When you step into the domain of premium grills it’s no longer about just cooking hot dogs and burgers. You expect to find a full grilling workstation that has the features to provide a heightened ease of use, cleaning, space, and...
Best Propane Grills 2018 | Comprehensive Gas Grill Buyer’s Guide
Since the beginning of human existence people have to need to eat, and with the invention of fire the ultimate way to cook was invented, grilling. It is a testament to the importance of grilling that in the hundreds of thousands of years since the beginning of man there is still no better way to cook up a tasty meal. Though the idea remains the same, we have moved passed grilling over open fires into the domain of household grilling machines that prepare food at a variety of quality and speeds to the point that shopping for a new grill can be a bit of a headache. Thankfully there are guides like this one to get you moving in the right direction towards the fantastic grilling euphoria that the perfectly cooked meal can provide. It will be a long journey with delicious results so let’s hurry up and get started.
There are a variety of different grilling methods on the market today to suit whatever the grillers preference, however at the start of it all there is one simple question. What type to choose?
Let’s speak about Gas grills first.
The majority of gas grills are fueled by either Liquid Propane(LP) or Natural Gas(NG) where the gas is used to cook the meal or more commonly heat up directly and element so it can cook the meal. While most grills are designed for one type of gas conversion kits are quite common, so the customer’s options when purchasing gas are quite open. Another benefit of propane grills is you won’t have to buy the fuel source as often as you would with charcoal. 40 pounds of propane gas on a medium sized grilling surface is liable to last you three weeks of continuous cooking. That can equal the whole summer for someone who cooks with propane at a casual pace. On the other hand, someone cooking with charcoal would have to buy multiple bags of briquettes to keep up. A medium sized grill might take 6-8 cooks to get rid of a whole bag of charcoal.
One of the primary attributes that people classically put faith in charcoal over gas is they believe that charcoal gives your food a better flavor. However, in recent years gas grilling has created more versatility in their design to compete and bring comparable flavor in their unique way. Most gas grills use a cart style design where the core of the grill is in the middle of some sort of cabinet with two side arms for side work or utility grilling. The cabinet provides some extra storage space, and there are usually at least a couple of wheels for mobility. All of these common attributes open up the way for gas grilling’s superior customization.
Where as charcoal grills put all of their emphasis into a primary grilling surface, gas grills allow the customer to get the right side elements that suit their tastes. A side grilling surface is usually customary, and it brings another area to prepare food. Perhaps you would like to get a sauce warmed up to baste the meat on the main grill, or you want to cook an assortment of vegetables without the flavors mingling with the protein then this adds on shine. Another common addition is a rear rotisserie burner. These will often use technology to give whatever you cook with these an equal cook from the inside out. So you can prepare an excellent roast chicken while you grill hot dogs and burgers, bringing more versatility to your meal gatherings. The next side of a grill provides a flat top grilling surface. Here you would have a “griddle like” surface that allows you to cook without your meal being touched by the flame at all. That gives the cook a ton of control when he knows how he wants the food to be done for the perfect sear. Finally, you will see gas grills with implementations for smoking food. Smoking is a charcoal grill purist activity, so they still may not recognize your grills abilities. However, you can still find a nice smoke from a gas grill. You will just have to pay a bit more as gas grills generally have a hard time staying at the low temperatures required for a nice, slow cooked, smoked meal. So, the competition between gas and charcoal often comes down to gas’s superior convenience against charcoal’s superior flavor, though charcoal might need to bring another horse to the race soon to continue to stand a chance.
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That about sums up the types of grills you will see, so you get a decent picture of all the variations that are available. For gas or charcoal, you can find portable grill options that are great is you want to cook on the go at the park, or at a tailgating event. These grills are made to replicate the advantages of larger grills while also avoid many of the pitfalls that would be troublesome in a highly mobile scenario like ash catching. You can also find grills of a hybrid design that combine charcoal and gas elements for the ultimate level of versatility. However, these grills are designed with a particular type of customer in mind who favors adaptability more than a focused look at providing a singular great product. These types of grills will look great for the survivalist, but the more average customer will probably want to go with a grill that is more intent on doing the one thing it does extremely well.
Within grilling just like everything else it often comes down to priorities. This guide will focus more on the aspects of gas grilling as it provides more overall benefits as we move into the future. You get more variety when it comes to heating elements, as well as a variety of the grilling surfaces. Gas grills provide you with a higher level of control and lack of flare-ups that charcoal grills can’t compare to. That is a guide for the average customer, so gas is a much better focus as a charcoal grilling guide would probably also require teaching numerous grilling techniques that aren’t necessary when you are dealing with the superior control that gas grilling provides. In exchange for losing the debatably better cooking flavor, you get more control, convenience, and easier cleaning. Charcoal grills will continue to be referenced as we go but we felt you should know where the market is moving.
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There is nothing more important to get a long life out of your grill than knowing what materials your grill is made out of and putting effort into maintaining these materials. Some materials make a grill where cleaning is necessary to get even a few cooks out of while other materials allow the user to be bit lazier about maintenance because they are easy to clean and built to last. Generally, outside of the number of burners, BTU’s and the types of side burners, the material of the grill will be the largest factor in deciding on a grills price. That is why the materials are of the utmost importance to be wary of so you don’t end up getting scammed into a bad purchase.
An essential part of any gas grill will be the burners as they provide the core to any grilling experience. There are a wide variety of styles and materials for burners though most adopt a straight design as they are focused on heating a solid section of the grill. The classic burner design is an H though you might see oval designs and dual tube burners that allow for a more consistent burn in their zone. The nice thing about searching for burners in your grill is they are pretty uniform in the competition with every grill needing a nice set of burners to establish its place in the market. From best to worst, you can find burners in stainless steel, aluminized steel, or cast iron, with porcelain coating as an option for each of these. A porcelain coating makes the burner retain heat better as well as make it easier to clean. Burners are made to last, but also generally have longer warranties when compared to other parts of the grill. Nowadays stainless steel is quite common for burners and should be prioritized over the other materials.
Also know as cooking grids are the surface on which you will cook your meals, and are the first things you will see change as you start dropping prices.
The most expensive and longest lasting cooking grates. These grates look great while also being the easiest to clean and providing excellent heat distribution, so they are the pinnacle of cooking grids at the moment.
Porcelain Coated Cast Iron
The second tier of grid gives you a thick surface that is only a bit harder to clean and still guaranteed to be durable. These grids are perfect for searing with their superb heat distribution.
Porcelain Coated Steel
Quite comparable to the previous tier however they are not as good for searing. They still provide a durable material that is moderately easy to clean.
You will usually see this more often in charcoal grills. These grates can be a pain to clean and should be coated with oil so the food can move freely and the cleaning procedure won’t take as long. One issue with this is the oil might cause flare ups, so the above options are much more convenient and easier to work with.
Chrome Plated Steel
These grids look nice but are the least expensive and also last the shortest period. While they are decent for cooking with if your grill uses this material you might find yourself replacing your grid sooner than you anticipated.
As you go down the list, each type gets a bit worse for flare ups which can cause you to get food with a blackened or burnt exterior before the inside is cooked which makes creating a delicious meal that much harder. Stainless steel is most definitely the go to however you can get more iron into your diet with a non-porcelain coated cast iron grill. That is only with high iron foods like vegetables while meat will be significantly harder to work with thanks to the lack of coating.
Also commonly called radiation shields, heat plates, burner shields, heat angle, or heat tents. You might find these in a charcoal grill, but they are more commonly found in new variations of gas grills. These components serve a couple of purposes to help with grilling. The first thing they provide if protection for you burners and they can go a long way for ensuring a long life out of those elements. The other thing they are great for is adding some extra flavor to your cooking. In newer models, these are made to vaporize the drippings from your food and send them right back into your meal so you can get some of that nice smoky flavor without having to worry about getting a full-fledged smoker. Charcoal grills have a similar piece sometimes called the rock grate, but they are much easier to replace and work with their gas grill competition.
An essential part of any gas grill these can get clogged up and affect your grilling capabilities. More often than not you will need to go directly through your grill’s manufacturer to find replacements, so this is an area where it pays to go with a major brand. You won’t have as many problems when searching for replacements though if you maintain your grill properly, it is not very likely that you will need to replace them in the first place.
Those are the main components to keep in mind when dealing with how your grill is going to cook overall. Outside of that, you can get into things like cabinets and covers, but those won’t directly affect your grilling experience. They will have a greater effect on your ease of use and the lifetime of your grill respectively.
How It All Works
These are the basics when it comes to a gas grill, but there are a few more components that bring it all together. That is a section that breaks down how it all works together so you can have a clear mind when it comes to troubleshooting any issues you might have. A gas grill is primarily made of a gas source, burners, hoses, valve regulators, a starter, the grill hood, grill body, and the cooking surface.
The gas source connects through the hoses to the valve regulators and the starter. Upon staring using with an electronic spark the gas is fed through to the burners at your regulations to create the heat source where you will do your grilling. The methodology is relatively simple, so the quality of each material is the main thing that will differentiate each grill.
To take it a step further the electric spark is usually created through some sort of ignition device. For example, one method uses a hammer to strike a crystalline material to produce thousands of volts of electricity to quickly and simultaneously ignite all of a grills elements. Much like a car and its spark plug, this is the ignition point for the heat that will eventually become a mixture of gas and oxygen that heats up over the entire surface of your grill. Most grills have at least two separate burners, so you get an even heat as opposed to on that drops off at the edges.
Natural Gas vs. Liquid Propane
The main plus with liquid propane is its portability. Where as natural gas requires you to run a line through your house that restricts where you can place your grill. Liquid propane is available for purchase in containers that can be lugged around anywhere. That is because liquid propane is much easier to compress so you can get high power in a portable form. On the other hand, natural gas will probably be more affordable of the long term if you already have a line in your house. Liquid propane does give you more power for the punch though, and we will go over that in this next section on BTU’s.
Now you know how the heat is created, and what you would like your grill to be made out of so how do you maintain is so you don’t end up needing a new one right when the warranty runs out? That is one area where charcoal grills have a leg up on the gas competition as they are much easier to maintain. That is mainly because they require relatively little maintenance. With a charcoal grill, it is often as simple as cleaning off your grid and emptying out your ashes before you’re ready to roll again.
However, that comes along with needing an extra fifteen to thirty more minutes to get started cooking. For gas grills, on the other hand, we have to keep the words of uncle Ben in mind. “With great power comes great responsibility” maybe not meant for grilling, but it applies here. In order, to start up a grill and get cooking in under a minute you will have to put some of that time into the back end for sustainability. Outside of replacing the grill grates, you will also need to refill the propane tank(though that is comparable to replacing the charcoal), maintain the lines, igniter, and gas connections.
You will also want to keep the burners, igniter collector box, and drip tray clean. That is one of the areas where it pays to have as much stainless steel in your build as you can find. For this reason, if you can’t afford to find a gas grill with either stainless steel or porcelain coated elements you are probably better off going with a charcoal grill in the long run.
The cart style way of life is a commonality across the world of propane grills, so we need to take a moment of time to focus on what this brings to the customer. The majority of propane grills adopt a central cabinet underneath the primary grill surface along with two side shelves. The shelves are often mainly for plating though it is common to find a side burner on the left shelf in many models. They provide a bit of extra workspace to bring more versatility than you will find in the typical charcoal grill. When it comes to the cabinet underneath, there are also a tremendous amount of variations you can find.
Some have a single door while others have two and you can get a ton of variety in the different types of handles you will find. However, it is more about the insides where you will commonly find a spacious and shelved storage area. These cabinets are perfect for storing any spices or condiments that you like to have on hand when grilling. They also serve as a good spot to place refreshments so you can stay as well fueled as your grill over strenuous grilling expeditions. As you scale the pricing ladder, you will find cabinets with implementations for things such as bottle openers, grilling tools, and other convenient additions that add a bit of utility to your grill.
We won’t take too long here as this section is appropriately about keeping it moving. Generally when it comes to the cart style design you either get two wheels or you get four. When you only get two, usually they are of the heavy duty design without any locking capabilities, and you will find them on the lower end grill models. As you move up, you will find two to four caster wheels which glide much more smoothly and also feature locking mechanisms so you can grill even on a hill. If you have four wheels, you will want them all to lock if possible for more stability. However, two will work in a pinch. This section will depend on the customer as natural gas grills are locked in by necessity. A highly mobile liquid propane grill can be extremely useful to the griller on the go, however.
Grilling Surface vs. Number of Burners
The majority of grills will give you an overinflated number that includes the warming racks into the surface area of your grill to confuse the customer’s perception of value. First off make sure you know the grills primary cooking surface area, so you don’t get thrown for a loop. A general frame of reference to keep in mind is you will need at least 400 square inches to cook a full meal for the average sized family. If you go any lower than this, you will probably have to cook each part of the meal separately. As you get to the upper 500 range, you will get to the point where you can start cooking for extensive gatherings with relative ease. Most families will be happy with a surface in between these two ranges though.
Generally, the burners to surface area ratio do not matter too much, but it does affect the versatility that the grill will have. A grill with a 450 square inch surface area and three burners won’t be able to cook the same amount of variety as a grill with an equal surface area and a fourth burner. Much like when it comes to the assorted side grills the most important thing to keep in mind here is how much variety you would like to have in your cooking. An extra burner won’t necessarily make it so you can cook more burgers at a time as much as it makes it so you can cook the veggies and the burgers at the same time at different temperatures.
When it comes to grills, there are not too many crazy special features to differentiate between each brand, so you are looking for a grill that covers the basics while branching out into the special features that interest you like a side hibachi grill, rear rotisserie, or infrared burners. The core of the grill should always be what you are most focused on, but it is nice to know what type of goodies to look out for.
These are the main features to look for though some might consider flavorizer bars and the like though those are covered above in the heat shield section. You probably want to start with having a good thermometer and an appropriate lid for your cooking style, and then everything else is gravy from there.
The world of grilling is a vast domain that can be quite unfriendly if you don’t pay attention to the laws that define the market. When you get into it though, you will find that purchasing the perfect grill for any customer is not as hard as you might have thought. There are simple things to keep in mind primarily your grilling surface, burners, and materials, but beyond that, no other aspect is extraordinarily important.
Charcoal grills have an edge on flavor but lose a lot of that edge with the technological leaps being made in gas grilling as well as the native issue of needing much more time to get started.
Gas grills, on the other hand, provide a lot more versatility with their storage space, side and rear burners. They make it so you do not have to focus on one style of cooking for your whole grill as you can combine searing, smoking, rotisserie, and standard grilling all into one in the right package. I hope that whether you are looking to spend a bit on your first grill or investing into your dream grill this guide has left you with all the knowledge you need to bring that package home pleased.
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