Grilling Tips

by John Rost


Tailgate Talk: Grill Features

It’s just about time to head outside and grill up some goodies for the game. A lot of people replace their grill this time of year – if you’re in the market, you’ll soon be sizzling over this year’s ‘must-have features’ and ‘new designs.’ New grills cost anywhere from $40 to $5,000, so it’s worth knowing what’s out there and what you really need.

We’re assuming you know the basics of both charcoal and gas grills. That debate is always hot, so we’re going to leave it alone for today. This list looks at add-ons, features and popular designs in both categories.

Weber Side Grill

Weber Grill with Side Burner

1. Side Burner – Gas Grills

A side burner looks and works just like a burner on a gas range, but it sits just next to your grill. They’re usually easy enough to light and maintain, but you will sacrifice one of your prep tables while it’s in use.

What do we think?

Side burners are great. You can sauté onions and other veggies, boil pasta, and make sauces without leaving your grill station, making complete meal prep outdoors possible. We’ve even seen folks use a cast iron pan, the side burner, and the main grill body in tandem to do an outdoor sear-roast of our favorite steaks.

Weber Sear Station

Weber Sear Station® Burner

2. Sear Station – Gas Grills

Higher-end gas grills have started including ‘sear stations.’ What’s that? It’s a single high-temperature burner built in alongside the regular burners. The idea is to create extreme heat in a short amount of time to caramelize and sear your steaks and roasts.

What do we think?

They work, often getting up to over 800 degrees. But you can achieve a beautiful steak without them, too, without the added cost or complication. Gas grillers can let their grill heat for longer and turn the burners down post-sear and charcoal cookers can build a proper 3-zone fire. If you can afford it – go for it! If not, you can definitely make the perfect steak on your own.

Photo Credit: MHP Outdoor Grills

Photo Credit: MHP Outdoor Grills

3. Infrared Burners – Gas Grills

Shop around for grills and it won’t be long before you find one advertising infrared heat. This relatively new technology uses a unique plate system to change direct heat to radiant heat.

What do we think?

Indirect heat has a lot of uses, but we recommend steaks and burgers to be cooked over direct heat. Infrared heat is not necessary unless you’re doing more advanced cooking methods.

Weber Infrared Cooker

Weber Tuck-Away™ Rotisserie System

4. Rotisserie Burner/Rear Burner – Gas Grills

Here we’re getting into features only found on very expensive grills. Rear burners usually span the width of the cooking surface, emitting radiant or infrared heat across the entire surface. They’re typically paired with an automatic rotisserie and used for slow cooking and specialty cooking projects.

What do we think?

If doner-style spit roasts or cooking whole birds on the grill is your thing, go for it. The average backyard chef has no need for a full-size rotisserie.

Touch and Go Weber

Weber Touch-N-Go™ Gas Ignition

5. Electric/Gas Ignition – Charcoal Grills

There are a wide variety of devices meant to help you light your charcoal faster, and some are built into the grill itself. The classic is a big electric wand that goes under your charcoal pile or chimney and heats it up from the inside. Newer gas versions are essentially a portable gas grill burner that hooks up to a small propane tank. Once your coals are red, remove the heat. Integrated designs hide the tank underneath and let you start the gas-powered flame with an electric ignition.

What do we think?

Why not? It’s essentially the best of both worlds – you get the taste and high heat of charcoal and the ease of simple ignition. We don’t think using a traditional chimney starter is all that difficult, but these will get the job done even faster.

Home Depot Kamodo Grill

Kamado Pro Ceramic Charcoal Grill via Home Depot

6. Egg Grills/Kamado Grills

The egg grill, or Kamado, is a variation on a style of oven that’s been around for centuries. It’s traditionally clay or ceramic and currently seen in the shape of an upright egg. The heat-retention properties of the material combine with a well-sealed lid design so that these grills can maintain an internal temperature of over 750 degrees Fahrenheit. Most people use lump wood charcoal for flavor and temperature consistency.

What do we think?

Get one! As long as you don’t demand the instant-on consistency of a gas grill, these great-looking cookers provide plenty of versatility outside. The super-high heating capabilities make for a great steak sear, and the oven-like build lets you expand your repertoire to roasting and smoking with ease.

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