Find a grill that fits your budget and entertaining style

Consumer Reports News: June 12, 2012 10:08 AM

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With the Fourth of July right around the corner you'll see some prices drop in the grill aisle. Sales have been lackluster lately, but many of the gas grills tested by Consumer Reports were anything but. Inexpensive grills offered impressive cooking and midpriced models were loaded with premium features such as searing burners, lights, and thicker stainless-steel grates. But there are trade-offs.

Smaller cooking areas, thinner shelves, more painted metal, less stainless and lower grades of stainless, which is more prone to rust and corrosion, were some of the trade-offs we found. How to choose? Start with a grill that sizzled in our gas grill tests then consider our shopping tips. We cooked 1,070 pounds of steak, chicken, and salmon on more than 80 models, and the very best aced our tests by serving up nicely seared steaks and moist chicken and salmon grilled over low heat. The models we recommend also excelled at indirect cooking, which allows you to slow cook roasts, ribs, and whole fish and poultry by placing them next to the heat, not over it.

Even better, while the grills we tested range in price from $100 to $3,500, our standouts are affordably priced from $300 to $950. Paying $100 doesn't get you much cooking prowess but paying top dollar isn't necessary either. Here are some of the good performers from our tests, categorized by the size of the cooking surface. Larger grills usually have bigger cooking areas, but there are exceptions so we measure the main cooking area; manufacturers might also count warming racks and searing burners in their claims but we don't.

Small and portable grills
These fit 10 to 15 burgers and the $600 Napoleon Terrace SE325PK tops the category. It has two burners and excelled at high- and low-heat cooking and indirect grilling was very good. The coated cast-iron grates tend to be better for searing and holding even grilling temperatures. A rotary igniter gets it going, although we found that electronic igniters are usually easier and more reliable. For $300, the Char-Broil TRU-Infrared Professional 340 IR 463269011, a CR Best Buy, adds an electronic igniter and infrared heat, which emits intense heat to sear and cook food, but low-temp grilling was impressive, not superb. You'll find it at Home Depot. None of the portable grills made our top picks, but the $200 Weber Q 200 was very good overall and has as much cooking space as the Napoleon and Char-Broil. The Weber has one burner, so indirect cooking is out.
Tip: Burners are the most frequently replaced part. Look for grills with warranties for 10 years or longer, like the top picks above.

Medium-sized grills
With enough space for 16 to 30 burgers, the midsized grill is the most popular choice. Prices range from $200 to $1,900. Recommended grills have electronic igniters and coated cast-iron grates. The top-rated Vermont Castings Signature Series VCS300SSP, $950, excelled in our cooking tests and is made in America. The $400 Char-Broil Gourmet TRU-Infrared 463250512, a CR Best Buy that's sold at Home Depot, offers similar performance and adds infrared heating and a lifetime warranty on its burners. The side burner is handy for cooking corn while grilling steaks.
Tip: Make safety the priority. Test a grill's sturdiness with a gentle nudge in several places. Check for sharp corners and edges. Press down on side shelves to see how well they'll support a heavy pot. Does the handle place your hand too close to a hot lid? And while some flaring is normal, usually the greater the distance between the grates and burners or flavorizer bars, the fewer the sustained flare-ups.

Large grills
These hold 30 or more burgers—ideal for backyard bashes. Two CR Best Buys on the recommended list have electronic igniters, side burners, rotisseries with infrared heat, and coated cast-iron or stainless steel grates. The top-scoring Huntington Patriot 658184, $700, was superb in our cooking tests, adds light to the cooking area and has a convenient pullout tray for the gas tank. It's also made in the U.S. The $600 Master Forge 3218LTN was very good overall and its side burner has infrared heating. It's sold at Lowe's.
Tip: Btu tells you how much gas a grill uses and the heat it can create, but our tests have found that more Btu doesn't guarantee faster preheating or better cooking.

Kimberly Janeway

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