Cooking Basics

Grill shopping tips

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The right grill makes barbecued foods taste better
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Follow these grill shopping tips and you'll be rewarded with great grilled foods

Just mention the word "grill" and the testosterone level of most men increases, as does the amount of drool on their shirts as they dream about grilling and eating tasty steaks, burgers and brats. Most of us don't hunt down our own meat anymore, but those innate hunting skills can still be applied to the search for the proper barbecue grill.

Follow these grill shopping tips and you'll be smoking up the neighborhood with the smell of charbroiled meat in no time.

Fuel type

The first thing to consider when grill shopping is fuel. The choices are charcoal, propane, natural gas and electricity.

Charcoal grills are generally the least expensive to purchase and the easiest to assemble since they have the fewest parts. Charcoal provides a very high heat for searing meats and gives off smoke that adds that taste and flavor many people prefer. On the other hand, the heat of a charcoal fire is difficult to measure and maintain precisely. Charcoal fires take the longest to warm up and ashes and coals must be disposed of after each use.

Propane gas grills use refillable tanks filled with clean-burning propane fuel. Propane grills heat up quickly, parts are easy to maintain and replace and the grills come in a wide variety of sizes.

Natural gas grills are connected to a home gas line which adds to the initial expense and restricts their location and movement. Some propane grills can be converted to natural gas or have dual capabilities.

Both propane and natural gas grills have precision controls to regulate heat. Electric grills are generally smaller and can be used on porches or even indoors because they have no flames or gas.

Grill size

Once you decide on the type of grill, the next consideration is size.

Small grills may be easy to move around but no one likes to watch other people eating burgers while they wait for the next platter to be cooked. On the other hand, don't buy an extra large grill with space that you'll never use. Besides wasting money, it can be difficult to maneuver and store.

If you're going with propane or natural gas, the size decision includes the BTU or heat rating. A higher BTU rating doesn't always mean that the grill will produce more heat, especially if it's heating an extra large space. Rather than high BTUs, look for grills with more burners and precise controls so you can distribute the heat effectively.

In addition to size, the price of your grill is affected by materials and features. Stainless steel grills are popular but the most expensive. Cast aluminum, cast iron or heavy sheet metal will last a long time if you keep the grills clean, covered from the weather and stored in the winter. The same is true of the inside grids. Stainless steel and porcelain coated grids will last long if you clean them according to the manufacturer's recommendations.

Finally, be wary of adding too many extra features. Rotisseries, woks and side burners add cost and seem like they're in the way if not used frequently.

Do this kind of thinking and planning before you go grill shopping and you'll be happily serving tasty grilled foods to your family and friends for many years to come.

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