6 Common Mistakes When Buying a Grill

In the market for a grill? Read this first! Grill & Outdoor Kitchen Expert Travis Hill lists 6 common mistakes you'll want to avoid when purchasing a new grill.

Two people standing near a grill. There are some tongs putting some grilled shrimp on a plate.

Photo by Reed Naliboff

Buying a grill should be easy; basically, you want something to cook your food on, and you are about to make a considerable investment to do so. From here is where it gets complicated. Though after reading this article, you will know the reasons why it does so.

There can already be some uncontrollable factors that can help shape your decision, like budget, cooking surface on the back deck, and climate. But there are varying features and grill models to choose from.

1. Gas, Charcoal, Pellet, or Electric?

Gas Grills

Kebabs on an electric grill.

Photo by Evan Wise

Burner gas grills provide the ease of one-touch lighting and starting. Their portability is also one of the main advantages they have over other grills; this is the case for freestanding grills with removable propane tanks.

Natural gas grills hook-ups can be easier maintenance, but they are confined to the one area where the natural gas line is in a home; so make sure you have the proper hook-ups.

Gas grills are an excellent option for fast and somewhat-constant cook times. You can grill with two separate heat zones—much like a charcoal grill—if you have at least three burners. Yes, the smaller the number of burners, the lower the price. But if you want to engage in indirect cooking and don't want those pesky cold spots, you need to have at least three.

With ever-increasing popularity, portable gas grills have also made a name for themselves with efficient fuel burn and portability. Grills like the WeberQ 2200 can travel with you and house propane tanks as small as one-pound canisters. Some use only butane, so check the fuel source on the manufacturer's specifications. You can get these in charcoal, pellet, and electric as well.

Charcoal Grills

Food on a charcoal grill.

Photo by Stephanie Mccabe

Your main concern with these grills should be the type of materials used in their construction. These vary from painted metal, commercial-grade stainless steel, aluminum, and ceramics.

Higher-rated classes of charcoal grills like Kamado Joe or the Blaze Cast Aluminum Kamado have a well-designed, insulated body that holds heat very well. With these construction classes (which are priced as such), you are going to want to use a more premium charcoal.

All-natural lump charcoal is preferred, because any charcoal with unwanted additives is going to remain in these higher-end charcoal grills. Because of the focus on heat retention on these premium charcoal grills, the inside walls and lining are dense yet porous. Anything you cook and burn in these will contribute to the overall seasoning of the grill—so make good choices.

Chances are, you have seen the "tried and true" kettle-style charcoal grill. This style is quite the workhorse. However, the materials used to construct it are often not as durable and don't hold heat as well—which will cause you to speed through charcoal.

If you are choosing a charcoal grill, you don’t have a tough job ahead of you. Find one that has a solid construction and gives you the features you are looking for. That is pretty much it.

Charcoal grills let you control the heat and the airflow than most any other style of grill. They are perfect for beginners. If you want to eventually elevate your cooking, the practice of controlling your grill’s head and airflow will teach you so much about the fire and energy management of your preferred cooks.

Electric Grills

A griller basting some meat on an electric grill.

Photo by Z Grills Australia

Electric grills have come a long way in recent years; they have advanced to become smokeless and operate at just as high a heat as a gas grill. If you are in an area with a burn ban or in an apartment that doesn’t allow open flames to be used, then you will love the versatility of the modern-day electric grill.

With sear temperatures up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, electric grills like the WeberQ 2400 will provide an experience similar to a backyard barbecue. Ensure you are checking the wattage on your electric grill and compare it to the amount of wattage your apartment outlets produce.

Even though a brand may market a smokeless grill, it's always a good idea to grill outdoors if possible; it's not worth the risk of setting off your fire alarm or having your house smell of last month's dinner.

Pellet Grills

Pellet grills are the perfect go-between for ease and smoky flavor. These great combos use wood pellets—generally made from compressed sawdust—which is poured into an auger and electronically pushed into the flame on the grill for consistent temperature ranges and less idle time.

Even though pellet grills have electronic heat and temperature regulation that keeps your food around the right temperature, it can veer way off in different climate conditions. If extreme heat or cold are abundant where you live, look for a pellet grill with a PID Controller.

The PID, or proportional integral derivative, used in pellet grills works just like the cruise control in your car. Once the speed in your car gets to a certain speed, the PID accelerates and decelerates your vehicle in order to maintain this speed.

Introducing that technology into barbecue grills on your outside patio is especially neat. Enter the temperature you want to achieve and give a range of a few degrees higher and lower, and the PID controller will turn off and on once it reaches those variances. This gives you constant temperature in almost any weather.

Pellet grills operate with connectivity to your mobile devices; however, some use either BlueTooth or wifi. Wifi connectivity can give you a glimpse of your cook from any wifi hub, whereas BlueTooth has a limited range.

2. BTUs

Often, grills are purchased without the proper amount of BTUs (or British Thermal Units) needed for everything you need to cook. Normally, this rating is plastered over gas grills, but BTUs apply to all grills.

BTUs are measured by the heat needed to heat one pound of water one degree. You may see this on water heaters in your home, and while it is good for getting your water heater primed and ready at max heat, you might have to take a closer look at needing BTUs when shopping for your next girl.

Higher BTUs don’t always mean better cooking when considering which grill to purchase. You want to ensure you are looking at the BTUs that apply to your cooking surface. That is where you are wanting the heat to be most prominent. However, there are a lot of grills that lump this BTU heat number in with the entire grill. Keep in mind that only around 12,000–13,000 is needed to sear a steak.

But aside from searing, the amount of BTUs needed depends on your surface area and heat distribution. You will typically find 75–100 BTUs per square inch of grill top—this is going to be all you need to get grilling. For example, if you are looking at a Traeger Pro series pellet grill with a total cooking area of 646 square inches, multiply that by 75 for 48,450 BTUs. Now, this is for a pellet grill, so the BTU is dependent on the amount of pellets that you’re loading in.

When choosing a gas grill, however, you need to be a bit more vigilant. Gas grills come with fixed heat regulators and can only handle what is specified.

3. Materials

The type and grade of materials your new grill is made of makes a huge difference— especially in certain climates. You don't want your new grill to rust or corrode in the middle of your second season.

Many materials are used in the commercial and residential production and manufacturing of grills. You will hear most about cast iron, porcelain-coated, and stainless steel. Cast iron is the most used, and proper stainless steel is the most sought-after. The top-grade stainless steel used in grilling construction is 304 stainless steel. Though there are other high alloys out there in the grilling world, like 430.

As long as the main components of the grill, like the burners, lid, firebox, and control panels, are built with these high-grade alloys, you will stand a better chance against rust and corrosion.

Expert Tip: A little test I like to do when looking at a new grill is opening the lid about four inches; the heavier the hood, the more heavy-duty and durable material it's likely made from. Also, give the grill a little twist left and right while holding the opened grill hood. If you feel it shimmy and give, it's probably not made from the best materials.

4. Size

A small grill with kebabs. A hand with tongs is flipping the tongs.

Photo by Z Grills Australia

When purchasing a new grill, you want to ensure you have the right amount of cooking area and space for everything you’d like to cook. This is true when looking at the number of burners for separate zone cooking and overall cooking areas. Remember that warming and other racks raise your cooking area vertically, giving you some added space.

From there, it's all about what you are comfortable with and what your grilling needs call for. The average length for a freestanding grill is about 32–36 inches in length across the grilling surface; this is a good area to stay in when shopping for size.

There are options to use your freestanding grill as a built-in if you ever want to take your outdoor kitchen adventures to new heights. Staying around the 34–36 inch mark will aid in this if you want to convert your freestanding into a built-in.

5. Grates and Burners

Some vegetables in a grate on a grill.

Photo by Hulki Okan Tabak

You also want to have the right amount of burners and the extra components to reduce unwanted mishaps. What I mainly mean by this is flame tamers (or flavor-izers, flavor savers, etc.).

Flame tamers are pieces of perforated stainless steel plates that sit about the burners to keep food bits from clogging up the gas tubes and to reduce flare-ups. There are many options that can hold fallen food juices longer for flavor or to help the liquids, grease, and bits roll-off or vaporize. These will certainly improve the longevity of your grill.

Cast iron grates or porcelain-coated cast iron grates usually come standard on grills; however, you will want to upgrade to the grill with the higher grade alloy (304 or 430) stainless steel. These alloys will hold up better outdoors.

Side burners are great because they don’t take up any cooking surface in your main grill area. This is something to look at when upgrading for space and versatility.

Keep in mind that gas burners are historically the most replaceable part, so getting well-made burners constructed out of good material is key.

6. Features, Accessories, and Assembly

Racks, storage, and side shelves are great things to keep in mind when you are looking for more versatility in your grill prep area.

There are smoker boxes for gas grills and rotisserie kits for charcoal grills. If you don't have the budget for all the frills and amenities offered in a top-of-the-line grill, more than likely you can get those amenities through add-ons later down the road. This gives you more freedom in your budget to get a grill that is more durably built.

Lastly, bringing home a grill is a grand and beautiful feeling, especially after that first cut of the tape and a glimpse of the long-awaited new addition to the family. Then comes the realization of putting it together.

Take into account how many parts and pieces the grill has, and then make the call if you want to dedicate the time needed to put it all together. Other options are out there: ask if an expert assembly is available. Or, grab a buddy and tell them that you will cook lunch as soon as the grill is put together.

Now Go Get the Grill of Your Dreams!

Some meat on a grill.

Photo by Marek Mucha

Buying a grill is a big deal, and knowing what to look for and what to avoid is going to set you up for success.

Whether you want to grill chicken, searing steaks, or slow cooking some juicy pork shoulder, the information discussed here will help in more ways than one to get you there.

Remember to take your time when purchasing your new grill, get Expert advice from a Grill Expert, and plan out how you like to cook, who you are cooking for, and what you want your cooking future to be.

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Written By
So happy to meet y'all! My name is Travis, and was raised on Central Texas BBQ. My father was the one who taught me how to cook over an open fire when I was just a young lad; Made sure I knew the two ingredients for authentic Texas-style BBQ; Oak and fire. Since then, I have always had that passion...

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