If you don’t have the time or patience to wait for a charcoal grill to heat up, I’d recommend getting a Weber Spirit E-210gas grill. Priced at $400 and sized for a backyard and family, it’s a well-built grill from a company with a well-earned reputation for quality that you’ll be able to enjoy for years to come.
(If you’re looking for a charcoal grill, we like this one.)
1.Weber-Stephen Products Genesis II E-310
Even better, Weber has been making grills since 1951 and are one of the most respected names in backyard grilling. The company’s longevity has a lot to do with the quality of the hardware they make. People trust it and they buy it. When I asked our experts what kind of grill they’d recommend, none of them could agree on a particular model to tell you about. But they all respected Weber.
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2.Weber Spirit II E-310
3.Char-Broil Performance 300 – Stainless
4.Char-Griller 3001 Grillin’ Pro
5.Weber Summit S-470 Stainless-Steel
6.Bull Outdoor Products Gas BBQ with Cart
7.3 Embers 4-Burner Dual Fuel Propane Gas Grill
8.Char-Broil Classic 405 4-Burner LPG Grill
9.Monument Grills Stainless Steel 4 Burner Propane Gas Grill w/Side Sear Burners
When most people think about barbecue the first thing that comes to mind is the smoky, charbroiled taste of food cooked to perfection over charcoal. But charcoal—and I say this as a charcoal grill owner—is a pain in the ass. You need a place to keep the charcoal dry. You have to deal with the filth of cleaning out and filling your grill every time you cook. Waiting ages for the charcoal to catch fire and turn into white hot cooking perfection is a chore. For many people, prepping and waiting on a charcoal grill to cook their dinner is too much of a time drain. Even Craig ‘Meathead’ Goldwyn, grilling guru and owner of the Amazing Ribs website says gas grills are the way to go for most folks.
“In the States,” says Goldwyn, “gas grills significantly outsell charcoal grills and they do have some advantages. They’re easy and convenient. With a gas grill, you don’t have to store your charcoal out of the rain. You don’t need to use a chimney to pour your charcoal into and wait for it to light up. You just walk out there, turn the switch and turn it on. Ten minutes later you’re up to heat and you can throw your meat on there. So it’s really convenient.”
Who’s this for
This pick is best suited for a household with 3-5 people that grills with any sort of regularity, someone looking for a grill that’ll fit nicely on a balcony or in the corner of a deck, or anyone that wants to invest in a gas grill that’ll last for years to come.
Convenience Comes at a Price
You can get cooking with a gas grill in a shorter amount of time and with less hassle than you can with charcoal grill, but there’s one overarching caveat: gas grills generally won’t get as hot. They only reach an average top temperature of between 400 and 600 degrees fahrenheit. That means that the meat you throw on a gas grill won’t get that crisp texture and seared patina that comes from a Maillard reaction that’s typically associated with cooking on a charcoal grill which can reach temperatures upwards of 700 degrees fahrenheit.
To understand why this was, I spoke with Jeff Potter, author of Cooking for Geeks.
“The thing to look at is how heat is transmitted,” Potter explains. “You have convection: hot air. You’ve got infrared: radiant heat. If you look at a gas grill, a lot more of it is really about heating up the air. The hot air flows over the food and that convection heats the food. With charcoal, the fuel gets really hot—so hot it’s glowing red and that radiant heat is heating the food.”
Convection heating isn’t as good at barbecuing food as radiant heat is. But gas grill manufacturers have figured out a few ways of getting around this issue. For example, you’ll find a lot of mid-to-high-end gas grills come equipped with cooking grates made from cast iron or porcelain covered steel. These retain and radiate a significant amount the heat required to get a good Maillard reaction going.
Over the past two or three years, special high energy infrared burners called ‘sear burners’ have been come on the scene. Gas grills equipped with these can cook in a way that’ll crank out similar results to food cooked on a charcoal grill. Which is nice! But after talking to my three experts and doing some research on sear burners, I wouldn’t recommend investing in a grill that has one just yet: they’re high maintenance and from all reports, are fussy and prone to failure if you don’t thoroughly clean them on a regular basis. Of course you’ve got to clean gas grills, but if you buy one with a feature like a sear burner that makes you mess about with a thorough cleaning and maintenance routine after every time you use it, I’d argue you may as well go with charcoal.
To be clear, in most cases, a decent gas grill will still cook your food to the same doneness as a charcoal grill, but it won’t have the same smoky taste. That’s because charcoal creates a lot of smoke as it burns whereas gas grills use mostly flavorless, clean-burning liquid propane. Additionally, as your food cooks over charcoal, the juices and fat from it drip down onto the bed of coals below it. This wood smoke and the smoke created by the burning fats on the coal bed saturates your food as it cooks, and provides it with additional flavor, beyond what a Maillard Reaction and whatever sauces or spices you use can afford. Does fat drip off of a chunk of meat on a gas grill? Sure. But unless it falls on one of your grill’s burners, you won’t get the same vaporized flavor drifting up to kiss your meal.
If you can live with this, you should consider a gas grill. Let’s talk about what you should be looking for when you’re on the hunt for one of these things.
What if you still want Charcoal?
Say you still want more heat and don’t mind the inconvenience of charcoal? You probably want our pick for the best charcoal grill, the Weber One-Touch Gold. It’s also pretty cheap at about $140.
What You Need
To get adequate heat control, you’ll want a grill with a minimum of two burners. Here’s the thing: Meathead and a number of other people I spoke with including Wired’s New York Editor and former chef Joe Brown told me that the more burners you have, the better off you are. Because having burners allows you to create different heating zones and perhaps more importantly, control the amount of heat your grill puts out for indirect heat cooking. Meathead told me that if you want to do the best grill cooking possible, you need at least three burners. So that’s what I started looking for. That said, one of the things that makes the Wirecutter the site that it is is our peer editing process. My editors kicked my ass on the notion that you need three burners to cook a decent meal. He contended that he uses less than that with his grill on a regular basis, and the food turns out just fine. I wanted to reach out across the ocean and strangle him by the end of the process, but he was right: Even when I’m cooking on my Weber kettle grill, I only typically have two zones of heat–one where the charcoal’s piled high, and the other where it’s shallow–and the food turns out great. So I dug in and went back to researching grills, starting fresh. I called nine different stores that deal in gas grills, not big big stores, mind you, but specialty shops. I was told by four of them that yeah, you’ll want as many burners as you can afford because it allows for more heat control and more options. But when I asked them what they sold the most of, the answer was the same in all but two of the nine stores: they typically ended up selling most people two burner gas grills.
So, for most people, because of cost, and the fact that unless you’re a BBQ cooking aficionado, who’d notice the subtle difference that more burners can make in your cooking, two burners is the way to go. This will allow you two have two different cooking zones and a modicum of temperature control. Need to cook ten hamburgers all at the same time for the guests of your daughter’s birthday party? Turn both of the burners up, bomb the grill with meat patties and you’ll be done in no time. Want to cook a few steaks and some red peppers for dinner? Keep one burner on a lower heat setting to slowly cook your steaks and veggies. When the meat’s nearly done, switch it over to the other side of the grill to sear the outside of the meat (as best you can—you’re cooking with gas).
Having a two-burner gas grill also affords you a larger cooking surface than a single burner grill will—on average about 400 square inches. As most of the guides I read and the experts I spoke to recommended between 72 to 100 square inches of grill space per person you’re cooking for, a two-burner grill will work great for a family of four. And if you’re cooking for more people than that? Tell them to wait. Honestly, when was the last time you went to a party with barbecued food where you didn’t have to line up with your plate and wait your turn?
You want your burners to be made of a resilient material. Skip the aluminum and go for steel. Despite burning cooler than charcoal, gas burners put out a stunning amount of heat, and that’s hard on a chunk of metal. This heat—along with the corrosion than can occur over time from the burners being subjected to the drippings from your food and the elements—will corrode them over time, and force you to replace them if you want to keep using your grill safely. The smart money’s on steel. 300-series steel is preferable, but in the 20 hours of research I poured into putting this piece together, I found that when you’re lucky enough to find a grill with steel burners, more often than not they’re made from 400-series steel, which isn’t as tough. 400 series steel has a higher carbon content than 300 series steel does. That provides it with more corrosion and wear resistance, but it’s doesn’t hold a weld as well as 300 series steel will. Such is life.
The grill’s fire box, which is the bottom half of the grill’s body and dome or lid of the grill should be tough and well designed. They’re responsible for holding in the heat put out by the grill’s burners. If they’re poorly designed and don’t allow decent airflow around the grilling surface and your food, or aren’t constructed of a thick metal, your cook times will be longer—that means you’re wasting propane. A good firebox and dome will optimize the amount of heat created by the burners, making for better and more environmentally friendly direct and indirect cooking. Some of the best grills out there are made from 300-series stainless steel, but you’ll also find some great gear that’s constructed from cast aluminum and porcelain covered steel. All three materials, when paired with great grill design, should serve you well.
When I asked Meathead about what people should look for in a grill, he strongly advised getting one with a lid or dome, no matter how tempting it might be to go without one.
“There’s gas grills that come without a lid, and they call them braziers. You really want a lid. I know that some of these look like Argentine asados, and people are enamoured of them, but without a lid you really can’t roast or cook properly, especially thick cuts of meat.”
Your grill’s cooking grate should be well made. Cheap grates that are made of steel are easy to clean. Cast iron grates that you typically get with more expensive grills, hold a lot of heat, but are difficult to clean and maintain. I think the smart money’s on a porcelain covered iron grate. They’re easy to clean and maintain, but they hold heat just like an iron grate does. That makes them perfect for cooking on a gas grill.
Finally, no matter what style of grill you have your eye on, you’ll want it to have a good warranty. This is easier said than done. Grill warranties are insane. There are all kinds of clauses, and they vary widely from company to company. Burners will typically get two years’ worth of coverage; the same goes for other internals. Fireboxes and domes often get between five years to a lifetime’s worth of coverage.
I’ve also seen one sketchy warranty that after five years will sell you parts at a 50% discount, but only if you bought the grill in a brick and mortar store—not online.
Sooner or later, your gas grill will fail, due to the stresses we put them through. If you get one, be sure to get it from a company with a well established reputation that’s been around for a while, so it’s easy to get parts. Also, make sure that the grill you buy is durable in the first place, and not some thin-skin box store special that’ll rust out after a few years. That way you won’t have to worry about warranty for a long time.
What You Don’t Need
What you don’t need in a grill is almost as important as what you should be looking for. After all, there are hundreds of different gas grills out there. Anything you can do to shrink the playing field is going to make your life a whole lot easier. Meathead has multiple grills of all shapes and sizes in his backyard being tested and used on a regular basis. Because he’s exposed to so many different designs and grill features, I thought he’d be the man to ask about which features are over-hyped and useless.
His biggest pet peeve: Built-in thermometers. According to Meathead, they’re a joke. You really need a digital thermometer with a probe that you can put a couple of inches from the meat and know what the meat is experiencing, not a built-in one.
“The thermometer that grill manufacturers build into their hardware is typically garbage, the lowest-quality, cheapest thing they can get,” says Meathead. “Grills typically come with a bimetal thermometer built into them. That’s technology that was invented in the 1800s and it hasn’t changed significantly since then. They’re horrible. Readers often send me pictures of their digital thermometers next to the dial thermometer built into their grill and the dial is often off by 50 to 100 degrees. Worse, the thermometers are often up in the dome. The temperature in the dome is different than the temperature down where the meat is on the cooking surface. My advice is to just get some black spray paint and cover it over, because it is really misleading and it can ruin you. You really need a digital thermometer with a probe that you can put a couple of inches from the meat and know what the meat is experiencing.”
If you don’t already own a digital thermometer with a probe, this one’s great. I’ve owned it for a little over a year and it’s served me well.
Meathead also told me that while stainless steel looks nice, it’s not the best material to cover the exterior of a grill in. He explained to me that stainless steel tends to be thinner than other dome and firebox materials employed by grill manufacturers. And in the case of 430 stainless steel, it also has a tendency to quickly discolour in the presence of high heat…you know, like you get from a barbecue.
Stainless steel is also a pain in the ass to maintain. Meathead again: “You start obsessing over keeping it spotless and shiny. A grill is not meant to be shiny. It’s going to get dirty. It’s going to get drips and sauce stains on it and you don’t want to stand there and polish it.”
How Did I Pick?
I use a charcoal grill, so I didn’t know a whole lot about what you should look for when it comes to a decent gas grill. So, I reached out to Meathead and Jeff and asked them what they felt a good grill should have. I also spoke with merchants that specialize in selling barbecues and grilling accessories. (I didn’t bother asking them for a hardware pick. It’s in their best interest to try and push whatever brand they’ve got in the store, so their opinion on that sort of thing can’t be trusted.) Next, I turned to Consumer Reports to get a feel for the field. Their grill reviews are a great entry point, because they’re all numerically scored, and largely dispassionate. With grills, and grilling, two topics that typically evoke strong opinions and fanboyism, that’s a good thing. I also looked to About.com’s grilling guide as well as Good Housekeeping and checked in with America’s Test Kitchen. Unfortunately, while ATK had just finished writing about charcoal grills, they hadn’t looked at gas grills in a few years. Finally I turned to Amazon to see what was popular and had received positive feedback. Looking at the most popular two burner grills, I built a list of possible candidates to look into, weeding out anything that had a questionable warranty, poor user reviews or was made from substandard materials.