Summer has arrived, and it’s the perfect time for those friends-and-family gatherings around the pool, and tossing some burgers hot dogs and veggies on the grill to feed them all.
But what if you don’t have a grill? Are you confused by all the options? Should you get charcoal or gas? And what exactly are wood pellet grills?
George Booth III, the partner and general manager of Tupelo Ace Hardware on McCullough Boulevard, has been helping pair would-be backyard chefs with the perfect grills for years. He recently spoke with us about what to look for in a backyard grill.
I’m looking for a grill; where do I start?
GB: More important than the features or function of the grill is your grilling personality. How much time do you want to spend grilling.
We can talk about how much to spend, which is probably the second-most important question, but the biggest thing is to find out what kind of grilling personality you are.
You might be a weekend warrior type with lots of friends and family coming over, and I want to present a sauce off the grill, maybe some sides and add some sauce.
You might be a charcoal person; or you don’t want to deal with charcoal at all and all the time it takes.
So it boils down to charcoal or gas. And an intermediate version is the pellet smoker.
Let’s talk charcoal. What can you tell us about that?
GB: When you think barbecue, you think of the smoke and the flavor. There’s nothing like it. You can get a smoky flavor from a gas grill of course.
But I’m a charcoal guy, and I like to get that burger with that extra bit of smoke from it, giving it that extra hum. It’s what a lot of people think barbecue should be.
The charcoal grill is for people who want to spend little time on their craft. They might be watching YouTube on how to make their ribs stickier. They’ll want to know about the different types of charcoal that can be used, the different wood chips and chunks that can be added. And there are all these different types of seasonings that seem to be coming out all the time.
You can go from a relatively inexpensive charcoal grill to however much you want. The Weber Kettle grill, for example, is a couple hundred bucks and is really a good deal considering what you get. And they’ll last forever. You can grill or smoke.
In general, the least expensive charcoal grill can be had for about $20 at a big box retailer to well over $1,000 or more, as well as everything in between.
Gas grills obviously are the other end of the spectrum – easy to light, quick at getting the grilling done.
GB: If you don’t want to spend the time dealing with charcoal, the gas grill is the way to go.
There are also options in natural gas if you don’t want deal with exchanging propane tanks. The natural gas grills are a great option for outdoor kitchens. Customers can contact a plumber about running a line for natural gas for the grill. It’s really become very popular.
You can get a gas grill very hot, very quickly and you can also get different accessories for them.
Prices range from under $100 to more than $1,000, depending on the features and brand.
What about a Big Green Egg grill?
GB: It’s very versatile. You can make a pizza, bake biscuits. You can use it more like a campfire oven than just a grill. But it also gives you super-high heat for like searing a steak.
It retains heat very well because of the ceramic components. It just locks it in very tight, unlike a metal grill. It also gets to heat a lot faster.
According to the company, the Big Green Egg uses lump charcoal only – not briquettes – and can be used as a high-temp grill, a roaster, a slow smoker and an outdoor oven.
The Egg has a lot of accessories — or “eggcessories” the company calls them — that also are available to enhance the grilling experience.
Finally, what about wood pellet grills?
GB: They’ve really taken off in recent years and it’s because they provide great results.
Wood pellets are poured into a hopper on the side of the grill. An electrically powered auger motor filters pellets into the cooking chamber, where they’re lit by the igniter and heat the chamber. While this happens, fans circulate air in the chamber to create convection and envelopes the meat.
They’re smokers more than grills. It’s a similar process to electric smokers, but you’re using pellets and you’re able to drive all that flavor like charcoal into it.
I will say it’s a different type of taste. It’s not really smoky but more subtle, a woody ‘hum’ to it.
The thing with a pellet smoker, you have to have a plug in because it uses electricity for the fan.
Accessories such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are available on some pellet grills, allowing customers to monitor temperatures and cooking times and to adjust them remotely as well.
Pellet smoker prices start around $400 and go up from there depending on the make and features.
There’s an additional backyard cooker, but it’s not a grill. What can you tell us about that?
GB: Yes, the flattop griddle. Here we have the Blackstone.
People have gotten used to eating from food trucks, and of course, Waffle House. They all cook off flattops.
People can walk outside and cook breakfast in the morning from pancakes and sausage to eggs and bacon, you name it. And you can do stir fries and hibachi style cooking.
The griddles are also easy to clean.
Prices start at about $200.
Photos by Adam Robison