To my mother, Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of sandal season; to my kids, it’s the weekend the local pool opens. But to me, the end of May signals the moment when my kitchen oven goes on hiatus—and from then until September, if a meal can’t be grilled or prepared cold, it simply doesn’t get served.
No doubt, I’m the type of enthusiast who keeps gas-grill manufacturers coming out with brand-new models and great new features. But even if you’re less fired up, so to speak, than I am about grilling, I think you’ll still be impressed by what’s currently available.
The biggest news to hit gas grills in recent seasons is the sear burner, which uses infrared light to seal in moisture and flavor the way no ordinary gas burner can—plus, it produces those grill marks that make steaks look as good as they taste. Sear burners are positioned in one portion of the grill’s cooking area. You simply sear your steak or chops quickly over the sear burner, then move the meat to the regular grilling area to finish it off.
Another new option worth considering is a smoker—a box near the grilling surface that you fill with wood chips. Then, as your meat cooks, it takes on the kind of smoky taste that many feel is lacking in gas-grilled foods.
On the convenience side, look for new grill lighting—a great boon for anyone who’s ever had to flip burgers by the glow of a flashlight. You can find models with light-up controls as well as lights under the lid or in the handle that shine down on the cooking area when the top is lifted. The last few years also have seen the launch of electronic igniters, which are more reliable and less affected by humidity than the old push-button types. So how do you choose the best grill for your needs?
The first consideration is size, says Rob Unger of Village Appliances in Port Chester, who cautions that, if you’re going to compare square-inch measurements, make sure you look only at the size of the primary cooking area. Some makers artificially bump up their numbers by including warming racks or other non-cooking surfaces. Experts also suggest looking at the number of burners, noting that a three- or four-burner model is sufficient if you have a family of four and don’t do a lot of large-scale entertaining.
After size, you’ll want to consider construction and longevity, says Bruce Karel of Leiberts Royal Green Appliance Center in White Plains. The most durable material for grates is stainless steel, and it heats food uniformly; if you want something of similar quality that’s easier to clean, you can opt for porcelain-coated cast iron, but the trade-off is that porcelain can chip. Stainless steel is also a high-quality material for burners, although the benchmark for burners is solid brass. Brass burners are so durable that some actually carry a lifetime guarantee.
Today’s grills can be sold with a range of appealing add-ons, such as side burners, a rotisserie burner and spit, condiment storage, and a warming drawer. These can be fun, although they will boost the price, so it pays to choose only those items you’ll actually use. But even if you’re on a budget, there are still a few extras that you shouldn’t pass up: an extra tank, so you never run out of gas when your burgers are half-done; a cover, to protect the grill from the moisture damage that rain and snow can cause; and a great grilling cookbook, to get the most out of your summer cooking.
Oh, and don’t forget the calendar—so you’ll remember when it’s time to turn that kitchen oven back on.
Here’s a rundown of grill features and costs to help you choose a desirable model that won’t burn a hole in your wallet.
|THE SLOW BURN||GETTING WARMER||POWER COOK|
|What It Costs||The lowest-priced gas grills are between $100 and $500.||Mid-priced gas grills range from $500 to about $1,000.||The most elaborate grills can cost upwards of $8,000.|
|What You’ll Get||At the low end of the range, you’ll get a small primary cooking surface (between 300 and 500 square inches) with inexpensive steel grates and some plastic parts. As you move up in price, you’ll find larger cooking areas, coated cast-iron, or even stainless-steel grates, and maybe a side burner.||The meaty center of the grill market, this price range will land you three to six burners, a primary cooking surface of 500 square inches or more, stainless-steel or coated cast-iron grates, stainless-steel exterior features, and such extras as side burners, a sear burner, tool holders, and an enclosed cabinet for the gas tank.||Forget the word “grill”; as you move up in price, you’re looking at built-in outdoor kitchen centers, with models that incorporate cocktail centers, storage cabinets, trash bins, and even sinks and icemakers. You will also see seamless brass burners with lifetime guarantees.|
|Who Makes It?||Char-Broil, Kenmore, Ducane Grills, and Brinkmann make grills in this price range, and you can also find some Weber models.||Weber does the bulk of the business in this price range, although Char-Broil, Kenmore, and others offer models.||The same folks who make high-end kitchen appliances—Viking, DCS by Fisher & Paykel, KitchenAid, and Jenn-Air, as well as Lynx Professional Grills, a premium supplier of outdoor appliances—make these models.|
|Sure-Fire Advice||Bart Tyler of retailer Kelloggs & Lawrence in Katonah advises that grills in this price range are best suited to small households; families with more than two people, he says, “are going to be disappointed” with models this small. On the other hand, if you can afford the time and care that charcoal grilling requires, you can find some nice, roomy kettle styles in this price range.||With this kind of investment, make sure to check out the manufacturer’s warranty and customer-service reputation. Depending on how often you grill, you may need a part replaced or repaired, and you’ll want to work with a reliable company.||Don’t be seduced into buying all the fancy extras. Sure, that oven add-on looks cool, but a good barbecue grill can pretty much cook anything, so why buy another cooking appliance?|
Barbara Solomon Josselsohn is a freelance writer in Scarsdale specializing in home and family topics. She is a regular contributor to Consumers Digest Magazine and spent 15 years as an editor with HFN, a home-furnishings trade publication, where she covered pillows, mattresses, and other home furnishings.