What’s So Good About Gas Grills Anyway?
Thinking about purchasing a grill and wondering if gas or charcoal is better? Well, each type has its pros and cons, but in the final analysis, gas grills are probably the better choice because they’re made for folks who grill often and want to do it cleanly and with no fuss. Keep in mind that the best gas grills for cooking steaks are ones with sear burners and infrared burners because those types of burners get extremely hot and cook them properly. Otherwise, gas grills without these types of burners will still do a good job cooking fish, burgers, chicken, and vegetables.
3 great benefits to gas grills
They’re easier to control
Cooks looking for the perfect hot dogs or awesome-tasting chicken simply have to turn the burner knobs to adjust the heat. Sure, grillers can still undercook or burn food on a gas grill, but those knobs, burners, and heat zones sure make badly cooked food harder to accomplish.
They start right up
Like mowers with a convenient electric push-button starter, gas grills turn on with push of a button and get hot quickly (though not all start up electrically).
They’re easy to clean
When you’re done cooking and everyone’s belly is full, all it takes to clean a gas grill is brushing and wiping the cooking grates. After that, empty the grease trap and grillers will be ready for next time.
Choosing The Best Gas Grill
Buying a grill is a pretty big investment, and chances are it’s going to be a part of the household for a long time. So what do buyers need to look for when selecting one? Here are some things to think about:
How Much Grill Do You Want?
Don’t think of this in terms of how much food you’ll typically be cooking and for how many. Rather, consider the number of burners on a grill, which is really important. The more burners that are present, the more creative people will be able to get with their cooking. Extra space on a grill is key. It allows for indirect cooking, warming zones, and more room to cook varied items.
Research The Different Types Of Cooking Grids And Grates
There’s stainless steel, porcelain-coated steel grids, porcelainized cast-iron, and more as seen below.
Think About Grilling Style
There are those who want to plop down a slab of meat and walk away until it’s good to go, and then other people who cook in a more hands-on way. Take into consideration cooking directly over the flame and cooking off-center where the heat is less intense. Overall, it’s best to think about what you want out of a gas grill before making the purchase, so think of things like whose mouths will be fed, habitat space, and how much money can be spent.
The Grill Burner Should Be Of High Quality And Proportional To The Grill
A huge grill with a puny burner or two is going to have lots of cold spots, which isn’t good. When grilling, it’s most important to consider even heat distribution, so the more burners present the better.
Make Sure The Grill Manufacturer Has A Good Warranty
Try to find a grill that has a burner warranty of approximately 10 years and brands with lifetime warranties that possibly cover the labor for replacement.
Make Sure The Flame Tamer Covers The Entire Burner
This protective item works best when it’s over the gas grill burner, not on the side like on some grills. A good flame tamer will prevent flare-ups and distribute heat evenly.
Examine The Material Of The Cooking Grids
Most cooking grids do a fine job, no matter what type of material they’re made of, as long as they’re cleaned after each use. That said, the varied grid types do have their pros and cons, so do the necessary research.
Temperature control is what matters most when it comes to cooking food just right on a grill. The right gas grill should allow cooks to have more than one cooking zone so that grillers have the option to use high-heat, direct cooking and lower-heat slow cooking.
Think about things such as the grill’s power and personal space. Those cooking for large families or lots of people may want a larger grill with varied options, while those living in an apartment may find a smaller, portable grill to be much more to their liking. When shopping for a gas grill, note that manufacturers will use square inches when referring to the size of the main cooking grate. The “secondary square inches” that manufacturers mention refers to the warming rack on a grill, which, as the name suggests, keeps food warm. The warming rack also is used to cook food such as root vegetables and potatoes.
What Does ‘BTU’ Mean In Relation To A Grill?
The acronym “BTU” stands for British Thermal Unit. When it comes to grills, the BTU is the total measure of heat output per hour, which is most often gauged by the fuel consumption of the burners. To get really technical, a BTU is the amount of energy that is required to increase the temperature of one pound of water. In simpler terms, BTU just means the ability of the burners on a grill to produce heat. Those looking to buy a new grill can compare the BTUs to the size of the useable cooking surface. Typically, that’s about 80 to 100 BTUs per square inch of cooking space.
It’s important not to associate BTUs with how much heat on a grill is generated. Instead, think of BTUs as how much fuel is burned while grilling. Though not a true measure of the heat grills are capable of generating, BTUs do a respectable job of showing how much power they have. Those searching for the right gas grill should consider whether or not it has the right heat production to cook the type of foods they want and for the number of people they want. A grill with the highest number of BTUs may not necessarily be the best one for everybody. Compare the BTU number with the size and shape of the grill, and know that compact grills with fewer BTUs can still produce high temperatures and cook food perfectly.
Heat Flux: How Many BTUs Should Grills Have?
Grills with a higher number of BTUs will burn up fuel faster, so it’s important to find a grill that has the right number of BTUs for specific cooking needs. To calculate BTU per square inch–known as “heat flux”–take the BTU figure and divide it by the size of the cooking area of a grill. So a grill that gives off 50,000 BTUs and has a cooking area that measures 24 x 19 inches would release 110 BTUs per square inch.
Steak–a popular type of meat to grill–requires a grill that has at least 100 BTUs per square inch, and this is generally the number traditional backyard grillers should look for. Having said that, the typical heat-flux rating is 85. Some grills have more efficient infrared burners, which produce very intense heat. The BTU needed on these grills, therefore, is lower.
It should be noted that heat flux is not a perfectly gauged measure. As one example, if the burners on a grill are in closer proximity to one another than on another grill, these closer burners will offer more heat, whereas burners spaced further apart will be cooler in between and generate less heat.
What Types of Fuels Do Gas Grills Use?
Those looking for gas grills can select ones that are fueled by liquid propane or natural gas. Propane gas stores easily in tanks and is a popular type of fuel for grills. A typical propane tank that is full of fuel weighs approximately 40 pounds. It’s recommended to have a backup tank of propane on standby in case the current tank runs out of fuel while grilling. As measured in BTUs, propane grills have more cooking energy (approximately 2,500 BTUs) than grills fueled by natural gas (approximately 1,000 BTUs). Yet natural-gas grills deliver more gas than propane ones, so the BTU ratings are generally similar. A liquid-propane tank can get quite cold in the winter, thus making it more difficult to get the fuel to a gaseous state and wasting some BTUs. But one advantage of a grill that uses propane is that it’s mobile. Also, the tank can be refilled at locations such as gas stations, hardware stores, and grocery stores.
Liquid-propane grills are a popular choice with grillers. They’re easy to use and clean up, and side burners and infrared burners can be added to them. They’re less expensive than natural gas grills and work well for non-foodie cooks who are on the impatient side and just want their food to be done and don’t care all that much about authentic flavor.
A grill that runs on natural gas is comprised mostly of methane and must be delivered to the grill from the pipeline of a house, which requires a certified contractor to install. The necessary pipeline is hard, making a natural-gas grill immovable. Since this fuel comes from a house, it does not get as cold as liquid-propane fuel in the winter and is more efficient in that sense. There are a few advantages to natural gas compared to propane:
- It is approximately 20 percent cheaper.
- Users won’t have to visit a store to replenish it.
- It never runs out as long as the gas bill is paid.
- Some of them have features that allow cooks to roast, braise, bake, or fry.
Natural gas is ideal for grillers who want to fire up the grill fast and get started, as well as those who don’t have to fret about prepping and cleaning up. The disadvantages to natural gas is that they’re pricer and the installation cost can be high. Additionally, some feel the natural barbeque flavor gets lost on this type of grill.
Note: Propane grills can be connected to natural-gas grills with an adapter kit, which some of them come with.
Is It Harmful To Cook With Gas Grills?
Natural gas and propane fuel are colorless and odorless and therefore include a compound called mercaptan, which alerts people to dangerous leaks. It’s been said that mercaptan causes a foul taste and an unpleasing aroma in food, but this is a myth. When burned, mercaptans transform into sulfur dioxide, which then becomes sulfuric acid. Ultimately, the trace amount of sulfur that gets deposited onto food when cooking with gas is minimal, actually less than the amount that is naturally included in food or in food items such as onion or garlic powder. Overall, cooking with natural grass is a much cleaner option than doing so with charcoal or wood.
Modifying Gas Flow Not Recommended
Reducing the amount of gas on a gas grill is attainable but not recommended because it could cause an explosion or fire. Professionals from the gas company can assist those who want to do this for a desired lower temperature that is constant or for slow-cooking purposes. Those who attempt modifying the gas flow on their own should do the proper research and use extreme caution.
Color of Gas Flames
Also, keep a close eye on the color of the flames of gas grills. All blue flames with short white flames in the center are fine. When the tip of the flame turns yellow, or when the flame becomes mostly yellow, it’s time to call a professional to have your grill looked at.
What Are Gas Grills Constructed Of?
When considering what type of grill to purchase, keep in mind the heat distribution, durability, and safety of operation. Buyers will also want to consider what their cooking style may be. For instance, do they want meat to cook fast or slow? Will they cook food directly above the flame or indirectly? With those considerations in mind, here are different types of grill surfaces:
Aluminum doesn’t rust, so this is one plus of cooking on cast iron, which is highly durable and reflects heat nicely. Also, a surface like this, which is usually painted cast aluminum black, is ideal for those who live near large bodies of saltwater.
This material is inexpensive and also of low quality. After the paint comes off, the steel underneath will rust fast.
A very common material for the best gas grills, though it has varying grades of material. It’s available in these different grades and gauges:
Made of nickel, chromium, and other metals; offers great quality and protection against rust; often referred to as “commercial quality” or “commercial grade”; pricier material
Made of chromium; commonly found on lower-priced outdoor grills; lower quality and will rust faster than 304 and 443 material
Made of chromium and other metals; newer grade that is similar to 304 but not as pricey; it’s becoming the most in-demand material in the grilling industry
There is also 316-grade material, which is pricey and hard to find but has superior quality.
Another stainless-steel option to look for is the gauge number. The lower the number, the thicker the steel; so 18-gauge steel would be thicker than 20-gauge. And the thicker the steel, the more pricier it will likely be.
Does Grill Design Affect Cooking Performance?
There are an abundance of grills on the market of varying quality, and cooks have to consider factors such as even heat distribution, varying temperatures, and crazy flame flare-ups that are sometimes baffling even to the most experienced of grillers. The top-of-the-line grills are made with unique features that enhance the quality of cooking and minimize deficiencies or mistakes.
How To Reduce Flare Ups?
Uncontrolled flare-ups that can happen to the best of grillers are not always a bad thing, but if they’re not controlled, these dashes of fire can overcook food or even cause mini fires. Here are some features on grills that help reduce flare-ups:
The metal shield burner protects the burner from dripping juices.
Ceramic briquettes soak in juices before they cause flare-ups.
Burners that are located on the side, rather than on top, reduce clogging and flare-ups.
Limited heat output of a grill helps prevent the shroud from getting overly hot.
A fat-drainage system is also important on a grill and can help prevent flare-ups. Any good grill should have a drainage system that can be cleaned during routine maintenance.
What Should You Look For In Heat Distribution?
A bad situation occurs on grills when certain spots are super hot and others are comparatively cool, which makes consistent cooking difficult. It goes without saying that cooks want even heat distribution all over the grill for food that cooks at the same rate. A grill with even heat distribution will have high-quality tube burners, a well-insulated hood that traps heat and circulates air with efficiency, and durable cooking grates that transfer heat well. Here are features and tips that assist with even heat distribution:
The metal burner shield helps with even distribution of heat.
Having the burner set lower in the grill, further away from the cooking surface, helps make sure that cooking temperatures are even across the entire grid.
Ceramic rods below the cooking grid can help to distribute heat and minimize flare-ups.
Flame tamers are metal or ceramic sheet-like items sit between the burner’s flame and the grid and help prevent flare-ups by protecting the burner from direct droppings of fat and debris. They also provide enhanced food flavor and absorb the heat of the flame to evenly disperse heat.
With gas grills, it’s best to have at least two burners with one on and one off. Grills with more than two burners are of higher quality because with three or more burners grillers can have grilling zones that are hot, medium, or low. Also look for a grill with a lid that closes tightly–a harder task than one might think. A nicely closed lid will spread the heat evenly. With grills, it’s all about temperature control. Also, keep an eye on hot spots over flames that can cause flare-ups.
Cooking Zones, Burners & Extra Options
As mentioned two-zone cooking with two burners is the best way to go for outdoor grilling. Grills are varied with burners in different locations, but the more burners present, the better off the cooking experience will be. It’s recommended to have a grill with three or more burners to get even heat distribution. There are burners that line up side by side and others that are arranged from the front of the grill to the back. Using the side-to-side grilling method means cooks can turn off one burner–called the “indirect zone”–and slow-roast food. When grillers want that food to get an added crisp, they can put it in the direct cooking zone. The indirect cooking zone can also be used to keep food warm while cooking food in the direct zone, sort of like a heat lamp at a fast-food restaurant.
Obviously, grillers will have more flexibility with a larger grilling surface, and most prefer grills that have burners with the side-to-side lineup, whereas the front-to-back grills are ideal for rotisserie-style cooking. Knobs on the front of the grill often indicate that the burners are lined up side to side. Knobs on the side usually indicate a burner lineup that is front to back. Here is more grill lingo to know:
Ceramic or lava briquettes
Many who use gas grills swear by these items, which make fueling more efficient by absorbing heat and come in varied styles that offer a classic grilling flavor.
Radiant convection heat rises through the air in the fire box and the cooking grate absorbs it, producing conduction heat for the food. The dome of the grill reflects this heat as the food’s exterior absorbs it and makes conduction heat that moves to the food’s center for a well-cooked meal.
Grill burners give off both radiant infrared and convection heat, which rises through the air in the fire box, similar to convection grills. Above the burnes, a glass, metal, or ceramic plate absorbs the heat and then emits it as infrared or radiant heat. Again, the top of the grill will reflect the convection heat and the food absorbs this process for a scrumptious meal.
What Are The Different Types Of Burners?
The number of burners on a grill depends on the size of a grill. A grill larger than 36 inches would need at least four burners. Burners should be made of tubular stainless steel, cast stainless steel, or cast brass. The best grills have cast stainless steel or brass burners.
These types of burners are outstanding for making warming sauces or side dishes, any type of food that doesn’t have to be grilled. Some even have a griddle atop them, which is good for making fish, eggs, or grilled-cheese sandwiches. Cooks can do their thing with side burners without having to go into the kitchen. Stainless steel or brass ones are the best, and make sure to get a side burner that’s designed for the correct make and model of the grill.
These burners produce heat from the flame and smoke that rises up to the food to heat the items on the grill and the surrounding air. It can potentially dry out the food and does take more time. Found on affordable backyard grills.
As the newest technology in outdoor grilling, infrared burners sear food quickly, locking in the juices. Pro chefs use the extremely high heat of infrared to sear meats and caramelize fruit. These temps go past 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit and on amazingly little fuel. In a nutshell, infrared heat works by heating the grate, which reaches searing temperatures, and then the grate sears the food, not the fire. This type of burner is often located separate from the main cooking area on a grill or it’s a side burner.
This type of cooking produces edge-to-edge dark brown on meat with no grill marks, which is a good thing. They’re usually found on more expensive grills, and it’s the type of burner you definitely need to cook a good steak.
Extra Gas Grill Options To Consider
Rotisseries: Add-on grill rotisseries produce slow-roasted, great flavors via a sturdy metal rod (spit) that’s inserted into the food and then turned near the fire until it’s cooked. This style of cooking cooks food very evenly, requires a lot less heat than traditional grilling, and the food bastes itself as it is turned.
Precision thermometer: Grilling is all about producing the right temperature, and a thermometer offers accurate readings that will help grillers.
Side shelves: Side shelves offer additional cooking space on grills. Wood ones are not recommended.
Buy ones made of heavy-duty material and are waterproof, UV-resistant, wind-resistant, and tear-resistant. They can keep grills looking new and extend their longevity. Most grills have a compartment where the covers can be stored when not in use.
Smoker boxes hold wood chunks or chips for a smoky BBQ flavor to gas-grilled food.
Ignites the grill fast to begin heating and cooking right away.
Located on the body or hood of the grill, the thermometer can gauge the grills temp. Some can be removed to measure the interior temp of foods.
Brushes extend the life of grills and make food taste better by cleaning grates in a quick and easy fashion.
Also known as warm-up baskets, warming racks attach to the inner portion of the grill, adding space and allowing grillers to keep foods warm as they continue to grill
Similar to a frying pan, a griddle placed over the heat of a grill is ideal for cooking breakfast food such as eggs, pancakes, bacon, and hashbrowns. Of course, they can also be used for cooking burgers or chicken. A nice option for camping trips when breakfast might be served.
Drink holders on a gas grill are a nice all-around benefit for the person doing the cooking and often are made of stainless steel with a rubber lip encircling the top. They can come with mounting hardware for specific makes and models, and some attach more simply and are widely compatible with varied grills.
Another very handy option to have nearby, this accessory is often made of die-cast zinc alloy and simply screws into the side of a compatible grill. Some come with a hook at the bottom that allows for attaching an ice-filled bucket for beverages.
Carts and drawers
Nice to have for serious grillers who might need extra utility space. Those who want to really do it up out in the backyard might consider a high-end grill that has extra storage compartments, shelves, and additional working space.
What Are The Different Types Of Cooking Grates?
First off, most grills on the market have a main cooking grate and an accompanying grate above that is more for warming rather than direct cooking. It’s important to know, however, that just because food is on the warming grate doesn’t mean it won’t get scorched. On some grills, in fact, the temperature on both grates are identical. That said, because the upper grate is further away from the heat source, it’s overall temperature is more convection air rather than infrared, so food in that spot won’t burn as easily. Those who are doing some slow-cooking indirectly may find that the air is hotter closer to the lid, depending on where the vents of the grill are located. Here are some different types of grates:
Known for their searing power, cast-iron grates are beloved by grilling purists because they retain more heat than steel. Properly maintained, they’ll offer years of sizzling steaks. Some of these grates come with a porcelain coating, which reduces maintenance and minimizes the seasoning process.
Stainless steel: These type of grates may be the granddaddy of grills. They are usually found on premium grills and are often the most expensive grates to replace. However, they will last a very long time if properly cared for. Cleans well with a stiff brush.
This is a non-stick grate (if seasoned properly), so food can come off the grill easier. A ceramic grate is easier to clean, but it must be cleaned thoroughly, carefully, and seasoned. Take care not to chip or scratch this type of grate.
General Useful Info On Gas Grills
Be prepared to shell out anywhere from $300 to $700 for a good grill that will last a long time. Buyers will get a good grill in this price range, likely one without any extras such as side burners, which they may never use anyway. Grills in the $200 range are often constructed of flimsy steel and aren’t nearly as durable. For those who don’t care how long their grill lasts, this would be the price range to shop in.
Grillers who know their stuff and who have many mouths to feed are probably comfortable using a grill that’s around 400 square inches. But grills can get much bigger, some of them in the 1,200 square-inch range, which measures in at 48 inches wide and 26 inches deep. As noted above, it all depends on how many people need to be fed regularly when grilling, the amount of a person’s grilling expertise, and the amount of space on has on his or her homestead, apartment balcony, or other type of dwelling.
In order to use your grill with the total confidence that a gas leak or dangerous flare-up won’t occur, it’s important to remember a few things. Make sure the plumbing and fittings of your grill are all solid, for one thing. On a less scary note, when it comes to cooking food, keep those good-smelling juices and meat fat away from the direct flame of the grill. While flare-ups aren’t as bad as all-out fires or explosions, they can make cooking a hassle and can even start fires. Lastly, the electric starter on a grill should be reliable every time. If it’s not, get it checked out. Lighting up a grill on your own with a lighter is both inconvenient and unsafe.
Given the money you’re putting into it, any type of grill you purchase should last a long time, not just a summer or two. So when looking for one, check out the basic materials. Is the grill made from heavy-gauge, corrosion-resistant material such as porcelain-enameled steel or stainless steel? You’ll want it to be because such grills, whether it’s hot or cold outside, absorb heat better, allowing for the highly sought after even cooking temp that all grillers desire. Like any type of outdoor product, grills that look shoddy at first glance likely are.
Before putting together that grill, make sure you have a buddy who can help. It helps to have someone on hand who’s put together a grill before, but if the instructions are well-written, hopefully the process should go smoothly. The grill only needs to be assembled once, so go slow and follow all steps so that retracing is not necessary. Grills are designed differently, some of them poorly, unfortunately, and sometimes many screws and bolts must be dealt with. What’s more, less than ideally made parts can be sharp and cause cuts. So assembly is not always a walk in the park, but if done correctly the grill should last a long time.
Grills like up with the following three ignition systems: electronic (uses batteries), piezo electric ignition (generated by a spark of friction), and hot surface ignition (an igniter rod that gets very hot to fire up the burners). These can be operated electrically, by a dial or button, or via a manual ignition hole.
Your basic gas grill will have a built-in thermometer that gauges the temp inside a covered grill, similar to a thermometer found in an oven. Temperatures can range from 200 degrees Fahrenheit to 500, which is about normal-use range. Charcoal grills can steam up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit. For an idea of how hot things need to be, well, it doesn’t have to be all that hot. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends temps of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit so that food reaches levels of around 140 degrees. Too much heat and grillers will lose a lot of moisture in food, so the 150 temp range might be ideal for cooking burgers.
Ease of cleaning
Gas grills are a breeze to clean compared to charcoal ones. They don’t push out a boatload of smoke or contain embers and ash that accumulate. When the meal is finished, all chefs need to do to clean their gas grill is brush the grates and perhaps parts of the exterior and empty the grease trap.
There are solid and established grill manufacturers out there that offer very generous warranties and overall support, so seek them out. Obviously, the longer the duration of the warranty, the better the grill is going to be. The flip side of that is that owners of such awesome grills probably won’t ever have a need to use their warranties. Nonetheless, whatever type of grill one owns, it’s best to have a good warranty if something breaks. When buying a grill, keep in mind that many brands offer individual warranties for each part, items such as the grates, hood, and burners.