Choosing the right barbecue grill can be as challenging as grilling the perfect steak.
There are so many options: Gas or charcoal? What size? What materials? What attachments?
As the prime time of barbecue season approaches, we consulted Consumer Reports and three grill experts what wannabe barbecuers should look for when shopping.
Our panel includes Judith Fertig and Karen Adler, the Kansas City "BBQ Queens" who have authored several books, including the recent "Weeknight Grilling with the BBQ Queens." It also includes Brooke Jones, product manager for Weber grills, based on Palatine, Ill.
Gas or charcoal?
Whether you want your grill powered by gas or by the traditional charcoal method is largely up to you.
"I think it's such a personal decision, whether to go with charcoal or go gas," Jones says.
Fertig frames the decision this way: Charcoal offers more potential for flavor. But it's also more of a pain to get the fire going.
Gas offers more in the way of convenience - just push a button and fire it up.
"Turn it on, it's hot and you're good to go," she says.
How do you know what size of grill is right for you or your family?
Adler says you should think about what kind of grilling you'll be doing. Will you be doing a lot of grilling for large parties? Or are you just grilling for a small family?
Then, she says, think about the size of a steak and how many will fit on the grill you're considering. Make your decision based on how that space will fit in with your plans.
Jones calls it the "wiggle test": Give your prospective grill a decent shake to see how well it's constructed.
As far as metals go, Consumer Reports suggests buying grills made of stainless steel in a 300 series, which refers to the quality of steel. A 400-series steel, which is magnetic, is made of cheaper materials.
It also suggests exterior shelves made of stainless steel instead of wood, and wheels with a full axle instead of those bolted to a frame.
Light my fire
When it comes to igniters for gas grills, Consumer Reports recommends the battery-powered variety, which produce continuous sparks as long as the button is held down.
Igniter knobs emit two or three sparks per turn, while regular button igniters emit a single spark per push.
Fertig suggests burners that emit at least 40,000 British thermal units (BTUs) to give enough heat.
She also suggests having at least three separate burners so you can cook your meat, vegetables, bread or other food on the grill all at the same time.
Some grills offer additions, such as a rotisserie or smoker, for cooking various foods.
Fertig cautions that for those who are looking for a rotisserie, be sure it's the size you're looking for. Some built-in rotisseries barely hold a small chicken, she says.
Adler suggests buying from a local business that will work on your grill if you have troubles.
Playing the flame game
Here are advantages, disadvantages and tips for deciding whether to buy a charcoal or gas grill, according to grilling experts and Epicurious.com:
Advantage: Burns hotter and makes it easier to do advanced techniques, such as smoking. Also offers potential for more flavor. Disadvantage: Can be difficult for newbies to get the fire going. Purchasing tips: Get adjustable vents in the bottom and lid, for controlling heat when the lid is closed. Also, buy hinged grill grates, to add more fuel while food is cooking.
Advantage: One-touch igniting usually gets fire going every time, and it only goes out if you run out of propane. Disadvantage: Might not offer as much flavor as charcoal. Purchasing tips: Buy a grill with multiple burners to cook more than one type of food at a time. Burners should put out at least 40,000 BTUs. Look for extras such as a smoker, side burner or rotisserie.
"If you really do want to have service on your grill, go with the locally owned barbecue shop," she says.
Easing into it
Fertig says convenience should be a key to choosing the right grill.
For instance, she says, you should figure out how easy it is to wheel the thing around and how easy it is to access the propane valve to turn on the gas.
"If you have natural gas to your kitchen, you can hook it to a natural gas line so you don't have to worry about changing the propane," she says.
Adler says the mid-range grills, which cost $600 to $800, will last longer than cheaper grills.
But Consumer Reports says it has found good-cooking grills for $200 or less. And the magazine says many $500 grills cook with the same quality as models much more expensive.
"You have to really educate yourself, do your research and talk to salespeople at the store," Jones says. "You should expect at least a 10-year life. We hope consumers understand a gas grill is an appliance, and you wouldn't buy a gas stove and expect it to die in two years."
Citrus grilled steak
16 ounces orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/2 cup A1 Steak Sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 clove garlic, minced
2 beef club or strip (8-ounce) steaks, about 1 inch thick
In a small bowl, combine orange juice concentrate, steak sauce, sherry and garlic. Place steaks in glass dish; coat with 1/2 cup orange juice mixture. Cover; chill 1 hour, turning occasionally. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, heat remaining orange juice mixture; keep warm. Remove steaks from marinade. Grill over medium heat for 4 minutes on each side or until done, turning once. Serve steaks with reserved warm orange sauce.
Grilled Jamaican jerk chicken
2 tablespoon lemon juice concentrate
2 tablespoon lime juice concentrate
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Jalapeno, seeded and chopped
10 milliliter garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons chicken bullion
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 pound skinless chicken breast halves
In a shallow dish or plastic bag, combine 3 tablespoons water and all ingredients except chicken. Add chicken, coating well with marinade. Cover dish or seal bag; marinate in refrigerator 4 hours or overnight. Prepare outdoor grill or preheat grill. Remove chicken from marinade; pour marinade into small saucepan and bring to a boil. Grill chicken 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally and basting frequently with marinade. Serve hot.
Grilled marinated shrimp diablo
Two pounds of peeled and de-veined shrimp with tails attached
One cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley
One lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons of hot pepper sauce (or to taste)
3 cloves of minced fresh garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons of dried oregano
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, then put a little marinade aside in refrigerator for use in basting the shrimp on the grill. Pour ingredients from bowl in a large re-sealable plastic bag with the raw shrimp, seal and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for two hours.
Preheat grill for medium to low heat. Thread shrimp onto skewers. Marinade can be discarded at this point.
Lightly oil the grill grate to prevent sticking. Cook shrimp on skewers for about 4-5 minutes per side or until shrimp curl, and begin to change to a light-pink toasty color. Baste frequently with the reserved marinade you saved from earlier.
Can be served as an appetizer in smaller portions or as a main dish with a skewer-full per person. Grilled bell peppers, onions, and potatoes compliment the entree alongside your favorite bean dish.
Grilled barbecue pork steaks
4 pork blade steaks with 1 inch or more thickness
1/2 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce
1/3 cup of natural honey (may substitute brown sugar or molasses for variations).
1 tablespoon of Worchester sauce
1 teaspoon of garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon of favorite mustard
Bring barbecue grill to acceptable cooking level. Place steaks on the grill grate about four inches just above the medium to slow coals and cook for approximately 5 to 8 minutes on each side or until meat thermometer indicates about 150 degrees internal temperature.
As the steaks cook, combine remaining ingredients In a small mixing bowl, then continue to brush steaks with marinade sauce until cooking is complete (about five minutes). With cooking adjustments, pork chops will also work.
Serve with a mixed salad and foil-wrapped sweet potato or fresh corn for a southern taste delight.
Grilled basalmic vegetables
1 medium yellow squash, sliced on bias
1 medium zucchini, sliced on bias
1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch thick circles
1 red onion, sliced in 1/2-inch thick circles
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced in 1/2 lengthwise
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and quartered
1 yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and quartered
2 portobello mushroom caps, gilled and peeled
3 green onions
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
Preheat grill to high.
Prepare all vegetables. Place vegetables in a roasting pan with the mushroom caps and green onions. Season vegetables generously with salt and pepper, and toss with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Place vegetables, cut side down, on the hot grill and cook for a couple minutes on each side, or until tender and nicely marked by the grill.