By Mike Thayer
So I'm in need of a new grill. But what kind of grill should I buy? Which is better, gas or charcoal?
Any kind of grill is better than no grill. A grill can be a piece of scrap metal and two cinder blocks standing over a small pile of charcoal, or it can be the latest stainless steel propane gas model with infra-red heat for searing and two side burners. Grills vary greatly in size, shape, fuel source, cost and most importantly, the ability to deliver flavor.
That last reason - flavor - is why I’m a charcoal grill enthusiast and my grill shopping on a budget will be done with that in mind. Don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of useful information from this article if you’re a gas griller, but I’m here to tell you, charcoal grills deliver better flavor every time. Don’t get me wrong, gas grills have their place, but along with the great flavor charcoal delivers, charcoal has other advantages like the flexibility of using it to give big steaks that high heat sear, or using it to cook ribs low and slow. Another advantage charcoal grills have over gas is that you can easily add wood to the fire, putting another layer of flavor on that great looking piece of meat. You can add wood to a gas grill, but you’re pretty much restricted to using wood chips and you have to keep those chips away from the gas burners, almost forcing you to buy one of those gas grill accessories - the wood chip box. In my experience, the gas grill and those little wood chip boxes just don’t measure up to the flavors you can add using a charcoal grill setup. Here are some more advantages to the charcoal grill:
You may have noticed, I left out electric grills in that breakdown. That’s because electric grills suck. Don’t buy one. They don’t deliver the heat they promise, you’re restricted to where you can plug it in and like the gas grill, they don’t deliver any flavor. Durability with electric grills is also an issue. I used to have an electric grill, I converted it over to charcoal after the element burned out.
“What about smokers?” you ask. This article focuses on grilling, smoking is a whole different level of backyard-cooking-meat-with-fire-experience.
So now that I’ve covered the advantages and disadvantages of the two main grill types and you now know that charcoal is the way to go, let’s talk about grills available with a budget of $150.00. I've got enough space on my apartment patio to comfortably fit a decent sized grill, something with enough cooking grate space to prepare a delicious grilled meal for 4 - 6 people.
In shopping around, I found the following grills meeting my criteria:
Weber Original Kettle Premium 22" Grill: $149 at Ace Hardware, Cabela's, Home Depot, Walmart. On sale for $134.10 at Lowe's. This grill has a well-deserved reputation of durability, a 363 square inch cooking surface and an enclosed ash catcher that is easily removed for disposal. The Premium model also comes with a hinged cooking grate that allows you to easily replenish charcoal without removing food.
Char-broil Charcoal Barrel Grill: $140.98, Walmart. With 568 square inches of cooking space, this grill features adjustable fire grates and dampers, as well as a removable ash pan. The grates are cast iron, which are great for searing. It also has a swing-a-way warming rack and a handy side shelf.
Kingsford 32" Charcoal Grill: $129.98, Jet.com, Walmart. It's $185.91 on Amazon. This grill has a 495 square-inch primary cooking area, to include a cast iron cooking grid which is adjustable. There is a pull out charcoal pan and you can keep your space organized with two, fold-able side shelves that include a convenient tool hook and a bottle opener.
Royal Gourmet Barrel Grill: $128.03, Home Depot. With a compact design this grill can fit on most patios, balconies and decks. There is an offset smoker box but just 182 square inches of cooking space.
All grills came with multiple online reviews, but Weber comes out on top with better overall and higher scoring reviews. And while I take caution in putting too much stock into online reviews, they do provide a gauge of sorts in prepping for a purchase and a number of negative reviews on a specific product does raise some red flags. There were a few red flags here, with one manufacturer for example shipping their grill without all the required parts to properly assemble. Another manufacturer shipped defective parts. Those kind of red flags are important, because unless you want to pay extra for an assembled unit, you'll be doing it yourself and you'll want to have all parts available and fitting properly.
So what grill did I end up buying?
I went with the Weber Kettle. There is a reason this is the most popular grill in backyards across the country. And it doesn't hurt that celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay and Steven Raichlen prefer Weber as well. Taken care of properly, this grill is going to last a very long time, it truly is built for years of service. The Weber Kettle is also probably the most versatile of the grills I listed, I can grill, roast, smoke and I can stand up a whole chicken on a can of beer and still get the lid on! Weber has also done a nice job of making the Kettle easy to accessorize with the Gourmet BBQ System. The array of GBS inserts, such as a pizza stone, wok, and griddle, will turn you into a grill master.
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