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All About Barbecue Grills

Barbecue grills come in a variety of models and price lines from inexpensive promotional grills to more-expensive gas units. Function, durability, design and color are the four features to stress when buying outdoor grills. Examine the cooking features, the ease of height adjustment, the weight of the metal, efficiency of the windscreen, etc.

A critical factor in judging grill quality is the weight of the metal used. A deluxe barbecue grill is usually made from heavy-gauge aluminum or heavy sheet metal, and is larger and longer than inexpensive models.

Many of these barbecue grills measure up to 5’ long and include food-preparation areas, high-quality cutting boards, warming ovens and heat gauges. They may feature an electric motor-driven rotisserie, built-in lights or electric outlets for plugging in percolators, etc.

If the cooker is built squarely on four wheels, it’s portable despite its weight. Slightly less expensive models have wheels at one end and a handle at the other, so they can be lifted and rolled about.

Heat-resistant, fired-on porcelain or ceramic provide color. Generally, the most popular colors are those which dominate housewares.

Next in price are less-expensive barbecue grills which follow the design of top-of-the-line versions, but are of lighter material and lack add-on features. They come with rotisseries, adjustable grates, etc. In some cases, accessories may be added at extra cost, but quality doesn’t match that of better models.

Low-cost promotional barbecue grills are usually of very light metal and consist of a round piece of metal forming a concave fire bowl, with a round grill mounted above it. The grill can be raised or lowered to move the cooking surface farther from or closer to the bed of charcoal. It is usually mounted on tripod legs, two with wheels and one without. Some promotional models with features such as hoods and rotisseries seem very similar to top-of- the-line cookers.

Another option is the hibachi grill, a small unit which copies the Japanese cook stove of the same name. Better models are usually of cast iron with an adjustable grill plate. They may have a slanted design for draining grease and a draft adjustment to regulate the intensity of the heat. Hibachis are most popular among apartment dwellers, condo owners or young couples with limited patio or outdoor space.

Covered Barbecue Grills

Covered barbecue grills, too, vary widely in size, quality, extra features and price. They have hinged or unhinged covers; some are square or rectangular; some resemble an old-fashioned kettle and measure from 18” to 36” or more across the fire bowl. They feature damper controls, ash catchers and racks to hold charcoal up where air can circulate, providing greater and more even heat.

These barbecue grills are available in charcoal, gas and electric models. The charcoal type comes in three basic designs. The most expensive is a redwood wagon, usually on wheels, with the kettle set into a cabinet.

The common type of covered barbecue grills rests on three or four legs; small tabletop models and picnic models are available. Gas and electric covered barbecue grills are similar to the gas and electric barbecue grills, described below.

Gas Barbecue Grills

Gas barbecue grills are easier to light, require no waiting for the fire to start, and require less cleanup after cooking. These barbecue grills use volcanic rock briquettes or steel bars to convert gas to radiant heat. Using volcanic rock preserves the taste of outdoor cooking without charcoal.

Temperature controls adjust heat from low, to slow cook hams, roasts, turkeys, etc., to high heat for quick grilling of steaks or burgers. Gas grills range in size from 160-515 square inches of cooking surface.

Some models have post mounts to sink and connect to gas outlets for permanent installation; others have portable mounts to connect to a gas hose or gas bottles.

A small gas grill using two propane tanks of the “torch-kit” type combines portability with the benefits of gas cooking. These portable gas grills can be taken nearly anywhere.

Be cautious in connecting portable LP gas cylinders, making sure valves do not leak at the connection. Using gas barbecue grills also presents the hazard of flash flame-ups. When a customer has trouble getting a unit started, or when the flame goes out but the LP gas valve is still open, unburned gas builds up in the covered grill. Advise customers to open the grill to clear the gas before trying to re-ignite the unit, or the built-up gas will “flash,” with possible danger to those around the grill.

Electric Barbecue Grills

Electric barbecue grills use electric elements over an infrared reflector or use volcanic rock briquettes placed on an electric element to produce radiant heat. These units are controlled thermostatically. They include a hood for protection, decorator weather-resistant finishes, and weatherproof electrical connections. Elements are either 120v or 240v.

Electric barbecue grills have a market in areas where apartment regulations or city ordinances prohibit the use of open flame grills. Open units without volcanic rock can be used indoors as long as they are designed with a drip pan for hot grease.


Smokers combine heat, smoke from aromatic woods, and moisture from liquid vapors to baste meat, poultry or seafoods. Most smokers are round, with single or double grids.

Grill Accessories

There is a wide range of barbecue grill accessories available to boost add-on sales. Heavy plastic grill covers or vinyl grill covers prolong the life of a grill and prevent rust and corrosion. They fit all sizes and shapes of grills and are especially useful for grills stored outdoors.

There are also numerous accessories to use on a spit or with a rotisserie motor. These include chicken baskets which tumble food while turning; spit baskets of welded-mesh grids with adjustable covers to hold large cuts of meat, and two-pronged spit forks to hold large cuts of meat on the spit rod.

Charcoal can add flavor to Barbecued foods. In addition to standard and self-lighting briquettes, special hickory or mesquite chips can impart a smoked flavor to food.

There is also a wide variety of charcoal lighters available, from liquid starters to solid or jelly, as well as electric and chimney-style starters.

All liquid lighters should be started carefully with a long fireplace match or torch, and only after allowing the liquid to soak into the briquettes. Generally, the lower the flash point (the lowest temperature at which a combustible liquid will ignite in air), the more hazardous the material. Most liquids are safer if they have a flash point above 100 degrees F; below that point they are flammable.

Virtually all lighter fluids on the market today have flash points between 100 degrees F and 130 degrees F, and gradations between these points are very narrow. Since the surrounding temperature affects flash points-fluids will light more quickly in warm weather than in cool-more care should be taken during hot weather; and liquids with a flash point higher than 125 degrees ill be difficult to light in cool months.

Lighter fluid should never be applied to burning or glowing coals, as this could cause immediate flare-up. Better grades of fluid will reduce smoke and may provide “non-flash” features to eliminate flare-up. They will also have less odor-an aromatic content of 5 percent or below is best.

PVC containers allow fluids to be applied safely from a greater distance and the containers can be almost completely emptied.

With an electric charcoal lighter, the heating coil is buried in the charcoal and the unit is plugged into a 120v outlet. Only the heating unit goes into the charcoal. The coil works in as little as five minutes and the coals are ready to broil 10 minutes after removing the lighter.

Electric lighters should have the Underwriters Laboratories label. Plugs and connections should be tightly fitted and have cord insulation intact.

Chimney-style starters look like a piece of stovepipe with a handle. Charcoal loaded into the pipe piles up on an interior grate with enough space beneath for crumpled newspaper. When the newspaper is lighted, the flames pass up through the charcoal, fanned by the draft the chimney creates.

Jelly and solid lighters can be started with a fireplace match without flare-up. Jellies should not be added to a fire already burning. Solid lighters can be tossed into the grill or placed next to live coals with a poker or tong.

Barbecue cooking tools and utensils are available as sets or open stock in practically unlimited variety. A common characteristic is a long handle for use over a hot fire. Turners, forks, brushes, knives and tongs are most common Barbecue accessory.

Quality tools have good hardwood handles, a nice finish and may have holes in the end for hanging. They are chrome plated or stainless steel to withstand food stains, heat, rust, etc.

Caps, aprons and gloves are also popular with barbecue chefs. Best sellers are colorful and well made, easy to launder and large enough to offer real protection to the wearer.

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