Things to know before buying a new grill

Scott JacksonComment

The barbecue industry is sizzling in 2016, according to a new survey commissioned by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association that reveals consumers are barbecuing more this year, and many plan to purchase new grills.

Seventy-five percent of U.S. adults own a grill, and more than a third (37 percent) of those surveyed said they had plans to purchase a new one in 2016. Nearly a third (30 percent) of current owners plan to grill with greater frequency.

“Our national pastime for gathering around the grill is not only strong but also showing all indications that the passion will increase in the months and years ahead,” said Jack Goldman, president and CEO of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. “We think this trend owes a lot to a relatively healthy economy, as well as people’s continued passion for culinary adventure and bringing out the flavor of their food.”

If you’ve decided it’s time to buy a new grill, choosing the one that’s right for you will depend on a number of factors, including how often you plan to cook out, how many people you feed, where you plan to do the cooking, what barbecue techniques you prefer and how much money you’re planning to spend.

Today, there are hundreds of grills for every conceivable situation, from handy portables for camping and picnics to elaborate, multigrid models with deluxe service units that are practically a kitchen in themselves. Choose carefully, and you’ll soon find yourself developing the same fond attachment to your grill as to your favorite skillet.

There are several basic types of grills from which to choose, each with its own special uses.

Kettles and covered cookers: These are among the most popular and versatile charcoal grills made today. Although they come in many different shapes (round, rectangular and square), they all have deep rounded bottoms, adjustable grids and ample lids that lend them to a wide range of cooking methods. The round version is usually called a kettle, and the square or rectangular models are called covered cookers.

With the cover off, these grills can be used in the most basic way — to grill foods directly over hot coals. However, because of their deep bottoms, they are also excellent for indirect cooking during which a drip pan is placed on the bottom of the grill, just underneath the food, and briquettes are banked to one side. This allows fat to drip into the pan, not onto hot coals, preventing flare-ups and excessive smoke.

With the lid on, a covered cooker or kettle acts like an oven, roasting and lightly smoking the food at the same time. Vents in the bottom are used to regulate heat. This method doesn’t require a lot of attention; you just pop in the food and time it.

You can do an entire meal on the grill, from hors d’oeuvres to fish to roasts. You can bake potatoes, grill vegetables, toast bread and use the dying embers to warm up pies, other desserts and coffee. This is an easy, efficient way to cook and ideal for entertaining.

Water smokers: A water smoker is a tall, cylindrical, covered cooker with a fire pan for coals, a water pan, one or two grids and a dome-shaped cover. The food is placed on a grid high above the coals. A pan of water or other liquid is placed between the coals and the grid holding the food. In some smokers, there’s a second grid above the first for smoking several different foods at the same time. The food cooks very slowly in a dense cloud of smoke and steam.

Soaked aromatic wood chips can be periodically thrown on the coals to create smoke and add another dimension of flavor. For other interesting taste variations, beer, fruit juice or wine can be substituted for water.

Although this is the slowest method of barbecuing, food cooked on low, even heat is always tender, moist and delicious. Foods particularly suited to this method of cooking include wild game, slabs of ribs, beef brisket, roasts and whole fish.

Portables or tabletops: These are light-weight, portable grills that are easy to transport, store and clean. They range from simple, hibachi-type grills to miniature versions of covered cookers, either round or rectangular in shape. As the cooking surface is relatively small compared to standard-sized grills, these are not designed for large cuts of meat, long cooking times or feeding crowds. However, they’re terrific for campsite or beach cookouts, tailgating and picnics. They’re great for beginners, too, who don’t want to invest in a full-size grill to start. And if your storage space is limited, these smaller grills may be the answer.

Braziers: These are round, shallow, uncovered grills that in their most basic form consist of a fire pan for the charcoal and an adjustable grid. Because the grid is only a few inches away from the coals, braziers are perfect for foods such as burgers, chops, steaks and chicken that require quick grilling.

Braziers are also available hooded, with about half of the cooking surface enclosed to protect it from wind and retain heat. These often come with rotisserie attachments, either electric or battery-powered, that will cook a roast literally to a turn, practically unattended.

Gas grills: Sixty-two percent of households that own a grill own a gas grill. These grills come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges, from portable tabletops to elaborate wagons, complete with cutting boards, condiment trays and sometimes even a dry bar.

Gas grills are most commonly fueled by refillable liquid propane tanks, but some models may be fired by natural gas lines underneath the lawn or with disposable 16.4-ounce propane cylinders. The grate is lined with specially made briquettes or with “lava rocks,” made from natural volcanic stone, which are heated by gas jets. The rocks or briquettes radiate heat, which cooks the food. Gas grills also can be used as open braziers for grilling or as covered kettles for roasting.

Specialty grills: Some grills also are made for special applications, such as marine grills that are made for mounting on pontoon boats and other watercraft, and campfire grills that allow cooking directly over the hot coals of an outdoor fire. Also available are combination grills that have features that may be unrelated to cooking. Examples include the combination woodburning fireplace/charcoal grill and smoker/grills.

You’re sure to enjoy food you prepare outdoors, regardless of the type of grill you use. The smell of smoldering charcoal combined with the delicious aromas of cooked meat and vegetables is the very definition of summer — or at least the definition of summertime pleasure. Most of us agree that the flavor of steak, chicken, hamburgers, fish or wild game grilled outside is rungs higher on the foodie ladder than what can be achieved on an indoor stovetop.

Bon appetit!

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