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A Guide to 5 Types of Outdoor Grills

Linda is a writer and lover of cooking and entertaining. Unique preparation techniques, gourmet food, and fine wine are her favorite topics.

Outdoor cooking has been around since prehistoric man discovered fire. Luckily for us grilling food has evolved far beyond crouching over an open fire. You’d think by now we’d know everything there is to know about outdoor grills.

Thanks to ever-changing grill technology and design we spend most of our time scratching our collective heads trying to figure out which one best suits our needs and budget. In fact, there are so many styles of outdoor grills available you might have trouble choosing the right one.

We'll assist your decision-making process by breaking down the five main types of grills based on how they work, their strengths, weaknesses and ballpark price tag.

1. Charcoal Grill

Purists will tell you charcoal grilling is the only way to go. This type of grill depends on chunks of lightweight black carbon to create heat. If you choose the charcoal version, be patient--you have to wait for the coals to glow. But for honest-to-goodness outdoor cooked flavor, nothing beats the low-tech simplicity of a charcoal grill.

When shopping for a charcoal grill look for stainless steel or ceramic grates for easy and quick clean up. You can choose from popular kettles, ceramic eggs, barrels and a variety of designs in between. Kettle grills are great for short grilling times. Egg-shape and barrel grills are designed to use offset heat for low and slow cooking.

The Good: For those who love the ritual of cooking over briquettes, nothing beats a charcoal grill. Charcoal heats to a higher temperature than gas. If you are skilled at the art of grilling you know searing meat quickly over hot coals allows for a perfectly caramelized crust, resulting in flavorful, tender meat.

The Bad: Using a charcoal grill requires some advance planning. First you need to make sure you have plenty of charcoal and some sort of starter. Set aside 30 minutes to get the coals glowing red. When you're done cooking you’ll have to wait until the grill cools down before you can properly dispose of the ashes.

The Price: Quality charcoal grills can be had for as little as $100. However, most are priced in the $150 to $300 range. If you are so inclined you can also find top-of-the-line models from $1,000 to $2,500.

An inexpensive popular kettle charcoal grill.

An inexpensive popular kettle charcoal grill.

2. Gas Grill

Of the 25 million grills/smokers purchased within North America, 57% were of the gas variety. Gas grills are either fueled by bottled propane or natural gas. If your home has an exterior natural gas spigot most propane models can easily connect to your gas line. This will eliminate the need to refill your propane tank at the last minute.

Less expensive gas grills typically feature black aluminum cases and have single or dual burners. For most weekend chefs these models are more than sufficient. If maintained properly basic gas grills will easily serve you for five to seven years.

Most high end models feature stainless steel cases with three to five burners, multiple side burners and a rotisserie attachment. The grates are made from stainless steel or porcelain for easy cleanup. You can also find models with warming shelves, digital thermometers, heat zone separators and wood chip smoker drawers.

The Good: Gas models are ready for cooking in a matter of minutes and are a great option for a quick meal. There's no messy cleanup. Just scrub down of the cooking grates and empty the grease trap at the end or beginning of each meal.

The Bad: Smoke flavor is less intense when compared to charcoal grills. The price of propane and natural gas make gas grilling more expensive than charcoal. Gas is not the most cost-effective method for slow cooking.

The Price: Gas grills start at around $150 and can easily cost upwards of several thousand dollars.

A gas grill will save you grilling time.

A gas grill will save you grilling time.

Weigh In!

3. Pellet Grill

Pellet grills create heat by burning composite hardwood pellets. The pellets come in a variety of flavors like oak, hickory, apple, alder, maple and cherry. The pellet models feature a hopper to hold the tiny wood pieces. An electric auger feeds them into the firebox.

Most are equipped with an electronic ignition element to instantly ignite the pellets. For ease of grilling invest in one with a digital thermostat and computer system that automatically adds the perfect amount of pellets to maintain a constant grilling temperature. Other features include an easily accessible grease and ash trap for quick cleanup and a viewing window to monitor the hopper's pellet level.

The Good: Pellet grills perform well whether you are slow smoking at a low temperature or searing steaks on high heat. They are as quick and convenient as can't match.

The Bad: A 20-pound bag of pellets starts at about $15. A bag will last 6-8 hours for slow smoking but will burn quickly during several regular grilling sessions. Unlike charcoal or propane pellet grills require electricity to operate.

The Price: Depending on quality and features pellet grills range in price from the low hundreds to several thousand dollars. If price is a factor in your decision you can find decent pellet grills for under $500 and better models for less than $1,000.

Pellet grills impart wood flavor to everything from steaks to slow smoked ribs.

Pellet grills impart wood flavor to everything from steaks to slow smoked ribs.

4. Electric Grill

While electric grills may not be huge sellers they do provide a grilling alternative for apartment and city dwellers who don't want to smoke out their neighbors.

Electric grills are compact and extremely easy to use. They have a main heating element that works more like an electric oven rather than cooking over coals or an open flame. Food rests on a flat griddle-like surface or grates.

Infared technology is gaining in popularity among electric grills. It heat quickly, uses less energy, creates an even heat source, prevents flare-ups and locks in juices by transferring heat directly to the food.

The Good: Electric grills don't take up as much room as conventional grills. They can be a space saver for apartment and condo dwellers who aren't allowed to use open flames.

The Bad: Electrics don't impart that same wonderful charred and smoky flavor to foods. They could be costly to operate depending on your local electricity rates.

The Price: Electric models range in price from $90 to $600.

Electric grills are great for apartment dwellers.

Electric grills are great for apartment dwellers.

How to Clean Your Outdoor Grill

5. Portable Grills

Cooking a burger on the grill is the easy part. Slogging through the vast amount of portable grills on the market is the hard part. These great little cookers create heat via propane, charcoal or electricity. Look for ones that are sturdy and made from durable weather and heat resistant materials.

Portable grills are perfect for weekend camping trips, an afternoon picnic, grilling on your balcony or tailgating. These convenient and flexible models are compact and easy to transport. You won’t get all the bells and whistles that the big grills have but you’ll be able to grill just about anywhere.

The Good: Portable grills are reasonably priced. Better models do a respectable job of imparting grilled flavor. They're much easier to clean and store away.

The Bad: The obvious negative is the size. You're limited to grilling a small amount of food at a time.

The Price: These little grills will set you back anywhere between $50 and $300.

A portable grill is perfect for weekend tailgating or a dinner party on the patio.

A portable grill is perfect for weekend tailgating or a dinner party on the patio.

© 2013 Linda Chechar

Start a Conversation!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on May 20, 2013:

WillStarr, my grandmother's house had a built-in brick barbeque grill. It was the reason for many family backyard get togethers. Ah, memories! :)

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on May 20, 2013:

Before portable steel charcoal grills became popular, many homes had a permanent backyard stone and firebrick grill that used woods like oak and hickory. We cooked a lot of hamburgers, corn, and hot dogs on just such a grill, and in Iowa, we called that a picnic.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on May 20, 2013:

Bedbugabscond, had friends that did the same thing and it worked just fine! Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

Melody Collins from United States on May 20, 2013:

A friend of mine had an old propane grill that was broken. He knew I had wanted a grill for a long time. He modified the grill in a number of ways and was able to convert it to charcoal. Then he gave it to me!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on May 05, 2013:

I love grilling too, Vespawoolf. We had gas grills before moving to Uruguay, but I became hooked on wood fire cooking while down there. Nothing beats Sunday asado on the parrilla! Thanks for reading and comenting. :)

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on May 04, 2013:

Growing up in the Midwest means we are really into outdoor grilling. We have used all of these types of grills and I have to admit that I prefer the smoky flavor imparted by all but the electric grill, although it is great to have in a pinch. Thank you--very useful information!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on April 20, 2013:

Hi Jackie! In doing my research, I saw electric grills that look like larger versions of the George Foreman type, but they also have some with grates just like gas or charcoal grills. I am a big fan of grilled vegetables--I like them almost as much as grilled meat! :)

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 20, 2013:

I haven't tried the electric, I think I could go for that. Summers are so hot grilling is usually a misery for me but electric is how I know how to cook, lol, and it is better outside than in some days. Think I will try it. Thanks for the idea! Just adore that grilled corn.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on April 20, 2013:

WillStarr, that sounds like an incredible grilling device! I should have included the category "homemade grills". Those are the best ones! Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on April 20, 2013:

I built my own ranch type grill. It's 5 feet long and 30 inches wide. I use a wagon wheel as a crank to lift and lower the grate, and it uses lump mesquite charcoal and mesquite wood. I can cook a whole hog on it, and it's quite a conversation piece.

Great Hub! I love to barbecue!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on April 20, 2013:

Thank you Carol! There are too many choices out there today. I also prefer grilling over a gas flame for the convenience and health reasons. Looking forward to getting back into a house so we can have an outdoor grill again. Apartment living is not conducive to grilling! :)

carol stanley from Arizona on April 20, 2013:

Like everything else in life we have so many choices. I like the gas bbq --even though real charcoal adds flavor it does not add health benefits...And it is convenient and easy. However, you certainly did a great job in explaining the different types. Voting up and sharing.

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