Choosing a barbecue can seem like a minefield for first time buyers as there are so many choices. This guide is set out to help you get educated on what it all means, so when you do finally walk into the barbecue showroom you are in control of your buying decision.
My 6 Step Guide to Buying Your First BBQ, or Any BBQ for that matter is:
- Build Quality
- Warranty & Spares
- After Sales Support
- Get Insider Info
- Fuel Choice
Step 1. Build Quality
- Wobble Test
A simple way to think of build quality is how sturdy is it. In the trade this is known and the wobble test – get hold of the grill/lid handle and wobble it from side-to-side. If barbecue wobbles walk on by because it won’t last more than a couple of years.
One way to reduce the cost of a barbecue is to use thinner materials. Lighter barbecues also cost less to ship, which is another way some companies will keep the final retail price low. These barbecues won’t stand up to the rigours of heating and cooling and will cause a barbecue to defect within a few short seasons. A grill made of heavy gauge materials will hold heat better, and won’t buckle or distort under higher or prolonged temperatures.
Paint – on cheaper grills the paint finish is often really thin, susceptible to blistering, which will leave the metalwork prone to rust. Higher-end products like the Traegers have a much thicker painted exterior that is able to with-stand higher temperatures.
Porcelain Enamel – a hard wearing, durable finish that can withstand high temperatures and won’t scratch if you glance the BBQ with a tool. For charcoal kettle BBQ’s it means the finish won’t come off where the lid contacts the bowl. It will chip like glass though if banged or dropped.
Powder Coat – a hard wearing, durable finish that can withstand high temperatures and won’t scratch if you glance the BBQ with a tool. It will chip like glass if banged or dropped.
Kiln Dried Glaze – a hard wearing, durable finish that can withstand high temperatures and won’t scratch if you glance the BBQ with a tool. It will chip like glass if banged or dropped.
Stainless Steel – due to there being many grades of stainless steel you really do get what you pay for; meaning a cheap stainless steel barbecue will still rust in the wrong conditions. Often the chosen for its’ aesthetics these grills are high maintenance to keep in showroom condition, and within a year or so will begin to how signs of heat-stains around the edges of lids, etc.
- Cooking Grates
Grills are available with a variety of cooking grates including stainless, cast-iron, pressed metal and porcelain coated. Lift the grates out of the barbecue and feel their weight. Compare them in your mind to the feel of a good quality frying pan / skillet you might use for steaks.
*My personal preference is for cast-iron grates as they are natural non-stick the more they are used, they retain heat incredibly well so searing meats is a lot easier and they are one of the easiest to keep in good order.
Step 2 – Functionality
Will the barbecue do what you want it to do? This is where you need to have an idea of what food you would like to cook on your grill. For instance if you want to be able to roast on your barbecue I would recommend slightly different buying points than if you just want to fire up the grill on a sunny weekend afternoon to grill a few sausages and burgers. If you’re reading this blog though I’m guessing you want to grow your outdoor repertoire. If this is true you will soon outgrow that smaller “make-do” grill.
My general recommendations include:
- a higher lid – to allow for cooking bigger pieces of food
- a thermometer gauge on the lid – so you know the temperature inside the cook-box and remove the guess work
- At least 3 burners on a standard gas grill – it makes all cooking so much easier
- The slightly larger grill than you think you need – the larger grills usually have no problem taking the accessories you may buy along the way, and you have more space to cook those bigger pieces of food, or to cook for larger groups!
I’ve always said it’s easy to make a big grill cook for 2 people, it’s hard to stretch a small grill to cook for larger groups. Once you’ve done your research you won’t hedge your bets buying something you think is right for now!
Step 3 – Warranty & Spares
This is sometimes the hidden thing you don’t see when spending more on a barbecue. How long is the warranty and what does it cover is a pretty big thing. A warranty will typically not cover every component of your barbecue for the full time. This is usually limited to just the main bowl, lid, legs, etc. The actual fixtures such as burner tubes, heat deflector plates, cooking grates, gas hoses etc will have a shorter warranty as these take the wear and tear of changes in heat, as well as the acids and salts from the cooking process. I often refer to these like tyres and windscreen wipers on a car – they need replacing every so many miles.
Ask the retailer if it’s possible to get spare parts for the barbecue you are looking at. They may stock them or they may say you can get them direct from the manufacturer. If no spare parts are available walk on by!
Online reviews and social media channels are a good place to check how good a companies warranty coverage is.
Step 4 – After Sales Support
There are companies that invest a significant amount of time, money and effort into helping you get the most from your new grill after you’ve got it home. For me these are the companies you want to buy into.
My feeling on the other brands is they are simply selling barbecues because they know people will buy a cheap gas grill with a load of burners, and the obligatory bottle opener, because it’s on sale for £199 at the supermarket checkout. These barbecues will not do what you want them to do and will also rot before your eyes.
After sales support can also come from the retailer where you made the original purchase. The face of outdoor living and barbecue retailers has really changed in the last 5-6 years with more of them offering live cooking events you are able to attend, either for free or for the price of a ticket. Good staff should also be knowledgeable about how to cook on the grill you’re interested in and should have first-hand experience of their own to talk about.
Step 5 – Get Insider Info
This is somewhat a continuation from Step 4 – Talk to the Staff! So many times in a shop we are asked if we need help and our natural response is to say “I’m just looking.” A good barbecue stockist will have staff who are trained in how to use the products they have for sale. I work with many up and down the country and there are some seriously dedicated people out there who live and breath the alfresco way of life. Now, OK you may not quite be ready to think about tackling the Christmas turkey on the barbecue, but I always prefer to buy from people I feel know what they’re talking about, than those I feel are just trying to get the sale.
If you’re buying your first BBQ and you have done your homework, you will know who the seriously committed stockists are out there. Go see them, or call them if they are a little bit further away, and pick their brain for what they would recommend in your situation. They will know the best sellers, the questions people generally ask that you may not have thought about, as well as what the essentials are to get you going. They may even steer you away from a purchase they feel you may later come to regret.
Ask which BBQ they have at home and ask them what they cook on it. Get the insider information! Sometimes it’s as much about they don’t say so pick up on subtle body language cues! 😉
Step 6 – Fuel Choice
You may notice the glaring omission to any reference to fuel choice – this is intentional! Fuel choice is a highly contentious issue that many people have very strong feelings about. While you have the arguments in-favour of using authentic charcoal to light your barbecue, for some this just isn’t an option for their lifestyle. To this end, gas barbecue sales actually overtook traditional charcoal sales 4 years ago, so if you buy gas you won’t be on your own. It would be remiss of me though not to mention the new fuel choice on the market in the form of wood pellets!
My view on fuel choice has always been that it matters less to me what fuel you cook with, so long as the barbecue you do have fits your lifestyle the best and allows you to cook outside with increasing frequency! I know it’s possible to light a charcoal barbecue and be cooking with 10-15 minutes, but for some the fuss of dirty bags of coal and firelighters just doesn’t work. There are of course pros and cons of any barbecue, but what I think is a pro may not be for you. Go with what you feel is right for you because it’s your hard earned money. You will also use the barbecue more if it’s the one you want, rather than the one someone tells you you should have.
Ask the questions you need to, find out the information you want to know, and understand that the best barbecue for you is the one that best fits your life – One size definitely does not fit all! 😉