific temperature, you’ll only get precise temperatures with charcoal if you’re an experienced grill master. It’s also a lot harder to switch heat settings. And that’s not mentioning  the lengthy prep time and having to tend coals (which isn’t much fun in the winter months). In terms of price, charcoal grills will almost always cost less than a gas grill of comparable quality and size.

Gas Grills

Gas grills are currently reigning supreme in popularity, with 48.8% of consumers purchasing a gas grill in the past year. The biggest benefit of a gas grill is the ease of use, especially when it comes to turning the grill on, reaching ideal temperature, and cleaning. On most models, the grill is easily ignited by a simple valve twist and button push, and turning the grill off is just as easy. Because it runs on a propane tank, a gas grill can provide fuel for about 16 to 20 hours before needing replacement. It’s incredibly easy to reach and maintain ideal temperatures because of speed at which it can heat up; some can get to ideal grilling temperatures in 10 minutes or less. This gives gas grills a lot of versatility — they can cook food quickly for a weeknight dinner and you can use them year-round, even in cooler temperatures. Another convenient feature of gas grills is the ease of cleaning. Because the temperature is easily controlled, after grilling the surface are blasted with heat to char any residue — which is then easily wiped off. There are also no coals or ashes to clean.

In general, gas grills tend to cost more than electric and charcoal grills. While you can find models in the $150-$500 range, high-end models can easily soar over $1000. For some grills, there may be complex maintenance required to keep the grill in working order. With a lot of working parts – valves, tubes, etc. — there are a lot of things that may need special care or replacement.

Electric Grills

Coming in far behind gas and charcoal grills in terms of popularity (only about 12% of households bought electric grills in the past year), electric grills are still a viable alternative to charcoal and gas — especially for those living in an apartment or condo where gas and charcoal grills are often banned or restricted. Electric grills are similar to gas in that they turn on easily and heat up very quickly — also making them a great choice for those needing to cook quickly and without hassle. Unlike gas and charcoal grills, electric grills don’t generate a lot of smoke or have an open flame, and thus can be safely used indoors. The biggest difference between electric grills and gas or charcoal is the power source — it’s as easy as plugging it into a working outlet in the wall.

Electric grills do have their limitations. If there’s no electrical outlet within reach outside, an extension cord may be needed to power the grill, which looks untidy and can be a tripping hazard. Cleaning can also be a bit tricky — water has to be kept away from the electric components or the grill can malfunction. Due to the lack of open flame, it’s not ideal for searing meat like a gas grill and won’t provide the same flame-broiled flavor as a charcoal grill. For many, these tastes are the ultimate deciding factor in grill type (according to HPBA, about 71% of people say flavor is the main reason to cook with a grill) and the electric grill falls behind its counterparts.

How to Choose the Right Grill

Regardless of grill type, there are a lot of other factors that need to be considered when seeking the best grill.

Some things to consider when grill shopping (aside from budget) include:

  • Grill size in relation to available space and surface area/cooking capacity. If you’re planning to cook in large batches (i.e. 15 burgers at once) a grill with a much larger cooking surface should be a top priority, as long as it fits in the intended space.
  • Which material will work best based on budget and environment? Grills are most commonly constructed of cast aluminum, stainless steel, or cast iron. Stainless steel tends to be the most expensive and comes in multiple grades. Stainless steel is a high-quality material as it is most resistant to all types of corrosion and high temperatures. However, cast aluminum is impervious to a specific type of corrosion- rusting- and therefore can be a smarter choice if you live in high-moisture areas.
  • No appliance is ever perfect, so you should read and compare warranties. On a gas grill, sometimes the burners have a separate warranty than the rest of grill. Ideally, they should carry a 5- to 10-year warranty. Other things to consider are the dealer’s reputation, what type of support is offered and if the warranty covers replacements on parts.
  • Accessories can make or break a grill purchase. They should not be the main factor in your decision, but things like extra side shelving, color choices and covers can justify a higher price. Other accessories you might see include fuel gauges, drink holders, storage and even surround sound capabilities.

While all these different grill types and nuances may seem overwhelming, the good news is that there’s a type of grill to fit your needs. The key is deciding which aspects of grilling are most important and finding one that fits both your budget and your available space. Once you’ve got the perfect grill set-up, head on back to our blog and check out the TraQline team’s go-to grill recipes!

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TraQline's Dave Stevenson, PH.D President & CEO
Dave Stevenson, PH.D
President & CEO

Before launching The Stevenson Company in 1995, President and CEO Dave Stevenson managed worldwide research for product development, distribution, advertising, and customer satisfaction. His roles, first as head of the marketing section of General Motors’ worldwide product planning group, and later as director of GE Appliances’ global economics and market research team, give him extensive experience in consumer as well as business to business marketing solutions. Mr. Stevenson holds a Ph.D. in statistics from Southern Methodist University.