What to look for when buying a gas barbecue
Used to a typical charcoal meat machine, but want to take your first steps into gas grilling? There are a minefield of different options which present themselves, but don’t panic – we are going to run through a few considerations which you can chew over in order to select what you think you need. We’ve also noted a few good models and various price ranges to help you know what to look for.
Build and size
This isn’t a cheap knockabout charcoal grill you can leave out all year round – gas barbecues are more expensive and should be built to last. Stainless steel or metal with a “porcelain enamel” finish are the best constructions, giving a combination of sturdiness, rust-protection and easy cleaning. Consider the lid – the heavier the better – as this usually indicates build quiality. Also consider your own DIY skills – welded pre built barbecues are likely to be more sturdy, but you can buy one and assemble yourself if you like which may save you money. In terms of size, consider if you want different height grills or extra touches like plate warming areas, utensil storage, table areas etc. As expected, more special touches equals more money.
Burners and heat distribution
Gas barbecues rely on a system of gas burners which are covered by heat distributing materials which also act to burn off drippings to smoke the food. Cheaper models use lava rocks or ceramic coals for this purpose, and do an ok job, although grease can accumulate and cause flash fires which we all know and hate from charcoal. If you really want the best look out for long bars or “flavourisers” which are designed to vaporize drippings very rapidly to avoid flares and create a smoky flavour (although you still won’t match charcoal in many an opinion).
As for the number of gas burners, you get what you pay for. Cheaper one burner models only allow the flame to be controlled over the entire cooking surface, and can have “cold spots” which may lead to uneven temperatures. Two/three burner models are really worth it, offering you differing regions of temperature to cook different foods. However, if you are really feeling flush you can go for even more burners (£££!), infrared heat sources (a bit over the top) and rotisserie back burners for that Michelin-starred experience. Try and avoid side burners as these are expensive added touches and you’ll probably find you don’t use them. You have variable heat control on the main grill anyway, and the side space is better off reserved for your raw meat or a big glass of beer!
As burner numbers and size increases, you can expect the amount of gas you need to power the barbecue to increase. That being said, efficiency is also a consideration, so if you are in doubt look for the BTU (British Thermal Unit) rating of the barbecue to see how much gas you will need. Don’t get too worried about it though, the only real time to worry is if a large model has a strangely low BTU rating when compared to similar sized models. Far from being more efficient, a much lower rating can indicate poor power output and you’ll have a colder barbecue - this is rare though. The gas used in most models, called Propane, is actually much cheaper than charcoal, and a single canister can last for several cookouts.
If you just want a simple gas barbecue that will do a good job go for a one or two burner model. Prices and features will vary, but look for a medium size with lava rocks or ceramic coals, and try your best to get a model with as even cooking as possible. Side burners or storage areas will only push up the price, so a quality main burner is much more important in this range. Also, don’t expect swanky looks, concentrate instead on durability.
If you want a mid range barbecue go for three burners. You’ll want to look for stainless steel construction and a large grilling area, but still not be tempted by too many extra touches. In addition, at this price go for flavouriser bars instead or lava rocks or ceramic coals – you’ll end up with a better flavour. Landmann excels at this price - their three burner models are made of stainless steel with enamelled grills and excellent dripping vaporisation. You get even cooking, highly controllable cooking areas and overall you’ll be thanking every pound you have spent.
High and luxury
When you move into the luxury barbecue market things start getting very serious, and more expensive. However, have a look around at the 4+ burner models from Landmann, Electrolux and Beefeater if you really want some impressive kit. At this size expect sleek and solid metal with warranty, infrared rotisseries, enough space to cook for a mob and plenty of envy from your friends.
Price: £400+ online
Whatever you decide, remember that gas barbecues require a little more care than charcoal barbecues. With more technology, there is more to go wrong, so consider a service every now and again if you are buying one to last. Finally, don’t get too drawn in with fancy extras – think about which ones you really need and remember that space is a premium, so only get one as big as you think you’ll need.