Or as close as we could possibly manage anyway! We are, as always, happy to have any gaps in our knowledge filled in, so do let us know if you think we’ve missed anything important.
When it comes to choosing a barbecue, just as with pretty much anything else, the best option will be a very personal thing. Your own requirements, budget, space, and who knows what other factors, will affect the decision you make when browsing for a new BBQ, so we can’t tell you which one is a definite winner, but we can help to point you in the right direction.
This article will cover the pros and cons of each of the various types of barbecue, as well as some useful points to consider while making your choice.
Whichever model you ultimately opt for, we wish you many hours of happy barbecuing and, of course, plenty of sunshine to enjoy along with it.
Decision #1 – Gas or charcoal?
Gas V Charcoal – Pros and Cons
The first choice you will need to make when shopping for a barbecue is the type of fuel you wish to us – gas or charcoal. Each of the options has its own pros and cons, and here are a few for you to weigh up.
|Quicker to light and heat||Easier to assemble|
|Reacts quicker to changes in required temperature||Authentic smoked flavour|
|Less messy to use and easier to clean||Cheaper to buy|
|More suitable for impromptu barbecues||Generally, requires less storage space|
|No unsightly gas canisters required|
While the general consensus is that charcoal barbecues offer a more authentic, smoky flavour, there is a school of thought stating that the taste difference is, in fact, a myth. The addition of flavoured wood chips is likely to make more of a difference to the flavour of your barbecued food than the type of BBQ you use but, again, it all comes down to personal preference.
Gas barbecues reach cooking temperature more quickly but, if this is your sole reason for leaving charcoal behind, bear in mind that using a chimney starter will have a charcoal grill ready in around fifteen minutes.
Which charcoal should I use?
Even after you have made the initial gas vs. charcoal decision, you’ll need to work out which specific type charcoal you want to use when cooking al fresco.
The main types of charcoal available for barbecues including the following:
Lump wood charcoal – Standard lump wood charcoal lights quickly, burns well and doesn’t produce excessive amounts of ash. However, it’s not likely to burn for long enough to cook large joints of meat or cater for a large group. Normally, a 5kg bag can be expected to be sufficient for two medium-sized barbecues.
Instant-light charcoal is also available, taking the stress and guess-work out of lighting the potentially-tricky fuel. The downside is that, as you may expect, the convenience comes with a bigger price tag.
Briquettes – Briquettes burn longer and reach higher temperatures than lump wood, due to their compact, compressed composition. However, they do take longer to reach optimal cooking temperatures and, due to weight, can be awkward to transport.
Decision #2 – What features do I want?
Do you want an all-singing, all-dancing, top of the range barbecue, or do you simply want a way to cook food outside occasionally? The price of barbecues can vary wildly, from less than £10 to in excess of £10,000, depending on how many of the bells and whistles you require.
Here’s a quick overview of what’s what, and what is likely to be more expensive.
The temperature of a barbecue is an important factor in the quality of the finished product, and we all want outstanding food when we’ve gone to the effort of preparing it. Open the vents to make the coals burn hotter, and close them to cool the barbecue slightly. Bear in mind that the vents should always be opened when the barbecue is first lit.
Just as gas barbecues produce fat that must be cleaned, charcoal models produce (quite a lot of) ash. Opting for a model with a built-in tray collecting the ash for easy cleaning may seem far more palatable than having to clean out the entire unit every time you use it.
Barbecues which are stored outside will soon suffer from the effects of our fantastic British weather. If your grill will be kept outdoors for periods of time, make sure to invest in a well-fitting cover to keep it at its best for as long as possible. Top tip: a cover with straps will be fitted more securely and less likely to blow off.
It is a little grim, but the fact is that barbecued meats will produce some fat. Regardless of how expensive and sophisticated your barbecue is, you will need to clean this up once you’re done, but choosing a model with a fat collector tray can make it a more bearable chore.
The grill, as the name suggests, is the metal rack on which food is cooked on the barbecue. It may also be referred to as a cooking grid or grate, depending on the manufacturer. Grills may seem like much of a muchness, but the metal they are made from can have a significant effect on both the durability and the cost of a barbecue.
Chrome-plated steel is generally found on cheaper models and, while it will do the job perfectly well, is unlikely to last very long. On the opposite end of the spectrum is cast-iron. Grills created from this metal will be particularly long lasting but will also be heavy and expensive. Somewhere in the middle is stainless steel, offering medium-term durability and a mid-range price.
Another potential option is a porcelain-enamelled grill. Formed from a metal coated in a layer of enamel, similar to that found in an oven, and normally found on higher-spec barbecues, this type of grill won’t burn, rust or suffer weather damage. To make it even more attractive, the smooth surface created by the coating makes enamelled grills easier to clean and food less likely to stick. However, one downside is that chips in the coating can lead to metal damage and the need for a replacement grill.
One final tip – look for a grill with a lip on the edge; pushing food up against this will make flipping a lot easier.
Some charcoal barbecue users find these flaps handy when cooking large amounts of food, as they offer a way to add more charcoal easily. However, be warned that they get very, very hot and you should always wear gloves when opening the flap.
Lava Rocks/Vapouriser Bars
Those who lament the lack of smoky flavouring in food cooked on a gas grill may be interested to learn about the existence of lava rocks and vapouriser bars. Some manufacturers install these bars or rocks, which are designed to catch the hot fat released by cooking meats and vaporise it to infuse the food with barbecue flavour.
Acting mostly as protection against the weather, many barbecue users view lids as simply a “nice to have”, rather than an essential. You’ll need to go with your personal preferences, and perhaps your budget constraints, on this one. There’s nothing wrong with choosing something purely for aesthetic purposes if you so wish!
One practical advantage of choosing a model with a tight-fitting lid is that it will enable you to roast large joints of meat on your barbecue.
Side Burners/Hot Plates
If you’re going down the gas route, you may want to have small side burner to hand, perfect for heating sauces and condiments or frying onions. Be aware of how easy it is to knock pans off these burners while you’re cooking on the main grill – does the positioning suit your cooking stance?
While you’re thinking about extra cooking areas – how about a hot plate for smaller items?
If you need a compact barbecue, storage space probably won’t be high on your wish list, but those who intend to spend a lot of time cooking at their grill are bound to want their tools to hand. It may not be entirely essential, but storage space is definitely something you should bear in mind while browsing. You don’t want to invest money in a good barbecue only to find you don’t use it as the lack of storage space makes it too much of a faff.
Storage shelves, space for used utensils, condiment racks…what do you want on your new BBQ?
If you’re into extra gadgets and gizmos, a temperature gauge is one that may come in very handy. An end to the guesswork – the gauge will let you see when the grill is at the optimal cooking temperature. Some also have a probe which can be stuck into food to check if it’s done.
If you plan to cook a variety of food on your barbecue, you may run into issues with timing. Nobody wants half their meal to be cold, which is where a warming rack comes into the equation. A warming rack looks similar to a small grill, and is positioned above the main grill, providing an area for keeping cooked food warm while the rest catches up.
Manoeuvrability may be a major concern if you intend to move your barbecue around a lot. As well as the weight of the structure, have a look at the wheels and handles too – anything that makes your life easier is a winner, as far as we’re concerned. Castors may be more useful than standard wheels, due to the ability to lock them in place while cooking.
Decision #3 – Which style do I prefer?
Now that we have most of the practicalities under control, it’s time to think about which style of barbecue you prefer. Admittedly, some of your decision is likely to be influenced by space and budget, but this is the part of the process where you get to choose something you really like the look of.
Before you can choose an actual style, you’ll need to decide how big you need (or want) your barbecue to be.
These are the biggest charcoal barbecues available, making them fantastic for large joints of meat and busy gatherings. The sheer volume of charcoal required to cook on one can make it a costly prospect, however, and choosing a poor-quality model could mean food doesn’t cook evenly.
For catering for up to six people, a two-burner gas model or medium-sized charcoal barbecue will be sufficient. The relatively small size will make it easier to move and store (and clean!), but may lead to difficulties should you decide to host a larger party
Planning some major outdoor parties? You need at least a three-burner gas grill or a large charcoal one. A few separate burners mean you have more control over cooking times and can cook different items at once, but the size will also mean it’s harder to store when not in use. Don’t forget to buy a cover.
These are great if you plan to barbecue on holidays – as we’re sure you do when you take off with your caravan in tow. Just make sure to check which type of disposable gas canister your new grill uses, or you may find yourself on site and disappointed. If you have quite a few people to cater for, this may not be the most practical option.
One point we would like to make here is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with basic disposable barbecues if all you need is a small grill for occasional use. Personal preference!
Barrel or drum barbecue
Shaped like half a barrel or an oil drum, these charcoal grills are very distinctively shaped and offer a large cooking area. If you prefer cooking with charcoal and want to invest a little more in a sturdier model, barrel/drum barbecues offer greater durability and more cooking space at an affordable price.
Freestanding charcoal barbecue
These basic charcoal models consist simply of a grill, stand and base in which to place the charcoal. Shapes and sizes may vary, but these tend to be the cheapest grills on the market, making them a good idea for those trying barbecuing for the first time. If you’re not sure how much you would use a BBQ, why not go for the cheaper option first and upgrade if required?
Gas barbecues tend to be broadly similar in shape, due to the need to hook up a gas canister, and using burners to heat the grill. Some of the choices you may need to make include the addition of a hot plate, griddle or side burner, or a partial hood to enable roasting and grilling simultaneously.
Another distinctively-shaped options, kettle barbecues are circular with tight lids. Great for baking and roasting both meat and vegetables, better kettle options come with temperature gauges in the lid for easy monitoring. You may wish to choose a model with an air vent for adjusting temperature as required.
Part 2 of our barbecue guide can be accessed here and covers the how-to of barbecuing and top tips for getting it right every time.