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Cheap Grills Buying Guide

The first thing to consider is what kind of grill you want: charcoal or gas. In general, charcoal grills lack the convenience, heat control, and cooking speed of a gas grill.

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On the other hand, fans allege that gas just can't match the authentic grilled flavor of charcoal, and charcoal barbecues are typically cheaper up front. High-end gas models can cost upward of $1,000 and charcoal barbecues range beyond $700. On the low end, the price range for gas is anywhere from $80 to $250. Prices for cheap charcoal grills start at just under $50 and top out at $150.

Our picks include two cheap gas grills -- the Char-Griller Grillin' Pro 3001 (starting at $186) and the Brinkmann Grill King (starting at $199) -- and two cheap charcoal grills, the Char-Griller Wrangler 2123 (starting at $110) and the Weber One-Touch Gold 22.5 (starting at $149). One model that didn't make our cut is the Char-Broil Two-Burner Gas Grill (starting at $80). It draws consumer complaints about assembly and durability, and reviews also raise questions about safety.

The main difference between cheap BBQ grills and their upmarket counterparts is durability. Pricier grills are typically made of durable stainless steel, while budget grills are often painted or plastic and not quite as sturdy. Higher-end grills also tend to have more durable materials inside, whereas a cheap grill may chip, peel, or rust. There are things you can do to make a budget grill last longer, such as storing it in a covered area, using a grill cover for protection, and making sure the grate is oiled and cleaned after each use. Perhaps surprisingly, many consumers provide positive feedback on the lifespans of the best budget grills.

One thing to note when looking for a grill is that vendors tend to favor a few particular brands and carry exclusive models. When you find a grill you like, chances are you'll have a limited choice of where to buy it.

What We Looked For

Cheap Gas Grills.

Gas is a popular choice because it takes less time to heat up than charcoal and provides more precise control over the flame and, thus, the cooking temperature. In one gas grill review posted on Amazon, a consumer reports that his Char-Griller Grillin' Pro 3001 reached 500 degrees in two minutes and 675 degrees in eight minutes on a blustery day. If you expect to cook a quick meal on a charcoal grill, think again. Inexpensive gas grills also come with features such as side burners, warming racks, and utensil hooks to make preparing food easier. The cleanup is simpler too: All there is to do is turn off the grill and clean the grate. With a charcoal barbecue, users must dispose of the ash and old charcoal (without getting it all over) and give the coals time to properly burn out.

Review continues below

Cheap Charcoal Grills.

Charcoal barbecues generally take up less space than gas grills, and many fans of charcoal grilling claim there is just no comparing the flavor. Grills that use charcoal (or briquettes) as fuel impart an authentic grilled flavor that's undetectable with gas grills.

Another advantage to charcoal grills is they tend to cost less up front, although experts say buying charcoal is pricier in the long run than filling a propane tank every couple of months.

Large Cooking Surface.

Cheap grills generally fall between 200 and 700 square inches; the higher end of that range is generally reserved for gas grills. It's important to note that any side burner or warming rack is often counted in the cooking surface area listed in the specs (as well as the area listed below).

Among our top picks, the Brinkmann Grill King reigns with a total of 638 square inches. The Char-Griller 3001 comes in a close second at 630 square inches, while the 300-square-inch Char-Broil Two-Burner Gas Grill offers less than half the surface area but also costs half the price. Charcoal barbecues tend to be smaller, although the best ones outpace the Char-Broil Two-Burner Gas Grill. The Char-Griller Wrangler 2123 offers 435 square inches of cooking space, followed by the Weber One-Touch Gold 22.5 at 398 square inches.

The Char-Broil Grill2Go Express (starting at $186) has the smallest cooking area of any grill we researched: 200 square inches. That's because it's a portable gas grill designed to be thrown in the trunk for camping or tailgating. We suspect that some of the positive reviews on Viewpoints may be inauthentic -- poor grammar and spelling and repeated use of the full name of the product raise red flags -- but they point out that, while most portable grills require charcoal, this propane model saves users from having to lug around a bag of briquettes.

Sufficient BTUs.

One thing to note in a gas grill is its British thermal unit rating, which affects the grill's cooking capacity. Generally the larger the grill and its cooking surface, the more BTUs; the average gas grill claims between 20,000 and 50,000. For example, the Char-Griller 3001, our pick for best cheap gas grill, features 40,800 BTUs for 438 square inches of primary cooking surface (plus the warming rack). The Brinkmann Professional 3-Burner Gas Grill 810-3330-S (starting at $159) has a similar 416 square inches of primary cooking space, but its three burners generate a total of 36,000 BTUs. While this might be fine for a highly efficient grill with heavy components and a tight-fitting lid, some users note that the Brinkmann 810-3330-S doesn't get very hot. Although this grill gets many compliments in reviews at Home Depot, one consumer observes that the temperature doesn't get high enough to sear meat and another says it takes 30 minutes to cook a chicken breast all the way through. On the other hand, beware of cheap gas grills with excessively high energy output. This likely indicates that they aren't very fuel-efficient.

Review continues below

Temperature Control.

Heat control is a critical feature, because different foods need to be cooked at different temperatures. Gas grills rule here because they come with settings or dials that manage where and how high the flame is. The Char-Griller 3001 excels at temperature control, according to consumers posting gas grill reviews on the Lowe's website. Users say the thermometer is accurate, dedicated controls for each burner help prevent cold spots, and food comes out cooked to perfection.

It's tougher to control the temperature with a charcoal grill, given that there's no mechanism for adjusting the size of the flame. As an alternative, some charcoal models, including the Char-Griller Wrangler 2123, feature adjustable grates that let the user dictate how close the food is to the heat. According to reviews of the Char-Griller Wrangler 2123 on the Walmart website, the adjustable grates and heat gauge make it easy to control the temperature. Vents also provide some control over the heat by increasing or decreasing the oxygen that fuels the fire: Closing the vents lowers the heat and opening the vents turns it up.

Cast Iron and Porcelain Grates.

The material composition of the grill grates determines whether food tends to stick, as well as how evenly the heat disperses and, thus, how well the food cooks. Experts prefer cast iron grill grates because they heat up quickly, hold the heat on the surface, and last a very long time -- although cast iron does need to be oiled to keep food from sticking too much. Another good option is porcelain-coated cast iron. High-quality porcelain keeps food from sticking, while the cast iron heats evenly and fast. Maintenance is easier with porcelain because the grates don't need to be oiled. When it's time to clean porcelain-coated grill grates, scrub gently with a metal-bristle brush; don't use a metal scraper because it will chip the porcelain. Many cheap grills, including those on our list, have porcelain grates. The Brinkmann Grill King boasts porcelain-coated cast iron grates, which reviewers praise for being heavy-duty and providing even heat. The Char-Griller Wrangler 2123 sports cast iron grates with no porcelain coating.

Grill Reviews

Reviews for any given barbecue grill can be few and hard to find (especially for newer models), given that so many models are available only from certain vendors. We pored over user reviews on the websites of retailers including Home Depot, Lowe's, Walmart, and Amazon. We also considered the recommendations of experts from the Good Housekeeping Research Institute and About.com, where the site's grilling guru has been covering the industry and testing out grills for more than 15 years.

Cooking performance is the most common subject of the grill reviews we found, and durability is a close second. A fundamental "must have" in a top barbecue grill is even heating. Based on comments from consumers and experts, all our picks fare well on this front. Reviewers also appreciate the sturdy construction of the grills we recommend, declaring them more solidly built than their cheap prices might suggest. Weber grills enjoy a particularly good reputation for durability. For a detailed review of each grill we researched, click on our picks at the top of the page.

Among hundreds of mostly positive reviews of the grills on our list, we noted a few that complain about issues such as rusting, leaks, flimsy wheels, and ignition problems. The Char-Broil Two-Burner Gas Grill is the subject of an alarming report on Amazon: A repeat buyer who was happy with a previous version for five years says flames flared out the front of this model and melted the knobs. Other consumers echo the reviewer's comments about flimsy construction.

We also looked for feedback on how easy it is to assemble, use, and clean each grill. Whichever way you cut it, charcoal grills are messier and more complicated than the gas variety. With the latter, all you have to do is make sure there's fuel in the tank, turn on the burner, wait a few minutes, and you're good to go. Charcoal grills require that you pile up the lump charcoal or briquettes, get them to ignite (this can be tricky), wait a good 20 minutes, then scatter the fuel.

Still, some demand more effort than others. The word "easy" shows up again and again in reviews of the Char-Griller Wrangler 2123, our top pick among low-cost charcoal grills, and the Weber One-Touch Gold 22.5 also draws favorable reviews for being easy to use and clean compared with other charcoal models. Consumers rave about the One-Touch cleaning system, which allows ashes and charcoal to fall into a removable pan with a flick of a switch. Users also like the second handle, which allows the lid to be clamped on for added safety and convenience, a feature missing in the smaller, cheaper Weber One-Touch Silver (starting at $59).

While it's generally not difficult to use or clean gas grills vs. charcoal grills, some models can be tough to assemble. Several reviewers have found the Char-Griller 3001 difficult to put together, with poor instructions, although others seem baffled by such complaints.

by Raechel Conover (Google+ Profile)

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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap BBQ Grills
  2. Discount BBQ Grills Features Comparison Table
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