Charcoal or Gas: Barbecue Buying Tips

Juicy burgers, fresh seafood, sirloin steak, summery vegetables—just about any food you can think of tastes better barbecued, and the right grill makes all the difference when it comes to cooking up delicious, South Beach Diet–friendly warm weather fare with ease.

If this is the year you’ve decided to buy a new grill, don’t get burned when you go shopping. You’ll face many decisions, not the least of which is whether to choose charcoal or gas. Here are the pros and cons of each — plus some tips for how to choose the grill that’s right for you.

Charcoal Grill Pros

  • Inexpensive (at least, for a small one)
  • Imparts great, smoky flavor to foods
  • Easy to move around

Charcoal Grill Cons

  • Harder to light than a gas grill
  • Messier than a gas grill to clean
  • Doesn’t always cook the food evenly


Charcoal Grill Buying Tips: When buying a charcoal grill, make sure you choose one with a large surface area, a sturdy cover, and stable, wide-set legs. A little hibachi or mini-grill can initially seem like a great idea — until you realize it will only hold a few burgers and you’re having more guests than you originally expected. Look for a grill that lets you push the coals to one side and leave the other side without any coals, and that has a tight lid and damper so you can better control the heat. It’s also a good idea to buy a chimney, a cylindrical device used for lighting charcoal briquettes. It allows you to light your charcoal easily and evenly without the use of lighter fluid, which can give your food a chemical flavor. Besides a cast-iron or stainless steel food grate, you’ll want your grill to have adjustable air vents on the lid as well as the bottom bowl (for better temperature control). For easier clean up, look for a grill that has a removable ash catcher.

Gas Grill Pros

  • Easy to light (just twist a valve and press a button)
  • Heats up quickly (ready in 10 to 15 minutes) and offers temperature control
  • Easy to clean (grills come with coated grates)


Gas Grill Cons

  • Can be more expensive than charcoal grills
  • Can be heavy and cumbersome
  • Doesn’t impart the smoky flavor of charcoal, although you could use soaked wood chips


Gas Grill Buying Tips: When buying a gas grill, look for one that heats quickly and is sturdy enough to last. Ideally, get a model with three or four burners so you can have hot, medium, and low zones. At the minimum, your grill should have two burners. A lid that can be closed fairly tightly means that you may be able to use your grill as a smoker. An easy-to-clean grate, along with side burners and under-grill storage, also are attractive features in a gas grill. Make sure your grill has a removable drip tray, keeping in mind that a front-loading tray is easiest to use, as well as a spark ignition and a thermometer built into the grill lid so you can adjust your grill to the temperature you want.

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