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There’s nothing that says “summer” like a cook-out. In days past, the backyard grill was most likely a metal can on spindly legs containing kerosene-soaked charcoal, suitable only for cooking a few burgers and a couple of dogs. But these days a grill could just as easily be a $2,000 stainless steel behemoth capable of cooking a side of beef in one area, vegetables in another, and sporting features like a warming tray, a steamer, infrared cooking, multiple controls, fuel and temperature gauges and lights.
Welcome to grills gone wild.
Outdoor cooking still works just fine with simple charcoal briquettes and a small, inexpensive grill. But if you’ve decided to step it up this year, here are some tips to find a hot deal on a cool grill. Let’s start with a recent news story, then add a little meat to the bones on the other side.
Tips to finding your perfect grill
- Kicking Gas: If you buy a propane grill, get your tank refilled at a refill station versus swapping your tank at one of the propane swapping racks you see at convenience and other stores. You’ll get more and pay less. Check out this story we did last year about how the big propane companies quietly reduced the amount of propane they were putting in their tanks without reducing their prices.
- Don’t fall in love with the grill next door: Forget what your friends and neighbors have, think about what kind of cooking you plan to do and don’t buy more grill than you need to do it. A grill surface that holds enough to feed ten doesn’t just cost more to buy. It costs more to heat. And the bigger the cooking area, the more difficult it is to distribute the heat evenly, making it potentially harder to cook on. Like anything from cars to refrigerators, avoid expense and complications by only buying the features you really need.
- Beware of stainless steal: Like you saw in the news video above, there’s a big difference between cheap stainless and quality American stainless steel. Pure stainless will last longer, clean faster, look better… and cost more. Take a magnet with you. If it sticks, it’s not high-quality stainless. But stainless, while popular, isn’t necessarily best. A porcelain-coated grill is easier to keep shiny.
- Look for a grate deal: Porcelain-coated steel doesn’t keep temperatures as consistent as stainless-steel or coated cast-iron grates.
- Shop before you chop: Check this article from Consumer Reports for some of their favorite grill features. They also have a list of their favorite grills in the June 2010 issue of Consumer Reports Magazine. Get it at your library. When you go shopping, keep in mind that, while home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot sell lots of grills (they keep them near the front of the store in the summer), check Sears, Walmart and Target, too. And don’t forget your locally owned shops. They’re members of your community and deserve the opportunity to compete for your business.
- It’s ok to rough up a few grills: While you’re in the store, shove some grills around. Do they wobble in the store? Not a good sign for what might happen later in your backyard. The sturdier the better.
- Don’t go for the hottest grill in town: BTUs are a heavily-advertised way to measure the ability of a grill to heat, but they’re really not all that important. More important is evenly distributed heat. Also important is control. The more independently-controlled burners a barbecue has, the more control you’ll have and the more efficiently you’ll cook.