Gas Grills and Grilling
According to the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association, 80% of households have a grill, outdoor BBQ, or smoker, and 97% of grill owners use their grill at least once a year. This means most Americans love grilling—and for good reason! Grilling adds a flavor to vegetables and meats that is impossible to replicate with other appliances.
So what type of grill is best? The answer is up for debate. Sixty-one percent of grill owners prefer gas grills, while charcoal and electric follow. With the majority of household grill masters leaning toward gas, we’d like to let you know about the anatomy, features, and benefits of a gas grill.
GAS GRILLS VS. CHARCOAL GRILLS
Gas burns cleaner than charcoal does, and it is generally less expensive per use. Unlike charcoal, gas ignites quickly, usually with a push-button or an on/off switch. You can begin cooking within ten minutes of preheating—much quicker than with a charcoal grill.
TYPES OF GAS GRILLS
There are three types of gas grills.
These are designed for built-in installations (think complete outdoor kitchens) or can combine with a cart to create a slide-in or freestanding model. The main body of the grill is usually made from cast aluminum, sheet metal, cast iron, or stainless steel.
A slide-in grill combines a drop-in grill with a specially designed cart for installation in between masonry walls in an outdoor kitchen. It is used where a built-in look is wanted, but without actually being built in. This means you can take it to a new home, should you move.
A freestanding grill is the most popular type of grill and probably what most people think of when they imagine a gas grill. It is placed onto a mobile cart and can be moved around.
ANATOMY OF A GAS GRILL
The basics of a gas grill are simple:
- The burners are located on the bottom and create heat
- Above the burners are the radiants, which disperse heat from the burners
- The cooking grates lie above the radiants
The grid/grate is probably the most recognizable piece of a grill. It’s the cooking surface and the part that leaves those tell-tale grill marks on your food.
The cooking grids/grates are typically made from chrome-plated steel, chrome-plated aluminum, chrome rod, porcelain-coated steel, cast iron, porcelain-coated cast iron, or stainless steel.
Harder to clean than a porcelain coated grill and tends to rust fairly easily.
Will not tarnish in air, but burns when heated, forming a characteristic green chromic oxide. It will burn through in about 1 to 2 years.
Resists rusting and is easy to clean. However, it tends to chip which allows the exposed metal to rust.
Hard to clean and will burn through in a relatively short period of time.
In addition, stamped metal grates are a poor cooking surface since they do not properly concentrate the heat, and they cool off too quickly. Porcelainized stamped metal grids tend to chip.
Holds the heat extremely well and heat very evenly, but must be kept seasoned with cooking oil to avoid rusting.
Because cast iron retains heat extremely well, slow cooked foods should be cooked before searing meats to avoid charring.
With age, and heavy use, cast iron may get brittle and break.
- Porcelain Coated Cast Iron
Has all the benefits of cast iron, with a rust resistant, easy to clean and maintain surface.
As with all porcelain coated surfaces, it tends to chip.
Designed for more even heat distribution. It resists rusts, and will not chip or burn through.
Will last a very long time, but it does not hold the heat or sear as well as cast iron.
Absorbs heat well, but does not retain it for long … making this kind of grid ideal for searing meat on high heat, then reducing the heat and let the meat slow cook until it reaches the desired doneness.
Generally the thicker the rod, the better the quality.
The easiest type of grid to clean. It can be cleaned in the dishwasher, or rubbed with a brass bristle brush while the grid is hot.
Remember, a thicker, heavier gauge cooking grate will last longer and retain heat better. Grates coated with porcelain enamel are a common upgrade feature.
Heat diffusers/radiants should provide even heat distribution across the grill, be self-cleaning and easy to remove, and able to support smoke woods.
The familiar flavor produced by charcoal grilling comes from the juices of food drippings onto the hot charcoal. Gas grills use several materials to produce the same effect.
Lava rock heats quickly and disperses the heat to the interior of the grill. It is porous and allows grease to accumulate, lessening its efficiency and increasing flare-ups.
Irregularities in the surface of the rock create hot spots and cool spots, leading to irregular cooking and burnt/undercooked food.
Lava rock should be replaced every year, or turned over to expose a fresh surface.
Pumice stone is similar to lava rock in that it heats quickly and disperses the heat to the interior of the grill. However, because of its smoother surface, pumice stone collects less residue and produces fewer flare-ups. Irregularities in the surface of the stone can create hot spots and cool spots, leading to irregular cooking and burnt/undercooked food.
Unlike lava rock, ceramic briquettes are non-porous. They will not absorb fat, and their uniform size ensures even heat distribution for better cooking performance.
Ceramic briquettes allow food juices to vaporize while cooking, minimizing food charring flare-ups. They can be cleaned by turning them over to burn off any residue. Ceramic is more expensive than lava rock but generally last 5-7 years.
Like ceramic briquettes, ceramic plates are non-porous, will not absorb fat and their uniform size ensures even heat distribution for better cooking performance. Heat distribution is better than briquettes, since they can be laid edge to edge.
Ceramic briquettes allow food juices to vaporize while cooking, minimizing food charring flare-ups and keep the plates cleaner. They can be cleaned by turning them over to burn off any residue. Ceramic plates do get brittle with age, but generally last 5-7 years.
- Metal Vaporization Plates/Bars/Radiants
Designed to reduce flare-ups by permitting heat to rise, metal vaporization plates allow dripping juices dissipate when they fall on the hot metal.
Vaporization plates can be made of aluminized steel, stainless steel, porcelain coated steel, or cast iron.
Use caution when selecting metal vaporization plates. Stamped Stainless Steel radiants generally perform well and have a very long life expectancy. Stamped Metal vaporization plates have a poor performance history and are expensive to replace.
Excess cooking juices, drippings, and grease should be properly channeled away from the burners or they could cause a flare-up or even a grease fire. The drip tray is located under the grid and should be easily accessible from the front of the grill. Many drip trays can now be cleaned in the dishwasher—a real time saver for the frequent griller.
A grill hood can turn a standard grill into a BBQ by covering the cooking surface, trapping the heated air inside, and increasing the temperature inside the grill. The hoods are typically made of the same material as the grill.
Intense heat generated by the grill will discolor stainless steel in a relatively short period of time. Stainless steel hoods should have double wall construction to help prevent this discoloration from happening. Double-walled hoods create an insulated air space protecting the outer finish from discoloration. Be sure your hood is double-walled, and if it is not, be sure it has a porcelain-enameled finish.
An accurate thermometer is needed to ensure food is cook thoroughly. Most gas grill hoods have a temperature gauge mounted on the front side of the hood. On low-end grills, the thermometer may reflect the temperature of the hood, not the temperature of the cooking area. Always know what/where the thermometer is gauging.
Grills with hoods frequently add a second and even a third cooking surface above the main one. These racks are convenient if you’re grilling a large meal or entertaining. But no matter what you’re doing, remember that the temperature drops as the distance between the cooking surface and the fuel source increases. Because of this, the higher racks are typically used for steaming vegetables and keeping cooking meat warm.
Rotisseries are a great way to cook large cuts of meat or several small items, like Cornish hens. The food is slow-roasted with a crispy outside and a juicy, tender inside. A rotisserie slowly spins above the head, using a spit (a long metal rod) and a clamping system to hold the food in place over a fire. This is a great, even cooking method that can be performed on luxury gas grills.
A rotisserie uses either the primary grill burners for cooking or a separate rotisserie back burner. A back burner sits on the back wall of the grill behind the rotisserie. It is usually open flame or infrared, and because it releases heat from the side of the grill, rather than the bottom, flare-ups are virtually eliminated.
Optional side burners allow you to prepare an accompanying dish without running back and forth to the kitchen. These are often found in outdoor kitchens, and are extremely convenient for the avid griller. They typically come with a cover to protect the burner when it is not in use.
When choosing a side burner, know that, generally, the more BTUs a side burner has the better. They also come in a variety of materials: sheet metal, cast iron, tubular stainless steel, cast stainless steel, and cast brass. Sealed cast stainless or cast brass burners are the best choice, along with a stainless steel drip basin and porcelain clad cast iron grates to ensure an easy-clean cooktop.
A grill cover protects your gas grill from the weather and helps to guard against rust. It should be made of a heavy-duty vinyl or nylon with a scratch resistant lining. Most manufacturers provide with the purchase of a new grill.
Some manufacturers offer stainless steel trim kits that provide a clean stainless steel finish to the outside edge of a built-in grill.
Like cars, gas grills vary in price according to quality, features, and manufacturer. A gas grill can cost anywhere from $150 for a basic, no-frills model, to over $8,000 for a top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen grill. Determining your price point is always the best first step to take before looking at outdoor grills.
If you’re interested in purchasing a gas grill, or you have more questions, call one of our appliance associates at 513-361-1600.
What do you think about gas grills? Are you a die-hard charcoal fan? Do you have some information about gas grills that we didn’t cover? Let us know below or give us a shout out on Facebook or Twitter!