All across this great nation spring is, if not in full bloom, at least in the air at last. That means that many of us will be turning our thoughts to grilling once again. The first flush of grilling euphoria is usually happily satisfied with a juicy burger or a competently cooked steak. To ensure that our first efforts this year are as enjoyable as the practiced ones were at the end of the season last year, I thought we should revisit the basics this week. This week I promise to share my grilling wisdom, such as it is. Whether you use this info this week or wait one or two or a few more, I hope this series of posts will put you in to a warm weather state of mind.
But, before we get cooking, let’s kick off the grilling season with some tips about buying a grill:
I find shopping (except for food and throw cushions – don’t ask, I know it’s weird) generally daunting but buying a barbecue can be a truly overwhelming experience for anyone. How do you choose between the copious number of models available within the staggering price range out there? It’s not easy my friends, so take a moment and read these few points. They might help you when you get to the store:
• BTU’s (British thermal units) measure a grill’s maximum heat output. More doesn’t mean better, just hotter. Plus, the more BTU’s, the more gas the grill burns and the more expensive it is to operate.
• Assess your needs. For most families a 400 square inch grill is sufficient and will allow you to grill more than one recipe at a time. Remember that you only need a space about the size of one hand to cook enough food for one person.
• Buy a grill with a rotisserie spit attachment if you like to cook whole chickens or large cuts of meat. Rotisserie cooking bastes foods continuously with natural juices and prevents food from scorching. It’s one of the summertime pleasures I look forward to all winter long.
• Manufacturers say modern stainless steel grates are better than cast iron or porcelain grates found on less expensive grills since the convex shape of today’s stainless steel grates traps heat, making up for the fact stainless steel is a poor conductor. Stainless steel and porcelain also won’t rust and don’t need to be seasoned the way cast iron does. That said, professional chefs stand by their cast iron grills for durability, even heat distribution and great grill marks. Whatever the material, grates should be thick enough to sear meat nicely.
• Natural gas grills cost significantly less to operate than propane grills and you never have to worry about running out of fuel. That said, the cost of having an outdoor natural gas hook-up installed is at least $125 and it cuts down on the flexibility of moving your grill. This is a consideration since more of us are barbecuing year round and most people like to move the barbecue to a more sheltered spot once fall arrives.
• Check for wobbling. If the stand wobbles on the showroom floor just imagine what cooking will be like when it’s sitting on interlocking brick.
• What’s under the grill? Good gas grills have ceramic briquettes or heat deflector plates that disperse heat evenly, create smoke when juices dribble down, and act as a buffer between the heat source and the food to prevent flare-ups.
• Ignition switches help to light the grill safely and quickly without using lighter fluid or matches.
• Domed lids reduce cooking time, conserve fuel and trap in the smoke that makes food tasty. High domes mean larger foods like turkeys and roasts can be cooked. Best quality grill lids are coated in porcelain to create a thermal convection style-cooking chamber.
• Consider how difficult the unit will be to assemble and transport home. Average assembly times for gas grills is 2 1/2 hours so you may want to buy from a store that offers assembly and local delivery (usually about $50 extra).
• Charcoal grills have the advantage of being portable but require patience and finesse to create a good fire. They are less expensive at the outset but over time cost more to fuel than gas grills. Good charcoal grills have a steady base, a firebox that is easy to empty, good flow through ventilation, an easily raised or lowered heavy-duty grate and a domed lid with adjustable vent holes in the top.
And that is what I have to say about buying a grill. May the force be with you as you shop!