Whether you like charcoal or gas, a single grill or a cooking station, how and where you use a grill will help you decide on the grill size and features you need.
Flame cooking is what makes grilling so special, so it's essential to pick the right type of fuel for the grilling you do. Charcoal fans love the flavor it imparts and the natural flame. Gas-grill lovers like a fuel that burns cleaner, is easy to start, and is always at the ready.
Grill Types and Fuels
Barbecues or charcoal-fueled grills require charcoal or briquets and take 15-30 minutes for the flames to reduce before the food can be cooked over hot coals. Many cooks use natural accelerants, paper, wood, and smoking chips like mesquite for flavor. Charcoal grills typically have air vents to help control the flames, and cleaning vents that allow you to empty the ashes from the bottom.
Gas grills are powered by liquid propane (LP) or natural gas - each uses its own valve, so be sure you buy the right version. They typically have an automatic starter that ignites the flame with the touch of a button. Gas grills take very little time to heat up and are extinguished by shutting down the gas. Gas burns much cleaner than charcoal, but does not impart the smoky flavor of charcoal or wood-fueled cooking. Propane is sold in tanks that are refillable. A standard 20 lb. tank will last about nine hours before running out. Natural gas grills have a direct line to the gas supply and never run out of fuel.
Grill Size and Power
Grill size is determined by the amount of space given to the grill and the amount of cooking surface it provides. A large specialty grill with two or more burners will require a lot of space. Measure the area where you intend to put the grill and check carefully to ensure that the features you want will fit in the space you have.
Think about the way you wish to use your grill. If you entertain large groups, and want to grill a bunch of dogs and hamburgers for a crowd, then surface space will be very important. Typical family grilling for single-entree meals, like steaks, chicken, or chops, do not require a lot of area. Meats cook well when close together because they share heat, which helps speed the cooking process. If, however, you like to cook full meals on the grill, including vegetables and side dishes, it is important to select a grill with burners and grill shelves for foods that cook at different temperatures or need to be kept warm. Individual controls will allow you to cook with one surface area at a time or all at once. When selecting burners, look for porcelain-coated grids for the best and most durable cooking surface.
Grill power is also measured in output or number of BTUs (British thermal units) of heat produced. Avoid the temptation to think the greatest number of BTUs will provide the best grilling experience. In general, a larger grill will require more BTUs, while a smaller grill may need half that amount. If you intend to cook full meals or entertain large groups, you will need more capacity and greater cooking capability. Compare grills, output, and features before deciding how much fuel power you need for the cooking you will do.
Grill Placement and Accessories
Selecting the right spot for your grill depends on many factors. Proximity to the kitchen or food source is important for many outdoor cooks. Locating the grill near a door or entrance to the kitchen will make trips for food, utensils, marinades, cleanup, and serving plates easier. If you like to grill in all kinds of weather, consider locating your grill under an overhang, eave, or awning. For those who wish to create an outdoor dining or entertainment space, try locating the grill station near a patio, deck, or backyard picnic table. Pay attention to prevalent wind directions, though, since no one likes to dine in a cloud of smoke.
Accessories complete the grilling experience and can even help with the decision on where to place your grill. Grill stations can have added counter space for food preparation, storage for pots, pans, and utensils, and sinks for prep and cleanup. Consider a grill with hanging space for spatulas, forks, and brushes. A small refrigerator can keep meats, beverages, and condiments cold.