Barbecue Buying Guide – Types and Options

Posted by on May 8, 2016 in Frugal For Everyone, Product Information, Smart Shopper | 25 comments

BarbecueBarbecue season is here and with that in mind I decided to check the best time to buy a new barbecue and types and options available.

The time to find the biggest savings on a new barbecue, gas grill, smoker or outside oven is at the end of the summer, namely August and September, when retailers clear out their inventory to make room for winter products.

However, with barbecue season starting not everyone will want to wait to buy or replace their barbecue until summer is over so they’ll be pleased to know that June will also offer some good bargains.

Below are the most common types and features to be found at retail outlets.

Buying a Barbecue:

What’s available?

Barbecues have come a long way since the little Hibachi grill. I checked out a few at a home improvement store and found barbecues in all sizes, from small portable ones that are perfect for balconies or to take along on day-trips to extra large ones that are fancier and more involved than the most up-to-date kitchen appliance. But no matter the choice, there are certain things to consider before buying.

Choosing the right heat source is one of those things to think about – do you want convenience, flavour, easy start, fast heat, etc.? 

  • Electric (great for apartment or condos)
  • Natural Gas (need to be hooked up by a professional – easy start, even temperatures)
  • Propane (easy start, even temperatures, can be converted to Natural Gas)
  • Charcoal (said to provide the best flavour but takes longer to get started and heat up)
  • Smokers (requires logs – slow cooking)
  • Pizza Ovens (very expensive – limited use)

Each of the heat sources provides a different flavour but whether it makes enough of a difference to pay more for any particular heat source is not something I’m convinced about. Other than the smoker, which would definitely give a unique flavour, I doubt most of us could identify the heat source in a blind taste test.

The size of the grill matters. Unless you do a lot of entertaining it is recommended you choose a size that meets your normal requirements – how many people will you normally be feeding? What size meals will you be cooking? What type of meals? Looking at the grill you should be able to picture how many burgers, chops, steaks or other food you’ll be able to barbecue at any one time. A grill that’s too small will turn out to be time-consuming, a grill that’s too big will waste fuel.

All grills, no matter the size or heat source, should accommodate the different heat temperatures requiremed for searing, cooking and finishing.

Do you need a side burner? I have one on our barbecue and wouldn’t do without it. It’s used for all kinds of purposes, frying onions, cooking corn on the cob, heating chili to making soup. The side shelf is another convenient feature that I wouldn’t want to do without as it holds everything within easy reach – from tools to dishes to condiments.

Grates: Here you want to know how well and even grates hold heat, how easy they are to clean and how well they will stand-up under normal use. Grates are available in:

  • Cast Iron – long wearing as long as they don’t get damaged – holds heat well to ensure even cooking.
  • Porcelain Coated Cast Iron – most popular- food doesn’t stick, heat is evenly distributed, and these grates last longest of all the grate types.
  • Porcelain Enameled Steel – food doesn’t stick to grate – must be carefully handled because they may chip. They will also erode over time. It’s recommended that hard scrapers not be used on these type of grates.
  • Stainless Steel – may not stand up well unless coated with Teflon or porcelain.

Other Considerations:

  • Stability – how stable is the unit?
  • Access – how easy is it to access the tank on a propane barbecue? To add logs to a smoker?
  • Starting – what’s involved in starting the unit?

Most barbecues are not assembled when you buy them so it’s important to receive clear instructions as to how the unit goes together. I checked 12 barbecues – 7 were manufactured in the USA and 5 were manufactured in China. The instructions that come with the ones manufactures in the States are pretty clear. However, ours was manufactured in China and the instructions were impossible to follow. We ended up guessing what went where which took a great deal of time along with some strong language. Do yourself a favour and review the assembly instructions with the sales person before you leave the store.

Finally, a note of caution. Do NOT buy a cheap barbecue brush. The bristles may come loose and attach to food, causing serious injury if swallowed. This is one area where you truly don’t want to skimp.

If you’re in the market for a new barbecue, I hope this information will help you find the unit that perfectly meets your needs.

Talk to you again next week,



  1. I am currently living in a house but previously lived in an apartment for many years, and I must embarrassingly confess that I did not know there are barbecues for apartments. You learn something new every day, eh?

    • Happy Sunday Morning Andy – hope you have a good one. Barbecues come in all sizes – here’s one I came across when I was looking for unique gifts for Father’s Day – – It’s a suitcase type grill. Of course, if you’re living in an apartment you do have to check into any and all permits – they seem to differ a lot. Glad I was able to teach you something LOL

  2. My ex bought a really nice Weber when we moved back to Idaho. He was all about heavy-duty grates. It was a great grill, but I once he flew the coop, I had found I have no desire to go outside to cook my food. My best friend got a great deal on my grill and her husband joked they would need a new house to match how fancy it was.

    • Well Jeri, at least your best friend made out well LOL. If I was by myself I think I would just get a very small, easy to start one. I like food cooked inside those foil packs. I actually saw a grill that fit into a briefcase. Open up the briefcase and up popped the grill – interesting huh?

  3. The only type of grill that I have is a George Foreman. Once I get a bigger place I plan on getting some type of charcoal grill. I will probably grill twice a month then.

  4. Lenie — while I read your post with interest, I won’t be buying a barbecue grill anytime soon. Both in NY, where I previously lived, and now in Sarasota, you can’t barbecue on the balcony of an apartment. Against the fire laws, although I do have friends who do it on the sly.

    • You know Jeannette, I never thought about that angle but it makes sense to me. Can you imagine how fast a fire would spread if one fell over on a balcony and the wind picked up the flame? Scary. I googled to see if you can have BBQ’s on balconies here and found out in most cases you can’t and in all cases you aren’t allowed to have explosive materials (propane tanks) on your balcony. Besides the fire hazard there is also the smoke problem (I think actually that would be the biggest problem, I wouldn’t fancy sitting on my balcony above and besides people who were barbecuing). The one exception seems to be small electric barbecues. Thanks for your contribution Jeannette.

  5. Very informative.
    One you missed was a bit style, they are not necessary a pit buried in the ground I have cooked whole pigs by making a fire pit with cement blocks. Putting grates on top and filling the bottom with wood.
    It does take time, cooking a whole pig is a nightly process.
    I do like the different types you mentioned, it is important to match you style of barbecuing with the equipment you use.

  6. I never knew that so much went into buying a barbecue. I finally have a balcony after years of apartment living without one. So I finally could get a small barbecue. I think I would mostly grill corn because I absolutely love grilled corn. Thanks for detailing all the options and giving me a better idea of which one would be right for me!

    • I hope this information will help you with buying the perfect small barbecue. Nice that you now have a balcony and will be able to grill your corn (peppers are pretty good too). So good luck with the grilling and enjoy. 🙂

  7. Lenie, people barbecue all over the world. However when you don’t eat meat it’s not as interesting as it is for meat eaters. Besides doing it on your balcony is inconsiderate to your neighbours. Also do keep in mind that IF I wanted a barbecue, what I could find in the shops would be different from in Canada.

  8. If I was not a vegetarian and living in North America I would definitely pay attention to your excellent suggestions, Lenie. Any reader in that part of the world should read carefully.

    • Catarina, do they not barbecue in Sweden? I know in North America it’s a big deal and there are lots of people who barbecue year round – even in winter. They have the barbecue grill outside the kitchen door, bundle up and carry on. We barbecue mainly to save hydro and I do use ours to make soup or boil potatoes for potato salad, etc. but only in summer.

  9. Very thorough post, Lenie. We are grill people so we have two grills. My Weber propane grill I use at least a few times a week. And my Big Green Egg which is a extra large layout, it’s a smoker and charcoal grill. We can taste the difference, especially with chicken. But I think it is because we have had them for a while. I agree that a good brush is important. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sabrina, you and Ken both claim to know the difference with charcoal – there goes my theory. I guess I haven’t got a very refined palate because truth to tell I really can’t tell the difference. I’ve heard about the Big Green Egg but I haven’t run across one. I’ll have to keep my eyes open anytime I’m in a store that sells BBQs. Thanks for the comment.

  10. I grill almost every night once the clocks change and the weather gets warm. I definitely think that the best results come from a charcoal fire but I’ve opted for convenience instead and have a grill connected to the natural gas line.

  11. You have my mouth watering Lenie! I don’t have a full-size barbecue myself, but a good friend of mine has a couple and I’m happy to leave that to him because it’s amazing some of the things he cooks up. I especially like what he does with fresh salmon in his smoker. Yum! Thanks for the tips and inspiration.

    • Marquita, I think of all the things that are best barbecued are salmon and chicken but I can just imagine how tasty salmon would be when smoked. I’ve been hearing a lot about smokers and didn’t realize how much use people get from them – I thought that was more a once-in-a-while use but apparently not. I’ll have to find out more about them. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Hi Lenie, we are not currently in need of new gril . But will definitely save this post for when we are. Huge thing for me is whether it’s assembled. That’s such s huge time consumer, not to mention frustrating. 🙂

    • Susan, isn’t the assembly something else? It would help if they came with really clear instructions such as place part A into part B and have the parts labeled. The ones from China are really bad – I think what happens there is that the instructions are written first in Chinese then translated. If we get another grill, it will be a very small one that is already assembled, although I do want a side burner.

  13. A ray of sunshine in the UK has everyone running to the beach or throwing a BBQ! We get so little sunshine that we do not let even a day pass us by without marking it.

    I enjoy the fellowship that comes with throwing bbq’s. The men take on the role as chefs – some even going as far as wearing the hat and apron. The children laugh and play until late. I have many childhood memories at family and friends get togethers.

  14. I’d love to get a nicer grill, but ours still works, so it’s hard to justify a new one. Now, a smoker on the other hand, I don’t have one of those yet. Think of all the meats I could smoke! Mmm, I can almost smell them now…

    • Meredith, I just heard from Sabrina who has the Big Green Egg that is a smoker and charcoal using grill. That sounds like something I wouldn’t mind having although we don’t barbecue enough to make the expense worthwhile. But it does sound yummy and you’re right – the smell would be fantastic.

  15. We are not in the market for a barbecue at the moment, but this is useful information to hang onto for the next time we are. Assembly is not our favourite part (we are not particularly handy) and we’re likely to pay to have it assembled for us.

    • Donna, from all the comments I’ve been getting, maybe the next time around you could check out the Big Green Egg – a smoker and charcoal grill in one. That sounds really interesting. I can’t blame you for paying for assembly – it really is the most time-consuming, frustrating activity ever.

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