Charcoal or Gas BBQ grills? Personally I think you should have both but the majority of people today are using just gas grills.
Gas grills are more convenient, easier to use and lend themselves to quick everyday grilling.
For some people, tired and coming home from a long day at work it's just easier to fire up the gas grill at the end of the day then it is to work a charcoal grill.
Gas grills come in all shapes and sizes and with many options to choose from.
Some options, like an infrared searing system, can be useful and worth the extra money.
Other options, like an ice-bucket on the shelf beside the grill, well, not so much. Seriously, this is avaiable.
This article is not intended to be a buyers guide so if that's what you're looking for here you'll be disappointed.
I'm assuming you've already got your gas grill and you're looking for some basic tips and advice on how to use it more effectively.
Depending on where you live may also determine how much you use your grill.
Even in Canada and the upper US there are those of us that grill almost 365 days a year but that has it's own challenges, especially with temperature control and cooking times.
In the winter natural gas grills are slightly more effective than propane due to the colder weather affecting propane gas flow.
Make sure you read the owners manual and most importantly follow the safety recommendations. More on this below as we discuss...
Lighting a Gas Grill
First and most importantly - always follow the manufacturers instructions when lighting gas bbq grills.
Keep the lid open on a gas grill while lighting. Any build-up of gas can ignite and explode blowing the lid into orbit (and you with it!)
Similar advise applies when you try to light the grill and it just won't light. Keep the lid open, wait a few minutes and try again - otherwise you may lose your eyebrows, or worse.
Second important gas bbq grill tip has to be pre-heating. You typically need to get the grill good and hot for searing so let it run on high at least 20 minutes - longer in the colder weather.
I've had people complain that's just a waste of of gas, but you'll never sear your meat on a cold grill.
More on temperature control below.
Cleaning a Gas Grill
The best method is to clean gas bbq grills after the grill is pre-heated and again after you're done cooking.
It's important both from a health and flavor perspective.
If you've left bits of food on the grill from previous sessions they could affect your food the next time. Keep the grills clean.
If you're burning off the grill at the end of your cooking set a timer (I use the timer on the microwave in the kitchen) to remind you to go out and scrape the grill.
Click here to see a good style grill brush cleaning tool.
Types of Gas Grill cooking grates
Most gas grills come with 1 or more removable grates or cooking grids.
The most popular types of grates are cast iron, stainless steel and porcelain or enamel coated (steel or cast iron).
With cast iron they take a little longer to get up to temperature but once they do cast grates are optimum for searing and grilling steaks. These leave the best cross-hatch pattern.
One possible down-side would be the regular maintenance required to keep cast grates seasoned.
This involves oiling them and leaving them in a 300F oven for several hours. If you don't keep them seasoned they will rust eventually.
For ease of cleaning, the stainless can't be beat but they don't hold the heat as well as the cast iron.
How to Oil the Grates
One of the best ways to keep food from sticking to the grates is to oil them (and in some cases the food too).
In most cases the best method to oil a grate is to fold a paper towel in a small pad shape. Dip the pad in vegetable or canola cooking oil and rub over the heated grate holding with your bbq tongs.
You'll need to apply 5 or 6 coats of oil as the first couple coats burn off.
You can also spray the grates with areosol cooking spray but please make sure the grates aren't over open flame when you do that.
Temperature control on Gas Grills
Two very important things to get right in BBQ & grilling are establishing the optimum cooking temperature and then controlling that temperature.
Depending on the type of food you're grilling determines how you get your grill (either gas or charcoal) up to temperature.
Once you've reached your target cooking temperature the next trick is to maintain it.
Temperature control is much more of a challenge with charcoal grilling then gas grills.
With a gas grill you can either raise or lower the temperature by adjusting the gas control knobs on the front of the grill.
Sounds pretty easy and in general it is. Temperatures don't change right away though so you need to plan ahead.
Depending on how many burners your grill has makes a difference.
If you've 3 or 4 burners then you can control grilling temperatures by setting a couple on high, maybe one on medium and the other on low.
That way you can move the food around the different temperature zones on the grill. This is another good reason you should know your grill's natural hot-spots.
When you need the gas grill to sear the meat (grilling steak for example) you need to pre-heat the grill on high until it reaches its maximum temperature (which you already know because you've learned your grill!).
Rushing this step and putting the food on the grill before it's reached it's maximum temperature will ruin your chances of grilling the perfect grilled steak.
I've heard people say they're "wasting" gas so they fire up the grill and throw on the steaks right away.
Please, let the grill reach maximum temperature and then give it another 10 minutes before putting on your steaks.
In most cases the thinner and smaller foods are best cooked over higher heat.
Thicker cuts of meat or grilled vegetable recipes are generally best done by searing first and then grilling over medium to medium-high heat. Too high and you'll burn the outside to a crisp and the inside will be raw.
In all cases keep the lid down as much as possible while gas grilling. It helps maintain your heat, provides more even heat flow around the food and allows the flavors or smokes to remain in contact with the food.
If your gas bbq grill comes equipped with a temperature gauge in the hood then use that - it should be good to +/- 20 degrees.
If not, here is another method to get an idea how hot your grill is:
Hold your bare hand about 4" to 5" above the grill and start counting "1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi, 3-Mississippi, 4-Mississippi, OUCH!"
Sooner or later you have to pull your hand away due to the heat.
Use these guidelines to judge the approximate heat:
Direct grilling involves grilling directly over the flames and in general all the burners should be lit.
You can set-up different heat zones similar to charcoal grilling by adusting the heat control knobs on your grill.
Any of the gas bbq grills I've owned and used have hot spots and cooler spots, maybe you've already discovered this.
If you haven't it's worth your while to find out where these hot spots are and use them to your advantage.
This is going to depend on how many burners your grill has.
For 2 burner gas bbq grills light one and keep the other unlit.
3 burner grills get the left and right or front and back lit and keep the center unlit.
Likewise with 4 burner grills, light the outside burners and put the food in the unlit center section.
I recommend putting an disposable aluminum drip pan under the food (make it the same length and width of the food above it to catch all the drippings).
Smoking on Gas Grills
Traditionally, gas grills weren't as effective at smoking food as charcoal grills.
To get the grill hot enough to smoke the wood mean't you'd likely be running it too hot for long term indirect cooking. There are now several options available that make gas grill smoking possible.
Some gas models today offer dedicated burner and smoking boxes that you slide out and fill with smoking chips. Other options are smoking wood trays over the rear infrared burner, fill this with chips and the heat from the burner gets them smoking.
Ideally, either option is out of the way from the center of the grill where the food is during indirect grilling.
OK, you've a gas bbq grill but neither of these smoking tray options. Basically two options, a small cast iron smoking box shown here or make whats called a smoking pouch from aluminum foil.
Dead easy and you can use both wood chips or pellets or a combination of both. When using smoking pouches you have to add them to pre-heated high temperature gas grill when you start the cooking session.
That's the only time the grill will be hot enough to get the chips smoking. For longer indirect cooking times you can't be adding more smoking pouches every hour - at lower heat, that's just not going to accomplsh anything.
Basically the first hour of smoking in gas bbq grills is when you're going to be producing smoke.
Click here to learn how to make a smoking pouch.
Rotisserie on Gas Grills
Most gas grills have the ability to install a rotisserie o
Consisting of at least a motor, skewer or spit with two adjustable food prong clamps and mounting hardware this is an inexpensive option to expand your grilling abilities.
This is probably one of the best ways to slow cook whole chickens. As the rotisserie slowly rotates it bastes the bird for you as it cooks.
I'll discuss more about this here in the rotisserie chicken recipe including set-up.
Pork and Beef cylindrical roasts also work very well with rotisserie cooking.
Most gas grills today come equipped with a back burner just for rotisserie cooking which creates a wall of heat that puts a nice finishing touch on the rotating food.
If not, then light the outside burners and have the food turn in the center unlit section.
If you don't already have a rotisserie I recommend you make it your next grilling accessory purchase.
Also a very good option to consider for charcoal grilling as Weber has attachments designed for their kettle grill.
Click here to learn about rotisserie cooking a Sirloin beef roast.