Behold the deceptively simple gas grill. It may light reluctantly or not at all. Its supposedly precise burners may cook unevenly or torch everything. And beware: Some showroom-shiny propane grills are shoddy. As you scout grill sales, consider these key features.
1. The Shell
Stainless steel comes in lots of types and grades. You want coated steel, which uses a chromium- and nickel-based enamel to protect against rust and corrosion. To test for this, hold a fridge magnet to the outside of the grill. If it sticks, keep shopping, say Jordan and Jared Schmidt of Schmidt Brothers, a premium cutlery maker.
2. The Grate
Steven Raichlen, author of The Barbecue! Bible, recommends cast-iron rods about finger width apart and ¼ inch thick. That’s a good ratio to keep hot air recirculating and create great char marks. Plus, patties won’t stick to the cast iron, meaning perfectly intact burgers and less postmeal scraping.
3. Shelf Height
Adjustable shelves are great as long as a setting puts your porterhouse 6 inches above the flame. The brothers Schmidt consider this the optimal area for your meat to catch indirect heat without drying out. And next to setting your apron on fire, nothing kills a cookout like dry meat.
A British thermal unit measures the amount of energy needed to heat or cool 1 pound of water by 1ºF. But too much firepower can create intense hot spots that overcook your meat. So instead of focusing on the grill’s overall hotness, think BTUs per burner. Each burner should be able to pump out 12,000 to 15,000 BTUs.
5. Electric Starter
The only thing reliable about an electric starter is that it’ll fail, says Adam Perry Lang, chef and author of Serious Barbecue. So make sure yours has a manual override, an opening either on the side of the shell or under the burners. When the starter craps out, just stick in a long match or lighter to save the day.
6. Burner Tubes
These are your lifelines to grilling greatness. The horizontal pipes run along the bottom of the interior and have holes in their sides to release the gas that creates the flames. Skip the cheap H-shaped burners, which tend to corrode and burn out more quickly. Your pick: solid-pipe burner tubes with thick, steel-tube walls.
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