Before shopping for a grill ask yourself what you want it to do.Gas, charcoal or electric? Portable or stationary? Rotisserie, infrared burners or a pizza stone? Barbecue grills these days offer a multitude of choices for the outdoor chef. With the only limit being how much you're willing to spend, how can a consumer get the most grill for their buck without getting burned?

WalletPop took a closer look at today's barbecue grill offerings to find out just what's available and what sort of homework you should do before you slap that first shrimp on the Barbie.

Your first step -- before you actually go shopping for a grill-- is to ask yourself what you really want it to do. If you're just looking to cook up your basic hamburgers and hot dogs for a beach cookout, cheap, disposable grills -- really glorified tinfoil pans with a little bit of charcoal and a cooking grate -- can be had for as little as $5.

Or you could take it to the other extreme and purchase a "make the neighbors envious" grill. One of these high-tech barbecues will run into the thousands of dollars with gadgets galore and turn your patio or deck into an outdoor man cave.

According to Weber-Stephens Products LLC, the maker of Weber grills, there's more to picking the right grill than just lifting the lids, picking a color or comparing styles. "A consumers should ask...a few questions after giving the grill a little wiggle test to make sure it's durable and will withstand being moved around the deck and the regular use that comes with grilling," Jeanine Thompson, a spokeswoman for Weber, told WalletPop.

If you're looking for a gas grill, Thompson said, consumers should decide how many burners they need. Better grills usually have at least two burners -- the more you have, the better heat control they'll provide. If a grill has only one burner, there could be hot and cold areas on the cooking grate, because the grill would only have one source supplying the heat.

A higher British thermal unit (Btu) -- how much gas a grill can burn -- isn't necessarily better. "In fact, a grill with fewer BTUs that reaches 550 degrees F is the most efficient," Thompson noted.

Shoppers should also look at just how the heat is distributed. Thompson said most barbeque grills use lava rock or ceramic briquettes to distribute the heat. One downside to those is that food drippings could pool and cause flare-ups while cooking. She recommended looking for upside-down V-shaped metal bars that direct drippings away from the burner.

Speaking of grease and food drippings, Thompson also recommended looking for a grill that has catch pans at least an inch deep that are easy to get to from the front of the grill. And the gas tank should be off to the side, instead of below the grill, for ease of access.

The Home Depot's Tom Sullivan said you also need to decide just how you want your grill fueled -- by propane, natural gas, charcoal or electricity. Sometimes, where you live will determine that choice for you. "An electric [grill] is the only type approved for many apartment communities," Sullivan told WalletPop.

Quality construction -- which helps determine how long the grill will last -- is another factor to consider. And consumers should look at the overall cost of owning and operating the grill, not just the initial price.

"Fuel efficiency and the useful life of the grill and its components must be considered," said Sullivan. "For example, a Charbroil Red series grill uses 30% less fuel than others due to its design, and Weber gas grills have a 10-year burner warranty."

Sullivan said consumers need to think about how many people they cook for and how often because that factors in to what grill size they'll need. The more people you cook for, the bigger a grill you might want in order to prepare enough food to feed everyone at once. After all, no one wants to have to wait for their steak when all their friends are already digging in.

Clean up -- and how easy that is -- should also should factor in to your decision. "Porcelain, non-stick griddles and those that fit in a dishwasher are a plus," Sullivan added.

Walmart spokeswoman Tara Raddohl pointed to new trends in grills, including infrared grills, grill colors other than the basic black or silver, and dual grills -- ones that cook with both charcoal and gas. But while bells and whistles are nice, make sure you'll actually use these upgraded features before you shell out for them.

One final thing to keep in mind: Buy your grill from a reputable retailer that will stand behind their product, Raddohl suggested. Check warranties and ease of getting replacement parts. The best retailers will offer replacement parts for consumers who need them.


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