Mouthwatering burgers and sizzling steaks are probably the first things that come to mind when you think of grilling. But Americans are also firing up their grills to cook vegetables, fruits, pizza even pancakes and eggs.
That's what Consumer Reports found in its recent nationally representative telephone survey of 1,008 adults. The survey also found that more than half of Americans who grill are doing so more than once a week in season.
So which grills are the best? CR spent months cooking salmon, grilling chicken and searing steaks on 46 gas grills. Its tests revealed recommended models that cost between $200 and $700.
There are eight recommended gas grills that shoppers can purchase for $380 or less, and six of those eight have been deemed CR Best Buys, including the medium-sized Char-Broil Commercial Series 463268008, $300, that offers even cooking for a good price. Looking to grill for a gang? The CR Best Buy Brinkmann 810-1575-W (Walmart), $380, has five main burners and an infrared rotisserie and costs less than most grills this size.
CR also found a few duds. The Team Grill Patio Series Pro bears the colors and logos of your favorite team. But CR's tests found that the $800 Pro is a pricey rookie that cooked unevenly. The futuristic-looking Solaire AGBQ-27GIR, $1,800, also cooked unevenly.
CR answers five questions that will help you sort through manufacturers' claims to find the right grill for your needs.
1. Are more BTUs better? No. Lots of British thermal units/hour don't guarantee better searing or quicker warm-up. BTUs just indicate how much gas a grill can burn and the heat that it could generate. The grills with higher BTUs weren't at the top of CR's ratings.
2. What's infrared? Like convection, infrared cooking is a way to transfer heat. But infrared technology uses heated surfaces to radiate intense heat to food, not the air, making it good for searing. CR's tests haven't found that one method is superior or that infrared cooking is better than cooking on regular burners.
3. Which extras will I use? A gas gauge, extra storage, infrared burners, a natural-gas hookup and side burners were the most frequently used features in CR's survey.
4. Any forgettable features? Griddle plates and rotisseries were used least often, according to CR's survey.
5. Have some cooking tips? Before and after cooking, clean both sides of the grates with a stiff wire brush; use a nylon brush on porcelain-coated and cast-iron grates. Do not use soap. Oil the grates before cooking. Make a tight pad from two folded paper towels, dip it in vegetable oil, and drag it across the grates with tongs. Fully preheat the grill or you'll wind up with food sticking to the grates and so-so searing. Keep the lid closed.
How to choose
Look for sales, coupons and rebates. Some stores offer free assembly, which can save you time and frustration. Other tips include:
*Size the grill. Match the cooking area to the number of people you usually cook for, not to a party crowd. Next consider how much space on your deck or patio you want to give to the grill. Some of the models tested were huge.
*Consider flare-ups. Usually the greater the space between the grates and the burners or flavorizer bars where the grease lands, the fewer sustained flare-ups.
*Focus on safety. When shopping, check the grill's sturdiness by nudging it at several points. Check for sharp edges and corners. Grip the handles: If your hand is too close to the lid, it could get burned when the grill is hot. Don't toss the warranty card. Each year the Consumer Product Safety Commission issues several grill recalls, so mail in the card or register online in case the manufacturer needs to contact you.
By the editors of Consumer Reports at www.consumerreports.org.