Grills and smokers are a must-have for back yard enthusiasts. So many choices make it easy to find the right equipment to suit your cooking style.
If you are planning to purchase a new grill or smoker and you have not used either, then it's time to do some research.
Both grills and smokers come in a vast array of sizes, styles and price ranges. One of the first steps is to decide whether you want to use propane or if you prefer to barbecue the old-fashioned way with charcoal and/or wood.
Many folks believe the taste of charred meat flamed by charcoal is king, but propane gas and electric cookers have gained in popularity in the last few years. You will even see these models used by professionals at barbecue cook-offs. Both types are easy to start and they heat up faster than charcoal models
Other factors to help you make a decision:
What types of foods will you cook? Will you grill hamburgers and hot dogs for your family? Do you prefer lighting the fire, getting the food on, and getting it off and served? Then you should purchase a charcoal or propane grill.
Or do you enjoy the thoughts of hickory smoke wafting through the neighborhood on a weekend afternoon? If you want to cook a rack of ribs and brisket, then a smoker is probably more your style.
Large cuts of meats and poultry can benefit from smoking, which is the process of cooking with indirect heat. A firebox, designed to heat the cooking chamber, uses wood to smoke the meat over the course of several hours. Direct heat, on the other hand, involves setting up charcoal or a heating element just underneath the food.
If you know you want the thrill of both - grilling and smoking - you have options. Purchase the units separately or as a unit. You can find kettle styles and egg-shaped styles that perform both tasks beautifully. They can be electric or propane and can bet set up to simulate the charcoal taste with direct heat for a quick burger, dog or steak.
If you are purchasing locally, the larger-sized grills include propane tanks. You exchange the tank once it is empty for a fraction of the original price of a new one. Smaller grills may have connections for both large-sized and economy sized tanks. The smaller units cannot be refilled, but are relatively inexpensive to replace. There is always some danger in using propane, but you should use caution around any fire, regardless of the source. Just follow directions exactly and you should rarely have a problem.
Another option would be to purchase a smoker for large family gatherings and pick up a small charcoaler that can be transported to picnics or camping. Even portable units are available in a range of sizes and prices. You can select either charcoal or propane in these models as well.
Newer portable propane models expand to full-sized grills with insulated cooler storage for meats and drawers for utensils. They fit easily in SUV cargo areas, a trunk, or truck bed and can be wheeled to just about any temporary destination.Side table extensions provide plenty of space for platters and supplies.
If you have space constraints or are completely new to smoking and grilling, look at and compare different upright units. Some will allow you smoke food by using a water tray in the bottom of the unit while others allow you to place wood chips in a circular tray. These are electric or gas and either type may allow for grilling as well. You will still be able to fit a sizable amount of meat into these units if you are smoking for a crowd.
Dry wood smokers are still the most common style for indirect cooking. Smoke flows across the meat, which is in a separate chamber, and then out a smokestack. Temperatures remain at about 225 degrees throughout the process, which is why wood smoking is time-consuming and laborious. You can smoke many types of food: whole chickens and turkey as well as briskets, ribs, and other large slabs of meat.
Regardless of which unit you decide on, always look for quality components. Stainless steel is probably more expensive but does not rust and will last a very long time. These are also easy to clean, and it helps to use a little cooking spray or oil on the contact areas.
You will find cast aluminum products are also very hardy if cared for properly. The mid-sized grills with four legs and a hinged top are usually made of sheet steel and then powder-coated. They retain heat well and are ideal for fast, high-temperature cooking. Cast iron is also popular. Even if you have a small grill, you can still cook with indirect heating. Just build the charcoal pile to one side of the grill and keep the meat on the opposite side. The cooking time is longer when using indirect heat.
Always compare prices, both locally and on the Internet. Vendors are happy to answer questions and make sure you get the right fit for your personal lifestyle. You may find sales at the end of summer, but don't count on it.
Once you discover the joys of grilling and smoking, you'll be cooking all year long!
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