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Comparing Grill Size, Temperature Control, and Grates

Grill Size.

Consumers shopping for a grill must consider both the size of the grill itself, which has to fit in their outdoor area, and the size of the cooking surface, which has to accommodate the amount of food they wish to serve. Remember that if a grill has a warming rack or a side burner, that's likely included in the total cooking area listed by the manufacturer (as well as in the area we list below).

Gas grills generally provide larger cooking areas than charcoal barbecues.

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Among our top picks, the Brinkmann Grill King reigns when it comes to grill size, 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.

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.

Grill 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 control settings or dials that manage where and how high the flame is. The Char-Griller 3001 excels on this front, according to consumers posting gas grill reviews on the Lowe's website. Users say the thermometer is accurate, the temperature controls prevent cold spots, and food comes out cooked to perfection.

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Grill temperature control is much tougher with charcoal, 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 you dictate how close the food is to the heat. According to reviews of the Char-Griller Wrangler 2123 at Walmart, the adjustable grates and heat gauge make it easy to control the temperature. Vents also give you 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.

Grill Grates.

The material composition of 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 you don't have to oil the grates. 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. Consumers who have posted reviews of the Brinkmann Grill King at Home Depot note its porcelain-coated cast-iron grates, calling them heavy-duty and praising the even heat they provide. The Char-Griller Wrangler 2123 sports cast-iron grates with no porcelain coating.

by Raechel Conover (Google+ Profile)

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