Barbeque grills come in three main categories – charcoal, gas, and electric – and each type will appeal to a slightly different customer.
Charcoal used to be the only option
For decades the only type available was a charcoal grill, and this style is still very popular. Chunks of black carbon are arrayed in a familiar pyramid and ignited, usually with the help of BBQ lighter fluid. Once the briquettes start to glow red, they’re spread around and they make for a hot fire that adds a special taste to the meal.
Though they require a bit more effort to prepare, use and clean there’s no denying that the taste of meat cooked with charcoal has a unique flavor. The coals can be flavored themselves to add a special wood and smoky aroma that makes its way into the food. But they have drawbacks.
Charcoal grills usually require some kind of gasoline-like fluid to assist the briquettes in heating to the point that the fire becomes self-sustaining. That can easily put a foul taste into the food if the fluid doesn’t burn off completely before you start to cook. The coals also require a long cool-down period and have to be replaced after one or two uses. Clean-up is often messy.
Then gas grills arrived
Gas grills took over in popularity 20 years ago and dominate the market now. They come in two main types: natural gas and propane.
Natural gas grills burn, as the name suggests, natural gas (a type of methane chiefly). They produce high heat and an even temperature. Clean up is relatively easy and some grills are even self-cleaning to a degree, like indoor ovens.
But natural gas grills require you to have or create an outlet to hook the stove up to. Many homes already have them, so that’s seldom a problem. But it does limit the mobility of the grill. Once in place, you have a fairly short hose connection and the grill has to stay near the outlet. In rare cases that can present a fire hazard, but for most homeowners natural gas grills are a great option.
The other type of gas grill uses propane, usually from a refillable metal tank. Tanks come in various sizes, with 20 gallons a common amount. Propane grills produce a high temperature, only slightly less than methane. They’ll cook a thick steak just as well, requiring only a slightly longer cooking time.
Propane grills are convenient because they can be moved around. If you cook at different times of the day that can be a big advantage. If the sun is too hot in one spot (or you happen to be doing some yard re-modeling) the grill can be moved to another location.
But the tanks do run out, slower or faster depending on how long each cooking session is and how often the grill is used. Refilling them isn’t very expensive, though propane prices have risen sharply in the past few years. The hassle factor can be considerable or trivial depending on who your supplier is. Some suppliers just do a quick exchange of the tank and you’re on your way. Others make you wait in line, fill out paperwork, and more.
Many natural gas models can be converted into propane and vice versa. The kits are simple to use and range in price, with some representing a third of the original cost of the grill.
Electric grills are another, newer option. They are in essence electric ovens set on wheels and can have a number of advantages. They have no fuel requirement, just a cord, and an electric outlet. They can be self-cleaning, just as many interior ovens are. The temperature can be very precisely controlled. They do tend to be a little more expensive than other styles, though.
With the technological improvements made in grills over the past 20 years, you can hardly go wrong if you select a major brand. Consider your budget, and your preferred cooking circumstances, and go for it!