Stay put or to-go?
Essentially, there are just two types of grills: portable/cart and built-in/drop-in. The former is a self-contained unit, typically on wheels, for more mobility. The latter is a barbecue head that is installed into a permanent cabinet or island finished with noncombustible materials such as tile, stone or brick.
Ranging from about 30 to 53 inches, the largest portable Viking gas grill will set you back $5,000 to $6,000, though the smaller ones — and other reputable brands like Fire Magic — are somewhat less. But before you decide that 53 inches is way too oversized for you and your family, be mindful that, as with your indoor range, you need only ignite the burners you plan to use, thus making cooking for yourself or for a crowd equally practical.
Lighting the fire
One of two basic igniters will light the fuel in your gas grill: manual or automatic. With the former, you must often repeatedly turn a dial or depress a button to create a spark that will ignite the gas. With automatic igniters, a 9-volt battery or electricity creates the spark internally when you depress a button only once.
There are also essentially two types of fuel to power your gas grill: liquid propane and natural gas. From a performance standpoint, there is virtually no difference, although there are some pros and cons to each. First, natural gas is not available in all communities. If it is available, it is an attractive option, as it is less expensive than liquid propane and more convenient in that one does not have to remember to refill the tank — or even deal with tanks at all — nor potentially run out of fuel while preparing food. However, hooking into a gas line does limit the grill’s mobility somewhat, so it may not be as desirable for a portable-type grill.
Topping it off
Grill grates and accessories are typically constructed from either cast iron or stainless steel. Cast iron is rugged and lasts a long time. However, it requires special care — “seasoning” with oil — to maintain its finish and help prevent rust. And although it takes a bit longer to heat, it retains its evenly distributed heat for a relatively long time. A porcelain coating over cast iron helps deter rust, but careful handling is required to avoid damage. Stainless steel — which is hot right now — will not rust, is corrosion resistant and cleans easily. But while it will heat up more quickly than cast iron, the heat is not necessarily as evenly distributed.
A new product, a cast stainless-steel grate, heats at about the same rate as normal stainless steel and has the added benefit of radiating heat more evenly. When selecting a style for your grates, consult a reputable dealer about the benefits of each. There are flat rods, round rods, V-shaped, concave and convex from which to choose.
Make it your own
In regard to grill accessories and accoutrements, there is quite a selection from which to choose. Budget and lifestyle will determine which are must-haves: single or double side burners or “side cookers” allow the cook to prepare pastas, side dishes or sauces while the rest of the meal is on the grill. Other add-ons to consider include storage drawers, warming shelves, warming drawers, rotisseries, griddles, deep fryers, sinks, ice dispensers, beverage centers (including beer taps) and serving carts. The more you select, the more self-contained your outdoor cooking center will be and the fewer trips you will need to make back inside.
When it comes to tools, other than the obvious, some experts recommend that every grill owner invest in — and use — a digital thermometer. It will help ensure that food receives the least amount of cooking possible on its way to a safe internal temperature.
Caring for your grill
Here are some ideas from the experts: Wipe down all of the grill’s exterior surfaces, except the hood, with W-D40 to remove fingerprints. It is best not to use this product on the hood, as heat may cause it to discolor. Use Windex instead.
For the interior, you should read and follow the manufacturers’ directions and do a pre- and post-heat on “full blast.” A 10-minute post-burn with the hood closed and the burners set on high will sear off most food residue, and any remaining can be scraped away with a wire brush after the gas is turned off. Once the grill is completely cool, you can use a stiff brush and a paper towel to thoroughly clean the grate. Additionally, cleaning the residue that accumulates on the underside of the hood and beneath the grate will help extend the life of the appliance.
Help avoid external fires by keeping combustibles at a distance from the grill recommended by the manufacturer. Educate yourself by reading the manufacturer’s warnings and instructions. You may place your grill under an overhang, but, again, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for clearance.
Internal grease fires can be potentially very dangerous, not to mention frightening and embarrassing. Burner shields help lessen flare-ups from high-fat or high-drip foods by protecting the burners from the build-up of food residue. Also known as “flame tamers,” these shields virtually eliminate grease fires by preventing fat from dripping directly onto the flame or the burners. An added bonus: These shields can usually be easily removed for cleaning. HS
Betsy Dijiluo is a freelance writer in Virginia Beach.