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Grill and Smoker Buying Guide

Updated June 22, 2021

Valerie A.

By Valerie A.

A gas, charcoal or electric grill lets you prepare easy outdoor meals. Pair it with a smoker to take outdoor cooking to the next level. Or try a pellet grill and do your smoking and grilling on a single device. Add the right cooking accessories for an easy backyard breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Gas Grills

A stainless steel Weber Genesis gas grill cooking steaks, chicken and potatoes on a patio.

Gas grills — fueled by liquid propane (LP) or natural gas — make outdoor cooking almost as simple as cooking in your kitchen. Choose the model that fits your needs. A portable gas grill is great for tailgating or camping. A freestanding gas grill is perfect for a deck or patio and typically has wheels to let you position it where it's needed or tuck it out of the way when not in use. A built-in gas grill is a larger appliance that forms the center point for an outdoor kitchen, allowing you to customize your meal prep and serving areas for the ultimate in outdoor cuisine.

Whichever type you choose, you simply flip on the burners and after a few minutes of preheating, you're ready to grill. 

  • Most include an ignition feature for easy lighting. 
  • Available features like prep shelves, warming shelves, tool hooks and even wireless temperature monitoring make outdoor cooking convenient. 
  • Greater temperature control means you can cook food quickly and evenly. 
  • Some gas grills come with a fuel tank gauge, so you know how much propane you have before you start. 
  • Gas burns cleaner and is less expensive per use than charcoal. 
  • A standard propane tank holds 20 pounds of fuel. Depending on the cooking temperature and number of burners working, a full tank usually lasts nine hours. Lowe's offers a quick and convenient propane tank exchange. 
  • Some models have an option for direct hookup to natural gas. With no tanks to replace, you don't have to worry about running out of fuel in the middle of cooking. However, a natural gas grill requires a dedicated gas line running to the grill.

Tip

What's a BTU? A gas grill's heat output is rated in British thermal units (BTU). Because this measurement is related to the size of the burner, it can be difficult to compare BTU ratings of different grills. A large grill with a high BTU rating cooks at a similar temperature as a smaller grill with a lower BTU. The ability of a grill to reach and sustain cooking temperature is more critical than how hot it can get. To ensure the best cooking performance, look for infrared burners that help to seal in juices.

How Many Burners Do I Need on a Gas Grill?

Chicken, steaks asparagus tomatoes and more on a five-burner Char-Broil gas grill with side burner.

Gas grills have one or more main burners for grilling meats and vegetables, and some have one or two side burners to allow you to use a pot or pan, such as for preparing a sauce or sautéing vegetables. The number of burners you need depends largely on the amount of food you'll be cooking, but even if you don't cook large meals, multiple burners give you more flexibility. You can cook different foods at different temperatures or use the extra grill space for cooking with indirect heat. 

While determining the right number of burners for your grilling needs will depend on several factors, we've got some general tips for consideration, including approximate grilling-area size ranges and the type of grill you might need for different gatherings.

A graphic showing grills with different numbers of burners and the groups sizes they work well for.

  • One-burner grills are often portable or tabletop grills that can handle small meals. 
  • Two-burner grills are typically the starting point for a grill you'll use on a deck or patio. They generally give you cooking space for a family of four or a small gathering and provide a couple of temperature options. 
  • With more cooking space and multiple temperature options, three-burner and four-burner grills are great for larger families or for hosting medium-size gatherings (think up to 12 people). Even if you have a smaller group, the extra space will be useful if you're cooking larger pieces of chicken or steaks. If you're interested in a grill with side burners, you'll probably need a grill with at least three main burners. 
  • Grills with five or six burners and more are necessary if you'll be cooking for large groups. This number of burners also gives you maximum flexibility in cooking — just make sure you have space to accommodate the grill, including the clearance you need around it for safety.

Tip

Using more burners means you'll use the gas more quickly. Make sure you have plenty of fuel on hand so you don't run out in the middle of cooking.

Flat Top Grills and Flat Top Griddles

A Blackstone flat top grill cooking chicken, green beans, potatoes and fish.

Flat top grills, also known as griddle grills or flat top griddles, let you prepare meals differently than you would with traditional grills. They may use burners similar to those on a gas grill, but rather than a grate, the burners heat a griddle, a solid, flat cooking surface. These outdoor griddles offer several benefits: 

  • The griddle allows heat to distribute evenly. 
  • Flames don't contact the food or the grease, so you won't have flare-ups. 
  • The griddle is often easier to clean than the grate on a traditional grill. 
  • The solid cooking area allows outdoor preparation of foods ranging from breakfast staples, like eggs, pancakes, bacon and hash browns, to lunch and dinner favorites, like grilled cheese sandwiches, fajitas, fried rice, stir-fried vegetables, roasted potatoes and more. 

As with other types of grills, look for features like side tables to help with meal prep or serving, multiple burners for more cooking options and, if cooking is part of your tailgating or camping plans, portability.

Tip

Flat top grills usually require seasoning to create a cooking surface that cooks well and cleans easily. Check your manual for instructions.

Charcoal Grills

Charcoal grill cooking chicken breast and peppers.

Types of Charcoal Grills

Charcoal grills are commonly available in three different shapes.

  1. Kettle grills get their name from the shape. They tend to take up less space than larger grills and work well in small spaces. The grill well tends to be deep and can hold a fair amount of charcoal.
  2. Barrel grills are drum-shaped with large cooking surfaces that hold more food than kettle or kamado grills. They’re great for smoking, too. Because of their size, they’re usually attached to a wheeled stand for easy mobility.
  3. Kamado grills, egg-shaped grills made entirely out of a ceramic shell, are high-end models that circulate and retain heat better than kettle and barrel grills. They’re not only great for grilling and smoking, but for roasting and baking as well.


Other things to consider about charcoal grills:

  • Sizes range from small models, great for tailgating or camping, to large grill smoker combinations.
  • Available features, such as temperature gauges, shelf space, tool hooks, lid rests and wheels, maximize convenience.
  • Higher-end charcoal grills have air vents or dampers to control cooking temperatures and igniters to eliminate the need for lighter fluid.
  • Most charcoal grills are metal, but ceramic is also an option. Ceramic grills provide greater temperature control and moisture retention, which help produce tender and juicy food.
Tip

Cooking over charcoal requires time. Depending on grill size and the number and type of briquettes, you should be ready to cook 15 to 30 minutes after lighting.

Pellet Grills

A smoking pellet grill with stuffed peppers, vegetables and a cooked roast on a porch.

Pellet Grills are a great alternative to gas and charcoal grills and offer the additional capabilities of a smoker. These grills are powered by electricity but fueled with specialty pellets made of compressed sawdust. They’re a good choice for cooks of any culinary level and come with advantages and disadvantages. Overall, their performance is excellent. To learn more, see our Pellet Grill and Pellet Smoker Buying Guide.

Caution

Fuel your grill only with pellets created specifically for pellet grills.

Electric Grills

A black electric grill on a porch next to an outdoor dining table set for a meal.

Electric grills offer quick, long-running operation but must plug into a power outlet.

  • If you live in an apartment or an area that can't accommodate charcoal or gas, you can still cook out with an electric grill.
  • Electric grills have no open flames. Instead, they have grates that heat up — and quickly — when the grill is turned on. 
  • The higher the wattage, the more powerful the grill and more evenly distributed the heat will be. Keep in mind that the wattage should be relative to the size of the cooktop.
  • Some electric grills offer infrared cooking that uses radiant heat to eliminate flare-ups and prevent hot or cold spots on the grill.
  • You can produce some excellent cookout cuisine using ceramic briquettes and a good marinade.
  • For easy cleanup, look for grills with removable or dishwasher-safe grates.

Infrared Grilling

Cutaway of closed grate for infrared grilling.

Infrared burner grills cook food with radiant heat rather than the rising hot air (convection) used in standard grills. This method heats the food directly and helps keep it from drying out. Some grills that use infrared cooking have specialized, closed grates that act as emitters for the heat. There are no cold or hot spots with this system, so the food can cook evenly. The design prevents flare-ups — and the resulting burned food — caused by fat dripping onto the burners.

Tip

Some gas grills use infrared burners in their rotisserie systems or side burners.

Smokers

Electric smoker with chickens, ribs, sausages, pork loin and corn inside.

Smokers cook low and slow, typically between 225 degrees Fahrenheit and 275 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours. Ribs, brisket, pork, poultry and fish are traditional favorites, but vegetables, fruit and even cheese are also possibilities.

  • Available cooking areas range from 250 square inches to over 1,000 square inches, allowing you to cook up to 50 pounds of food at a time.
  • A wood chip box or water pan allows cooking with different flavors.
  • Some models offer a dual-use design for smoking or grilling.
  • Electric models with Bluetooth® connectivity let you set up and monitor your meal with ease.
  • Digital controls, temperature and fuel gauges, meat probes, timers, slide-out shelves, viewing windows, wheels and wood-chip loading systems are available to make smoking food a no-fail experience.
  • Removable racks, shelves and drip pans mean less mess when it's time to clean up.

Electric smokers can operate as long as you have power, but you need to keep them close to an outlet. Gas smokers are more portable and heat quickly. Look for models with gauges to help you keep them fueled during the cooking time. Electric and gas smokers heat wood chips or pellets to produce the smoky taste. Charcoal and wood smokers are often larger and less portable but offer a flavor that's hard to beat. More compact, vertical charcoal smokers are also available.

Grill Accessories

A four-image collage of a griddle, sheet pan, wok and pizza stone on gas and charcoal grills.

With all the available grill and barbecue accessories, grilling is no longer limited to burgers and steaks. In addition to the usual utensils and skewers, the best grill for you might include the following:

  • A griddle accessory offers unexpected outdoor cooking choices. Some grills include the accessory for use on a side burner. For grills without a side burner, a nonstick cast-iron griddle sits directly on the grate to create a handy cooking surface at any time of day.
  • A grill sheet or grill basket keeps small or delicate foods from slipping through the grate. The slotted cookware allows the heat to evenly reach the food. These also work well for vegetables and fish.
  • Try a rib rack to help easily maneuver ribs on a grill.
  • A wok accessory means the flavorful crunch of stir-fried vegetables doesn't have to be relegated to the kitchen. Choose an outdoor-friendly wok that suits your grill.
  • Invest in a pizza stone for your charcoal or gas grill. The stone evenly distributes the heat for perfect crust, marvelous melted cheese and toppings with a hint of grilled goodness.
  • A rotisserie accessory lets you prepare the juiciest turkey or chicken.
  • A grill light lets you continue to cook when the sun goes down.
  • Add wood chips or chunks to enhance food's flavor.
  • Finish off with a grill or smoker cover to extend the life of your appliance.
Tip

When considering grilling tools and accessories, make sure they're designed to work with your grill, smoker or outdoor cooking appliance.

Choosing the Best Grill Tools

A stainless-steel grilling spatula, meat fork and set of tongs on a wood table next to a cookbook.

Take a look at some of the most popular grill tools and barbecue utensils below and stock your outdoor kitchen.

Cooking utensils such as spatulas, tongs and basting brushes are necessities for grilling and outdoor cooking. Shop for them individually or consider grill tool sets that include the most common tools. The best barbecue utensils for convenient cooking and cleanup are dishwasher safe and equipped with long, heat-resistant handles that are easy to grip. Also look for loops to hang them for quick access.

If you're a serious outdoor cook, you can find next-level grilling tools such as burger presses, meat claws and grilling gloves.

  • The best grill spatulas or turners can easily slide under a burger and have a head that allows you to maneuver food even on a crowded grill. For extra convenience, look for a multifunction spatula with features such as a built-in tenderizer and a serrated cutting edge.
  • Grill tongs shouldn't require too much effort to close and should give you good dexterity and a solid grip with different sizes of food items. Look for tongs that lock in the closed position to make storage easier. Some grill tongs are designed to also function as a spatula.
  • A meat fork lets you get a solid grip on food, like steaks, to turn them.
  • A basting brush lets you apply sauces to your food. Silicone bristles tend to last longer, are easier to clean and resist odors.
  • Essential for an outdoor griddle, chopper/scrapers allow you to not just to dice foods on the griddle but also clean the cooking surface. Look for these in griddle utensil kits that also include different types of spatulas and dispenser bottles.
  • Burger presses and meat presses make outdoor cooking easier. A burger press makes it simple to form the perfect patty. Look for models that can create two burgers at once or function as stuffed burger presses. Meat or griddle presses help keep foods (like bacon, sandwiches and steaks) firmly pressed to the griddle for even cooking and help squeeze out some of the grease.
  • Meat claws or pulled pork claws make handling large items, such as a turkey or brisket, easier to lift and move. They're also designed to allow you to shred cooked meats like pork for barbecue.
  • A good meat thermometer helps ensure food is cooked to the perfect temperature. Remote Bluetooth thermometers allow you to check the status of your food from your phone or a wireless device. For the best grilling experience, look for programmable alarms, a back-lit digital display, a good temperature range and a fast read time.
  • Grill gloves and grill mitts protect your hands while cooking. Some are deigned to simply protect your hands from burns while using grilling tools or adjusting your grill, and others are designed so you can handle food directly and avoid piercing meats with utensils and losing the savory juices.
  • If you spend a lot of time cooking outdoors, you need a good grilling apron to protect your clothes and keep tools and utensils in easy reach. Look for pockets, adjustable straps and machine-washable fabrics, as well as the right color and design.
  • Grill cleaning tools include grill brushes with wire or nylon bristles, grill cleaning blocks made of pumice and paddle-shaped wooden grill scrapers. Make sure the grill cleaning tools are compatible with your grill grate. If you use a wire brush or scrubber, be sure to wipe the grate down with a wet cloth to ensure no bristles have become stuck to the cooking surface.

Other Considerations

A steak cooking on the porcelain-coated, cast-iron grate of a Pit Boss Pro pellet grill.
  • Porcelain-coated, cast-iron grids are the most desirable for heat retention and ease of cleaning. They wear extremely well, are rust resistant and last longer than other grids.
  • Porcelain-coated, steel grids are the best bet for nonstick cooking. However, the porcelain glaze can chip and rust if not properly cared for.
  • Cast-iron grids require curing to prevent rust, but they wear well, cook well and distribute heat more evenly than other grids.
  • Stainless steel grids are rust resistant but may allow food to stick.
  • Plated steel grids can lose their plating over time, but they’re inexpensive, making them easy to replace.

More Outdoor Cooking Options

Red and black triple burner outdoor stove.
Tip

You can find both gas and charcoal portable grills to enjoy outdoor cooking even when you're away from your backyard.

Outdoor Cooking Safety

A grill can generate heat in excess of 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Use caution and follow the cooking appliance manufacturer's instructions for use, safety and location for use. Here are some basic tips for cooking outdoors safely: 

  • Keep children away from the cooking area. 
  • Make sure the grill is stable, sits on a flat surface and can’t be accidentally tipped over. 
  • When lighting charcoal grills, use only pre-treated briquettes or charcoal grill starter fluid. 
  • Be mindful of grill placement. The heat can damage your home's exterior, especially vinyl siding. Follow the spacing locations in the manual. 
  • Don’t leave a lit grill unattended. 
  • Dispose of charcoal ashes regularly. Let them cool for 48 hours before removing. Pour water over the ashes to speed up the cooling process. Once cool, dispose of them in a noncombustible trash bin. 
  • Extension cords aren't recommended for some electric grills. Follow the grill manufacturer's specifications for extension cords. See Power Cord Safety Tips for more information on using extension cords safely. 
  • Keep food chilled before cooking. Cover food when it's outside or leave it inside until it's time to cook. 
  • Don't rush the cooking process; use a meat thermometer to make sure your food reaches the correct internal temperature. 
  • Keep your utensils and cutting board clean. 
  • Be prepared in case of a fire. Keep a fire extinguisher on hand. If you don’t have one, use sand to put out a fire. You can also use the lid of the grill, baking soda or salt to help control the fire. Never use water on a grease fire.

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