BBQ Cooking: What to Look for in a New Grill
With the Fourth of July holiday fast-approaching, some are scrambling because their BBQ grills are on the fritz. Local expert John Ivancicts talks you through the process of purchasing a new grill—touching on everything from price to personality.
Tick, tick, tick. The clock is counting down to the Fourth of July. And you’re in need of a new BBQ grill. Kettle? Front-loader? Kamado?
There are almost as many grill choices as grilling fans. And, yes, some are short and fat. Others are tall and skinny ... the grills, not the grillers. How do you pick? Ask an expert.
John Ivancicts, vice president of operations at Southwest Fireplace, stands ready to answer some basic questions that will assist you in making your next grill purchase. He shared some tips during a Weber grilling demo day Saturday at Southwest’s Palos Park location:
1. Establish your price point.
How much do you want to spend? Shop for a grill that fits your budget as well as your grilling needs and personality. Are you going to regularly prepare feasts? Or cook on the grill once a month?
“Everything starts with what customers want to do, and there is always a budget involved,” Ivancicts said. “To lay that out pretty simply, if a customer wants to get into charcoal, they’re looking at an investment of about $150 to get going with a really good, high-quality baseline charcoal grill.
“If they want to get into gas—be it propane or natural gas—to get a good grill that’s going to last quite a while, you really need to get up to $399. Obviously, you can spend any amount you want.”
2. Charcoal or gas?
This is a question that can turn heated, much like the grill itself or those pointed dinner-table discussions involving politics and religion. Keep in mind: There is no right or wrong answer here.
“The main focus on charcoal is either, A, they’re an entry-level griller who doesn’t want to spend a lot of money or, B, they’re a true food aficionado looking for maximum flavor,” Ivancicts said.
“The vanish there between gas and charcoal is you’re always going to get better flavor with charcoal, but it takes a little bit longer to get it going. There is cleanup that has to be done whenever you’re done and turn it off and there is that renewable fuel that you always have to buy and keep filling. But they both serve a very good purpose.
“Where gas or propane is going to give you extreme convenience, it’s going to heat up super-fast and be ready to cook. When you’re done and you turn it off, there is virtually no cleanup to do. And, then, when you want to fire it up on another day, it starts right up once again.”
3. Can you spell hibachi?
Yes? Give yourself a star. But don’t expect to find a hibachi in the store. These grills have gone the way of the dinosaur—that is to say, they’re extinct.
“Hibachis used to be big back in the day when grills just started hitting the market,” Ivancicts said. “We don’t see a lot of people doing hibachis any more. They don’t have lids. They’re not convenient to put out when you’re done cooking. You have to let them burn out. It’s scary to walk away from something you can’t cover.”
4. Size matters.
How much grill space to do you need to cook burgers for the family or sear fresh vegetables from the garden?
“Right after what fuel you want to burn and what price-point you want to be at, the next question obviously is what size grill do you need,” Ivancicts said. “What falls into that is, ‘How many people do you normally cook for? And, then, how many people do you cook for once in a while?’
“We’re here to help you find the grill that is going to satisfy both of those needs. If you buy a grill as big as an automobile and you normally only cook for four people, every time you turn it on you’ve got to get that thing up to temperature in order to cook for four people.
“The well-designed grills like Weber and Broilmaster, they have fold-out wracks up on top that double in size when you need them to. So, you can buy a grill that is ideal for cooking for 4-6 people. And when you need to, you can easily use it for 12-15.
“A side-burner is a huge option. You can cook a sauce that you’re going to use from scratch right next to the grill, not heat up the house when the air conditioner is on. You can boil vegetables. You can sauté a seafood mix. You can come up with a blue-cheese glaze that you’re going to put on your steaks all very easily.
“Or, like at my house once a year, we throw a neighborhood fish boil.”
5. Quality craftsmanship.
Or name brand vs. knock-off. Think of the old adage here: You get what you pay for.
“The thing we see a lot of in the industry—it’s kind of sad—they get these grills that have tons of bells and whistles,” Ivancicts said. “And they fit this price-point they wanted to be at, but the quality, the service and function with those bells and whistles is not there.
“The ignition doesn’t work. The rotisserie motor burns out once you put a 12-pound prime rib on there for four hours. Or the stainless begins to turn colors because it’s not a good quality stainless. You want to look for high-quality stainless steel components, whether it be the cooking grids, the burner, the flavorizing bars.
“You want to look for a well-established company that if you need parts in 8-9-10 years, you’re going to be able to get those for your grill because the quality grill that you buy, like a Broilmaster or Weber, it’s still going to be running at 10 years. It’s still going to be running at 20 years.
“If you buy one of the big-box store grills and you need parts in two years and that manufacturer from overseas is no longer around, the grill is now garbage and you have to go buy a new one.”
6. What is a Kamado?
It’s an all-ceramic grill that burns natural lump charcoal. And it's all the rage.
“It will run 14 hours on one load,” Ivancicts said. “Incredibly efficient and incredibly versatile because it’s actually a searing grill, a smoking grill, a charcoal-broiler grill and an outdoor-bake pizza oven. That is the fastest-growing segment in barbeque right now.”
Ivancicts said to plan for spending a minimum of $800 on a Kamado.