Outdoor events with families and friends are usually incomplete without the incessant cooking and sizzling of chicken, beef, and vegetables on the grills that can cook for everyone at once. In other cases, it's about cooking for yourself and a small circle of friends, enjoying the unique aroma that comes with certain types of grills, regardless of the weather.
Choosing the right type of grill can be tricky, and it depends on different factors, but you can do it with the right guidance. How often do you host an outdoor party? What's the size of your party like? What makes up your menu at these outdoor parties? Do you have to take your grill with you to parties? What's the predominant weather in your locality? These questions and more should inform your choice of a grill.
This article will guide you on the choice of a grill, considering its size, fuel source, and portability. You'll also understand grills based on their functionalities and how these can influence your choice.
Outdoor cooking and grills
Grills are the center of outdoor cooking. They are responsible for cooking all sorts of meat, fish, and vegetables that nourish the merry people in an outdoor gathering.
From the beach to garden parties, camping, and old friends gatherings, grills smoke (or not) and cook animal protein in low or high heat, to achieve the desired level of cooking.
However, to use certain grills, you need to possess some experience and doggedness, as you'll have to fight against eye-stinging smoke.
Also, with certain types of grills, you can save time on cooking and fuel, and spend more time on the actual party.
Grills have come to be an important feature in any party and to get the right one means having a good understanding of what the right one for you offers, and the features that set it apart from the lot.
Basic Features of a grill
Every grill, regardless of how they are classified, has similar features, with only a few things differentiating one from the others. The common things that all grills have in common include:
To cook, you need to apply it to the raw food materials. In grilling and barbecue, different heat sources define how a grill is classified. The heat source is an important feature as it imparts the duration of cooking, the type of heat you can get from a grill, and where you can use it.
The most common heat or fuel source for grills is charcoal. However, it is also common to find gas grills and even hybrid grills (gas or charcoal grills). These fuels provide continuous heat to the food on the grate. Preference for a particular fuel and heat source depends on some factors, including the type of cooking.
The burners are where the heat sources are centered. Burners are different among grill types, but they perform the same function. Generally, the size of a grill's burner determines the grate and cover's size.
The burner is usually a hollow container that houses the heat source, and sometimes, the fuel. Its inside is resistant to heat and its outside is made to withstand weather adversities. Some burners are oval or H-shaped.
The various types of burners, based on their shape include rail, pipe, and tube. Also, burners allow air into the hollow itself, to support combustion. It also allows used-up fuel out of itself.
The cooking grate is the metallic surface on which you place your food materials to cook. They can be made of porcelain-coated steel, aluminized steel, porcelain-coated cast iron grates, or chrome-plated steel, having different levels of heat conduction and durability.
The cooking grate is usually over the heat source and it allows both direct and indirect cooking. However, it exposes the heat source to oil and fat drops through the grill bars. This can cause a flare-up that can destroy your cooking by overcooking or burning some parts of your food.
Plates or Baffles
This feature isn't present in all types of grills but you'll commonly find them in gas and charcoal grill. They protect the heat source - charcoal and gas flames - from oil and fat that drips through the grill bars.
They work by deflecting the oil drips and preventing flare-ups.
A grill cover is made to protect the grill from external conditions, such as heat, wind, rain, and ice. They are usually made of the same material as the burners, and they fit snugly over them.
Grill covers can hold in heat and smoke, for that smokey taste you want in your steak. Also, some grill covers have outlets for smoke and heat, making them suitable for less smokey foods, and controlled heating.
They also come with straps that help you secure them to the burners to avoid being lifted off the grill by the wind. They may be coated with porcelain to discourage water retention, and consequently, rusting.
Types of Grills
While all grills are used for cooking your favorite meat and vegetables, different types of grills are best for different types of cooking. Also, different types of grills are suitable for different parties and weather. Your choice of grill should be influenced by knowledge of these types of grills.
Grills are categorized using different criteria, including the size of cooking they can do, their fuel source, and portability, among others.
Based on the fuel source
The most common classification of grills is based on their fuel source. How a grill gets heat to cook the meat and vegetables you desire is considered one of the most important factors in choosing one. Generally, there are more than two types in this category, and they include
Charcoal grills are by far the most popular type of grill you'll find around, especially in old-fashioned gatherings. They are so named because their fuel source is charcoal.
The charcoal they use can range from uneven natural charcoal to hardwood lump charcoal and manufactured charcoal briquettes. Preference among these charcoals depends on if you want the natural, faster-burning charcoal, to give your meat the smokey taste that many associate with it, or the less smokey taste from the briquettes.
They are usually started in an accessory - a charcoal chimney - before they are transferred into the heating chamber of the grill, the grill grate.
A charcoal grill usually has all the basic features of a grill but also has additional features such as the damper, which is used to regulate the airflow into the grill, remove ash from the grill, and control the grill's temperature.
The grate is also peculiar to charcoal grills as it is used to hold charcoal. Sometimes, wood chips are used in charcoal grills as a fuel source to introduce some woody-smoky flavor to your meat, as desired by some people.
Charcoal grills are available in different sizes, and they are suitable for both direct and direct cooking of foods. They are suitable for outdoor cooking and can cause a huge smoke that can pollute the party environment, especially if there are consistent drops of fats and oil from the meat to the charcoal. They also require a great deal of attention and can limit your interaction with the party.
Charcoal Kettle Grills is one of the most famous charcoal grills in the market today. Kettle grills, as the name suggest are shaped as kettle. This type of grill is very portable and requires a lesser amount of charcoal when grilling.
Kamado Grills are another type of charcoal grills and have been making names in the market. Kamado grills are shaped like a big green egg (though it can be bought with different colors) and they are quite heavy, as modern kamado grills are made from ceramics which can retain consistent heat longer. Kamado grills can weigh from 80 pounds to 500 pounds.
Pros of Charcoal grills
- They give you the smokey and woody flavor you want in your meat.
- They are available as portable grills.
- They are also available in different sizes.
- You can easily make them from old metallic barrels.
Cons of charcoal grills
- They can cause pollution to the party environment.
- They require constant attention to avoid burning or overcooking your food.
- You'll need to refill the fuel as long as cooking continues constantly.
Gas or Propane Grills
Gas grills are the next most popular grills in outdoor cooking. They use natural or propane gas as a fuel source, and are relatively easier to start. They don't give the characteristic smokey taste in meat, but they are prone to flare-ups.
Although gas grills are available in different sizes, they are not portable as they are usually made to remain at a spot. However, they're generally suitable for bigger parties and cause less smoke pollution.
An important thing to note with gas grills or propane grills is safety. Natural and propane gas are highly flammable and require extra caution. Avoid having the valve of the side burners (if you have them), and other burners on when they're not in use. Also, ensure that the gas hose connecting the tank to the grill is not leaking.
Pros of gas grills
- They are easy to ignite.
- They are suitable for cooking for a large party.
- They are easy to clean and maintain.
- They are suitable for direct and indirect cooking.
- Heat is easier to control.
- It requires less attention.
Cons of gas grills
- They are dangerous and require caution.
- Flare-ups are still a possibility with gas grills.
Electric grills are mostly used indoors because they hardly smoke; however, those that smoke are used outdoors. They are easy-to-use grill options, and their portability makes them continue to grow in popularity.
Electric grills function with the help of heating elements and temperature control knobs. The heating element comes on and turns red on heating. They give off the heat that cooks your food to your desired extent. However, you can control the speed of cooking by using the temperature control knob.
Electric grills are mostly considered indoor grills because they don't smoke as much as outdoor grills. They usually have a tray that collects oil from your meat, beneath the element. Some models of electric grills have a bowl you must fill with water, to collect oil and steam your food.
However, the smokelessness of your electric grill, and the features it has, depend on the brand and model you choose. In other words, some electric grills smoke more than others.
Generally, they are suitable for direct cooking and can cook two or more servings, depending on the size of your gathering.
Pros of electric grills
- They are easy to operate.
- They are portable.
- They produce little or no smoke, making them suitable for indoor use.
- They are generally easy to clean and maintain.
- They are relatively safer than gas grills.
- They don't require constant attention as some brands and models have timers.
Cons of electric grills
- They will increase your energy bills and costs.
- They're usually small and may not be suitable for large gatherings.
- They may not give you a smoky taste in your meat.
Hybrid grills are a combination of two types of grills based on their fuel and heat source; usually, gas or charcoal grilling. They combine the two types of grills to make starting easier and provide less dependence on one over the other.
With hybrid grills, you can have the convenience that gas grills provide, and the tradition of using wood or charcoal as fuel, especially if you're a fan of the smokey or woody taste in meat.
Many hybrid grill manufacturers make them so that they have a gas side burner. However, you can substitute gas grilling for wood or charcoal grilling in the main grills. They also make them in varying sizes but they're all for outdoor cooking.
Pros of hybrid grills
- They are better for convenience as they help you start your charcoal faster.
- You can switch between two fuel and heat sources easily.
- They are suitable to give you the desired woody or smokey meat taste regardless of which fuel source you choose to use.
- They are designed to give you another grilling option in case of the failure of one.
Cons of hybrid grills
- They are not suitable for indoor cooking.
- You'll consume more fuel - wood, charcoal, and gas - to achieve convenience and flexibility.
Infrared grills are another type of grill that should be under gas grills, since gas has to be ignited to heat the ceramic tiles that release the infrared rays, or as a type of electric grill, as there are models that use electricity to heat the ceramic tiles.
Infrared grills function by heating a ceramic tile that emits infrared rays that cook your food at high temperatures. However, you can control the temperature with a knob, to reduce the speed of cooking. Infrared grills are suitable for fast cooking, and where you need searing heat.
They can reach higher temperatures than gas and charcoal grills, hence their peculiarity.
Pros of infrared grills
- They are suitable for outdoor cooking.
- They are available in large sizes, making them suitable for cooking for a large gathering.
- They cook at higher temperatures than charcoal and gas grills.
Cons of infrared grills
- They can burn your food fast if you don't control the temperature.
- They pose a higher burning threat to the cook.
Based on the cooking size
Other than fuel and heat sources, grills can also be categorized based on the size of cooking they can do at a go. Generally, grills are considered used for cooking personal food and for gatherings. However, this is subject to the number of people in the gathering.
Based on the cooking size, the types of grills are:
This type of grill is used for personal use and usually cooks for a maximum of two people or one person with two servings. They are usually small and portable and can use fuel ranging from charcoal to wood, gas, and electricity.
Personal grills may be suitable for use outdoors and indoors, depending on the one you choose. However, some are suitable for both indoor and outdoor cooking. You can use a personal grill indoors if it doesn't smoke so much that the smoke detector in your kitchen goes off. Also, if the amount of smoke the grill gives off doesn't make you uncomfortable, you may use them in your kitchen.
Using a personal grill for more than two servings of food means spending more time at the grill, and possibly burning more fuel.
Pros of personal grills
- They are small and can fit into your kitchen if they are smokeless.
- They are easy to control and manage.
- They conserve fuel.
Cons of personal grills
- They are not suitable for cooking more than two servings of food.
For more than two servings, you'll need a bigger grill than your grill, and you can find that in a household grill. A household grill is a traditional grill that can cater to servings of up to twenty people at a go. Sizes of household grills vary, and you can choose or construct one according to the size of your household. However, the average serving you can have with a household grill is 6 servings.
Household grills are suitable for outdoor cooking, although there are brands that are used indoors. They are the commonly used grills on beaches and garden parties. Their fuel and heat sources can vary from gas to charcoal, electricity, and hybrid.
Pros of household grills
- They offer more servings.
- There are indoor and outdoor options.
- They have a wider choice of fuel and heat sources.
- They are suitable for small parties.
Cons of household grills
- Some household grills aren't portable.
A commercial grill is the bigger size of grill you'll find at commercial establishments such as restaurants, golf tournaments, food fairs, and charity events, used by food vendors and caterers.
They generally have a larger cooking capacity than household grills, which can range from 25 to more. They're mostly hybrid grills, but they can also have a singular fuel and heat source.
Most commercial grills are mobile, although some of them are stationary, especially the ones in restaurants. Also, most commercial grills are usable both indoors and outdoors.
Their mobility depends on the collapsibility of their legs and other parts. Also, some models are made on trailers.
Pros of commercial grills
- They have a higher cooking capacity.
- They allow you the flexibility of fuel use. That is, you can choose your desired fuel.
- You can have your desired woody or smokey meat flavor.
- They are usually mobile.
Cons of commercial grills
- They are best handled by experienced caterers and pitmasters.
- They require a huge amount of fuel.
Based on environment
Where you intend to use your grill also determines the type to use. The categorization of grills based on the environment they'll be used in is determined by the prevailing weather conditions and how they affect your fuel and cooking.
The types of grills based on the environment include:
Indoor grills, as the name implies, are best used indoors, away from harsh weather conditions. They are usually the same as the traditional grills except they don't smoke as much.
Indoor grills may use fuel sources that vary from electricity to infrared, especially for personal and household indoor grills, as they don't flare up as outdoor grills do, and they have a collection tray for fats and oil, preventing stains on your kitchen countertop. However, commercial indoor grills can use gas and charcoal as fuel sources. They usually have a dedicated room where they're kept. Also, depending on their sizes, they're usually movable.
Heat conservation is an incredible advantage for using indoor grills as the heat from your grill doesn't escape to the environment and makes your food take longer to cook. Some indoor grills have covers that further conserve heat, and retain flavor for your meat.
Pros of indoor grills
- They are suitable for places with harsh weather conditions.
- You can have them in dedicated rooms if they smoke, or in your kitchen, if they don't smoke.
- You can still get your desired flavor with indoor grills.
- It conserves fuel and heat.
Cons of indoor grills
- They can be pricey, depending on their size and model.
Traditional grills are commonly used outdoors because they smoke a lot. However, many grills enthusiasts see outdoor grills as the real grill. They can be made from metallic barrels or purchased easily.
They usually use gas or wood as a fuel source, although some of them can also use electricity, which can pose danger in a wet or icy environment.
Outdoor grills are peculiar for the unique smoky or woody flavor they add to meat. However, they are available in different sizes, and may be moveable or not.
Pros of outdoor grills
- They are relatively cheap to make or purchase.
- They allow you to enjoy the outdoors.
- The smoke affects you less as the wind carries it off.
Cons of outdoor grills
- They require more fuel consumption.
Based on movability
Movability refers to the possibility and ability of an object, in this case, a grill, to be mobile. The mobility, or movability, of a grill, has some advantages to it, including being used in different places where their use may be required. This facilitates the possibility of enjoying your steak or pork wherever you go, as long as your grill can go with you.
Generally, portability is attributed to small-sized objects, but with grills, movability is attributed to both large (commercial) grills and small (personal and household) grills.
Based on movability, there are two types of grills, and they are:
These types of grills are made to remain in one position. They can't be removed from there unless they're to be stationed somewhere else permanently. Stationary grills are not determined by size but by the nature that surrounds their use.
Household gas and charcoal grills are the most common stationary grills you'll find. They are typically made to remain in a spot in a family's compound, where they host friends and relatives at different times of the year. Sometimes, these types of grills are housed in a shed to protect them from weather conditions, such as rain, sunshine, wind, and ice, that may deteriorate their physical conditions.
Pros of stationary grills
- They are usually large enough to feed a decent-sized gathering.
- They eliminate the stress of transportation.
- They require a minimal maintenance routine.
Cons of stationary grills
- They are exposed to weathering and physical deterioration factors.
Movable grills are easy to transport and they usually have features that make that happen. The size of a grill doesn't affect its mobility since there are mobile commercial grills.
They're generally prone to outdoor conditions since they're made of polyurethane coating over steel. However, their movability saves them from deterioration as you can easily move them into a shade or store after use.
Tires under the grill stand are one of the common features that makes a grill movable. Other features include collapsible grates and grills, removable legs, or foldable grills.
Pros of movable grills
- You can easily take them wherever they're needed.
- They are not exposed to physical deterioration factors.
- They are available in different sizes.
Cons of movable grills
- The movable and removable parts need extra care.
How to Choose the Right Grill
Having known the different types of grills, you may want to choose a suitable grill for yourself, but there are things to consider before taking that leap. These things will help you determine which type of grill is right for you, and they include:
The size of your cooking
The size of your cooking should be the first consideration for the right grill you should purchase. Questions such as - "how much food do you have to cook?" "How many people do you host during your scheduled gatherings?" - should inform your decision on the type and size of the grill for you.
If you have a gathering of more than four people, you may want to purchase a household grill. However, if you're looking to purchase a grill that'll serve your household of fewer than four people, and you don't host gatherings, a personal grill may be the right choice.
Also, a grill that conserves fuel is an important consideration for your size of cooking. A larger serving may require more fuel; therefore, a cheaper but more efficient fuel, such as charcoal or gas, is preferable. However, for fewer servings, an electric grill will do.
The nature of your environment
The prevailing weather condition in your area should also come into consideration before purchasing a grill. While a household grill may work well for your family size, you should consider if you want an indoor or outdoor grill.
An indoor grill is protected from physical deterioration as it isn't in constant contact with moisture and sunshine, and it may last longer than an outdoor grill. If your locality is wet, you may have to opt for an indoor grill.
However, if you have more days of sunshine or clear skies, an outdoor grill may be the best for you, as you can enjoy the company of your loved ones under the clear skies, and cool breeze.
Your requirement for convenience
Traditional grills aren't convenient to use, with the smoke and dirtiness that comes with ha fling charcoal and wood. However, you can choose a suitable grill for convenience if smoke and dirt bother you.
A gas grill is one of the most convenient options you have. They're easy to light, and they offer you more time with your loved ones, instead of tending the grill.
Another option is the hybrid grill. It offers the convenience of gas grills and the traditionality of charcoal grills. You can also easily choose between gas and charcoal to serve as fuel for your cooking. This way, when you run out of one fuel, you can use the other.
How much space do you have to dedicate to a grill? Can you sacrifice that space permanently? The answers to these questions will show you what size and type of grill you need in terms of movability.
A movable grill doesn't have to remain outdoors. However, if you have enough space to accommodate it outdoors, you don't have to move it. In many cases, all you need is a shed over the grill to protect it from direct contact with moisture and sunlight.
If your space is wide enough and you won't have use of it in a while, an outdoor stationary grill under a shade is a good choice. However, if you have limited space, and an outdoor grill will cramp the little space you have, you can choose an indoor personal or household grill.
Grills are as part of our traditional cooking equipment as any other kitchen equipment. However, choosing the right grill can be tricky. This piece has shown you the different types of grills that exist, and how to choose the right one for you. Follow the knowledge it provides, and you'll be glad you did.