The chief advantage of gas over charcoal is that there is no dirty charcoal to handle, no ash to clean up, they can get up to max heat faster than charcoal, and you have temperature control just by turning a knob. Modern gas grills seem to have more bells and whistles to choose from than digital cameras. Some actually even come with the kitchen sink attached. In our searchable equipment review database, we have tried to include the most widely distributed brands as well as those we think are especially interesting.
Buyer’ Guide to Gas Grills
You need multiple burners
A good gas grill must have a minimum of two burners. This is a must for 2-zone cooking, the most important technique you need to learn for successful outdoor cooking.
The more burners, the better. Some burners line up side to side and others line up front to back. The bigger the cooking surface, the more flexibility you have. The best arrangement is when the burners line up from the side for most cooking. Front to back is better for rotisserie cooking.
The best burners are made from quality stainless steel, cast aluminum, or brass. They can last for years. Thin stamped aluminum or steel burners corrode easily and often need to be replaced every three to five years.
You need a lid
A few grills, even some expensive ones, do not have a lid. Without a lid, you are severely limited in the type of cooking you can do. With a lid, you can set up in two zones. Without it, you really can’t do it. Without a lid, you are forced to cook with direct heat from only one side.
You need a sear burner
I don’t care what the BTU rating is, most gas grills cannot properly sear a steak or burger. A proper sear is an edge to edge dark brown, no grill marks, no tan in between the grill marks. Sometimes they have a single burner that does the job or a zone for the task.
If your grill doesn’t have a sear burner, when the meat is just below your target temperature, toss it in a hot pan or griddle heated on the grill. Hot metal transmits much more heat than hot air.
Convection or infrared?
Gas grills can be divided into two categories, convection and infrared. Convection grills are the standard system of burners, usual tubes with holes, that sit below the grates upon which food sits. Between the burners and the grates are inverted V shaped drip deflectors, lava rocks, or ceramic briquets. The burners generate heat which is transmitted to these drip protectors and then to the food primarily by hot air flow, by convection. The grates also absorb heat and transmit it via conduction. Conduction is the most efficient method of heating.
Infrared grills use a special surface above the flame that absorbs the heat and radiates it to the food. These IR surfaces can be a plate of special glass, ceramics, or metal. Usually when a manufacturer says its grill has a “sear burner”, it is referring to a section of the grate that has a burner with a radiant plate to amplify heat.
The advantage of infrared heat is that it is more efficient than convection, it gets hotter than convection, often in the 500 to 700°F range, there is less dry air motion, which means less moisture evaporates from the food. Also, the radiant surface is usually very close to the food so dripping juices or marinades incinerate and go right back up into the meat, adding flavor without flareups.
Rotisserie is a great method of cooking, especially poultry. A few grills come with the motor and accessories, but it is an extra cost option on most.
Liquid propane gas
With gas grills, you have your choice of liquid propane (LP) or natural gas (NG). If you have an LP grill you should always have a full backup tank on hand.
Propane gas is ideal for grills because, when pressurized, it compresses and turns to liquid, making it easy to store in tanks.
Manufacturers tout the number of BTU their grills can produce, but the number can be very misleading. BTU is not indicative of the heat it can generate. It just tells you how much fuel it burns, and naturally larger grills will burn more fuel.
NG is mostly methane. It must be delivered to the grill by a pipeline from your house. Some grills come with adapter kits, some sell them as options, and some cannot be adapted. NG kits are designed to deliver more gas than propane, so if you set up NG and LP properly, the BTU ratings should be the same.
You need to know the number of square inches of cooking surface. Most gas grills have a main cooking grate and an upper “warming grate”. You need to know which is which. Often, on high, the difference is only 50°F or less. But remember, it is further from the heat source so the temp is more convection air than infrared, and food cooked there will not brown as easily.
The ignition system
Gas grills need a starter to ignite the gas. There are three basic ignition systems:
1) Electronic, which uses batteries, often just a single AA.
2) Piezoelectric ignition, which generates a spark by friction.
3) Hot surface ignition, which uses an igniter rod that gets red hot instantaneously to fire the burners.
Some ignite each burner when you turn the dial, and some use “crossover ignitions” which work by lighting one burner first, and the flame crosses over to other burners.
Be careful with gas
Gas is explosive. It is dangerous. You must leave the lid open when you ignite it. If gas is under a closed hood when it ignites it can blow that lid back with surprising force.
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