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Choosing the Right Outdoor Grill

During the summer months, cooking outside is one of the most popular pastimes. The smell of dinner wafting through the air when you’re cooking steaks on the flat top grill or flipping burgers on the traditional barbecue is sure to catch your guests’ attention. Grills are not all the same, and you need to know which one will work best in your backyard. To help you make a decision, here are four of the most common grill types, along with their benefits and drawbacks.


There is no doubt that charcoal grills are the most recognizable type of outdoor cooking. Many chefs are drawn to these units because of their smokey flavor and accelerant-coated briquettes, which are used as a fuel source. A classic model, called a kettle grill, looks like a black ball with a round top. Airflow can be adjusted at the bottom of the vent, allowing chefs to adjust the temperature of the interior.

Generally, charcoal barbecues use the standard grid-style cooking grill thanks to the imprecise nature of charcoal. Poor heat regulation and the need to adjust the coals themselves make this a poor choice for cooks looking for a flat top grill style since you won’t have access to the heating chamber. Some charcoal options, called Kamados, are made of heavier ceramics and control heat much more easily.

Charcoal Grill Pros and Cons

  • Pros:
    • Simple design, easy to use
    • Delicious smokey flavor
    • Can be portable
  • Cons:
    • Poor temperature control
    • Difficult to clean
    • Long preheating times


Although charcoal is the classic fuel choice, propane and natural gas are the most popular. Compared to their coal-powered counterparts, these grills heat up much faster and require less cleanup. Gas lines can even be connected directly to stationary models! These grills can range in size from the size of a kettle to large enough to cook a three-course meal.

Because fuel is provided via gas lines, many such grills have a separate heating element on the side, too. Just like a stovetop, it gives chefs many more options when preparing meals. Choosing propane as fuel is great for a flat top grill because of the ease with which you can regulate the temperature, even creating hotter and cooler zones for more efficient cooking.

Gas Grill Pros and Cons

  • Pros:
    • Quick preheating
    • Easy to operate
    • Variable sizes
  • Cons:
    • More expensive 
    • Only adds heat, no flavor
    • Needs a tank or home fuel line hookup


If you are planning an outdoor event, the last thing you want to worry about is running out of charcoal or propane. By requiring no fuel at all, electric grills solve that problem! Unlike their fuel-consuming counterparts, these cookers are plugged directly into an outlet, so they don’t have an open flame.

Electric options are always a great choice for people who live in a condo or apartment complex where traditional grilling isn’t allowed. Some models even come with interchangeable cooking surfaces, transforming your basic barbecue into a flat top grill in seconds. However, just like the burners on an electric stove, these grills tend to take some time to get themselves up to the right temperature.

Electric Grill Pros and Cons

  • Pros:
    • Simple design
    • Generally compact and light
    • Safer for smaller spaces and apartment living
  • Cons:
    • Somewhat expensive
    • No added flavor
    • Long preheat times


When it comes to that baked-in barbecue flavor, nothing beats a smoker. Like a slow cooker, smokers take the grilling concept to the next level by preparing food at a lower heat for a longer amount of time. This helps the smokey taste seep into meats and vegetables, creating a unique experience that no other method can replicate. These grills typically use either traditional or pellet fuel sources. For intense barbecue enthusiasts, nothing comes close to a smoker.

Once the purview of Michelen-star chefs, these units are finding their way into outdoor kitchens everywhere. They can also be used as a traditional gill for larger cuts of meat. Some smokers can even be modified to act like a flat top grill, allowing you to use smokers for an even wider variety of menus. However, this method isn’t for the faint-at-heart since it takes a lot of time to get everything to come out just right. 

Smoker Pros and Cons

  • Pros:
    • Fire-and-forget cooking
    • Richer smokey flavor
    • Large cooking area
  • Cons:
    • More costly than a standard grill
    • More expensive to fuel
    • Very long cooking times

Grilling Guidance

When it’s time to choose your perfect outdoor grill, look for one that matches how you like to cook. Don’t like waiting around to start cooking? Look for a gas grill with speedy heating times. If you want the most intense barbecue flavor, take a smoker for a spin. Once you have the right grill, it won’t take long before you’re wowing guests at your next big barbecue event.


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