A backyard BBQ is a hallmark of good weather, and having the right grill will help you along the path from novice to the neighborhood grill master. Whether purchasing your first grill or upgrading your outdoor kitchen, you’ll find many types of grills to choose from, each with their pros and cons. The most basic difference between grills is the type of fuel used to create heat. Deciding on one comes down to personal preference, but it’s important to understand how each can benefit your outdoor cooking.
1. Charcoal Grills
Best For: Traditional smoky flavor when cooking a variety of meats and vegetables.
A charcoal grill gives your food the smoky flavor that is most often associated with a backyard BBQ. Beginners can easily enjoy chargrilled staples such as burgers, hot dogs, and steaks. With just a little practice, aspiring grill masters can expand their menu to include a variety of other meats and vegetables.
Because they include few mechanical features, charcoal grills trend as the least expensive way to start cooking outdoors. The food cooks directly above a searing hot fire made from charcoal briquettes, which are commonly available. No lighter fluid? No problem. A charcoal chimney starter can get the coals covered in ash and ready to use in your charcoal grill quickly with no additional chemicals.
Within the category of charcoal grills, you’ll find these common variations:
- Standard Charcoal Grills: Bells and whistles aren’t necessary for a charcoal grill, but some features that are nice to have. Models like the Royal Gourmet CD1824AC 24-Inch Charcoal Grill (available on Amazon) allow the charcoal pan to be raised and lowered for better heat control and cooking flexibility. This option also boasts convenient side shelves for platters or utensils and an ash drawer for quick and easy cleanup.
- Kettle Grills: The simple bowl design of kettle grills makes them effective for cooking food by allowing hot air to freely circulate around the food. The Weber 741001 Original Kettle 22-Inch Charcoal Grill (available on Amazon) is the tried-and-true version. It controls heat using dampers at the base of the bowl and on top of the dome-shaped lid. Additional charcoal can be easily added to the fire via the hinged trap door on its cooking grate.
- Kamado Grills: Thick ceramic construction gives kamado grills superior heat retention. The Char-Griller E16620 Akorn Kamado Charcoal Grill (available on Amazon) is one such versatile grill and smoker that costs less than similar models from other makers. It’s built to maintain temperatures as low as 200 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a great option for roasting or slow-cooking larger cuts of meat such as a pork shoulder.
- Portable Grills: A small grill lets you enjoy chargrilled flavor when camping, tailgating, or anywhere away from home. The Cuisinart CCG190RB Portable Charcoal Grill (available on Amazon) measures just 14.5 inches across and 15 inches high—ideal for hauling around as needed. Its kettle design has a domed lid that features three locking clasps for easy transport, but this tabletop grill also works well on smaller decks or patios.
2. Gas Grills
Best For: A consistent grilling experience for delicious food conveniently cooked outdoors.
Sheer convenience makes gas grills a popular choice for outdoor cooks. These types of grills have push-button ignition and can reach high cooking temperatures in just minutes, which is ideal for a weeknight cookout. Without any ash from charcoal, there is no messy cleanup, either.
Most models of gas grills have multiple burners fueled by a refillable liquid propane (LP) gas cylinder. Each burner has an adjustable knob to regulate its flame, creating different heat zones for different foods across the cooking surface. Not only efficient, the fire from a gas grill also burns clean. In order to get a distinctive chargrilled flavor when cooking with gas, aromatic wood chips can be placed on the grill surface to create the smoke that is needed to infuse the food.
On the market, you’ll see two common gas-powered types of grills:
- Cart-Style Grills: The large cooking area of a cart-style gas grill like the Char-Broil Performance Stainless Steel 4-burner Gas Grill (available on Amazon) can accommodate a meal for the entire family. In addition to its cast iron grate, this model features a side burner for preparing sauces or side dishes. It also features a removable grease tray that simplifies cleanup. Two wheels on the cart allow the durable unit to be easily moved when not in use.
- Portable Grills: Convenience is essential when grilling away from home and the Coleman RoadTrip 285 (available on Amazon) has great features to make tailgating less of a chore. With quick-fold legs and two wheels, it can be easily pulled to your campsite. The grill sets up at waist-height and has sliding side shelves to keep sauces and utensils handy. Plus, you can cook for a crowd thanks to its large 285-square-inch cooking surface.
3. Charcoal-Gas Hybrid Grills
Best For: Outdoor cooks who can appreciate the smoky flavor from a charcoal grill and the convenience of using a gas grill.
These duel-fuel grills allow you to enjoy the best of both grilling worlds for your cookout. Use charcoal for its authentic smoky flavor. Choose gas for its fast heat-up speed and cooking consistency at your backyard BBQ.
The most common type of combo grill has two independent sides with lids—one for charcoal and the other for gas—yet a combined grilling area that’s comparable to a single-fuel model. This arrangement lets you use both cooking methods at the same time. Burgers or steaks can be cooking over the hot coals while you have precise temperature control for delicate fish and vegetables on the gas side.
Some charcoal-gas hybrid grills are full-size units with one grill grate and a single lid. You can easily convert from one fuel type to the other before you start cooking. To use charcoal in this setup, you’d place a special tray to hold the briquettes on top of the gas burners. These models are good for grilling enthusiasts who lack space for multiple grills but still want to use different cooking methods on different occasions.
Editors’ Choice: The Char-Griller Double Play (available at The Home Depot) features a whopping cooking area of 1,200-square-inches, or the equivalent of two large grills. It has three burners in the gas chamber and the charcoal side has an adjustable grate for temperature control.
4. Pellet Grills
Best For: Low-and-slow cooking and smoking large cuts of meat.
For a do-it-all piece of outdoor kitchen equipment, consider a pellet grill. These versatile cookers use an electric burner to ignite specially made food-safe hardwood pellets released from an integrated hopper. This gives you the ability to smoke, roast, braise, grill, and bake food using a single unit.
Pellet grills have many of the desirable features of charcoal grills and gas grills. Food gets infused with the satisfying flavor of natural wood smoke that is controlled by a convection fan. A wide range of cooking temperatures are also controlled digitally. (Some models even feature Wi-Fi controls that give you the ability to monitor and adjust the cooking temperature using your smartphone even if you can’t stay near the grill.) Choose a grill that specifies it can maintain temperatures as low as 160 degrees and up to 450 degrees for low-and-slow cooking of larger pieces of meat or tougher cuts.
Editors’ Choice: The Camp Chef SmokePro DLX Pellet Grill (available on Amazon) offers up to 570-square-inches of cooking racks and works with optional attachments.
5. Electric Grills
Best For: Apartments, patios, and other areas where charcoal or propane gas grills can’t be used.
Electric grills are ideal for apartment balconies or patios where charcoal and gas grilling are often not permitted. Other than an electrical outlet, these grills don’t require any fuel that can take up storage space. Typically the smallest of all types of grills, electric models are often used on tabletops. Some come with a removable stand for convenience.
These grills heat up quickly, cook evenly and clean up easily. Perhaps the biggest advantage of electric grills, however, is that they can also be used indoors, enabling users to grill even when the weather takes a turn. They do not create any of the dangerous fumes that charcoal and gas grills produce. With that benefit comes a disadvantage: Not having fire means the food doesn’t have the chargrilled flavor made from other grills.
Editors’ Choice: Techwood Electric BBQ Grill (available on Amazon) is a tabletop grill with a circular design that boasts 240-square-inches of grilling space.
6. Infrared Grills
Best For: Searing meat with an even heat and fewer flare-ups.
It might sound scientific and high-tech, but the functionality of infrared grills is rather simple. These grills feature an emitter plate that rests above the grill’s gas burners. This plate absorbs the infrared heat from the flames and radiates that heat back to the food you’re cooking.
This technology creates more evenly distributed heat across the cooking grates and, proponents say, cooks juicier food. The emitter plate certainly creates a barrier between the food and the gas burners, which reduces flare-ups that can quickly turn a perfectly charred steak into a completely burnt steak.
Editors’ Choice: The footprint of Char-Broil 463632320 Signature TRU-Infrared (available on Amazon) make it suitable for smaller spaces and outdoor chefs who don’t need a large cooking area.