Mouthwatering burgers and sizzling steaks are probably the first things that come to mind when you think of grilling. But Americans are also firing up their grills to cook vegetables, fruits, pizza, and even pancakes and eggs.
That's what we found in our recent nationally representative telephone survey of 1,008 adults. The survey also found that more than half of Americans who grill are doing so more than once a week in season.
So which grills are the best? We spent months cooking salmon, grilling chicken, and searing steaks on 46 gas grills. Our tests revealed recommended models that cost between $200 and $700.
We also found a few duds. Want a grill that shows you're rooting for the home team? The Team Grill Patio Series Pro bears the colors and logo of your favorite team. But our tests found that the $800 Pro is a pricey rookie that cooked unevenly and had a low overall score of 45. The futuristic-looking Solaire, $1,800, also cooked unevenly.
Below are answers to the five questions that will help you sort through manufacturers' claims to find the right grill for your needs. And if you want to enhance a basic grill, read Spice Up Your Grill.
No. Lots of British thermal units/hour don't guarantee better searing or quicker warm-up. Btu just indicate how much gas a grill can burn and the heat that it could generate. The grills with the most Btu weren't at the top of the Ratings (available to subscribers). The grill's design, venting, and cooking-area size affect the Btu needed, but generally a smaller cooking area needs fewer Btu.
Like convection, infrared cooking is a way to transfer heat. But infrared technology uses heated surfaces to radiate intense heat to food, not the air, making it good for searing. Infrared heat can be transferred several ways, through a burner, cavity, or a combo of plates and grates. Our tests haven't found that one method is superior or that infrared cooking is better than cooking on regular burners. The top-rated small grill, the Char-Broil Red Patio, uses infrared cooking, but the top-rated medium grill, the Weber Genesis E320, doesn't. Cooking with some infrared burners takes practice. But they get lots of use; our survey revealed that 63 percent of people who had grills with infrared burners regularly used them.
A gas gauge, extra storage, infrared burners, a natural-gas hookup, and side burners were the most frequently used features in our survey. To fire up, an electronic igniter is usually easier than a rotary or push-button starter, and coated cast-iron or stainless-steel grates tend to be better for searing and holding grilling temperatures constant. Burners are the most frequently replaced grill part; those with warranties for 10 years or more are footnoted in the Ratings (available to subscribers).
Griddle plates and rotisseries were used least often, according to our survey. And the Cook Number grill has a temperature probe that you insert in food and 10 settings "allowing you to grill, sear, roast, and even bake. Perfectly!" The grill beeps when the food is done. But in our tests, parts of the salmon steaks we tested using that feature were undercooked. Plus you still have to turn the food, which is awkward with the probe in it, and check the food's temperature for doneness. Stainless steel requires frequent wipe-downs and polish to keep its shine. A porcelain-coated grill is durable and easier to maintain.
Before and after cooking, clean both sides of the grates with a stiff wire brush; use a nylon brush on porcelain-coated and cast-iron grates. Do not use soap. Oil the grates just before cooking. Make a tight pad from two folded paper towels, dip it in vegetable oil, and drag it across the grates with tongs. Fully preheat the grill or you'll wind up with food sticking to the grates and so-so searing. Keep the lid closed.