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I have a back yard, but no barbecue...
February 4, 2013 7:43 PM   Subscribe

I want to buy a barbecue/grill, but that's about all I know.

I just looked on Amazon to get an idea of what's available, and I just realized that I have absolutely no clue regarding what I want, or what I should want. Electric? Gas? Charcoal? Since when have grills been infra-red (and what does that even mean)? Do I need special add-ons to smoke things? And can I get away with spending approximately $200...ish on something that I'll probably use for a family of 2.5 once every week or two - and is safe-ish (relatively, anyway) for use around a toddler?

Basically, I can use all the help I can get, up to and including current recommendations. Thanks!
posted by daikaisho to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I'll vote for the gas grill for reasons of general laziness. It's just easier.

On features:
We bought a complicated fancy grill and it broke. For two years our small gas grill (with no features burners etc) has fit all of our needs and it's awesome.
posted by ibakecake at 7:48 PM on February 4, 2013


I don't know about "safe-ish for use around a toddler" but for basic charcoal grilling, the place to start is with a Weber Kettle and a chimney starter. Your better recipes (from the likes of Cook's Illustrated) will assume you're using a grill with a similar distance between the coals and the grate.
posted by bcwinters at 7:55 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gas is convenient, charcoal is more fun and more versatile. If you want to spend some moolah and get into a serious hobby get a kamado grill.

I have a big green egg. It coste about $600 for the medium size one. Yes it seems insane, but I've done 12 hour smoked brisket on it and it came out wonderful, and I've grilled steaks at 800f which is really really tasty. And brick oven pizza! And low smoke anything, you can easily hold temps as low as 200f and get loads of smoke going. Oh yeah and smoked turkey for thanksgiving = best holiday of the ear. Kamado grills aren't for everyone but they are pretty rad.

But seriously if you just like doing burgers and dogs once in a while go for gas and don't worry about it. Weber is a consistently good brand.
posted by Doleful Creature at 7:59 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


It depends on your goals. If it's just to hang out outside and also get your dinner cooked at the same time, gas is probably the way to go. If you want to expand your culinary horizons, experiment, and make things you can't easily make inside, charcoal may be a better choice.

I have both a Weber Kettle and a built-in gas grill (which is the ultimate in convenience, because you don't even have to replace a propane bottle). The Weber is my go-to unless I'm in a real hurry. It's quicker to get the gas grill going, and it doesn't require as much cleanup afterward (getting rid of ashes, etc.), but I've never been able to get results as good as I get from the Weber (though for some things the difference is unnoticeable.
posted by primethyme at 8:17 PM on February 4, 2013


Gas is definitely easier, cleaner and less fussy. Especially good for random dinner grilling. But you won't get a decent gas grill for $200 - I'd expect to spend $300-400 at least.
posted by gnutron at 8:27 PM on February 4, 2013


Hmm... I guess I should provide a little more about my goals. I'm definitely interested in ease of use, and probably wouldn't use it for more than steaks and burgers on a regular basis, but at the same time I do like to experiment with (and possibly smoke) things like large cuts of meat, pizzas, and so on.

The big green egg looks awesome, but it would be a stretch budget-wise. But I am also assuming that my rough $200 budget is probably going to be a bit low for anything beyond basic charcoal regardless.
posted by daikaisho at 8:29 PM on February 4, 2013


FWIW, I've done a really nice smoked brisket in my Weber. It takes a lot more work and babysitting than it would in something designed for the job, but it is definitely possible. I made one slight modification: I drilled a hole in the top and a thermometer like this one.
posted by primethyme at 8:37 PM on February 4, 2013


Given your goals/specs, I would highly recommend a Weber Kettle charcoal grill. These are fairly well engineered and you have good control over the airflow which helps you regulate the temp for smoking meats. They are also fairly priced and deliver excellent value. If I remember, 200$ will get you the ridiculously fancy version of the Kettle with a removable ash container and charcoal baskets that make indirect grilling a little easier.

My parents have a Kettle that they've had for almost 20 years and it's still cranking along. My previous Kettle lasted me for about 5 years but I kept it outdoors in all conditions and one of the legs broke when my friend tripped and fell on it (hard to explain, but he really did heh). I use it routinely to make flat breads, smoked pork shoulders for parties, and smoked turkeys for the past few Thanksgivings.

Can't go wrong with a Weber.
posted by scalespace at 8:43 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


We love love love our Weber BabyQ and our Weber Q. The BabyQ is perfect for cooking for 2-6 people, the Q does 2-12. Incredibly economical on gas, fantastic flavour and super easy to use. They are worth it at twice the price, literally. The ones I linked to on Amazon are under $200, half the price I paid in Australia and I don't care.

We use ours for all our grilling and roasting, including yummy bbq veggies and baked spuds. Our BabyQ is in our (paying) guest cottage and the guests love it too. I know that at least two sets of guests have bought one for themselves after using ours.
posted by Kerasia at 8:45 PM on February 4, 2013


Start off with a good gas grill with a decent sized cooking area (at least two large grates, ideally three. Don't worry about those silly side burners for items in pots or pans; if the grill you like has one, great but its no great shakes if it doesn't)

You can smoke meats, etc using a gas grill (they make smoke boxes you can put inside the grill or you can trailer-rig a smoke pan out of aluminum foil). If you find you REALLY like smoking meats, etc, you can always invest in a proper smoker down the road.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:10 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not to confuse, but I got this Weber electric and really like it. At the max setting it can get some serious heat (you can still catch it on fire if you try hard enough) and there's no fussing with charcoal or weird gas taste. I'm sure you could add a little tray with wood chips if you want to try smoking something.

Drawbacks are that it's kind of a small grilling area and you have to keep it closed to build up heat.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:12 PM on February 4, 2013


I have a Weber (the larger kettle) and a Coleman smoker (since discontinued, sort of a Weber Smokey Mountain knockoff) and I love them dearly. On the other hand, I rarely use them if it's just my wife and I having dinner, or I'm doing some smoke-related project like smoked salmon, bacon, or ham, and that's pretty rare, too. I love using charcoal, I love all of the care and attention it takes, but at the same time, I'd love to be able to turna dial and have the damn thing ready to cook on five minutes later.

At least at first, I'd go with a gas grill, just because it's something that you'll likely get more immediate and frequent use out of. Making the investment and then never using it because it takes to long to set up will be frustrating. Between able to turn it on and have it ready to go, grilling becomes more than a weekends only thing. Later on, maybe, you can check out smokers and such, because my god, they're awesome.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:23 AM on February 5, 2013


I really dig charcoal grilling, and have owned a few cheaper ones; then I got the weber kettle and it is really fantastic, I would recommend it. As for being safe around a toddler - you really want to keep the wee dude away from it - the sides do get very hot
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:31 AM on February 5, 2013


The biggest decision here, as others are point out, is deciding whether you want to do charcoal or gas. I have a couple of friends with Big Green Eggs and they are very persuasive about the benefits of charcoal and certainly produce some great food. I landed on gas because I really wanted to be able to quickly get the grill up and going, cook something, and then turn it off. I eat a lot of meat and use the grill once or twice a week, but I don't do anything long and involved like brisket or use it for entertaining -- for me, it is just an alternative to the cooktop in my kitchen.

I ended up choosing the Weber Spirit E-210 after a bunch of product comparisons. It is a two burner grill, which I find sufficient for my needs, but comes in larger models (e.g. E-310 is a three burner grill). The E-210 retails for $399, so not a fit for your budget, but I felt like this was the break point in the price curve, as you can spend a lot more.

A couple of things to consider. Some grills come with cast iron grates, for others this is an add-on or upgrade. I would recommend the cast iron if you can find it. I considered hooking the grill into my house's gas line, but ended up going with a propane bottle. There are grills designed for this (to run off your house's gas); others are "convertible" and have kits. I didn't have access to a truck to go pick up the grill when I bought it, so I ordered it from Home Depot, which will deliver the grill to your house for an extra $50. The grill I got weights 120 pounds, so this was worth it to me. One accessory you'll want to buy immediately is a grill cover sized for your grill. I bought a bunch of other accessories (tongs, flippers, long mitt), but the only one I really use are the tongs and occasionally the spatula. I bought a light that attaches to the handle, as I'm often cooking after work in the dark and the deck lights aren't that great; I ended up defaulting to a camping headlamp so I can see what is going on. I already had a Thermapen thermometer, but have found it to be indispensable in figuring out when things are actually done cooking.

Once you get the grill, I recommend the book How To Grill:The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques, A Barbecue Bible! . It has recipes, but mainly covers the various grilling techniques along with things like useful grill accessories, how to clean your grill, etc. It covers both gas and charcoal grills. Good luck and have fun!
posted by kovacs at 4:00 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just throwing this out there...

My fiance and I have a gas BBQ that we also use as a charcoal BBQ. When we want fast BBQ we just use the propane and be done with it. When we want slower but tastier BBQ we nix the propane, lift up the grill top, put some pans on TOP of the "flavour wave" (the metal heat dissapating things above the burners) and then he gets the charcoal going there. Once the coals are ready he levels them out on the pan and then the grills go back on. Ta da! Charcoal grill! We have had the BEST food on that makeshift charcoal grill.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:25 AM on February 5, 2013


PuppetMcSockerson: "Just throwing this out there...

My fiance and I have a gas BBQ that we also use as a charcoal BBQ. When we want fast BBQ we just use the propane and be done with it. When we want slower but tastier BBQ we nix the propane, lift up the grill top, put some pans on TOP of the "flavour wave" (the metal heat dissapating things above the burners) and then he gets the charcoal going there. Once the coals are ready he levels them out on the pan and then the grills go back on. Ta da! Charcoal grill! We have had the BEST food on that makeshift charcoal grill.
"

I guy I know does this, but foregoes the pan. he uses the gas burners to light the charcoal. not the best idea for longevity of the internals, but it works.

I really like my Weber One Touch Silver. the Gold version is better, as it has a box the ashes fall into rather than just a dish. I have done a little smoking in it and it works great. You can buy a thing called a "Smokenator" that gets really good reviews, but I did basically the same thing with some foil and some fireplace brick. This google search will fill you in on what you need to be successful with minimal extra equipment.

I also have a larger gas grill that I use when I want food in 20 minutes instead of 45. I got it for free from someone who was moving and had let the burner internals rust out; $120 later on amazon in replacement parts and I had a working $500 propane grill.

I found this book when I was ordering some new wheels for my Weber, it has great recipes and there is a good introduction on how to "properly" grill.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:35 AM on February 5, 2013


I have both gas and charcoal and I would suggest starting with a gas grill because it's easy and convenient. You really can't go wrong with Weber. The quality is decent and spare parts are easily available at places like Home Depot. Buy a cover for it and it will last for years and years.

Yes, you can smoke things on a gas grill. You won't get the same results you'd get smoking a pork butt for 16 hours in a smoker, but you'll get good results. Just soak some chips in water for an hour and then toss them in a small pan that's sitting right over the burners, below the racks. Use low, indirect heat for the meat.

As I get getter with using the gas grill I'm finding I use the charcoal less and less. I'll still use it for things like a leg of lamb or some slow-cooked ribs, but most of what I need to do I do on the gas grill.
posted by bondcliff at 7:14 AM on February 5, 2013


I've had a Big Green Egg for about a year now, and it is truly fantastic. Amazing control, great results, but not something I would get for ease of use and convenience.

Gas is the way to start out with grilling, no question. Charcoal will frustrate you to no end - starting, temp control, maintaining even heat. That being said, the BGE for charcoal (and natural lump in general) makes that considerably better.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:05 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've had a $99 special for a couple years of occasional use, works fine, would not hold up in a commercial kitchen, does not impress anyone, but it cooks well. They get hot, take care with kids around.
posted by sammyo at 8:56 AM on February 5, 2013


I love my Weber kettle - it makes a mean smoked chicken in an hour per Cooks Illustrated's recipe. But I'm considering supplementing with a gas grill for those days I just want some burgers and dogs and don't want to wait for coals to get hot and then only use them for a few minutes.

So like others, I'd suggest you start with gas, and if you find you're wanting to experiment more with barbecue and such, get a Weber kettle. The basic model is cheap and lasts forever.
posted by schoolgirl report at 12:57 PM on February 5, 2013


Re: $200 budget. Have you considered Craigslist? People move all the time, and nobody wants to take their dirty grill with them. You can often save a considerable amount of money on a grill by buying second-hand, and as long as it isn't mega-rusted, there probably won't be an appreciable loss in quality.

I got my gas grill off of Craigslist for $30 (plus the price of a beer for borrowing my friend's pickup truck for half an hour). When I got home and Googled it, the grill had originally retailed for $300. If it dies, I can buy 9 more before I break even with what I would have paid for it brand new.
posted by wondercow at 3:49 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


after re-reading your question:
a co-worker has an 'infrared' grill. he doesn't like it very much because the way the burner/heat source/whatever it's called is designed, you HAVE to thoroughly clean it every time you are done using it. something about the drippings getting in there and blocking gas flow.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:11 AM on February 6, 2013


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