Your Money: Four expert tips on buying a grill

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Buying a grill can be a burning issue for barbecue aficionados.

FILE PHOTO: A woman puts corn on the grill at Flushing Meadows Park in the Queens borough of New York City, U.S., July 2, 2019. Picture taken July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

I found this out when, as a new suburban resident with a patio, I asked for advice on which model to choose.

“For most people the choice is mainly a budget issue,” said Mark Bittman, a longtime New York Times columnist, author of “How To Grill Everything” and editor of the new food publication Heated from Medium.

“If money is no object, you can go out and buy an amazing grill for thousands of dollars. But you could also spend very little: For years people have been just cutting oil drums in half - which costs almost nothing, and is also a fabulous way of grilling.”

Whatever the budget, seven out of 10 American adults own a grill or smoker, according to the 2017 State of the Barbecue Industry report from the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. July 4 is the most popular day to grill, with 73% of respondents firing it up, followed by Memorial Day with 60%.

As with cars, the choices can be overwhelming. And what may be right for you, may not be right for someone else.

“People get very passionate about grilling: They consider it their domain,” said chef and restaurateur Bobby Flay. His new show, “BBQ Brawl: Flay v. Symon,” with friend Michael Symon, will premiere in August on the Food Network.

If you are like me, a veteran of tiny apartments with no outdoor space and wondering where to start, here are a few handy tips from grill masters.

** Charcoal/wood vs. Gas

There is no “right” answer and with either option, the price point ranges from $100 to the thousands. For most, gas is far easier and offers reliable, consistent heat. “Press a few buttons, turn a few knobs, and you have great heat: I understand that,” said Flay.

When Flay wants to quickly cook cheeseburgers for his daughter and her friends, he opts for gas. But for something really special, he turns to his wood-fired Kalamazoo Gaucho Grill. The handcrafted Argentinian grill, with side burner and a motorized rotisserie spit big enough to roast a whole animal, can be yours for $30,715.

** Narrowing the options

The burners determine your price point. Three is a good number, said Bittman. Two might feel somewhat limiting, and four or more is a little overboard for most occasions. If price is no object, Bittman admits to loving his Ferno Grill, with burners that lever up or down to help avoid flareups. The price tag on Ferno’s freestanding gas grill, which boasts that it “sears, smokes and roasts,” is $4,800.

Bittman and Flay agreed that high-quality models start at around $300. Your humble author, after being coached by my online community, ended up with a Weber Genesis II, a line which starts at $799.

** Start simple

Think of it like your first vehicle. “You’re probably not going to buy a Rolls-Royce as your first car. You’re going to get something more typical, something user-friendly, and easy to maneuver,” said Flay.

You are not locked into your first purchase forever. If with a decent $200 starter model your technique improves and you start grilling more frequently, you can move up to something more elaborate. Some 56% of grills are bought to replace earlier models, according to the State of the Barbecue Industry survey.

** Avoid bells and whistles

Many grills offer all sorts of fancy accoutrements. Lights, spinning rotisseries and infrared stations may be nice, but not what you need. Instead, focus on the basics: Are the grates heavy and sturdy enough to last and hold heat? Do the burners have enough firepower, or does the flame feel weak? Is the gas canister easy to replace?

The same goes with accessories, whose elaborate kits are a perennial Father’s Day gift. The only things you really need are “a pair of tongs, a couple of spatulas, and a good grill brush,” said Flay. “Beyond that, it’s just gadgets.”

Editing by Beth Pinsker and Richard Chang; Follow us @ReutersMoney orhere.