“where cheap is chic” — wisebread

Cheap Grills Buying Guide

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

Related Guides:
Air Conditioners, Binoculars, Dehumidifiers, Fans, Ice Cream, Ice Cream Treats, Lawn Mowers, Leaf Blowers, Mosquito Traps, Pools, Sunglasses, Sunscreen and Tents
On the other hand, fans allege that gas just can't match the authentic, smoky 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 $200.

Our picks include two cheap gas grills, the Char-Griller Grillin' Pro 3001 (starting at $169) and the Brinkmann 5 Burner (starting at $199), and two cheap charcoal grills, the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22" (starting at $149) and the Napoleon Rodeo Charcoal Kettle Grill (starting at $199). One model that didn't make our cut is the Char-Broil 2 Burner Gas Grill (starting at $100). It draws consumer complaints about assembly and durability, and reviews also raise questions about safety.

For grilling on the go, look to the Char-Broil Grill2Go X200 (starting at $122). This is a 200-square-inch portable gas grill designed to be thrown in the trunk for camping or tailgating. While most portable grills require charcoal, this propane model saves users from having to lug around a bag of briquettes.

The main difference between cheap grills and their upmarket counterparts is durability. Pricey 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 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

Gas Grills.

Gas grills are a popular choice because they take less time to heat up than charcoal. They also provide more precise control over the flame and, thus, the cooking temperature. In one review posted on Amazon, a customer 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 and warming racks to make preparing food easier. The cleanup is simpler too: Just 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.

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 briquettes (and perhaps wood) as fuel impart an authentic smokiness 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. The barbecue and grilling site AmazingRibs.com details the pros and cons of charcoal vs. gas.

Durable, High-Quality Materials.

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 have the highest praise for porcelain-coated cast iron. Cast iron grill grates heat up quickly, hold the heat on the surface, and last a very long time. However, cast iron needs to be oiled to keep food from sticking too much. A high-quality porcelain coating serves the same function, cutting down on maintenance. 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. Both our top gas grills boast porcelain-coated cast iron grates. They also have stainless-steel burners, which experts recommend as more durable than aluminum. Our charcoal picks, for their part, have porcelain-enameled kettles that are strong and rust-resistant.

Large Cooking Surface.

Two-burner gas grills are common in this price range. Consumers can get a well-made grill by going with the smallest model in a line that would otherwise be out of reach. The trick is finding a good grill under $250 that's big enough to feed a crowd. Cheap grills typically 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.

Among our top picks, the Brinkmann 5 Burner reigns with a total of 661 square inches and 502 square inches of primary cooking area. The 280-square-inch Char-Broil 2 Burner Gas Grill offers less than half the total surface area but also costs less than half the price. There is no side burner or warming rack, features that consumers often mention in grill reviews. Charcoal barbecues tend to be smaller, although the best ones outpace the Char-Broil 2 Burner Gas Grill. The Napoleon Rodeo Charcoal Kettle Grill offers 365 square inches of cooking space, followed closely by the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22" at 363 square inches.

Sufficient BTUs.

One thing to note in a gas grill is its BTU rating (specifically, British thermal units per hour). Manufacturers make it sound as though the grill with the most BTUs is the most powerful, but the size of the cooking surface must also factor in to any comparison. 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 (minus the warming rack), or 93 BTUs per square inch. Our runner-up, the Brinkmann 5 Burner Gas Grill, has a larger 502 square inches of cooking space and its five burners generate a total of 50,000 BTUs, or about 100 BTUs per square inch. Experts say a gas grill should fall into a range of 80 to 100. Any lower and the heat output may not be sufficient; a higher number suggests an inefficient design that allows heat to escape.

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 AmazingRibs and About.com, where the site's grilling guru has been covering the industry and testing 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. We also saw plenty of feedback on how easy (or difficult) it is to assemble, use, and clean each grill.

Cooking Performance.

Even heating is a fundamental "must have" in a top barbecue grill. Based on comments from consumers and experts, all our picks fare well on this front. Features such as a heat diffuser inside the Napoleon Rodeo Charcoal Kettle Grill and dual smoke stacks on the Char-Griller 3001 are designed to encourage even heating. Reviews indicate they work as promised: For instance, the Char-Griller 3001 excels at temperature control, according to consumers posting on the Lowe's website. The thermometer is accurate, dedicated controls for each burner help prevent cold spots, and food comes out cooked to perfection.

Gas grills come with settings or dials that manage where and how high the flame is, providing precise temperature control. 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, feature adjustable grates that let the user dictate how close the food is to the heat. Our top picks provide vents to control the heat: Open the vents to let in oxygen to fuel the fire and close them to lower the heat.

Durability.

Reviewers 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.

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 2 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.

Ease of Use.

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 Weber Original Kettle Premium 22", our top pick among low-cost charcoal grills. Consumers rave about the new design, which includes the popular One-Touch cleaning system. A flick of a switch allows ash to fall into a removable pan. Both our top picks have hinged cooking grates for adding more charcoal while food is cooking.

While it's generally not difficult to use or clean these 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. The Brinkmann 5 Burner garners compliments on ease of assembly. One reviewer says he put it together in about half an hour. Then again, this model is sold by Home Depot, which advertises free assembly for grills available in stores.



email Sign up for our
Free Newsletter
In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Grills
  2. Discount BBQ Grills Features Comparison Table
Cheapism.com on Facebook
 
Pinterest
Subscribe