Choosing Between Types of Grills & Types of Smokers

Get help choosing among the wide variety of different types of grills and smokers.

| July/August 2017

  • Smokers and grills offer a convenient way to cook outside.
    Photo by AGE/Fotototo
  • You’ll want food to have plenty of room so that as much of the meat’s surface area is exposed as possible.
    Courtesy Camp Chef
  • When purchasing a grill or smoker, consider the number of people you plan on serving and the types of foods you intend to cook.
    Photo by Free
  • Pick the type of grill or smoker that fits your needs.
    Courtesy King Kooker
  • Outdoor cookers come in various shapes and sizes.
    Courtesy Big Green Egg

Our ancestors were cooking with fire since the prehistoric days. It’s no wonder that in an era when we can easily cook with electricity, grilling and smoking has a primal attraction for so many.

Choosing the right grill or smoker is not difficult. It basically boils down to determining what you want to cook and how you want to cook it. What works for a young couple that wants to grill burgers occasionally won’t fit a large family with a taste for racks of barbecued ribs.

Grilling and smoking are two very different cooking methods. Grilling is cooking food quickly at high temperatures, often directly over flame or coals. Steaks and hamburgers are grilled. Barbecuing, or smoking, is slow cooking meat at low temperatures, typically with indirect heat. As the word “smoking” implies, imparting the flavor of smoke is part of the method. Popular hardwoods used for smoking include alder, apple, cherry, hickory, maple, oak, and pecan. Brisket and ribs are typically smoked, and you can do the same with whole chickens, pork butts, or large fish.

Fuel the Fire

There is a wealth of grills available today. Grills can cook with charcoal (usually briquettes), gas (usually propane, but natural gas is an option), or electricity. Gas and electric grills are more convenient, but cooking over charcoal imparts a smoky flavor to the food and is favored by more serious grilling enthusiasts.

Many charcoal enthusiasts claim that the “dry heat” of charcoal provides a better sear, especially with premium cuts of meat. The “wet heat” of a gas grill may be better for tougher cuts of meat, cooked at lower temperatures.

If you choose a gas grill, you should get one with at least two burner tubes and with a rating of 12,000 British thermal units (BTUs) or more. More burners and burner configurations that disperse the heat more evenly are better. Higher BTU ratings give you more options for high-temperature grilling. Electric grills should be rated at 1,500 watts or higher, and should be capable of heating the grill surface to at least 700 F.

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