Raked Over the Coals — What to Know Before Buying a Grill

Buying a grill can be a confusing proposition. New technology, super-sized units and an abundance of features can leave a grilling guru's head spinning. Consider these points to avoid the confusion and get the right grill for the job

Cooking with Gas
Grills that use natural gas provide instant, controllable heat. They are clean to operate. And they do not use a tank for fuel, so there is no risk of running out of gas. The biggest drawback is that they cannot be moved because of the attached gas line. Gas grills are also more expensive to install, requiring a professional to run a gas line from the home to the grill.

Fill 'er Up
Cooking with propane is all about cleanliness and portability. Propane grills are easy to use, do not create a mess and allow grilling aficionados to take the cookout anywhere the grill and propane tank can be carried. Owners of a propane grill had better enjoy trips to the store, though, because the grill's tank has to be regularly refilled with fuel.

The Final Frontier
The infrared grill is a relatively new technology for the amateur pitmaster. An infrared grill uses gas or propane to heat a ceramic surface within the grill which radiates heat and cooks the food. These grills can reach very high temperatures and are can cook food very quickly. This keeps the food from drying out and enhances the flavor.

Old Faithful
Charcoal grills are as basic as it gets when it comes to cooking outdoors. A little lighter fluid, a few briquettes, a match, and voila, it is time to grill. Charcoal grills are simple to operate and are extremely portable. They also give the food a natural, smoky flavor. The downside to cooking with a charcoal grill is that they can be messy, they take time to heat up, and they do not offer as much control over the cooking temperature as other grills.

A Material World
A grill is only as good as its cooking surface, so it is always a good idea to take a look under the hood before making a purchase. Heavy cast iron is extremely durable and will last for years but requires some maintenance. For a non-stick surface that does not require as much attention, opt for a porcelain-coated grate. Take great care when cleaning porcelain-coated materials, though, because they can chip if not cleaned properly.

Is Bigger Always Better?
Consider how the grill will be used before heading to the checkout. If the grill will be used infrequently and to cook for only a few people, then a smaller, more economical unit, may be the best fit. On the other hand, if cooking outdoors is a way of life, and it will be used to cook for dozens of people, then a larger unit may be in order.

The Bells and Whistles
Grills come with a lot of features, but determine which ones are most important. It is easy to get seduced by flashy extras at the point of purchase, so do your homework on the front end to reduce the likelihood of making a hasty decision while at the store.

Burning Through Money
The cost of a grill can vary widely and will be heavily influenced by the size, materials and features selected. A basic charcoal grill can cost $50 or less, but a high-end gas grill for an outdoor kitchen can cost more than $5,000.

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