by James Hill for Club LT
Finding the right grill that matches your lifestyle can be a challenge that most men never consider. In past years the decision was easy: gas or charcoal. Now you have pellet grills and kamado grills that are affordable to most of us as well. Each of these grill types have their own unique strengths and benefits but like everything else in life, it really comes down to using the right tool for the right job.
In fact, few chefs I know have only one grill that they use. While most of us aren’t that hardcore, it points to the need to match what you’ll be grilling the most with the right product.
For instance, are you just looking for something for grilling up burgers and dogs? Then a simple gas or charcoal grill will work great. Or are you looking for a grill that will allow you to smoke a wicked brisket, sausages, or even salmon? Then you might want to consider a pellet grill for that superior temperature control and natural flavor.
Gas and Propane Grills
Gas grills are among the most common outdoor cooking devices. In fact, more Americans have a gas grill than any other type and it’s easy to see why. These grills are fast to start, quick to cool, easy to clean and very good at regulating temperature since that can be controlled with a turn of the knob. Plus, on most models you can even turn burners on or off to allow for cooking via non-direct heat. Last but not least, people like TV’s “Hank Hill” prefer the clean, smokeless flavor that only gas provides.
I appreciate this convenience and the fact that there are numerous accessories available that allow you to add smoker boxes to add that natural smoke flavor.
On the outside, infrared grills look like any other gas grill and are often hybrid units with infrared burners as well as gas or electric. The benefit here is that they cook FAST and temperatures can reach well over 700 degrees very quickly. They are much more efficient than other grills and have an excellent temperature regulation and distribution.
However, these are among the most expensive grills on the market today and are better at high heat than lower settings. So while your meat will be less likely to dry out, it’s also easy to overcook.
Charcoal grills come in a wide range of styles from barrels to kettles and even smaller “hibachi” style units that are perfect for bringing with you to the fish camp or tailgate party. Most of us are familiar with how they work; simply light the briquettes on fire and then create heat zones to cook your meal over.
Charcoal is ultimately my favorite type of grill because it brings back memories of sharing a beer with my dad while the grill heated up and learning how to get the charcoal going just right so that they stayed hot without burning out too quickly.
Unlike gas grills, charcoal grills can use a wide variety of charcoal fuel that adds different flavors. Additionally, you can use the classic briquettes or lump charcoal. For the true overachievers with the right equipment and patience, you can use natural wood and wait for the fire to burn down.
Charcoal grills are especially good at cooking tougher pieces of meat where the smoke flavor is desirable. While the fire takes significantly more tending with charcoal to do low and slow properly – the result is worth it.
There’s way more to talk about with charcoal since it has literally had thousands of years of innovation and a heritage passed down from the days of the cave men. This is something I personally enjoy thinking about while enjoying the favor of some delicious ribs and brisket that just came off the charcoal grill.
In fact, this style of cooking is so popular that recent innovation has led to two major spin-offs from your typical charcoal fire grill.
By far the most popular Kamado grill on the market today is the “Big Green Egg.” Like Weber which popularized kettle grills as a staple of American back yard BBQs, Big Green Egg has done the same for people looking to take grilling to the next level.
This style of grill originated in Japan and similar clay pot units as far back as 3,000 years ago in China. Kamado grills are designed to use lump wood charcoal, features an egg-shaped cooking chamber, and instead of steel aluminum uses ceramic to help maintain a more consistent temperature.
As a result of this consistent temperature, kamado grills are great for cooking everything from burgers and ribs to more delicate items like fish as well as even being used for pizzas and bread.
This is a form of grilling technology that I was just recently introduced to. While they have been available in various forms for many years, it’s only been the past few where the technology and prices have gotten to the point where it’s a viable option for most of us.
Pellet grills are a great option because it combines almost all the benefits of everything else on this list.
The biggest difference is that instead of charcoal, a pellet grill uses a hopper full of wood pellets that are dispensed into a burn pot by an auger. Fuel and temperature levels are regulated by electronic controls and this makes them excellent smokers. Different models also have apps that allow your phone to connect to the grill that lets you know the temperature and other data throughout the cooking process.
Like charcoal grills, you can get wood pellet fuel from different types of wood. Since you are using actual compressed wood though, the flavor is more natural and well, less charcoal flavored.
One of biggest differences in cooking style with most pellet grills is that it relies on indirect heat. Pellet grills are great for smoking meat, but they diffuse the heat across the grilling surface since there’s typically one burn pot compared a gas grill’s multiple burners and a charcoal grill where the coals are spread around. Technology is improving and manufacturers have addressed this in different ways, allowing you to get high temperatures needed to grill pretty much anything.
For most people though, the difficulty of indirect heat is offset by the convenience and precise temperature control as well as the clean wood flavor that a pellet grill can produce. This makes it ideal for smoking ribs, brisket, and fish. However, steaks, burgers and hotdogs work well too, though this isn’t what I’d focus on for this type of grill.
So, pick your protein, pick your speed preference and pick your grill. And I ain’t blowing smoke…unless there’s a nice pork shoulder to absorb it.
About James Hills
James writes the ManTripping blog and lives in southern California. For more than a decade, ManTripping has been a leading male lifestyle blog covering food, fashion, travel, toys, action and adventure – you know, man-things. James shares his wisdom regularly on Club LT and is often featured in the Club LT podcast.