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How to Get Started with Grilling

child at grill

Summer weather has arrived, and you may be thinking about having some great backyard parties with friends and family. Maybe you went to a barbeque over the Memorial Day weekend and felt envious of your host’s awesome grilling setup. One of the highlights of summer is going to barbeques, after all. But, how about throwing your own? If you’ve never grilled before, it may seem a bit intimidating to get started. Even if you’re a great cook in your regular kitchen, grilling outdoors presents a whole new set of challenges.

First, it can be tough just to decide how to choose the right grill. If you’ve never owned one before and you’re shopping for your very first grill, you may not know what features you really need, or even what fuel type you might prefer between charcoal, propane, or even wood pellets or electric. Then, you need to do your homework on all the ways you can prepare food on the grill. And do you need a smoker? There’s a lot to consider, but no need to stress! We’re here with some easy tips to help you buy your first grill with confidence and get up and cooking quickly. We’ll take a look at determining the best grill for your needs, and consider the differences between smoking and grilling meat, veggies, and more.

The Best Place to Buy a Grill

Though your first instinct in shopping for a grill is probably to start online at a mass merchant like Amazon or Walmart.com or even to walk into your local big box home improvement store, there’s a much better way to get all of your questions answered by friendly grilling experts. Specialty retailers like LanChester Grill & Hearth can give you easy access to a much more extensive selection of grills from high-quality manufacturers that may not be sold through mass merchants. This assures that you get all of the features you need in your first grill and remain within your budget.

Specialty shops dedicated to barbecue products offer customers personalized service and expert advice. Make a list of questions about grills and quiz your local specialty retailer either over the phone or in person – you’ll be impressed. If you try the same thing at a big box retailer, you’ll likely leave with even more questions. Specialty retailers stand behind the products they sell, as well. Many of the grill brands featured in our showroom in Gap, PA, for instance, offer lifetime warranties on various models and parts, and we’re always happy to help customers troubleshoot issues. We’ll even assemble most new grills for free. You won’t get that level of support from Amazon!

Where can I buy grilling planks, baskets, and other accessories?

You can also find a variety of grilling accessories in specialty shops like ours. If we haven’t already made it obvious, we dedicate ourselves to being the go-to resource for all of your barbecue needs. In addition to grills, specialty shops can offer you everything from planks that make your food more flavorful (no matter what it is or what type of grill you’re using) to cooking implements like professional grade tongs, forks, and spatulas. Don’t forget that your grill will require a certain level of regular cleaning with the proper tools. Your local specialty store can guide you on the best methods for cleaning that won’t damage your grill over time.

The Best Grill for You

So, you know your local specialty retailer has the expertise to help you choose the right grill, but let’s consider the most commonly argued point in the grilling world for a moment – fuel type. It’s a good idea to know what basic type of grill you think you prefer before beginning to shop. You don’t have to have grilling experience to have an opinion. Think back to some recent barbeques you’ve been to. Was the food grilled on a charcoal grill or a gas grill? These are the two most common types of grills. Some can accommodate both fuel types, as well, though many hardcore grilling enthusiasts pick a team and don’t concern themselves with the other! For an illustration of this team loyalty that many will understand, think about whether you’re an iPhone or an Android user. You know you’re loyal to one type of phone – it’s the same with the charcoal vs. gas grilling debate!

The differences between charcoal grilling and gas grilling in the simplest terms begin with the fact that charcoal can get much hotter than your typical gas grill, though it’s more difficult to control. Charcoal also produces more smoke than gas, as it burns organic compounds in the fuel, which in turn lends flavor to whatever you’re grilling. Propane gas does not influence flavor at all as it cooks. As a famous cartoon dad once said, with propane, you “taste the meat, not the heat.”

In any case, you likely know how you expect your grilled meats, seafood, and vegetables to taste. If you want food that tastes more like what you would get in a restaurant, you’ll likely want to choose a gas grill, and if you want that more charcoal-y flavor, you know which team you’re on! It is important to note that there are alternative fuel types as well, such as electric, though these are less common. You can also influence flavor through the use of wood pellets and chips for smoking on specific gas or charcoal grills (or in purpose-built smokers), as well. Let’s take a closer look at the two main types of grills and also consider the fine art of smoking your food.

Charcoal Grills

Charcoal grills are often spotted at tailgate parties and cookouts at your local park because they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Of course, a primary drawback of charcoal grills is the somewhat larger risk of accidental fires associated with their use. And, in fact, if you live in an apartment or townhouse complex, you may want to check your community rules, as charcoal grills may be banned due to the fire risk. As we mentioned, charcoal produces hotter cooking conditions than gas grills can (at least those that don’t have assistance from infrared burners), and for this reason, it’s great for grilling steaks, pork chops, and other meats that you want to sear on the outside while easily keeping a pink center. Though it may be a challenge, for a brick oven taste, you can use your charcoal grill to prepare more creative foods like pizza, cookies, and biscuits, too.

With a charcoal grill, you’ll make use of hardwood lump charcoal or briquettes for the fuel source. You’ll also need some way of lighting the fuel, which can be as simple as a bottle of chemical lighter fluid and a match. Some briquettes are self-igniting, which means the fluid is already contained in the charcoal and you can skip the step of dousing your briquettes with chemicals before you light it. True charcoal grilling pros rely on other means to light their grill without applying chemicals directly, including charcoal chimneys or even electric charcoal starters.

The Big Green Egg

If you’ve been actively shopping for charcoal grills, you’ve likely come across advertisements for a big, green, egg-shaped grill that looks a lot different from many others. The original (and very literally named) Big Green Egg is now available in multiple sizes and configurations, and these ceramic kamado-style grills offer a unique approach to charcoal grilling that allows for more cooking temperature precision. They are also effectively a grill, oven, and smoker all rolled into one unique package.

Utilizing all-natural lump charcoal instead of briquettes, these grills also claim to be more eco-friendly than the competition. It’s important to remember that the Big Green Egg grills are often imitated, so be sure that you’re looking at the authentic branded product as you compare features.

Gas Grills

Gas grills rely on natural gas or propane for fuel. They are above all convenient, and as we’ve already mentioned, they allow for greater control over the heat as you cook. If you’re accustomed to creating meals indoors on the stovetop and in the oven, it’s likely that you’re used to a level of control that charcoal grilling can’t offer. Gas grills are also easy to start and can even be connected to your residential gas line to be always at the ready.

With propane grills, you will typically see an overall cart-like design in which the grill unit is connected to a rolling frame that supports the fuel tank. Often the wheeled frame will feature storage compartments and support side tables, and may even have auxiliary burners that allow you to boil or cook foods next to the main grilling surface. Sizes and BTU capabilities vary on gas grills, and your local specialty store can help you determine what capacity you’ll need. To clarify, BTU stands for “British Thermal Unit” and refers to the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. In the world of grilling, BTU is often thought of as an indicator of how “powerful” a given gas grill is.

If portability for storage is not of great concern to you and you have ample outdoor space, built-in gas grills are the premium option in outdoor cooking. This type of grill can be customized easily to meet your needs and can be the central focus of an outdoor kitchen design. While these amazing setups are likely not in the budget for most grilling newbies, outdoor kitchens surely are the stuff that dreams are made of in terms of backyard entertaining! Even if you don’t have the resources to create an entire outdoor kitchen, if you have natural gas available at your home, you might still want to think seriously about a built-in gas grill. These grills can utilize the utility you’re already paying for so you can forget about the hassle of always having to remember whether there’s propane in your grill’s tank before you begin cooking.

Wood Pellet Grills

Known for their extreme versatility, wood pellet-fueled grills offer a unique alternative to the traditional charcoal and gas-fueled models we previously discussed. With wood pellet-fueled grills, you can easily grill, smoke, roast, and bake a wide range of foods and infuse a flavor that many people prefer over charcoal. In fact, even if you’ve never grilled before in your life, you’ve probably roasted marshmallows or hotdogs over a campfire in the past. Remember how great those foods taste over a wood-fired flame? Wood pellet grills take this cooking concept and make it more convenient. 100% natural hardwood pellets are a newer technological innovation that make these grills possible and take the mess out of cooking over a wood fire.

Should I get a smoker?

While grilling as a cooking method centers around direct, intense heat being applied to the surface of your food, a smoker is used for infusing smoky flavor into foods, though mostly meats. (Let’s face it, there aren’t many people smoking fruits and vegetables, though you could try it!) Smokers come in a wide variety of purpose-built units, or you can often use your regular charcoal or wood pellet-fueled grill to smoke meats if it has a well-sealing lid. Many more premium gas grills now feature smoke boxes meant to accept wood chips that will allow you to smoke meats without a separate unit, as well. This can be tricky to get right, though, and often gas grill lids do not seal adequately to smoke meats thoroughly. If you want to routinely cook brisket, pork ribs, turkey meat, or more exotic game for your guests, you’ll likely want to purchase a smoker, but for the more casual backyard griller, they may be unnecessary.

Getting started as a new barbeque master can involve a lot of research and careful consideration, but it should also be fun! And the best way to learn how to grill is to experience the latest and greatest grills up close and personal. If you’re in the Philadelphia region, stop in and visit us at our showroom on Saturdays when we cook up food to demonstrate our favorite grills! Or, bring your own food and try out our grills for yourself. Get in touch now for more details!