choosing a great backyard grill

Every homeowner eventually wants an excellent backyard grill. Backyard grilling and barbecue are passions of all outdoor chefs, and they [grilling and barbecuing] are two different things. The act of grilling meat is a worldwide practice celebrated in the street food of many countries. But backyard grilling is born of America’s culture. Starting in the 1950s with the suburban migration in America, families began gathering on the weekend for hamburgers and hotdogs around the charcoal grill.

Grilling hotdogs and hamburgers are literally as American as the automobile. We owe the popularity of weekend cookouts to that great American entrepreneur Henry Ford. While Ford didn’t create charcoal, the story is that he automated the process of churning out the hard little briquettes from wasted wood milled for his automobile parts. He began selling the wood bricks packaged with grills at his dealerships to encourage family Sunday drives and picnics.

Basic grilling is inexpensive and efficient. You can spend a lot of money, but you don’t need to cash out your 401k to get an excellent backyard grill.

For my purposes, I’m not talking about barbecue grills that utilize smoke and indirect heat to cook ribs, butts, and brisket for hours. We are looking for a great backyard grill that every home chef can use for burgers, brats, steaks, and chicken.

Best Grill Under $100

It can be mind-boggling to search for grills and see prices of $2,000, $3,000, or more. These grills will do a great job of searing the rib eye steak. But they are not likely to do more for your steak or burger than a Coleman camp stove. As a newlywed in Chicago in 1985, my first Grill was a small Hibachi grill with adjustable grates that quickly cooked dinner for two people. I spent less than $50 for my Grill, and we used it for three or four years.

a great backyard grill

The traditional hibachi grills heat quickly, are incredibly efficient with the cast iron grates, and today cost about $100. They are a good investment and offer excellent heat control.

The hibachi is not a smoker. It is charcoal fueled, and it requires a tabletop or the user’s ability to bend and squat when cooking.

The iconic Weber Charcoal Grill is the most famous backyard design. The colored kettle drum manages heat efficiently and is made in the USA the same way as it was in the 1950s. The kettle grill was designed to anchor the backyard cook station and allow Dad or Mom to be part of the social scene while preparing food.

The Weber Kettle Grill is easy to use and a beginner requires only a bag of charcoal and a great pair of tongs to get started.

The basic kettle grill can quickly morph into a barbecue station. Loading charcoal to one side of the kettle drum and moving food to the other side creates an indirect heat source. An expert user can capture and direct smoke, add wood chips for meat flavoring, and monitor the temperature to slow cook more challenging meals.

The standard Weber Kettle still has a 22-inch diameter.

The Charcoal vs Propane Grill Conversation

Gas-fueled grills appear to be more popular in the grilling world. There definitely is a camp of charcoal enthusiasts that proclaim hot coals are ideal. Propane cannot compete with charcoal at the lowest price level. You can buy the best charcoal grill for less than $500 and boast you have the top of the line. A passable gas grill starts in the $500 range and goes up, and up, and up. My gassy friends say that increased cost buys you a precious commodity — more time!

Gas grills are convenient.

A propane grill is ready to cook when you’re ready. It takes a few minutes to heat up and when its job is done you can turn it off just that fast. It requires little maintenance or cleaning; just heat the grates and scrape the grates with a wire brush. You might occasionally need to clean the grease trap to avoid flareups. With charcoal, you must empty ashes. Preparing the grill takes 20-30 minutes each time for the charcoal to fully heat before you can start cooking. The end result is the pure charcoal chef rarely lights up the Grill during the week. But the propane user will grill more often on weeknights.

Best Small Propane Grill

Durability is a big issue when picking out a propane gas grill. The entry price for propane grills is more than charcoal. For my purpose, I think the entry price for propane grills is less than $300. Look for a strong, stable frame made of stainless steel. Some camping grills utilize long, slender legs to keep the grill light and easy to move. However, you don’t want your grill to be accidentally knocked over.

Some manufacturers utilize painted or porcelain-coated steel frames to keep prices low. The lifespan of these grills may be compromised when coatings rust or peel from heat and exposure to the elements.

Megamaster 2-burner tabletop propane grill is a great entry-level gas grill for small families and couples.

The Megamaster 2-burner Tabletop Grill is a great entry-level gas grill in that $100 price range. It is lightweight and easy to carry to the beach, the neighbors, or just out to the deck. It’s perfect for small balcony spaces, camping, or tiny homes. It is fully compatible with any standard propane tank to produce up to 16,000 BTUs. Each burner operates separately so you can grill two different products simultaneously. The stainless steel cooking grid is dishwasher safe although you can also just fire it up and scrape it like larger grills. The 16-inch square grid will easily accommodate 4-6 burgers, two good-sized ribeye steaks, or 10 hotdogs.

If you are looking to close the lid for barbecue-style ribs or brisket, this isn’t the right choice. The Grill will run too hot for slow cooking applications.

Outstanding Family-Size Grill

The cooking surface size will be the next cost factor to consider. There really is nothing worse than having to cook for friends and family in batches. Buy the grill capacity that fits your family. You could easily spend thousands on a grill that can feed the entire neighborhood on the off chance you will someday host a block party. You also want a grill large enough that you can get food cooked and get back to the family. A medium-sized grill has up to a 33-inch cooking grill.

Monument Grill’s sleek 2-burner propane gas grill includes a few high-end features that far exceed its price point.

Monument Grill’s 2-burner propane gas grill looks more like the traditional backyard gas barbecue. There are two 12,000 BTU burners and 376-square-inches of main cooking surface. The cooking area is 20-inches wide by 19-inches deep and the grill grates are upgraded cast iron. An indirect warming shelf sits above the main cooking area and that is perfect for vegetables and letting steaks and burgers rest.

The two side shelves are handy to hold plates and condiments while cooking. They fold down when you’re ready to cover the grill. The lid-mounted temperature gauge is easy to read. An electronic ignition system makes lighting the grill fast and easy: push and turn the burner knob to 9 o’clock. The LED-backlit knobs easily display when the grill is on.

This Monument Grill uses the standard propane tank you buy at the big box stores.

We’ll talk about more expensive grills and all the options and add-ons in a future post.

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