6 Common Mistakes When Buying a Grill

Published on 02/27/2023 · 15 min readIn 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.
By Grill Expert Travis Hill

Photo by Reed Naliboff

Buying an outdoor 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. Knowing how you want your ideal BBQ grill setup, plus how your current setup works, is going to be the first and most important step. Are you looking for high-end grills, freestanding grills, built-in grills, natural gas, or propane grills?

Then, what are the foods you would like to cook? Do you like serving side dishes with the same flavor as your main dishes? Grill size and your desired fuel source will play a huge part in this arena.

Then, you guessed it, finding the grill with the right fuel source to accommodate the previous wants and make sense for your home. From here is where it gets complicated; 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, the 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

Photo by Evan Wise

One of the biggest missteps that happen when buying a gas grill is buying for flash and charisma. What I mean by this catching a glimpse at the in front of you features and making that decision based on athletics. One of the main things you should be shopping for is quality, however, the light at the end of the tunnel is that nowadays you can have both! For example, the Napoleon prestige grills have so many quality and aesthetically pleasing features like infrared side burners, safety glow control knobs, ceramic rear burners for rotisserie hookups, and the best warranty I have ever seen.

These grills are made for weekend enthusiasts and professional grillers alike, with a higher level of performance and a higher level of materials. Napoleon uses 304 stainless steel throughout their firebox and components, including their Jetfire ignition system, grids, grates, and infrared burners. Truly one of the best gas grills that you can buy!

Burner gas grills provide the ease of one-touch lighting and starting. Their portability is also one of their main advantages 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 hookups.

Gas grills are an excellent option for fast and somewhat-constant cook times. If you have at least three burners, you can grill with two separate heat zones—much like a charcoal grill. 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.

Coleman is more than likely the name that jumps in your mind when you hear portable grill, and you are right! Coleman has stayed true to their portable grill departments by giving us durable, reliable, and fast-burning portable outdoor cooking grills. Take your time looking at portable grills and make sure you are getting everything you need from the specifications. Some of the best grill brands have portable grill options, so no need to rush.

Charcoal Grills

Photo by Stephanie Mccabe

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

Higher-rated classes of charcoal grills like Big Green Egg, 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 more premium charcoal.

The best charcoal grills nowadays go hand and hand with the best kamado grills, both using the highest grade of charcoal and providing the best heat retention, so you don't burn as much as that expensive 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" Weber grills that give you nomad dependability, like the 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 choose 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. The tough job is maintaining a constant and steady temperature. It takes a while to gauge and measure out the right notch openings in your airflow system and get them just right, but when you do, you are going to have amazing and flavorful food!

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

Electric Grills

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

Wood Pellet grills are the perfect go-between for ease and smoky flavor. These great combos use wood pellets—generally made from compressed sawdust—which are 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 is 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 smartphone and other mobile devices; however, some use BlueTooth or Wi-Fi. 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 want 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 number of pellets that you’re loading in.

However, when choosing a gas grill, 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 make 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. There are other high alloys in the grilling world, like 316 and 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

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

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 flavorizers, flavor savers, etc.).

There are many different types of burners out there to choose from so make sure you choose a grill with the right type of burner for you. From H-type to tube and using stainless steel to cast stainless and aluminum, you want durable and reliable.

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

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.

"Oh, cooking grates!" Cooking grates are the first barrier to your food and the highly relentless BTU flames of your fuel source. Don't fret you do have some great options when it comes to your grill grates and grids.

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; keep in mind that anything coated means that the coating can wear off over time, so be mindful of what components are coming standard with your new grill.

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. There are so many options for assembly if you are not feeling it; local delivery and assembly service companies can help guide you in the right direction.

A Note About Built-In Grills and Accessories

This is a smaller category of grills in the grand theme but much more of an investment, so make sure you get multiple quotes for installation estimates. With the choice of LP gas (liquid propane) or NG (natural gas grills) and now even pellets, you want to make sure you're prepared for everything surrounding the outdoor kitchen lifestyle. Make sure you know the gas type that is currently hooked up or the type you want to install. There are so many other costs that can accrue from outdoor grill installation, so the keywords here are plan and budget.

When choosing your built-In grill or griddle, keep in mind the overexposure to the elements. This type of grilling requires replacement parts, gas supply lines, pressure regulators, and combustible construction considerations. There also can be a greater risk of property damage, so please use caution before undertaking a project like this. It might be a good idea to leave this to professionals specializing in outdoor grill and kitchen construction. I say this because it requires more work to troubleshoot and fix problems. Getting to the back of the grill after the initial install can be cumbersome, and you really want fast reaction times when things like gas leak; you want to be "Jonny on the spot" with that gas shutoff valve!

Converting cart and freestanding to built-in or vice versa is another thing to consider. You might be moving or upgrading and want to hold on to your initial grill investment. Ensure you have the right regulator if you want to switch fuel type or gas supplier, but you can totally win at grill conversion.

Now Go Get the Grill of Your Dreams!

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.

Travis Hill, Grill Expert
Travis Hill
Grill Expert
Grilling at its essence brings people together. From cooking for my military team to cooking at 4 star restaurants, I now use my experience to teach new cooks and pit-masters around the United States..Consider me your Personal Pit-Master— What are we cooking today?
154 Reviews
2337 Customers helped
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Written by:
Travis Hill, Grill Expert
Travis Hill
Grill Expert
Grilling at its essence brings people together. From cooking for my military team to cooking at 4 star restaurants, I now use my experience to teach new cooks and pit-masters around the United States..Consider me your Personal Pit-Master— What are we cooking today?
154 Reviews
2337 Customers helped

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