The LTB Barbecue Buying Guide Part 1
Hey folks, this is part one in what I’ve planned to be at least a 2 part buying guide. It may end up being a 4 part buying guide, it depends on how long winded I get and how much time I’ve got. We’ll see. If you’re looking to buy your first barbecue grill, you might want to start with Part 2 of the LTB Barbecue Buying Guide. It goes into more detail than this guide and is geared for those wonderful people who have yet had the joy of buying their first barbecue grill. If you’ve already experienced this joy, then keep reading for some guidance towards the rapture of buying your second (or third or fourth) barbecue grill.
The LTB Barbecue Buying Guide
So you need to buy a new grill. Well, maybe need is too strong of a word. Want? Desire? Obsess? Whatever the reason, you’re in the market for a new barbecue grill. So you go to your local hardware store or big box store of your choice and are dazzled by three things – the size of grills nowadays, the features and above all the price. Sticker shock? Yeah, that’s what it’s called when you mouth hangs open despite your best efforts when you see the price of a grill you like the looks of.
What’s an average Joe to do?
Read this article, that’s what. This article and the ones associated with it represent the best barbecue buying guide you can find on the internet. Well, maybe not, but it’s a good starting point, right? Since you’re here, have a look around. Odds are good you’ll have learned something and hopefully are closer in your search for your new awesome barbecue grill.
Now, if you’ve never bought a grill before in your life then you need to go over here to our nice and shiny guide for people, like you, who have never bought a barbecue grill before in their life. Its chock full of information and terminology explanations that will set your mind at ease. Those of you who already know a little about grills should keep reading. Why? Because this guide here is for people who already have a grill and are looking to replace what they have for whatever reason. People just like you.
First things first
Take into consideration how often you will realistically be grilling outdoors. “Every day!” you say. “Every weekend!” Well, while the enthusiasm is commendable, the reality will more than likely fall short of that. There are lots of things that will conspire against your best laid plans to migrate into an all-barbecue all-the-time lifestyle. Family, work, sick kids, bad weather, allergies, the incessant cleaning of the grill – all these and a myriad of other reasons can keep you from your dream. So take a dose of reality and try again. A good rule of thumb is to start with how many days you actually grilled outdoors the previous season. That’s probably how many you’ll barbecue this year. Maybe add 50% on top of that, but much more than that may be wishful thinking.
No, not that kind. We’re talking grills, man, grills. Take a look at what you have now. What are the pros and cons of your setup? What would you like to have? What features have you found on your current grill that didn’t work? What were some that did? What have you seen on grills in stores, on the internet or at friend’s houses that you thought were rather cool. Is there a direction you’d like to take your family’s grilling experience that you cannot do without a special feature your grill currently does not have? Answers to these questions will go a long way in helping you figure out what you’re looking for. They may even set a clear direction for your grill shopping.
Good Enough for Santa Claus
Some may find it useful to write out a wish list of things they would like. While this is a good way to start, it can also be a frustrating time waste. Sitting around, making a list, checking it twice, fretting over this feature and that. Examining the BTUs and grilling space. BE A MAN as Don Corleone would say. Perhaps it’s just the nature of this writer, but going back and forth between the extremes of pouring over the endless minutiae of a gourmet grill and longing for just a rack over some coals helps me get to the point where I can buy a grill in peace.
Here are some of the things you will need to put some serious consideration into before you buy your next grill. If you care. If you are overwhelmed, don’t pitch in the towel, just go the easy route, get a Weber Charcoal Kettle Grill or a Smokey Joe and be done with it. For those who want something more than that, read on. The list that follows comes in no particular order.
Yes, I listed this first, but that doesn’t mean it should come first. While it is important, some people focus on this too much but not in the way you may be thinking. Some people will say “I’ve got 1000 bucks to buy a grill with” and if they are unlucky, one of three things will happen.
- They focus on getting a grill that costs 1000 dollars or darn close to it. They don’t focus on what they need and can find themselves with ridiculously more grill than they could ever reasonably use.
- They want to get the most features for the price and by a second or third tier bargain grill that breaks down far sooner than a higher quality grill with less features. Or…
- They stretch their wallet farther than they should and buy a grill for 1000 bucks, but forget the extras. You know, the tongs, the thermometer, the fork, the spatula, the grill brushes, the basting brushes, the rubs and sauce and all the other stuff that you’ll end up spending money on. They find out they need/want to pony up another 300 bucks or so to actually get all the stuff they need.
Don’t be that guy. Price is important but don’t fixate on it. Remember – you get what you pay for. Quality doesn’t usually come cheap. Buy the best grill you can afford and don’t look back. Pay for quality and only cry once.
These can be divided up into three basic categories – things you can’t live without, things you’d like to have and things you don’t care about. There may be some things you actually hate and won’t buy a grill that has them, but I don’t really think you’ll need a separate category for those. You may find out that things you think you can’t live without, after a bit of reflection, can move to the other two categories, freeing up your options quite a bit.
Fuel source – charcoal gas or electric.
Wait, did you say electric? Yes, I did and believe it or not, it does have its place. But as far as the great debate between charcoal or gas – the choice is yours. Like the time spent on getting the charcoal just right? Charcoal’s for you. Hate it? Go with gas. Like the smokiness that comes from a charcoal grill? Go, charcoal, go! Hate it? Gas, here I come. Hate the concept of cooking over open flame connected to a can of highly pressurized exploding gas? Charcoal, sweet charcoal. Comfortable with it? Gas is your friend. Truly, there are great arguments to be made for both and people whose opinions I respect come down on either side of the fence for this. One thing you will find – the sheer number of gas grills available on the market today outweigh the number of charcoal grills. I think this is owed primarily to the cooking convenience of gas compared to that of charcoal.
You can go another route – get yourself two grills. Crazy, I know, but hear me out. If you like the futzing with the charcoal on the weekends then get yourself a reasonably priced charcoal grill for the weekends. Weber’s classic charcoal grill runs between 100 and 150 bucks. But for those times when you want to grill quickly, like during the week or for unexpected guests, get an inexpensive gas grill. Good gas grills are around 500 bucks. If you’re really on a budget, join the 7% of Americans who have an electric grill. Cheap, easy, and while many people claim they’re not “authentic grills” it’s better than cooking a steak or a burger in a pan. Medium sized quality electric grills can be about 250 bucks or more. So for about 400 bucks including accessories (charcoal chimney, tongs, spatula, fork, etc.) you can set yourself up with a good charcoal grill for the weekends and the big cookouts and have a cheap electric or gas grill for the times you want to grill but don’t have the time to mess with the charcoal.
This is more about honesty than anything else. How many people will you honestly cook for? Do you see yourself cooking for maybe 4-10? Or is it closer to 15-20? Or more? Seriously try to estimate the number of people who you will realistically be cooking for over what you imagine the lifetime of the grill to be. Start with a smaller grill and want to upgrade in 3-4 years? Possible, and may be a good decision. You might even be able to sell your old grill for a bit of cash. Buy an enormous grill and never actually use it to its full potential? That’s a waste of money.
If you’re going with gas, this is going to be a consideration. Do yourself a favor – don’t get wrapped up and caught up in the BTU race. Yes, BTUs are important. But the marketing guys at the barbecue companies and the stores that sell them love the BTU factor. Why? How often do you catch yourself debating horsepower with your car buddies or phone battery life when purchasing a new phone? Or zoom capabilities on a new camera. It’s in most guy’s nature to want more. More zoom, more horsepower, more BTUs. A well designed grill can have lower BTUs and do a great job of cooking, better even than a poorly designed grill with higher BTUs. Point? Keep BTUs in mind, but cost, features, and size are going to be more important than BTUs.
Those 5 things (price, features, size, fuel source and heat) are going to be the basic things you’ll need to get sorted out first before you get much closer to buying your new grill. Once those things get narrowed down a bit, you can start to focus on smaller issues. Like what, you say? Like the following things you’ll need to take into consideration down the road before you plunk down your cash.
Materials – what’s it made of? Stainless steel? Aluminum? Cast iron? Cheap metal painted over with something black? Each choice will have an impact on the price of the model you buy. While we here at LBT are fans of stainless steel and would recommend narrowing your preference to that, aluminum does have it’s place, as well as cast iron in some situations. Stay away from cheap metal, though. It won’t last long and you’ll end up needing to replace the grill sooner rather than later.
Durability/Stability – If you’re shopping at a place where you can actually handle the grill itself, give it a good shake or two. If it feels rickety you may want to pass on it – floor models should be set up as well as they can be. If it’s still shaky, then it’s shaky and not something to be relied upon. If you don’t have the luxury of looking at your top choices in person, then read as many reviews as you can before you buy online. And be sure the place you buy from has a good return policy. Amazon comes to mind.
Name brand vs. store brand – Name brands are the big boys. Store brands are either made by the store (hence the name) or made by big companies and rebranded in a deal between the store and the company. A deal that may only be in place for a year or two making replacement parts difficult to find down the line. Although store brands can do a fine job and be good grills if you take care of them, LTB recommends that whenever possible you stick with name brands.
Now, go to it. Figure out some of the things that only you can answer – how many people will you be cooking for? What will your fuel source be? What’s your budget? What features can you live without and which ones are must-haves? Keep durability in mind as well as BTUs and what the grills are made of. Try to stick with a name brand whenever possible. And remember these last two very important points – 1) A grill is simply a tool – it allows you to be the best cook you can be. 2) If you take good care of that tool it should last a fairly long time, no matter how much it cost. the flip side is this – if you don’t take care of it, it will last a very short time, no matter what the cost.
Good luck and happy grilling.