It's as American as baseball and apple pie. For countless people, outdoor grilling is a summer rite of passage.
But how can you determine which of the many grills on the market not only cook well but are also a good deal?
We've taken the guesswork out of the process to help you find an outdoor grill that gets the job done and fits your needs -- and your budget. Be an Educated Consumer
Gas grills are the most commonly owned outdoor grills on the market. And mid-sized grills, which are roughly 370 to 520 square inches and can cook between 16 to 30 burgers at once, are the most popular size sold, Bob Markovich, home and yard editor for Consumer Reports, told WalletPop.
So just how much will you pay for an outdoor grill? They can cost as little as $60 to as much as thousands of dollars, with most mid-sized grills hovering in the $250 to $500 price range, experts say.
Before you buy a grill, you need to answer a few questions, says Sharon Franke, director of kitchen appliances and technology at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute (GHRI): "Ask yourself, How much space do I have in the yard?, How many people am I cooking for? and Will I be entertaining often? If you generally cook for just two or four, don't buy a huge grill."
And don't get burned by manufacturers' grill-size measurements, which can be misleading. "What really counts for the grill size is the size of the main cooking area. And here's where some manufacturers get you: They often measure extraneous parts of the grill, like upper warming racks," says Markovich.
To make sure you're getting your money's worth when buying a grill, Markovich advises, bring a tape measure with you to the store and open the lid of the grill. Then measure the depth of the bottom of the main cooking area as well as the width, multiply the two, and you'll have the total size in square inches.
Don't Buy More Than You Need
As competition in the gas grill market heats up, manufacturers are adding more and more features to their grills -- from pizza stones to rotisserie burners -- to set their models apart and command premium prices.
Before you pay more for a feature-rich grill, assess whether or not you really need all those bells and whistles, which can jack up the price dramatically.
For one thing, Markovich suggests, "you can save a lot of money by not buying a grill with a rotisserie burner." This motorized rotisserie spit and burner can easily add $100 to $200 or more to the cost of your outdoor gas grill, he says.
For some manufacturers, infrared technology is a big selling point. They market the promise of an infrared grill's superior, even-heating capabilities and suggest that they cause fewer flare-ups.
But models with infrared technology can often cost up to twice as much as a standard gas grill, Markovich says, "and they're not a guarantee of better performance."
Here's another thing to consider: People like the look of stainless steel grills, but with that chic-sheen comes a higher price tag. If you want to save a few bucks, forgo the grill with a stainless finish, which, over time, is likely to discolor anyway, experts say.
Basic Handy Features
Now that we've established what you might not need, let's talk about some basic features you would be wise to look for in an outdoor grill.
The single most important thing a grill should do is cook evenly. That means cooking well at low temperatures so as not to burn delicate foods like chicken and fish or, conversely, under cooking them -- "Can you spell salmonella?" Markovich asks. A good grill should also cook evenly at high temperatures for food like burgers and steaks.
So when pondering a variety of outdoor grills, even cooking should be the primary performance criterion you consider. Beyond that, there are a few other product features that are beneficial to have on an outdoor grill, according to Franke.
These include a warming rack; burners that ignite automatically when the control knobs are turned; a built-in thermometer for gauging the heat level inside the grill; fuel gauge indicators to help you avoid running out of gas; storage room below the grill; a grease tray that's simple to remove; and wheels that make it easy to move the grill.
You should also check to see if it's easy to remove the gas tank, says Franke, who adds, that it's easier to manage a tank that installs from the front. What's more, side burners, which used to be an add-on feature, now come standard on most outdoor grills; these are great for preparing side dishes and keeping food warm. These days, you can find a good performance, mid-sized outdoor grill with side burners for as little as $200, says Markovich.
Recommended, Affordable Models
When it comes to outdoor grills, Weber Grills are considered the cream of the crop and enjoy a cool cachet akin to Apple products in the world of grills, says Christine Frietchen, editor-in-chief of ConsumerSearch.com, a review aggregator that compares product ratings from expert and user reviews.
But if your budget won't allow you to drop a cool $1,000 on a Weber, there's an array of high-performance grills that are affordable, too:
• The Brinkmann 810-8412-S, available exclusively at Home Depot for about $200, scored a Consumer Reports Best Buy rating. "It did very well on low-temperature, fragile foods, and worked excellently on high temperatures for searing steaks and burgers," Markovich says. It also comes with a side burner.
• The Kenmore item number 16134, available at Sears for about $270, is also recommended by Consumer Reports, which gave it high marks for even cooking and searing meats well. It, too, comes with a side burner.
• GHRI also gave a thumbs-up to the Blue Rhino UniFlame Gas Grill GBC1134W, available for a mere $168. "[It's] a great value with three burners, a side burner, warming racks and a thermometer built into the lid," Franke says.
• ConsumerSearch.com praised the $270 Char-Broil Red Infrared Urban 463250211 as a good buy for a grill with infrared cooking and for its compact size. With this grill, says Frietchen, "[users] can get close to a real steakhouse sear because of the infrared heat."
For a comprehensive primer on many outdoor grill models and features and for recommendations, consult the outdoor grill reviews on ConsumerSearch.com and GHRI.
Save With Proper Maintenance, End-of-Season Sales
Extend the life of your grill by taking good care of it, which will save you money over the long haul. These tips will help:
• Clean it, keep it sheltered and keep a cover on it. "If you're the kind of person who keeps your grill outside in the snow, wind and rain, you're inviting rust," Frietchen says. "[And] if you don't keep it clean, the grates will get gunked up...which will affect the cooking performance and longevity of the grill."
• Here's a GHRI cleaning tip: After each use, clean your grill immediately by keeping it on for 10 more minutes to burn off any stuck-on residue and then clean it with a metal-bristled brush, such as Char-Broil's Brush Hawg (about $11).
• Buy an outdoor grill at the end of the traditional grilling season. "August and September are a good time to buy a grill because retailers are looking to clear the floor space for the coming leaf blowers and snow equipment," Frietchen says, which means you may be able to land one for less.
• Shop stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe's, which have a large selection of grills, and always watch the sales circulars for deals, Frietchen says.
This way, you can get your grill on -- at a bargain!
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