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There is a deep, rich culture around outdoor grilling. I was first exposed to it several years ago, when my husband got his Big Green Egg grill — and promptly fell down an internet rabbit hole of YouTube tutorials and online forums about how to use it. I would have complained about all the time he spent on this, except that the resulting food was unbelievably delicious.
In the years since, even more sophisticated (and pricey) grills have emerged. At the same time, there are still plenty of grills that can get the job done (i.e., cook incredibly flavorful food) with little fanfare and much smaller price tags.
If you’re in the market for a new grill, prepare yourself for an outrageous barrage of choices. To make the process less complicated, we asked several grill experts to weigh in on what to look for when buying an outdoor grill, whether you’re a novice just looking to throw some burgers on a flame or a practiced pitmaster looking to hone your skills.
Jump To: Best Overall Charcoal Grill | Best Budget Charcoal Grill | Best Splurge Charcoal Grill | Best Overall Gas Grill | Best Budget Gas Grill | Best Splurge Gas Grill | Best Overall Pellet Grill | Best Budget Pellet Grill | Best Splurge Pellet Grill | Best Overall Freestanding Electric Grill | Best Overall Tabletop Electric Grill| Best Budget Electric Grill
Here are the main factors to take into account when selecting the best grill for your needs. The experts interviewed had these considerations in mind as they made recommendations within the four main categories of grills: charcoal, gas, pellet and electric.
What To Look For
Ease of Use
Are you looking for an easy-to-use grill that turns on immediately, heats everything evenly and doesn’t require watching online tutorials to figure out how to get the temperature right? Or are you on a quest for the best-tasting food possible, no matter how much time and energy it takes?
Do you want a grill that you can craft the best-tasting, most delicious food possible, no matter how much work it takes? (Grills that give the most optimal results often take some time to master.)
Speed to Heat Up
Some grills take 45 minutes or more to get ready to cook and require a process to ignite them. Others turn on with the twist of a knob and are ready to heat your food in 10 minutes.
The price range for grills is extreme. You can buy one for under $100, or you can spend several thousand dollars. “Charcoal grills are typically the least expensive type of outdoor grill,” says Joe Downey, Senior Merchant of Grills at The Home Depot. But all types of grills come in a range of price points, so know your budget before you begin to look. The cheapest one on this list is an electric grill.
“Literally 95% of what you eat can be cooked on a grill, and it’s nearly always better,” says Matthew Eads, grill pro, cookbook author and founder of Grillseeker. That said, the more special features and accessories the grill has, the more varied foods you can cook on it. Would you like a special smoker feature or air fryer capabilities? Do you want a grill that allows you to heat different foods at different temperatures at the same time?
No matter what type of grill you buy, you want to make sure it’s convenient for you to use. “Is it a comfortable working height for you?” says Paul Sidoriak, professional grill master, cookbook author and founder of Grilling Montana. “You don’t want to have to get down in a catcher’s stance to grill your meal, so it should be shoulder height. And is there a place for me to sit down a bag of burger buns, hang utensils and sit my beverage? A lot of times it’s really hot and you need to stay hydrated.”
Some grills need to be attached to a gas line or an electric socket, while others can be set up anywhere. Do you plan to grill outside your home, or out in the woods? Portability will play a part in your decision-making.
Four Main Types of Grills
“A charcoal grill produces extremely flavorful food,” Sidoriak says. “And the deliciously nostalgic smell of [food grilled over charcoal] evokes powerful emotions.” In other words, charcoal grills are the real deal — a grill that imparts that “grilled” flavor people love.
“There are a number of reasons to choose a charcoal grill over other types,” Eads concurs. “First, a quality, entry-level charcoal grill like an Original Weber Kettle can be had for under $120. Not a bad price for someone just starting out.”
Generally, a charcoal grill gets hotter than a gas grill, so it’s great for searing a steak. And Eads explains that this type of grill imparts a great flavor to meats and vegetables that you just can’t get from a gas grill. “With the use of some wood chunks, you can make just about any charcoal grill into a smoker, and that’s not possible in most gas units,” he says.
And you don’t need much besides the charcoal itself. “There’s no cord or need for electricity like with a pellet or electric grill, no gas bottle that needs to be refilled like with a gas grill, and their footprint is relatively small in comparison if space is a concern,” Eads says.
There are three main types of charcoal grills: kettle grills, barrel grills (generally made of metal) and Kamado grills (egg-shaped ceramic). That last type tends to be the most expensive because their thick, insulated sides put them in a league of their own, performance-wise.
Cooking on a charcoal grill can take practice as you learn to light it and control the internal temperature. Plus, it takes a while to get it going. “It can take as long as an hour to get heat stoked and every bit of 45 to 50 minutes for a Kamado-style charcoal grill,” Sidoriak says.
Our Recommendations for Best Charcoal Grills
1. Best Overall Charcoal Grill — Kamado Joe Classic II
Ease of Use: Takes practice to master | Flavor: Excellent | Speed to Heat Up: About 40 minutes | Value: $1,293-1,299 (Amazon and Walmart)
You can’t go wrong with any grill from the Kamado Joe line, and the Classic II is in the middle range of this brand’s prices. “They offer a number of different styles of grills, all purpose-built with the end user and quality in mind,” Eads says. “Aside from quality, you’ll also get the extensive line of accessories the Kamado Joe puts out, like the Joetisserie for rotisserie-style cooking, the Sloroller for smoking and the DoJoe for pizzas.”
- Pros: Produces extremely flavorful food, multiple levels to cook different foods in different styles at different temperatures, versatile (grill, sear, smoke, etc.), lots of cool accessories
- Cons: Pricey, takes time to heat up, heavy/not portable, learning curve to use it properly/regulate the temperature
2. Best Budget Charcoal Grill — Weber Original Kettle 18 Inch Charcoal Grill
Ease of Use: Moderate | Flavor: Excellent | Speed to Heat Up: About 20-30 minutes | Value: $114.99-119 (Walmart and Amazon)
Even at this relatively low price, the Weber Kettle is a durable, high-quality grill that will last for a decade or more. There’s a wide range of accessories, from pizza stones to rotisseries, which Eads explains are “at a relatively low price point, considering the quality and [the company’s] community support.”
- Pros: Time-tested design produces flavorful food, affordable, versatile (can grill, sear, smoke, etc.), lightweight/portable, lots of accessories
- Cons: Relatively short compared to other grills, takes time to heat up
3. Best Splurge Charcoal Grill — Kalamazoo Shokunin Kamado Style Grill
Ease of Use: Takes time to master | Flavor: Excellent | Speed to Heat Up: About 40 minutes | Value: $11,225 at Williams Sonoma and Kalamazoo Gourmet
If your budget is boundless, this is the grill that Eads recommends. He has found that this grill “outperforms any traditional ceramic Kamado cooker in every way.” It features three different levels to place your food, and, depending on where you build the fire, this grill can smoke, roast, bake, grill, sear or make a perfectly crispy pizza.
- Pros: Stable temperature for many hours; versatility (grilling, smoking, baking, roasting, searing); precise, purpose-driven, durable build
- Cons: Cost-prohibitive for many people, heavy/not portable, learning curve to master regulating the temperature
According to the Hearth Patio and Barbecue Association, approximately 72% of US households own a grill, and gas grills make up the majority of them. “The big selling feature of the gas grill is that it’s simple to use,” Sidoriak says. “It operates like a stove with knobs, it heats up fast, and it burns clean.”
Unlike with a charcoal grill, you don’t have to give your gas grill at least 45 minutes to heat up. You just turn a knob, and the gas turns right on. “If fast heat-up times matter to you, a gas grill is a must-have,” says Downey. “Gas grills take about 10 minutes to heat up. This means you can turn on the grill and it will get to a very high temperature in a matter of minutes.”
You give the gas grill fuel through a propane tank (which has to be refilled) or by hooking the grill up to a natural gas pipeline to your house — which will give you a limitless supply. This makes grilling even easier.
And while some people consider a charcoal taste to be a benefit of outdoor grilling, others prefer not to have a smoky taste on their food. A gas grill eliminates that problem.
Here are some expert recommendations for gas grills:
4. Best Overall Gas Grill — Broil King Signet 320 Cast-Aluminum 3-Burner Liquid Propane Gas Grill
Ease of Use: Moderate | Flavor: Excellent | Speed to Heat Up: About 10 minutes | Value: $699 (Walmart and Bed Bath & Beyond)
Sidoriak personally owns the Broil King Signet, which he calls a “workhorse of a grill.” It’s priced affordably for its category and has excellent heat retention capabilities. It also comes with a lot of features like foldable side shelves for extra prep space, an enclosed cabinet and other storage for grilling tools.
- Pros: Roomy with three stainless steel burners; heats up fast; even heating for variety of foods; side shelves with hooks; solid, heavy, cast-iron cooking grates
- Cons: Lid is somewhat flimsy and thin, lots of extras can make assembly time-consuming
5. Best Budget Gas Grill— Weber Spirit E-310 Liquid Propane Gas Grill
Ease of Use: Great for beginners | Flavor: Excellent | Speed to Heat Up: About 10-15 minutes | Value: $569-619 (Home Depot and Amazon)
Weber grills are known for durability, and its products can last a lifetime. This one’s grilling space, while small compared to some other grills, heats up quickly and evenly. It also comes with handy features like a warming rack and two stainless steel side shelves.
- Pros: Special features like a fuel gauge that keeps track so you know when to buy more propane, warming rack and good storage, heavy-duty caster wheels so you can move it around your deck
- Cons: Relatively small grill space
6. Best Splurge Gas Grill — Weber Genesis EX-325S Liquid Propane Smart Grill
Ease of Use: Moderate | Flavor: Excellent | Speed to Heat Up: About 10-15 minutes | Value: $1,179-1,409.71 (Amazon and Walmart)
It may take some time to learn how to work the app that goes with this grill, but once you do, it will make grilling very easy. In exchange for the high price tag, you can set your grill to cook to your specifications and then let it do the rest.
- Pros: Versatility (sear, roast, bake, steam, and even stir-fry by switching out grillware), smart tech helps you moderate temperature, two levels of grilling, precision heating and reliable ignition
- Cons: Pricey, learning curve to master app, heavy/not portable
Pellet grills are still relatively new compared to charcoal and gas grills. “They were the cool, new kid at school, but over the past five years they’ve become more available at all the hardware stores,” Sidoriak says. “Their great benefit is that they’re extremely convenient. It’s the same style of cooking as in the kitchen: You set the thermostat to preheat, put in your food, and then it does the rest.”
Pellet grills use electricity to burn pellets, which are made of compressed sawdust from hardwoods like hickory or oak. When you burn them, they impart a woodsy, smoky flavor. And you can buy specific varieties, such as mesquite, pecan, alder and cherry.
“The wood pellets are loaded into a hopper which connects to a fire pot with an auger tube,” Downey says. “Based on the selected temperature, the auger consistently feeds the appropriate number of pellets into the fire pot which then triggers an igniter to fire the wood. Using fans and a digital controller on the thermostat to maintain the correct temperature, the entire system is very clean and precise … While ambient temperatures can often make it hard to maintain the correct temperature in a gas or charcoal grill, most types of pellet grills will fluctuate no more than 10-degrees Fahrenheit from the setpoint no matter what the temperature is outside.”
One significant drawback is that you need to plug this grill into an electrical outlet, so you’ll be limited in where you can place it. And obviously, you can’t take it camping with you! (Though there are now some small models that are portable.)
Here are some expert recommendations for pellet grills:
7. Best Overall Pellet Grill — Traeger Ironwood XL Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker with WiFi and App Connectivity
Ease of Use: Great for beginners | Flavor: Excellent (and can be customized) | Speed to Heat Up: About 10-15 minutes | Value:$1,999-1,999.95 (Amazon and Home Depot)
This grill has a temperature that ranges from 165-500 degrees F, depending on what you’re cooking, and is known for easily delivering perfect results every time you use it. It also connects to an app and allows you to monitor temperatures and cook times, even from a different location.
- Pros: Extremely precise temperature control, delivers wood-fired flavor, versatile (grill, smoke, roast, braise, bake and barbecue), can add accessories like an induction cooktop, connects to an app to monitor temperatures and cook times
- Cons: Needs to be plugged in, takes longer to reach set temperature than a gas grill, doesn’t produce grill marks you get from gas or charcoal grills
8. Best Budget Pellet Grill — Grilla Grills Chimp Tailgater WiFi Wood Pellet Grill
Ease of Use: Great for beginners | Flavor: Excellent (and can be customized) | Speed to Heat Up: About 10-15 minutes | Value: $509.15 (Grilla Grills)
The Grilla Chimp is a nice smaller grill made for tailgating, and it’s at a nice price point,” Sidoriak says. Though it has a smaller-than-average cooking area (340 square inches), this grill allows you to take it anywhere, use a wireless connection to start or stop cooking and monitor the temperature from afar.
- Pros: Portable, sticks closely to your desired temperature, has a Pro Mode which maximizes smoky flavor, great price
- Cons: Small, does not stay hot as long as full-sized version
9. Best Splurge Pellet Grill — Traeger Timberline XL Wood Pellet Grill
Ease of Use: Easy (simple controls) once the grill is assembled | Flavor: Excellent wood-fired flavor every time | Speed to Heat Up: 15 minutes | Value: $3,799.95 at Home Depot
The Timberline, Traeger’s largest flagship grill, has a long list of extra features, including a side induction burner that Downey says “acts like a fast-heating stove top for searing, sauteing, simmering or frying – letting this grill function as a stand-alone outdoor kitchen.” This is the grill that Downey himself owns and uses often. He likes that he “can monitor the cooks temperature from the app.”
- Pros: Smart grill with touch screen and app to control remotely, has a Pro Mode which maximizes smoky flavor as you cook by slightly increasing the temperature variance
- Cons: Pricey, time-consuming assembly
Electric grills are a godsend for apartment dwellers or anyone who lives in a place where burning charcoal or an open flame isn’t permitted. All you need to heat this grill up is an electrical socket. These types of grills tend to be smaller and less expensive than other types, and there are even tabletop models.
“You really can’t beat an electric grill for simplicity,” ays Downey says. “And cooking on an electric grill takes much less time than on other grills.” They require no prep — just press the temperature setting you want, from low to searing hot.
You won’t get the flame-broiled flavor that grilling is known for, but Downey says you can make up for this with liquid smoke or marinades, or “try adding wood chips made of hickory, apple, cherry, or mesquite” to give your meat and vegetables a barbecue flavor.
“One problem with electric grills is that some of them can heat inconsistently,” Sidoriak says. He warns that if you’re cooking something like chicken, that can be unsafe.
Here are our recommendations for the best electric grills:
10. Best Overall Freestanding Electric Grill — Weber Q2400 Electric Grill
Ease of Use: Great for beginners | Flavor: n/a | Speed to Heat Up: About 10-15 minutes | Value: $399 (Amazon and Home Depot)
If you’re looking for a lightweight, space-saving grill you can use anywhere (with electricity), this one is one of the best options. While it’s smaller than other types of grills, Downey says it “raises the bar on the flavor expectations and performance of an electric grill.”
- Pros: Portable, inexpensive
- Cons: Needs to be plugged into an electrical outlet, produces less flavorful food than other types of grills
11. Best Overall Tabletop Electric Grill — Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill & Smoker
Ease of Use: Great for beginners | Flavor: n/a | Speed to Heat Up: About 10-15 minutes | Value: $329.95-369.99 (Amazon and Home Depot)
“I’ve found that the Ninja Woodfire is significantly better than all the other electric grills on the market,” Sidoriak says. This grill is easy to use, heats evenly and maintains its heat well.
- Pros: Portable, inexpensive, even heating
- Cons: Needs to be plugged into an electrical outlet, produces less flavorful food than other types of grills
12. Best Budget Electric Grill — Vevor Smokeless Electric Grill
Ease of Use: Great for beginners | Flavor: n/a | Speed to Heat Up: About 10-15 minutes | Value: $72.09 (Amazon and Home Depot)
“If you’re on a budget, this grill allows you to experience the joy of indoor grilling without the hassle and mess of smoke,” Downey says. This inexpensive option is lightweight and gets the job done, though it’s up to you to add flavor with a good marinade.
- Pros: Portable, inexpensive
This story originally appeared on Don't Waste Your Money.