Propane Grill Buyer’s Guide
Buying a grill isn’t easy, since it is not just about the grill itself, but about what it can produce and how it is meant to be used. Every grill can be different, and propane gas grill models are almost completely unique in terms of how they look, feel, and operate. No matter what you pick, it is important to get the best possible gas grill for your needs, even if you aren’t going to use it much: bad grills are always one mistake away from causing a serious accident, and there isn’t always a way that you can repair or fix the problem without buying a brand new one anyway.
Here are some features or details that you will want to look out for in grills, especially if they are ones you plan on buying in the future.
Propane gas grills obviously use propane (often from a separate propane tank), but understanding how it works and what measures you need to take when handling it is key to keeping yourself safe and making sure that your grills can operate correctly.
The main advantage of propane over natural gas is that you can buy a propane tank separately, giving you much more mobility: natural gas usually has to come from a permanent pipe and can’t easily be stored. As you would expect, this means that natural gas is almost always restricted to grills used in homes rather than ones used outdoors, since the lack of a constant supply of natural gas would make them nearly useless anywhere but a house with the proper pipework. Even if you do find a way to store natural gas, there is no guarantee that the gas grills will still work as expected.
Keep in mind that using propane requires you to keep the supply topped up yourself. Unlike natural gas, you only have as much fuel as you give yourself, which means that running out of gas while halfway through cooking food essentially leaves it half-finished. Natural gas lines don’t have this problem since there is always fuel to use as long as it is still coming through the pipes themselves.
Burners are a huge part of all grills. They are the part that turns the gas or fuel into heat, creating the heat that will cook the food on top of the grills. However, a burner isn’t a single model that is shared across all grills, and they can differ wildly depending on a variety of different factors or design changes. Every type of grill also has a specific method of spreading heat around, which can factor into how each burner will operate and what they can actually achieve.
Grills can have varying numbers of burners, and this changes the amount of heat they produce as well as the way that the heat is distributed into the grate or surface above it. One burner is most often found in very portable grill options that need to minimize weight and space, which causes them to rely on one source of heating for the entire surface. This isn’t bad, but it is only really effective if the cooking area is small as well, since a single burner struggles to heat up other areas well.
Two burner and three burner designs are much more common and are usually seen as the standard two options that you will find when buying grills. Two burners aren’t necessarily worse than three burners since it depends on how the heat is used and the way that each burner is designed. As a general rule, larger grills will need more burners: this isn’t always the case, but it is true more often than not.
Four burner grills and beyond are usually seen as the bigger and heavier-duty options, such as ones used in kitchens or designed like entire cabinets. Remember that larger designs need more heat, so after a certain point, each extra burner is focused on spreading heat around a larger surface instead of adding extra cooking power. If you only need four, there is no need to go as high as six burners unless the extra space is absolutely necessary
BTU, or British Thermal Unit, is the way that you calculate the amount of heat created by gas grills. A single BTU is the amount of heat required to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit, so the more BTUs produced by a grill, the more heat it is making. However, this isn’t an exact translation of the heat it makes.
BTU is shared between all burners. Five burner points producing a collective total of 50,000 BTU are usually making 10,000 BTU each, which might technically be the same as a grill with two-burner points that are making 20,000 BTU in total. What really matters is how that BTU applies to food, since it directly influences the way that the top of the grill applies heat to whatever is being cooked on it. It is a good idea to use BTU as a way of vaguely judging the power of a gas grill, but don’t ignore other important details just so you can get the best possible BTU rating.
Many grills are more than just a grill and can offer other useful features. For example, some might have a cast iron warming rack that is meant to keep food warm without forcing you to take up space on the grill – a warming rack like this is a basic feature, but a surprisingly large amount of grills simply won’t include it as an option or extra feature. Two of the most common features are ones that extend off the sides of a grill. The first is a side burner: a side burner is just another burner that acts as extra heating, simmering, or grilling area without taking up space in the proper grill, allowing you to prepare other kinds of food or use other cooking techniques.
The second is additional storage space: this is usually done as shelves that either flip down from the top or up from the bottom, giving you more room to place things or serve food without needing an extra surface nearby. The other main way of a grill giving you more storage space is to include a cupboard or other opening in the design, meaning that you have space beneath the grill to place a gas tank, extra food items, or other gear that you might need.
Sometimes you can slot these features in yourself. It is quite easy to find grills that offer a removable warming rack, and they almost always include the rack with the grill instead of selling it separately.
The amount of cooking space your gas grill has in square inches controls whether or not it is the best option for you. The more cooking space you have (in square inches, since square inches are the simplest measurement), the easier it becomes to use your new gas grill to create the best possible meals. You might find that the grill also has other kinds of space, such as warming racks or extra shelves.
Finding out the exact square inches offered by your grill also means that you have an understanding of how much food you can cook on it. An item that takes up around eight square inches can be quite a large portion of a grill that is only offering 100 square inches of space, whereas it isn’t much for one that reaches the 350 square inches mark. While the inclusion of a warming rack can add around 100 square inches to even some mid-sized grill designs, they work best when they are used to heat food rather than cooking it.
The best gas grills for your needs are the ones that offer all of the cooking space you need to properly warm-up and cook your food. This could be anything from 150 square inches to 400 square inches, depending on your situation. Keep in mind that more inches require more heat to be distributed through it properly: a cooking surface of 450 inches squared will take a lot more heat (as well as more burners) compared to a cooking surface only 150 inches in size.
Like cooking space, you will also want enough room to properly prepare your food. This doesn’t matter if you use the grill indoors, but the best gas grills are ones that can be used outdoors, too, without many issues. Because of this, it is best to look for ones with shelves or other extra areas that allow you to store, handle, or serve food easily. This could even be something as simple as a stainless steel shelf that extends out of the side: it doesn’t have to be a fancy and ultra-complicated system.
While your average gas grill is obviously more focused on being able to grill food, it is the portable models that do this best, since they are designed under the assumption that you won’t have any other surfaces nearby. Even if they just have one or two stainless steel shelves, that is still a couple of stainless steel shelves more than you would have had otherwise, and the simplest methods are often the best.
What is the Best Propane-based Grill for your Money?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when buying grills is to focus on the branding too much. For example, a grill like the Weber Spirit II e-310 is perfectly serviceable, and the feature list of the Weber Spirit II e-310 could be exactly what you need – but, if it isn’t, you shouldn’t buy it just because it is the Weber Spirit II e-310. Grills, like any other tool, are extremely dependent on their features, and product names are much less important, aside from being an indicator of general quality. If you buy the Weber Spirit II e-310, it should be because it offers features you like and need.
The same goes for all other brands: Broil King, for example, is known for creating great cast iron BBQ grills for outdoor use. However, this means that Broil King grills aren’t really meant to be used indoors, and you might have to search harder to find a Broil King product that isn’t mostly steel or cast iron. You can use the identity of brands like Broil King to get a vague idea of what they offer, but you are still supposed to do your own research instead of assuming that they will provide the perfect grill for you.
When it comes to choosing the best gas grills, go for grills that offer all of the features you need. Your top pick is always the best option, even if that top pick wouldn’t be shared by most other people. It could be anything from the Spirit II e-310 to a generic grill bought from a local brand that is the exact opposite of the Spirit II e-310: you have to choose something that suits you personally.
If you are still looking for the best grill option, don’t give up yet! There are dozens of grill choices on the market, and anyone of them could end up being your best choice when you actually have time to try them. Because of this, it is a good idea to spend time looking at grill options even if you are not that fond of how they look or work: once you know exactly what kind of grill you are looking for, you can start to narrow down your search more and more until you get something that is perfect for you and your grilling style.
Always check the warranty of a new grill if you are able to. Most companies will do their best to look for defects and damages, but others might assume that the grill is fine and send it without doing the proper checks.
Did You Know?
A mobile or portable grill can still be useful around the home, especially if you have a balcony or back yard. Don’t write these grills off entirely unless you are sure you don’t need a grill like that.