Memorial Day is almost here, and there is really no bigger and better excuse for buying a Barbecue grill that that. Start of the summer, big holiday, I say now’s the time.
I have been grilling outside for over 30 years, and have some definite opinions about what you should be looking for when you set out to get a grill. Here are my top five things to look for when choosing an outdoor grill.
Five most important things to look for in a BBQ Grill
1. You are going to need drain holes on the bottom of the cooker. No matter how tightly the lid fits, when it rains, grills leak, and you need drainage or the bottom rusts out.
2. Check for thicker gauge steel and sturdy welds on the grilling surface. The thicker gauge steel absorbs more heat and helps cook, as well as not shifting shape under high temperatures, while sturdy welds keep your grill together under the intense heat. A warped, broken grill is no fun to use, trust me.
3. Make sure the supports for the grilling surface are solid, and large enough so there is no room for slippage. An undersized or insufficient support will put your food on the flame with any solid bump, so make sure the design holds the grill in place.
4. A good, solid, weather and heat resistant handle is critical. My first grill’s handle went through the phases of warping, then giving me splinters and finally falling off for no insulation. Make sure the handle is well made and sealed against the elements.
5. And while this is not strictly on the grill, get a great set of tools, with sturdy, durable handles. Weak, flimsy tools deposit a lot of food on the ground or on top of other things you’re grilling. When you’ve got a Fred Flintstone size steak on the grill, you’ve got to able to handle it. As in most things, good tools are worth their weight in Filet Mignon, so while you’re getting a good grill, get a good set of tools as well.
The Defining Moment
But though now you know what to look for when choosing a grill, you haven’t made the big choice. The decision that will mark you, the choice that will define who you are as an outdoor chef . . .
Charcoal. Gas. While I have heard of no wars being started over this, it is certainly an opinion held with great conviction by each camp’s devotees. I, myself, am an island of propane use in a neighborhood of charcoalers. I taunt them for their adherence to old dogma and antiquated tools. They mock me for my reliance on technology, and my in-ability to create fire from wood. We share beer, and continue the discussion. There has been no resolution. Though one morning after I did resolve not to drink that much beer . . .
But I digress. Here is where you declare. Here is where you make your mark on the BBQ scorecard. Gas or Charcoal. I will speak for the gas grillers. I started with charcoal and then evolutionarily advanced to gas. For two main reasons, consistency and convenience. Convenience is fairly obvious- just click the button, and you have heat. No planning, no waiting. Often I watch my neighbors begin the cooking process at the same time as I do, but not finish for more than an hour after I have.
Consistency is a little harder to explain. But too many times I have placed my burgers onto a perfect bed of coals, only to find I waited too long and now they’re out, so you have to finish cooking on the stove. Or the converse, the coals look look nice and gray, but could actually smelt steel, and your juicy burger turns into a brick o’ beef that can’t be dented with a tire iron. The gas grill gives me a fairly constant temperature, affected by ambient temperature of course (I am a winter griller) so that I don’t hit the extremes of the charcoal experience. As to the supposed lack of flavor imparted by gas, I counter that with two things. One, I have small smoker box that I find effective. Two, I haven’t cleaned the grill in 11 years. I can hear the sniggering from here. I tell you, it’s planned. The drippings add flavor.
So now I will give my neighbor’s, Pedro and Freddy, reasons for going with charcoal. After the atavistic feeling of lighting something on fire (they both use no lighter fluid, preferring the chimney lighting system. In fact, both will be annoyed I mentioned their names in the same sentence as lighter fluid, even in negation), they talk about the connection to the cooking, keeping an eye on your food while it cooks, making sure it’s done to a turn, as they say. They speak of the flavor imparted by the smoke, tradition, and about radiant heat v. gas heat. I’ve sampled their stuff, it’s excellent. They say the same about mine. So, as far I’m concerned, it’s up to you to make the choice. Convenient, easy to use, and consistent gas, or messy, time consuming, and variable charcoal. There, I think that’s fair.
If you happen to be in Montana, your local Vann’s carries a few gas grills, and they are fantastic. And, our Bozeman and Kalispell Vann’s stores carry The Big Green Egg ceramic cooking system.
Oh, and if you do happen to be in Bozeman, Montana on Memorial Day, stop by the Vann’s store for some burgers — they’ll be grilling them up to help celebrate Memorial Day. Have a great holiday!