As mentioned above, there are four main options when it comes to fuel for backyard grills. Charcoal and gas (natural or liquid propane) are the most common options, but you can also buy pellet or electric grills. Not surprisingly, there are pros and cons to all of the fuel choices, so here's a little summary:
Charcoal is a classic choice and many grill enthusiasts are devoted to its aroma and taste. One major benefit is the portability. Charcoal is easy to take with you and many of the charcoal grills are built for easy transport. They're also a very affordable option.
An afternoon party with friends standing around a barbecue grill
One downside is that charcoal fires take more effort and time to start when compared to pushing a button on a gas grill. Gas grills are also much simpler to turn off since you don't have to extinguish the fire and wait for the coals to cool off.
Charcoal grills are also illegal in some places due to fire concerns, so make sure you check your local restrictions before you buy.
Both natural gas and propane grills get lumped into this category. Gas is a very popular choice because it's incredibly convenient and doesn't sacrifice the taste. That is unless you're talking to a die-hard charcoal fan who might claim it's not as good as charcoal.
Not only can you light your grill with the push of a button, you also control the flame for the entire time you're using the grill. This makes it easier to grill for longer periods of time because, unlike a charcoal fire, you don't have to worry about the flames dying down.
Steaks grilling on a gas barbecue grill
Propane tanks are portable, but natural gas requires a stationary gas hookup. If you plan to keep the grill in one spot, natural gas is more convenient because you have a constant fuel source and only pay for what you use. However, for places that don't have access to natural gas, you may decide that installing a new line for your grill is cost prohibitive.
If you're trying to decide between propane and natural gas for your grill, this guide has even more information on the pros and cons.
Infrared grills are a type of gas grill, but they have ceramic plates in between the gas burner and the grill grate. The gas heats the ceramic, which then radiates infrared heat. The advantage to this type of heat is that it is less likely to dry out the meat and is capable of very high grill temperatures.
Pellet grills have a hopper that holds hardwood pellets until they are fed with an auger into the combustion chamber to burn as fuel. The design offers a high degree of automation and control for your grill.
Two pellet grills side-by-side
Unlike the other grill options, many electric grill models are safe to use indoors on a countertop. The heating element is embedded in the grilling surface or directly beneath it. They usually don't offer the same sear and flavor as the other flame-cooked fuel options, so they are not a very popular choice for outdoor BBQ grills.
Electric backyard grill
However, some electric grills have the option of adding wood chips to give the food a smoky flavor.
We've included these as a "bonus category" because smoker grills can be found in any of the fuel options mentioned above. What sets them apart is the emphasis on creating a cooking environment with lots of smoke for a signature taste. Typically these grills use wood chips or pellets for extra smoky flavor while the food cooks.
Before You Buy
All the different choices are nice, but it can make it harder to narrow down. Whether you're replacing an old grill or a first-time buyer, here are some things to consider to make sure the grill you choose is the best fit for you.
You can start out by finding out what grills are legal in your area. Depending on where you live, there may be restrictions at the state level, or within your city or county. These are based around fire safety and air quality, so it's always worth knowing what's allowed before you purchase a grill. And don't forget to check your Homeowners Association (HOA) rules.
Next up, decide on a budget. Remember this number should allow for any extra costs like paying to have a gas line installed or paying for shipping if you're ordering online.
Choosing the type of grill largely depends on your fuel preference and the size of grill you need. Refer to the section above for the pros and cons of the different fuel options.
As far as size goes, you want something that's big enough to fit the food you're grilling without overcrowding. Sometimes the best advice is to get out the tape measure so you can visualize the different sizes and choose the one that fits the amount of food you typically grill.
Skewers on the grill
Size is related to how much BTU you will need. As long as the grill is well made, 80 to 100 BTUs per square inch of grilling surface is a reasonable range for BTU output. Note: If you're calculating this yourself, only include the area of the main grill surface since side burners don't count for this measurement.
Finally, pick your location so you can plan exactly how the grill will fit in your backyard. If you plan to make the grill part of a future outdoor kitchen, it helps to sketch out the basics of that plan so you can think ahead for the necessary gas lines, etc.
Once you know your budget, choice of fuel, size, and installation, you're ready to start fine-tuning your search by choosing what upgrades or options you like best.
As promised, here is a list of some of our top recommended manufacturers for backyard grills. These are tried and true brands that we trust to offer quality, durable grills at a reasonable price. You'll find a range of price points and fuel options to suit what you are looking for.
Summerset - Based in Huntington Beach, California, these grills are manufactured with an attention to detail and an emphasis on luxury. They are a great option if you're looking to invest in a high end grill, but they also have more affordable options that still deliver on quality.
American Outdoor Grill - AOG specializes in outdoor kitchens and offers several grill heads designed for built-in applications. They also make standalone options if you're not interested in an outdoor kitchen or built-in grill.
Fire Magic - Fire Magic has been in the industry for over 75 years. Their grill options include gas, charcoal, infrared, and electric and they offer a lifetime warranty on their cast stainless steel burners, stainless steel housing, and cooking grids.
Broilmaster - Broilmaster has been making grills since 1966 and their new grills reflect both historical quality and continued innovation. You will find gas, charcoal, and infrared model options in their lineup.
How to Use, Care for, and Maintain Your Grill
First up, read the manual! It might be boring, but it has all of the specific information to keep your grill safe and long-lasting. In addition to the manual, here are some general tips and reminders when using and maintaining your grill.
Remember, safety first! The whole point of a grill is that it gets very hot and often contains flames. What could possibly go wrong? Hopefully, nothing as long as you make sure you:
Have adequate space for the grill
Stay at least 10 feet from your house or other major structure
Clear away low-hanging branches
Properly store propane tanks
Always light a gas grill with the lid OPEN (the same goes for when you attach a propane tank)
Never leave a lit grill unattended
Don't overcrowd the food on the grill
Never check for gas leaks with a match or lighter
Shut off the gas or extinguish the coals when you're done cooking and let the grill cool down
When it comes to cleaning your grill, again, the manual will have the most accurate information. Use a grill brush or steel wool to clean or the grates before each use to help prevent sticking. You can also pour some vegetable oil onto a paper towel and use tongs to brush the oily paper towel over the grates. (Only do this when the grill is off and cooled down.)
Steel wool wire sponge
For more thorough cleaning, remove any charcoal and ash or unhook the gas line or tank. Use mild dish soap and water to gently scrub the inside of the grill and wipe it down. You can soak the grill grates and drip pan in a bucket of soapy water before scrubbing them with a grill brush and rinsing them off.
Once everything is wiped down, return the grates and the drip pan and enjoy knowing that you've taken good care of your grill.
It's possible that some of the smaller portable grills will ship via normal parcel post, but it's more likely that your grill will ship on a pallet via LTL freight. Even if the grill is technically light enough to qualify for parcel shipping, the pallet helps protect the grill in shipment.
You can expect the shipping company to contact you and arrange a time for delivery. Make a point to inspect the grill right away and don't sign off on the shipment unless you have made sure nothing is missing or damaged. If there are any issues, contact the manufacturer or the seller and they can help you make things right.
Grills are a backyard staple, so it's worth the time to find one that makes you happy every time you use it. The nice thing is that reliable grills come in a range of price points. You might not have all the bells and whistles, but you can find affordable options that don't skimp on quality.
Backyard cookout on the grill
Here's to more juicy steaks, seared veggies, grilled pizza, or whatever else makes you fire up that grill!
And if you have any other questions about backyard grills or other backyard appliances, let us know! Our NFI Certified Technicians are standing by to help.