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BETTER BARBECUE: A local expert’s tips for buying the perfect grill

kebobThe backyard grill is an American staple.

Cooking and eating outside are among the joys of warm weather, and summer is a great time to invest in a new grill, but how do you find the perfect one?

Dorsey Ayers, a gold level judge for the St Louis Barbecue Society, offers some tips that can help you choose.

Gas vs. charcoal

There are two primary choices when it comes to fuel – gas or charcoal. But reviews are mixed. If you ask 10 professional grillers which fuel is better, chances are five will say gas and five will say charcoal.

Both fuel types get the job done but each has advantages and disadvantages. Charcoal can be messy with a slight odor, while gas is clean and odorless. But what really counts is the flavor.

Ayers says that “charcoal grills provide more flavor but (you) have to ask: ‘Do I have time to load the grill every time I want to use it?’  Sometimes it can take longer to get the grill ready than to cook the meat. For everyday cooking a gas grill is the most convenient.”

Consider its special features

Today’s models often offer a wide range of features to entice buyers, but are all those gizmos and gadgets really necessary?

Choosing between necessities and luxuries will depend on your grilling lifestyle. Frequent grillers who entertain large crowds are more likely to need more elaborate grills. The elaborate models often have burners in addition to grilling surfacs, offering multi-zone cooking capability. They also have integrated shelving and storage, rotisserie attachments and warming racks.

But for grilling purists it is possible to have too many bells and whistles.

Ayers advises that a grill “should have at least three burners and a rotisserie attachment – a side burner is nice but it is strictly for convenience.”

Think about how the grill will be used-for hot dogs and hamburgers or gourmet meals – to determine just how fancy your new grill needs to be.

Know your space 

Where the grill is located can impact its size and style.

By measuring how much outside space is available and how much can be devoted to the grill will help to ensure that you don’t go overboard.

Yard aesthetics play into the grill selection process as well. A large stainless steel grill may overpower a small deck while a small grill may appear dwarfed on an expansive patio.

American-style or not?

If still on the fence about which type of grill to purchase think about this last piece of advice from Ayers.

“If confined to just one type of grill I would have the Kamado style,” Ayers says. (Think Big Green Egg, and Kamado Joe though other styles do exist and are available locally.) “It is made of ceramic which holds the heat and temperature very well.”

And it can be used for smoking as well as grilling.

“As an example, once the grill has reached the optimum temperature you can put two trout on the Kamado, then walk away and leave them for several hours and not worry about them.”

Kamado grills originated hundreds of years ago in ancient Japan. The modern versions produce high heat for grilliing and hold low temperatures for smoking.

Nothing says summer quite like the smoky-sweet flavor of a backyard barbecue. So resolve the ‘grate debate,’ go buy that new grill, grab the tongs and get cooking.

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