How to Buy a BBQ Grill

by Brooke Kaelin on 3 June 2011 4 comments

This is a guest buying guide written by the editors of Cheapism.com.

For many Americans, a summer night just isn’t complete without a nice cut of meat sizzling on the grill. Grillers spend thousands on models made entirely of stainless steel or built into customized outdoor kitchens. But a cheap grill is all you need to bring the delectable scent of barbecue to your backyard. The first decision to make is whether to go with gas or charcoal.

What Is a Gas Grill?

Gas grills are convenient because they fire up more quickly and give you more control over cooking temperature than charcoal grills. They are easy to use, and cleanup is a simple matter of switching off the burner and brushing off the grate. However, you won’t get the flavor you would from a charcoal grill.

What Is a Charcoal Grill?

Charcoal grills deliver the smoky, char-grilled flavor associated with a meal prepared outdoors. They tend to cost less up front, but buying bags of briquettes can add up more quickly than refilling a propane tank. Charcoal grills also take longer to heat up and the temperature is harder to control, even with adjustable grates.

Grill Features That Matter

No matter which type of grill you prefer, keep an eye out for a couple of key features.

Grate Composition

Experts recommend cast-iron grates because they heat quickly and evenly and last a long time. Another thing to look for is a porcelain coating to keep food from sticking. While porcelain-coated cast iron is ideal, it’s a rare find amongst budget grills and especially in a cheap gas grill. Cast-iron grates can also be oiled to prevent sticking.

Cooking Surface

The size of your outdoor space will help determine the size of the grill you buy. Charcoal grills tend to be smaller than gas grills, making them better suited to, say, an apartment with a small balcony. Either way, the cooking surface should be large enough to meet your family’s needs. The cooking surfaces on both gas and charcoal grills generally fall between 200 and 700 square inches. Keep in mind that manufacturers often include extras such as a warming rack in the total surface area.

Grill Features That Are Just Hype

When shopping for a grill, look for quality and durability — cast-iron grates, for instance — rather than extra features you might not use very often.

Rotisserie

One feature that gets more and more common as grills go up in price is a rotisserie burner. But unless you plan to cook a lot of large roasts and whole chickens, you won’t need it. You can always pick up a rotisserie kit later if you find yourself cooking for large groups or feeling more adventurous.

Grill Special Features

If you’re thinking about a cheap charcoal grill, here’s one feature you might not want to skimp on.

Cleaning System

Charcoal grills can get messy, so a little help with cleanup goes a long way. Look for an ash-collection pan or even a more elaborate cleaning system such as the Weber One-Touch, which drops ashes into a removable catcher with the flick of a switch.

Best Time to Buy

Naturally, the best time to shop for grills is in the off-season, from fall through winter. When the temperature goes down, so does demand — and price.

See our shopping calendar for more tips on the best time to buy anything and our other buying guides.

Recommended Grills

Here are two grills that stand out for their features and value.

Best Value Grill

Char-Griller Wrangler 2123: For $99, this charcoal grill offers cast-iron grates, adjustable grate height so you can control the heat, and a warming rack, which you don’t often see on a charcoal model. It also features 435 square inches of cooking surface, a lot for a charcoal grill. A hinged door and removable ash pan make it easy to add more charcoal and clean up after cooking.

Best Special Features Grill

Char-Griller Grillin’ Pro 4001: This gas grill starts at $199 yet boasts porcelain-coated, cast-iron grates, which are usually found on far more expensive models. The grill’s four-burner primary cooking surface measures 580 square inches; the total surface area is a whopping 834 square inches, including a side burner and warming rack. Throw in some utensil hooks, and you’ve got far more features than you’d usually find at this price without sacrificing quality.

This buying guide comes courtesy of the team at Cheapism, which researches the best available products in the budget price range. For more information, check out Cheapism’s in-depth guide to buying a cheap grill.

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Guest's picture

My parents just 'handed down' to us a Weber grill that they had for nearly 25 years and it works great! They're more money but we threw out a grill that was only three years old and falling apart, so in the long run I think they're worth it!

Guest's picture
Scotty

We have been year-round gas grill users for over 20 yrs and have "burned" thru many grills. We just recently replaced another but decided to purposely look for Made in America. Little did we know that would be a HUGE challenge. We have also figured out over the years that we didn't need/want many ammenities....even the side-burners that have become fairly standard on all of them isn't utilized much. So we were looking for a fairly basic model. We even had friends researching and suggesting brands they thought was American-made only to find they weren't. We found a couple, but they were MUCH more expensive than we wanted to spend so we kept looking. We FINALLY found one last weekend. And at Lowe's, at that, not a small independent merchant 50 miles away. Deals CAN be found this time of year but you have to look for them. Typically, they will start going on sale after the 4th of July.

Guest's picture
Rick F

Don't forget the ceramic charcoal grills such as the Kamado or BGE (big-green-egg).. These are capable of doing stuff that the metal ones just can't do -- namely control temps by controlling air flow.. With one of these (I've got a Kamado K7 -- 600lb beastie!), I can cook pork butts, brisket and whatnot for 24+ hours on a single bag of charcoal (using the good charcoal -- not Kingsford! Try Royal Oak Lump if you can find it at the local WalMart -- way better than briquettes)

Guest's picture
Rachel Crockett

I purchased the Wrangler grill earlier this year. I've cooked steaks, chicken breasts, corn, and smoked some pork loins on it already. Never worked with a charcoal grill before but it's pretty basic. It's a lot of babying up front. (coating interior with oil, sear it in, and do that again.) Nonetheless, I've had no issue with rust... even when mistakenly left uncovered in the rain. Whoops!

Three pointers with it or any charcoal grill really.
1.) Two zone cooking. Sear up those steaks and then move them aside to finish cooking.
2.) Save fuel, cook a few meals on it while the coals are still hot. (i.e. chicken breast for salads, or porkloin for tacos!)
3.) You can smoke with it, but it runs a little warmer than a water smoker. My pork loins were done in 1 1/2 hours instead of 3.