Smoker, Charcoal & Gas Grill Buying Guide
BBQ Island is here to make your purchasing decision easy. From look to size and even BTUs, we have put together the key elements to make the decision of which grill or smoker suits your needs best. Let’s get started.
What comes first?
It’s important to define your grilling style. Meaning, how do you cook? Do you like to just throw your meat on the grill and come back when the magic is done, or do you like it hot, hot, hot and quick, searing to perfection? Do you prefer flame kissed or a more indirect heat? Keep these questions in the back of your mind while you read through the following, and then it will be time to get cooking.
How To Purchase A Gas Or Charcoal Grill
A manufacturer’s warranty is important.
It should not be your responsibility to pay for parts that go bad quickly, or come from the factory broken. Brands with burner warranties of at least 10 years, lifetime warranties and even coverage for the labor of replacement are recommended.
Every gas grill burner should be of proportional size to the overall grill surface.
Large castings with a little burner means you’re going to have unfortunate cold and hot spots. Even heat across the entire grilling surface is the key element here, not necessarily the number of burners or BTU output.
Tame your flame completely.
Grease and spices are the number one culprits when it come to grill damage. As such, it is essential to expose as little of the burner as possible to ensure longevity. Choosing a grill with a flame tamer that directly covers your gas grill burner is imperative. Lava rocks placed to the side of the burners does little to maximize vaporization for even heating and even less to protect the actual burner. Stay far, far away from grill like this.
Choose your favorite cooking grids.
From cast iron and stainless to porcelain coated, the choice is one of personal preference as any of these can work well when properly cleaned and maintained. Make sure you know the right way to clean though. Porcelain coated grill grids, for example, should never be brushed while hot as this is when they are most fragile and susceptible to chipping – and then they’re basically ruined as they will rust quickly
Select your grill housing/frame
While high quality grills will normally have fully welded, double lined commercial grade 304 stainless hoods, the materials used are more about your personal preference (and the environment the grill will be subjected to). For instance, coastal climates are going to speed up the rusting process, even with stainless steel products (although it does take longer than other metals). So, unless you’re going with copper, high humidity environments will be gentler on aluminum or stainless grills, but a nice long warranty should also play into your final decision.
Any gas grill should be capable of reaching at least 600º for a nice, juicy steak. Lower temperatures take too long to properly cook and will end up with a dried out piece of meat more suitable to beef jerky. Although high quality gas grills can reach very high temperatures, they are also ideal for items that need to be cooked at lower temperatures while keeping flare-ups to a minimum. For charcoal grills, it is important to ensure the lid is solid to contain heat, the dampers are easy to reach and adjust, and you have the ability to change the distance between the coals and food.
Let your fellow grill aficionados help you out. Reviews are conveniently accessible on every item we sell (when someone has actually taken the time to review it, that is), and are an excellent guidepost for helping you through the decision-making process. Be sure to leave a review of your purchased product as well.
How To Purchase A Smoker
Look for a smoker that makes it easy to control temperature, and while extremely important, it is not always easy to find units with built-in thermostats, with the exception of pellet and electric smokers. Keep in mind though, that while electric smokers do have thermostats, the flavor can be sub-par when compared to wood, charcoal and even gas. If the smoker you choose does not have one already built in, you can always add a thermostat, some of which can even be controlled by your smartphone.
Look for smokers that have wide temperature capabilities. This way, you can cook fowl at the required 350º or sear meat and caramelize onions at temperatures upwards of 500º. Make sure there is also easy access to the firebox to add fuel if you buy a charcoal or wood smoker.
Prices can vary from $100 up to $10,000 for all-in-one smoker/grill combos, but buyer beware on cheap models because clichés can be true – you get what you pay for – so, expect to pay around $200 for gas, $300 for charcoal and $900 for pellet smokers.
A well-constructed smoker will be made of thick steel, which absorbs and distributes heat evenly throughout the cooking chamber, as well as ample insulation and reliable seals – dampers and doors on your smoker that don’t close tightly lead to leaks that allow your heat and smoke to escape. Not good. Durability, workmanship and materials all matter as well. Make sure the unit has clean welds, no sharp edges and is sturdy with waterproof paint that will deter rust and can hold up to the elements.
Consistent and even heating
Temperatures can vary greatly within the unit. Make sure the temperature is the same throughout the unit as heat can vary by 50 to 75º, being hotter nearer to the firebox.
Invest in a high-quality thermometer that is sturdy enough to be placed at grate level with the meat. High-end smokers will usually come equipped with a thermometer, but less expensive units may not, or have unreliable temperature reads. Depending on the design of your chosen smoker, two thermometers may be necessary.
Wood and charcoal cookers require you to control the heat by cutting back on the oxygen supply to the fire through a firebox and chimney damper. Both should be easy to reach/control and have a tight seal when closed.
Accessories & a large work surface
Tools, tool hooks and a cover are important additions to your smoker purchase. Deflector plates, extra racks, baskets to hold the charcoal, counterweights to aid in lifting heavy lids and other add-ons are always a nice bonus. And a large work surface to place your add-ons on will come in handy if you don’t have a complete outdoor kitchen at your disposal.
Warranty and support
A nice, long warranty is important, as well as a phone number and email for tech support. Check out the manufacturer’s website, too. An informative site can improve the outcome of everything you smoke.
Capacity and footprint
If you entertain for large groups, a large capacity smoker is essential. Consider what you will be cooking and in what quantities when making your purchasing decision. The footprint of the smoker should also be on your checklist – if you have a small patio, obviously an extremely large smoker is not going to work for you. But you will want a unity that has enough headspace to cook a turkey. Movable shelves are a plus as they allow you to adjust the interior space to accommodate many different types of met.
Water & drip pans
Many smokers include a water pan that is placed above the heat source. Filled with liquid, the contents of the pan moderates temperature fluctuations within oven, as well as increases the humidity to keep meat from drying out, adds subtle flavor and aids in helping the smoke to stick. And, while some may prefer fats and other fluids that drip from the meats to fall directly into the fire for additional steam and smoke, it can be nice to gather the dripping in a pan to be used for sauces and gravy.
While exterior cleaning is optional, the interior needs to be kept up to prevent bacteria from building up. Built up grease splatter can also cause the food you cook to taste awful. High heat will burn off most offenders, but easy to clean grates are essential. The ability to hose out or power wash the interior is an option on some units, but you will need to make sure the insulation and electronics are protected.