Smart Shopping: Gas Grills
Most gas grills should perform at least adequately at your next alfresco feast. But as with indoor ranges, some models do so with more style. Our battery of tests shows that a bigger price tag doesn't guarantee better grilling. Many lower-priced models now have at least some stainless trim, along with side burners and other perks.
More and more homeowners are choosing high-end gas grills that do more than grill. But you don't need to spend a fortune to get great-tasting burgers, steaks, and chicken at your next barbecue. Nor do you need to sacrifice style. As you'll discover in this grill guide, many lower-priced models now have at least some stainless-steel trim, side burners for side dishes, and other perks once found only on the priciest grills. Keep the following tips in mind when shopping.
Size it up
Match the size of the grill's cooking area to the number of people generally around the table. Remember, manufacturers might include racks when tallying cooking area. Our measurements are based on the main cooking area and how much food it will hold. Next factor in how much space the grill will take up on your patio or deck. Some of the large grills we tested are a whopping 6 feet wide and 2 feet deep.
Look over the menu
A basic grill is fine for cooking hamburgers and hot dogs, but if whole chickens, turkeys, or large roasts are regularly on the menu, look for a model with a rotisserie burner. Side burners and griddles let you prepare or warm side dishes while using the grilling area for the main course, but our tests have found that they take longer to boil water than a range and they become too hot to simmer sauces well.
Bring a magnet
Many grills are made of a mix of grades of stainless steel. Our tests have found that 300-series stainless is less likely to rust than cheaper, 400-series stainless. Magnets will usually stick to cheaper grades. Stainless looks shiny in the store, but outside it will discolor unless you clean it regularly.
The more stable the grill, the better. When shopping, gently push the grill from several angles to see if it tips. Check the cart, firebox, lid, and shelves for sharp corners and edges. Grip the handle. Your knuckles or fingers shouldn't be too close to the lid or your hand could get burned. Once you get the grill home, place it in a low-traffic, well-ventilated area away from buildings, dry leaves, or brush. Use a fireproof mat underneath. And never grill in the garage or in any enclosed area. The carbon-monoxide buildup could be lethal.
You can spend $500 or less for a grill that can handle most of your cooking needs. Spending more will get you more stainless-steel styling and convenience features, but not necessarily better performance. Several midsized models that cost less performed as well in our tests as others that cost much more. Here are the types of grills we test.
These should suffice if you need a small or medium grill that holds fewer than 30 burgers. Typical features include a painted-steel cart, cast-aluminum firebox and hood, and thin porcelain-steel grates. Generally, the more you spend, the more stainless trim you get.
These are probably best for most people. This category includes large, no-frills models that can handle 30 hamburgers, as well as medium-sized grills with extra features. Midpriced grills typically come with side burners, a rotisserie burner or smoker tray, an electronic igniter, double storage doors, and more stainless trim. Many have premium grates or burners with long warranties, but few have both.
These include medium and large grills with more style. In addition to the features found on midpriced grills, high-end models typically offer all-stainless construction, more burners, a lifetime burner warranty, a fully rolling cart, and extra storage space.
Materials and design can affect not only the longevity of a grill but also the cooking performance. Match your cooking needs and budget to the grill features you need.
They're made of high-quality stainless steel, cast iron, or cast brass, and typically carry a 10-year or longer warranty. Keep in mind that burners are a grill's most-replaced part. Those with a long warranty should last longer than the plain steel burners in most grills.
Stainless-steel and cast-iron grates are best; such grates are sturdy and resist rust. Bare cast iron is also sturdy and sears beautifully, but you have to season it with cooking oil to prevent rusting. Porcelain-coated grates are easy to clean and are rustproof--until they chip. Wide, closely spaced bars sear better than thin round rods.
Check the cart, wheels, lid, and firebox. Stainless-steel carts with welded joints are sturdier than painted-steel carts assembled with nuts and bolts. Wheels or casters at all four corners make a grill easier to maneuver. And wheels with a full axle are better than those bolted to the frame, which might bend over time. A stainless or porcelain-coated steel lid and firebox are more durable than cast aluminum.
We prefer an electronic igniter to a push button or a knob, as it tends to work better. Lighting holes for a match or a lighter on the side of or beneath the grill are useful in case the igniter fails.
Char-Broil, Kenmore (Sears), and Weber account for more than 50 percent of gas-grill sales overall. At Consumer Reports, we test those and other less familiar brands. This information will help you compare gas grills by brand.
In 2008, Char-Broil brand placed a lot of emphasis on infrared technology, with both the new Quantum and Red lines boasting different versions of the technology. Char-Broil positions itself as an affordable brand that offers innovative features across its wide product lines. The grills, which cost $100 to $750, are sold at retailers nationwide. Note that some lines are sold only at specific big-box retailers. For example, the Quantum and Commercial series are sold at Lowe's, the Red line at Home Depot, and Thermos at Target stores.
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This brand sells a few models at Home Depot and regional retailers, and markets the Blue Ember brand at Home Depot stores nationwide. The company introduced a new Blue Ember electronic grill recently at Home Depot, Lowe's, and Sears. Fiesta grills are known for featuring such add-ons as a condiment tray and a smoker box. The grills range in price from $200 to $900.
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This brand is licensed to Lowe's. Jenn-Air grills cost $800 to $1,100. All models include infrared cooking with stainless-steel burners and grates. A natural-gas version is also available for all models.
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Kenmore offers a wide range of gas grills from the low-end to the premium category. The brand aims to be recognized as the maker of dependable, full-featured grills. It also offers coated cast-iron grates on models as low as $250. Kenmore sells models with an infrared searing area and offers a natural-gas version of most mid- to high-priced grills. The grills, sold at Sears stores nationwide, range in price from $140 to $1,800.
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Like Vermont Castings grills, Napoleon outdoor cookers are made in Canada. The "heart" of Napoleon grills is the 304 stainless-steel, reversible cooking rods, called WAVE cooking grids. The grills also have a charcoal tray and range in price from $380 to $2,500. Almost all have a natural-gas version. Napoleon also markets the Ultra Chef line of grills.
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This Canadian-made brand has been producing models that have rated well in our Ratings over the years. The company's grills are known for their cast-iron grates, cast-iron end caps on the grill hood, and a large number of features, including towel hooks, LED lights, marinating trays, a tank pull-out tray, and utensil hooks. Vermont Castings added porcelain-enamel colors to their grills in 2008. The company sells grills priced from $450 to $1,600, and natural-gas versions are available in almost all models.
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This brand, known for its durability and dependability, went through an entire line and design change in 2007. Weber is known for its quality products in the midpriced to high-priced categories, and grills that feature coated cast-iron and stainless-steel-rod cooking grates and long-warranty stainless-steel burners. (The company offers a natural-gas version for most of its grills.) Weber recently introduced an infrared-searing station on some of its grills, updated its Q line of portable grills, and added colors to its entire lineup. Weber grills are available at many retailers nationwide. Grills range in price from $130 to $3,000. Note that Weber acquired Ducane about four years ago.