Propane or Natural Gas?
Courtesy of Capital Cooking
Gas grill burners can take various shapes, like the pictured w-shape burner.
Gas grills are fuelled by either propane or natural gas.
Propane is portable and comes in economically priced cylinders. The cylinder is easy to install, is refillable, and does not require an installation expert to hook up. What makes propane popular compared to natural gas is its portability. If you choose to get a new grill or rearrange your layout, this type of fuel is easy to manage.
Natural gas grills are similar to gas cooktops and ranges, and eliminate the inconvenience of having to swap out propane tanks. They are also cheaper to operate than propane and have an always-on connection. If you do not have a natural gas line running to your home, you will need a public utility and a contractor to install one. From there, a natural gas outlet can be installed on the side of your home, and you can run a hose from your grill to the outlet. Using this method can make it easier to move your grill if necessary. If you run a natural gas line directly to your grill, once it is installed, the grill cannot be moved. This choice is best saved for those who are building a dedicated outdoor kitchen, not just buying a grill.
The amount of heat a gas grill generates is measured in Btus (British thermal units). A basic grill will start out around 15,000 to 25,000 Btus. The higher you go with features and grill size, the higher your Btu rating will be. A high-end, built-in grill will likely produce up to 60,000 Btus or more.
Typical gas grills will have between one and four burners, although some higher end grills will have more. Burners control the amount of heat applied to the food. One burner provides less control than multiple burners, simply because multiple burners allow for both direct and indirect cooking. Many high end grills shape their burners in unique ways to maximize heat distribution and provide a more effective way to grill with indirect heat.
Propane gas grills are typically freestanding and do not need brick or ceramic surrounds, although they can be built into a custom enclosure. They come with a cabinet or a cart base. The cart is especially handy in locations with cold winters, where you'll want to move the grill inside for part of the year.
Natural gas grills can be freestanding or built-in. (Either way, they need to be close to the gas hookup.) Although they look like standard gas cooktops or rangetops, built-in grills should be installed in a stone, brick or other non-combustible enclosure. If the enclosure is made from combustible material, the grill will require a liner or surround. For a permanent outdoor kitchen, most homeowners choose a built-in grill.
the heat is on
The Center of Outdoor Cooking
Courtesy of Fuego
Certain grills, like the Fuego 01 pictured here, can be the social center of your outdoor kitchen.
Yes, it's true: the outdoor kitchen isn't only about grills anymore. But don't kid yourself; there isn't another outdoor appliance as essential as a grill. It is the focal point of any al fresco cooking space, and for serious grillers, it's a showpiece and a source of pride.
But before you get to brag to your friends about your new outdoor cooking machine, and before you invite everyone over for brats and burgers, you have some choices to make. Modern grills can have as many options as modern cars, and figuring out what you really need can be difficult.
However, with the proper knowledge, finding the grill you want can be as exciting as removing a perfectly cooked steak from the grates. So read on, and get ready to grill.
Additional Outdoor Appliance Options
Courtesy of Viking
Other appliances like warming drawers make for a more complete outdoor kitchen.
While grills are still the dominant outdoor cooking species, there are other appliances to help you achieve outdoor kitchen nirvana. Outdoor kitchens can be as big or as small as you prefer. If you are planning a permanent outdoor kitchen — one with an island where a grill, warming drawer or oven can be built in — you'll want to take into consideration the sizes of the appliances before you begin building.
Baking outdoors? With today's outdoor wall ovens, as well as stone hearth and artisan ovens, you can bake fresh bread right next to your grilled salmon. A built-in outdoor convection oven will typically be around 18 inches wide by 18 inches deep; expect to pay about $2,000. Designer Ann Porter, of Kitchen Studio of Naples in Naples, Fla., points to pizza ovens as a "must-have" item for the outdoor kitchen owner who has it all: "These ovens are great for entertaining small crowds or large parties."
Courtesy of Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet
This hybrid grill allows you to cook with gas, charcoal or wood.
Pellet grills, which are fueled by small wood pellets, can be used as grills or as smokers, and may be portable or freestanding. Wood pellets come in various flavors and can enhance the taste of your food. Bruce Bjorkman, who works for pellet grill manufacturer Traeger, says that pellet grills are free from flare ups and pellets burn more efficiently than charcoal or gas. He adds, "Because our (Traeger) grills burn at an efficiency rate of 98.8 percent, our carbon footprint is very small."
Some high-end grills have hybrid fuel systems and can use gas, charcoal and even wood. Currently, you should expect to pay in the four-figure range for models that give you multiple fuel options. But this technology should eventually be available at a lower price range.
"We suspect that dual-fuel technology will trickle down to moderately priced, just like infrared technology did," says Deidra Darsa of the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA).
Stainless Steel, Aluminium and More
Courtesy of Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet
Stainless steel grates retain heat well and are typically found on high-end grills.
The body of a quality grill should be made of heavy-duty material such as stainless steel or aluminum. Both materials make the convection process necessary for grilling possible and also protect against rust.
A good rule of thumb: The more stainless steel you have, the more expensive the grill is. This is true for both the inside of the grill and the outside. When purchasing a grill with stainless steel parts, look for grade-304 stainless steel, which is composed of 18 percent chromium and 8 percent nickel austenitic alloy. This grade of stainless steel is more resistant to corrosion than grade-430 stainless steel, which is found on some grills. And just like with sinks, make sure to check the gauge of the stainless steel. Remember, the lower the gauge number, the better the quality.
"The gauge of stainless steel that customers should look for is 18 gauge or better," says Rich Kalsi, president of Capital Cooking, a manufacturer that specializes in high-end grills and other cooking appliances. "Anything thinner than 18 gauge will end up feeling tinny."
Your grill's grates can be made from porcelain enamel, cast iron or stainless steel. Some things you should consider when selecting grates are:
How well do they retain heat?
How easy are they to clean?
Solid cast-iron or stainless-steel grates are typically found on higher end grills. Both retain heat well and are resistant to chipping. However, both take a little more time to clean than other grates. Consult your grill manufacturer for the best cleaning methods.
Porcelain-coated steel grates are found on less expensive grills. The thinner the grates, the less heat they will retain, and cheaper porcelain coating will chip off easily. Mid-range and high-end grills have porcelain over cast-iron grates. Cast iron will retain heat well; however, the porcelain can chip if not cared for correctly.
A good grill comes with a one-year warranty, while the best grills on the market come with a 10-year warranty. High-end grills typically come with a lifetime burner warranty as well.
Get the Most Out of Your Grill with These Optional Additions
Courtesy of Capital Cooking
Smoking boxes and rotisserie rods are two popular grilling accessories.
To get the best use out of your grill, consider these optional additions:
A rotisserie rod mounted near the top of your grill lets you roast meat slowly and evenly. Great for large cuts of meat like leg of lamb and pork roast.
A smoker box, located at the bottom of the grill, is a metal container that holds flavor-infused charcoal or wood that when heated, gives off a smoky aroma. These are primarily used in gas grills.
A side burner is perfect for when you need to use a pot to boil a side dish but don't want to run into the kitchen to monitor its progress. The same materials you'd find in a typical grill grate are what you'll want to look for on a side burner. Side burners are typically found on gas grills.
A thermometer can help you gauge how hot your firebox is heating. For the best cooking results, look for a grill with a built-in thermometer.
Utensil holders or drawers make keeping track of your spatula and tongs a breeze.
Some grills are featuring lights built into the unit to increase visibility at night, but light attachments are also available for older grills that don't have this feature.
Weber's attachable grill lights help for nighttime grilling.
To get smokier flavor and convection heat with a gas grill, try using one of the following inserts, which have the added advantage of protecting your burners from corrosion:
Lava rocks heat up quickly and diffuse heat throughout the grill's interior. Lava rocks are porous and must be replaced often to avoid grease build-up.
Ceramic briquettes are more expensive than lava rocks but last much longer. Any food residue that might accumulate simply bakes off.
Heat plates or bars are made of metal. When juices hit the metal, the rising heat disperses a savory smoke, much like a convection oven would.
Keep Your Outdoor Kitchen Cool
Courtesy of Perlick
Outdoor cooling appliances such as kegerators and refrigerators can make your outdoor kitchen fully equipped for entertaining.
It's hard to imagine cooking and eating outdoors without having an ice-cold beverage to sip. If you spend a significant amount of time outside, you may want to indulge in the convenience of an outdoor refrigerator to store wine, soda and salsa.
In the $300 price range, you'll get a basic 3-cubic-foot unit with a stainless or stainless-look door.
For $1,500 to $2,000, you can purchase a stainless-steel, 5.5 to 6.1-cubic-foot refrigerator with auto-defrost, a glass door and the ability to make ice. You can also purchase refrigerator drawers made for outdoor use.
Other items, like outdoor wine refrigerators and beer dispensers (also known as "kegerators") can help transform your outdoor kitchen into an outdoor bar when the occasion calls for it. Most outdoor wine fridges are about 24 inches wide and deep, although other larger and smaller sizes are available. Outdoor beer dispensers are meant for either quarter-barrel "pony kegs" or half barrels.
And when it comes to providing large quanities of ice, frequent party hosts should consider a separate icemaker to generate plenty of it. An undercounter icemaker that dispenses 25 to 50 pounds of ice within a 24-hour period runs from $850 to $1,400.
An Introduction to Charcoal Types
Courtesy of Weber
A basic charcoal grill can impart a great deal of flavor.
Charcoal grills obviously use charcoal as a fuel source, but there are different options.
According to the Hearth Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA), 90 percent of charcoal grillers use charcoal briquettes. The uniform shape of briquettes allows them to heat up evenly, and they are also easy to stack and arrange within the grill. Briquettes are also made to last longer than traditional charcoal, which is achieved by adding additives such as nitrate.
Natural lump charcoal, made from the carbon residue that results from charring wood, is free of any additives. "Lump charcoal lights faster and burns hotter (than briquettes)," says Deidra Darsa, the media relations manager for the HPBA. "It also comes in different wood species, such as mesquite, that add flavor to food."
Lump charcoal does not come in neat, easy to manage shapes. A bag of lump charcoal generally has varying sizes of charcoal chunks, which can make it more difficult to use.
Charcoal grills may be found in portable and freestanding models. Portable grills have casters that allow them to move easily. Freestanding grills can be moved if necessary and usually sit apart from other outdoor appliances.
The lack of built-in charcoal grills is one reason why people with dedicated outdoor kitchens usually prefer gas grills. However, some high end charcoal grills can be built into custom enclosures.
Fire it up!
Having a charcoal grill means making a fire on your own terms. Before you go nuts with the lighter fluid — which, according to the HPBA, 50 percent of people use to light their charcoal grill — consider a few things:
Squirting too much lighter fluid over your charcoal can result in your food having a chemical taste: more specifically, tasting like lighter fluid.
Chimney starters provide a chemical-free alternative for lighting charcoal. These large metal cylinders usually cost between $10 and $20, and allow your charcoal to heat up evenly. Just stuff the chimney starter full of charcoal and some newspaper, light the paper with a match, and then wait for your coals to heat up before dumping them in the grill pit.
Clearing the Air
Use a ventilation hood in your outdoor kitchen if the grill is in an enclosed or semi-enclosed space.
Your indoor cooking system needs ventilation to whisk away hazardous fumes and keep your working area free of smoke and grease. Your outdoor cooking system is no different. In fact, some gas grills generate as many as 100,000 Btus.
If you put your grill in an uncovered area, where the walls of your home don't block the smoke, you probably won't need extra ventilation. But if you've placed it in an enclosed or semi-enclosed space — such as under a portico or gazebo for shade and protection from rain — you should look into an outdoor ventilation hood.
Not only will a ventilation system keep you from setting the roof on fire, it prevents the accidental smoking out of family members, guests and neighbors.
"The most overlooked thing in an outdoor kitchen is ventilation, particularly in a covered space," says kitchen and bath designer Martha Kerr, CMKBD, of Neil Kelly Company in Portland, Ore. "When you enclose the space, the smoke can't freely go off into the air."
She adds: "Many of these grills can generate up to 80,000 Btus. In essence, if it were totally enclosed, it would require some sort of commercial ventilation system."
Designed specifically for outdoor use, these ventilation hoods come in island and wall versions and cost between $1,250 to $3,000, depending on size and power.