Picking Your Perfect Grill: What Are the Different Types of Outdoor Grills?

Grill & Outdoor Kitchen Expert David Wilson goes over the five types of outdoor grills so you can get a better idea of which type is the right fit for you!

A man opens a pellet grill to check on his food.

Photo by Z Grills Australis

I am a huge fan of the great outdoors. I'm also a huge fan of food. So what better combination can there be than cooking outside? Over the years, outdoor cooking has evolved from dad grilling hamburgers in the backyard into a full-blown culinary experience: portable grills, gas grills, charcoal grills, electric grills, smokers, kamado grills, and more.

Once upon a time, burgers were the king of the patio, but now I dream of cooking restaurant-quality steaks or tasty veggies on my deck. While Weber kettles still rule many backyards, you can now opt for gourmet grills which will take your outdoor cooking experience to new heights.

Let's take a walk through the wide world of outdoor grills and you’ll discover which type of grill is perfect for your lifestyle.

While shopping for a new grill, there are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  1. How many guests do I cook for regularly?
  2. What fuel type do I want (charcoal briquettes, propane, natural gas, wood pellets)?
  3. Does my grill need to heat up quickly, or do I have time to hang out while cooking?
  4. Open flame or indirect heat?
  5. What grilling accessories do I want (thermometers, side burners, storage bins)?

Once you answer these questions, you're ready to begin your hunt.

Charcoal Grills

Some one cooking meat and zucchini on a charcoal grill outdoors.

Photo by Bianca Ackerman

This type of grill is generally what comes to mind when thinking about outdoor cooking. If you love a smoky flavor in your meat, then a charcoal grill might be the perfect option for you. These grills come in a variety of sizes: from small, tailgating grills to family-sized grills that can cook enough burgers to feed an army. Often these grills will have stainless steel grill grates that will handle the heat and smoke residues that come from burning charcoal.

Portable charcoal grills are perfect for smaller groups interested in tailgating or camping. These grills can typically cook six to nine burgers at a time. They are easy to move around from place to place due to their light weight. A good example of this type of grill is a Weber Jumbo Joe.

The Weber Jumbo Joe Grill.

The Weber Jumbo Joe Grill

Larger kettle-style grills can accommodate more food with ample surface area for larger groups. These grills are the workhorses of many backyards. I've had at least 3 of these myself.

In my opinion, Weber is the king of kettle grills. You can find these in standalone models from 18 inches in diameter up to the massive 37-inch diameter Ranch model.

Charcoal grills also come in barrel-style designs, which utilize a rectangular cooking surface to maximize the number of square inches available for grilling. The size of the grill also gives you the ability to use indirect heating for more sensitive types of foods such as fish.

TL;DR: If your goal is to make cooking an experience or you love a smoky flavor, then a charcoal grill might just be for you.

Common Brands: Weber, Portable Kitchen, Broil King

Gas Grills

Someone flipping burgers on a gas grill.

Photo by Kenny Eliason

Are you looking for a grill that heats up fast and makes your cooking quick and easy? Do you prefer an easy-to-use heat source? Then a gas grill is likely right up your alley!

Gas grills come in a wide range of prices and sizes. They can use propane tanks for fuel or be hard-lined into your home’s natural gas. These grills produce a flame that burns very cleanly and allows the grill to heat up very quickly.

Because gas is clean-burning, there is very little maintenance required to keep the grill in working condition—merely wipe the inside of the grill down as needed and clean the stainless steel or cast iron grates after you finish cooking.

Expert Tip: A thin layer of oil on your grates will also make them very easy to keep clean. One of the great things about a gas grill is that you can find one to fit any budget. If you’re on a tight budget, you can find a $150-$300 grill to suit your needs. However, it’s important to understand that budget grills use lesser materials and will likely only last a few years and often the materials in a budget grill will be more prone to rust and deterioration. If you are looking for a showpiece for your new patio, you might want to consider a built-in unit or a Napoleon Prestige Pro.

The Napoleon Prestige Pro.

The Napoleon Prestige Pro

Did I mention that you can get all sorts of add-on options with your gas grill? Many already come equipped with extras like side burners, built-in meat thermometers, infrared burners for searing meat, rotisseries, BlueTooth controls, and even a butler to make you a great cocktail while you cook (just kidding, you have to make your own cocktail).

TL;DR: Fast cooking and hot searing make gas grills a go-to option for many people. If you want to add on other options like searing stations or side burners then perhaps a gas grill is for you.

Common Brands: Weber, Napoleon, Broil King, Camp Chef

Pellet Grills

Someone putting a marinade on meat that is being cooked on a pellet grill.

Photo by Z Grills Australia 

In recent years there has been a Frankenstein-ing (is that a word?) of sorts where folks want the ease of a gas grill and the flavor of a charcoal grill, while also looking for versatility in their grill. Welcome to the world of pellet grilling!

If you are new to pellet grilling, let me start by sharing how these grills work. A pellet grill creates heat by igniting pellets made from compressed wood. These wood pellets are typically gravity fed from a hopper (the bin that holds the pellets) to a burn pot, where they are ignited by a heating element.

The beauty of a pellet grill is that it burns very clean. It can cook hot, slow roast, bake, or smoke food while maintaining a very steady temperature—as most units are controlled by a thermostat. Think of it as a big, outdoor oven that allows you to smoke or grill to your heart’s desire.

With the “set it and forget it” ability of pellet grills, you are able to spend time doing other things while your meat cooks. This really comes in handy if you often cook while entertaining friends. You’ll have more time to socialize instead of lighting charcoal or standing over a hot grill.

The PitBoss 820D Pellet Grill.

The PitBoss 820D Pellet Grill

Pellet grills really are versatile machines. They can accomplish almost anything you can do with another grill, smoker, or even an oven. Many come with copious amounts of interior space including some with three vertical racks of cooking space. You can outfit your pellet grill with accessories including side burners, temperature gauges, and other gadgets. Also, most pellet grills have BlueTooth controls, so you don’t even need to stand around watching your grill while your food is cooking.

TL;DR: If the ease of a “set it and forget it” system appeals to you, then maybe take a look at a pellet grill.

Common Brands: Pit Boss, Louisiana Grills, Traeger, Camp Chef

Flat Tops

Someone cooking hot dogs on a flat top grill.

Photo by Sven Brandsma

These days, flat tops are all the rage. No, not the hair cuts from the 1950s…flat top grills!

Flat tops are technically gas grills with a distinct difference: one large, flat cooking surface instead of a series of grates. Why is this awesome? Because, in the words of my wife, “you can cook anything on that thing.” She’s right (as usual), because you can cook just about anything on a flat top that you would on another grill

While flat tops may conjure up images of greasy diner burgers or bacon and eggs, you really can get more creative. Heck, I’ve even made what we call “the deck dessert,” which is made up of griddled sponge cake and flambéd strawberries. I can guarantee you that it is delicious and, if you’ve never lit your food on fire on purpose, I highly recommend it.

Flat tops come in many sizes: from small 17in portable units to 36in, four-burner backyard units (capable of cooking 30 burgers at a time) to massive, professional-quality stainless steel units. Most are equipped with rolled-steel cooking surfaces which require oil seasoning to get them ready to cook.

The Pit Boss 4-Burner Ultimate Lift Off Griddle.

The Pit Boss 4-Burner Ultimate Lift Off Griddle.

Once the flat top is well-seasoned, maintenance is minimal and requires a simple scrape and wipe down after each cook. Once the unit is wiped off and cooled, a light layer of oil will keep any rust at bay.

TL;DR: If you are cooking for a larger crowd or you want to get creative with breakfast, hibachi, or my deck dessert then check out a flat top and let your culinary creativity run wild.

Common Brands: Pit Boss, Blackstone, Camp Chef

Kamados

Someone cooking some potatoes, asparagus, and meat on a Kamado Joe Grill.

Photo courtesy of Kamado Joe Grills

A long time ago, our ancestors cooked their meals in clay pots with wood fires. These clay pots held heat for long periods of time. Fast forward to the present day, and you’ll find that many people have channeled the old ways by cooking their meats and veggies in a much more modern variation of the clay pot: the kamado.

Kamado grills are versatile cooking devices that can be used to grill, smoke, or even bake foods depending on how much fuel you use and how you set up the grill. The grill body is typically made of a ceramic material that slowly heats up and, once fully heated, maintains temperature for a very long time. These grills are incredibly versatile and can sear meats at 700 degrees, smoke meats slow and low, and even bake a pizza!

The Kamado Joe Classic.

The Kamado Joe Classic

Due to the kamado’s shape, they typically require very little deck space. Plus the efficient nature of the grill requires less charcoal, which leads to less cleaning and maintenance. On top of that, these grills are made to last and can stand up to most any weather conditions.

TL;DR: Kamados are great and easy to use. If you’re looking for a grill with a smaller footprint that will last with versatile cooking styles then perhaps you should check one out.

Common Brands: Kamado Joe, Vision, Big Green Egg

Grills come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can accommodate just about any cooking style you can think of from high-temperature grilling to “low and slow” smoking to baking and, of course, my deck dessert. Hopefully, you’ve learned a bit more about all of these amazing cooking machines and you’re ready to head out and grab one for your patio. No matter what you choose remember, it’s all about the experience so grab some meat, light up your grill, and have a blast. If you’d love to chat more reach out and talk to one of our Grill & Outdoor Kitchen Experts!

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Written By
I'm a meat crazed grill master (my word not my wife's) who loves nothing more than to cozy up to a hot grill or smoker with a cold beverage in my hand and cook up some killer meats and veggies. Steak? Check. Chicken? Check. Kabobs? Check. Burgers? Oh please yes. I've spent years trying new meats an...

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