There may be no home cooking appliance with a wider price range than the outdoor gas grill. With models starting as low as $29 and climbing to $5,000 and higher, it is an understatement to say there’s is a model for every budget. When shopping for a gas grill, the motto “You get what you pay for” is especially fitting, explains Dan Marguerite, owner of Backyard Barbecue Store in Wilmette, Ill. Basement models, he says, offer poor performance, are cheaply constructed, and often fail to survive two summers.
Cost range: $29-$5,000 and up
Likely additional costs: Assembly, natural gas hookup or propane tank, cover
Average life span: 2-16 years
Grills in the sub-$50 range are often of the tabletop propane variety. These units are constructed of thin painted sheet metal and cheaply fabricated components, all but guaranteeing a short lifespan. Brief 90-day warranties don’t offer much of a safety net.
When it comes to power, these grills are positively entry level, says Marguerite. The single, 12,000 BTU burner is satisfactory for grilling hamburgers and hot dogs but will be far less successful at charring a thick porterhouse. Still, when it comes to portability, these grills have no equal. If you are looking for a highly mobile tailgating grill, look to this sector of the market.
The biggest differences between a $50 gas grill and a $150 grill will be size and fuel source. Boasting cooking areas over twice that of their less expensive counterparts, these grills are the most economical options for families.
Models in this price range run on liquid propane stored in large refillable tanks (as opposed to the small disposable cylinders). Construction quality is moderate, featuring lightweight steel or aluminum bodies. However, the boost in price over the cheapest gas grill models yields an extra burner (albeit a low-powered one). Most are furnished with thin, steel-rod cooking grates that may warp from exposure to high temperatures, such as those from flare-ups.
Marguerite says buyers in this price range can expect to get “middle of the road” power, with burners putting out around 20,000 BTUs. Shoppers should expect a three- or four-burner grill, a roomy cooking surface, and perhaps even a storage cabinet and side burner—a separate burner used for boiling water or other independent cooking chores.
With widths of 20 to 24 inches and boasting around 400 square inches of grill surface, these units can simultaneously cook about two dozen burgers. Homeowners in cool climes who grill year round likely will lament the thin-body construction, says Marguerite. “These grills do a poor job of retaining heat in cold weather,” he says. At this price range, expect less-expensive porcelain-coated steel cooking grates that tend to chip, rust and need replacing at a cost of $30 to $60.
Constructed of heavy cast-aluminum or thick-gauge steel, and utilizing high-quality stainless steel burners, these units are built to last. Parts that do fail will be covered by five- to 10-year warranties.
Averaging between 400 and 500 square inches of cook surface, these units are not substantially larger than those in the $150-$350 category. But they are constructed of heavy cast aluminum or thick-gauge steel and utilize multiple high-quality stainless steel burners. Heavy-duty castors and solid-built carts make it easy to move these grills from spot to spot.
Grills in this category can handle enough food for 15 to 18 people. Buyers are urged to select a burner configuration that appeals to them as some models arrange them front-to-back versus side-to-side, which can complicate indirect cooking.
Units starting around $600 feature burners that reach 40,000 BTUs, power that will make short work of even the largest barbecue payloads. Precision controls and even heat distribution give home cooks the ability to simultaneously sear, cook, and keep food warm. To step up to a 36-inch grill that approaches 900 square inches of cook space, a shopper should expect to spend at least $1,000.
Constructed of high-quality stainless steel throughout, these grills will weather years of use. These first-class rigs often include heavy cast-iron grates, side burners, under-grill storage, and even a rotisserie spit and motor. Buyers also get the peace of mind that comes with improved customer service and best-in-class warranties that range from 10 years on burners to 25 years on the body.
$1,500 to $5,000 range
When you spend upwards of $2,000 on a grill, you’ll get a host of features and quality construction. These appliances boast six or more top-of-the-line burners. Almost standard issue these days is an infrared sear burner that can reach temps topping 700 degrees.
Most include a rear-mounted rotisserie burner with motor, interior and exterior lighting, and even a spring-assisted lid for effortless opening. With the best grills also come the best warranties, typically covering most components for 10 to 25 years.
Propane vs. natural gas
Homeowners should decide before buying a grill whether they intend to fuel it with propane or natural gas, says Marguerite. While many grills can be converted for around $50, it is best to buy one factory engineered for one fuel type or the other.
Owners of built-in units typically choose natural gas as there are no tanks that need filling and the cost to operate is roughly half that of propane. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s most recent figures, propane costs $20.47 per million BTUs compared to natural gas’s $12.18. Assuming a homeowner grilled once a week, he or she can expect to pay about $40 per year for propane and $24 for natural gas. Marguerite says that his company charges $150 plus $7 per foot to connect a grill to a natural gas line.
A good-fitting cover will extend the life of any outdoor appliance. Expect to pay between $30 and $50. Owners of propane powered grills should consider purchasing a $20 back-up tank so that a fully charged spare is always on hand. A $20 gas gauge will take the guesswork out of estimating a tank’s contents.