Since it’s National Grilling Month, we decided to focus on everything you need to know to care for your grill, and what you need to know if you’re in the market for a new grill or are curious as to the advantages and disadvantages to other types of grills (combo, wood-pellet, electric, and portable grills, as well as smokers). Without further ado, let the grilling commence!
Knowing/Choosing Your Grill
A prominent debate among grill enthusiasts is whether charcoal grills or gas grills are superior. Check out this blog post for more information about the debate. We did some research and came up with some concrete advantages and disadvantages to both charcoal and gas grills to help provide some transparency as to which one is best for you as well as profiles on a variety of gas and charcoal grill types you may be interested in this grill season. If you already own either a charcoal or gas grill, there are some notes on how to optimize it and achieve the best end result to your grilling.
Charcoal grills are all about flavor. Owners commend the smoky, chargrilled flavor from the grill in the food they cook. Charcoal grills are the most common type of outdoor grill, according to The Home Depot. This stat includes both backyards, parks, and other areas, whereas, gas grills are the most popular backyard grill exclusively. Here are the different types of charcoal grills out there:
Kettle Charcoal Grills
The kettle is one of the most common types of charcoal grill, created in 1951 by George Stephen Sr., who founded Weber-Stephen Products Co. (you may know the brand today simply as Weber). Kettle grills are portable, easy to use, and simple in their anatomy with a bowl and lid, cooking grate, charcoal grate, damper to control the heat, and a cleaning system (for Weber it’s a one-touch cleaning system).
Furthermore, the cleaning system acts as ventilation; if you open the vents, more oxygen will enter your grill, causing the coals to heat faster, which will speed up the grilling process. By closing them you’re cutting off the oxygen for slower cooking time. Check out Weber’s article on the anatomy of a common Weber kettle grill for more information.
Offset Charcoal Grills AKA Offset Smoker
The offset grill is a versatile charcoal grill that allows you to grill or smoke your food. These grills tend to be for people who are willing to tend to and monitor their cooking (and pay into a higher price point for a good model). There is a chamber dedicated to producing heat and smoke which holds your choice of charcoal and smoke wood off to the side that feeds into the main cooking chamber which holds shelves that can hold a variety of foods. You can control the flow between the firebox and the cooking chamber using the intake and exhaust vents on the grill. You can modify these to cook directly by adding a grill grate in the chamber holding the charcoal/wood chips. A good offset smoker will be made of thick materials for heat stability (ideally some form of steel) and will likely be heavier than your typical grill. Learn more about these grills on the Barbecue Bible Site.
Kamado Charcoal Grills
The kamado grill is a ceramic charcoal grill designed to trap heat and smoke for maximum absorption into the food. While not as portable as a kettle, the kamado still maintains temperature and air flow like a kettle through vents in the top and bottom. Some common brands of kamado grills are Kamado Joe and Big Green Egg. This article outlines the differences between the brands, including prices. Dorik Downing, our senior graphic designer, uses a Kamado Joe grill and recommends 100% Natural Lump Charcoal. Check out our vlog from last August featuring Dorik on the grill whipping up one of his tasty and healthy burgers (recipe included and perfect for national grilling month).
We recommend investing in one of our kamado grill covers to keep your Big Green Egg or Kamado Joe grill clean and ready for use during grill season, as well as safely secured during the offseason.
Park Style Charcoal Grills
The park style charcoal grill is a common charcoal grill often found in parks and campgrounds. You can also buy them for use in your own yard, as a simple grill option. These grills are fairly durable, easy to maintain and allow for quick cooking and experimentation with charcoal and wood chip types. Here’s a helpful article on tips for using this grill if you’re taking your cookout to a public venue or have one set up in your backyard.
If you’re interested further in charcoal grills, here’s a Home Depot guide on how to use them.
Charcoal Grill Advantages:
- Rich, smoky chargrilled flavor
- Inexpensive grill
- Can reach higher heat levels than a gas grill – 700 degrees Fahrenheit
- Added expense to buy new charcoal after each grill
- Slower heat-up time – makes for longer grill process
- More cleanup than other grills to get rid of charcoal ash
Gas (Natural gas or Propane) Grills
Gas grills, as mentioned earlier, are the most popular type of backyard grill. Gas grills can either use natural gas or propane (propane typically involves a tank, as shown peeking out at the lower right of the image of the grill above). Both are cost-effective; although, if you’re using a natural gas line running from your house, you’ll be restricted as to where you can put your grill, whereas with propane grills (and charcoal grills) you can typically pick any safe spot on or off your patio. There aren’t many variations in style for gas grills, but there is capacity for added accessories, such as side burners, lights, and integrated food thermometers.
- Gas grills heat up faster than charcoal grills
- Wider variety of accessory options such as side burners, lights, and food thermometers built in to the grill
- Natural gas or propane can be used for fuel
- Propane tanks are easy to find, don’t cost much, and are refillable
- Easier to regulate heat with built-in control knobs
- Different heat zones can be created for searing, cooking, or warming food on the grill
- Easier cleanup than a charcoal grill
- Smoky, charcoal flavor is lost since propane burns cleaner than charcoal
- Does not reach the same levels of heat that a charcoal grill does, but still reaches up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit
- Not as portable as a kettle grill, for instance
- A bit pricier than a kettle
If you’re interested in gas grills, here’s Home Depot’s guide on how to use one.
Another type of grill is the combo grill, which is essentially a grill with one side dedicated to charcoal grilling and the other to gas grilling. Some combo grills even have a smoker integrated. Be careful, though: not all combo grills allow you to simultaneously use the charcoal and gas grills, so make sure the combo grill you’re investing in has this feature if you want it.
- Has the ability to function as a gas or charcoal grill
- May not be able to use these functions simultaneously
Wood pellet Grills
Similar to the offset charcoal grill, this type of grill generally has multiple chambers, although the fire chamber tends to be smaller. A wood pellet grill gives you the opportunity to grill your food over a real wood fire. To use such a grill, you’ll have to invest in wood pellets, which come in different types such as hickory or cherry, and then feed them into a hopper attached to the side of the grill. As you continue grilling, you’ll have to add more pellets in. Here’s an article on how to properly care and maintain your pellet grill.
- Natural grilling taste reminiscent of a campfire
- You have to tend to and keep up the supply of wood chips more regularly than a gas or charcoal grill
Smoking is the act of slowly cooking food at low temperatures over a longer period of time. The result is rich, smoky, flavor-filled food that a grill simply could not replicate. Smokers can be fueled by propane, charcoal, or electricity. Here’s The Home Depot’s in-depth guide into the world of smoking and how it’s done.
- Deep, rich flavors
- Long cooking process
Electric grills are perfect for situations in apartments or condominiums as these places sometimes do not allow charcoal or gas grills. All you need is to be near an electrical outlet to begin grilling. Electric grills cook food evenly and require very little set up or cleanup afterwards, however they do miss out on capturing any kind of flavor during the cooking process. Perhaps their strongest trait, though, is their portability, as tabletop electric grills can be taken anywhere with an outlet.
- Great for apartments and places where you can’t have a gas or charcoal grill
- Aren’t typically able to add the same flavor nuances as charcoal, wood, or even gas grills
Portable grills come in charcoal, gas, and electric types and can be used essentially anywhere, predominately at tailgates and camping trips, but could certainly be used for backyard grilling. Unfortunately, though, its portability results in less square footage to grill for a big group of people or a large family gathering. On the same token, however, if you’re dealing with a patient bunch, who says you can’t take a little bit extra time to cook everyone’s food?
- Very portable
- Size restrictive as well as a long cooking process
Grill Cleaning and Maintenance
For cleaning charcoal grills, it’s important to clean the grill grate with a brush and then clean the charcoal grate. Make sure to clean out the ash in the grill as well. According to amazingribs.com, “ash holds moisture and can chemically attack steel.” They also add that ashes should always go in a metal can since “embers can glow far longer than you think.” For kettle grills, as mentioned in our 12 grill tips/tricks blog post, line the basin of the kettle below the charcoal grate with aluminum foil so that you can easily dispose of the ash once you’re done grilling without much of a hassle.
This video has instructions on how to maintain and clean your gas grill.
For all grills, it’s important to have cleanings and to check that all of the connections and pathways are clean, clear and functioning correctly for safety. Regular maintenance and cleaning can help your grill work better and last longer.
We recommend taking the following steps minimally:
- If you haven’t used your grill for a while, or plan to not use it for a while, make sure to double check your hoses and connections to ensure that everything is whole and stable. If you have a gas grill, double check the propane connection and tank. Please.
- Clean your grates of excessive debris at least twice a season and right before you winterize (go for every time you cook if you can).
- Do check your grease trap seasonally if you have one and clean it out so it can continue doing its job next season.
- Clean the whole grill at the end of the season if you’re going to store it or not use it for a season
One additional tip we have for you to maintain your grill, no matter the type, is to throw a grill cover on. Why cover your grill, you may ask? First and foremost, a cover is a way limit your grill’s exposure to natural elements, such as rainfall, dust, leaves, etc. It can help prevent dirt and debris from getting stuck in catch pans where fires could start. While some worry that covers mean that your grill is at risk of rusting from condensation, our grill and BBQ covers are designed to combat that particular issue with air vents, as pictured below. Check out one of our earlier blog posts for more detailed information about why you should cover your grill.
Happy grilling for the rest of this summer!
The Home Depot
Wikipedia: Weber-Stephen Products