CHOOSING THE RIGHT GRILL
CHOOSING THE RIGHT GRILL
By Smoky Hale
Frequently, very frequently, I am asked, "Which is the best grill for me?"
That is a decision that I cannot make for anyone but myself.
Choosing the right grill requires that you first determine your needs. The
most important questions to be answered before choosing a grill are:
1. What do you intend to do with it: broil, roast, barbecue, smoke?
2. How often do you expect to cook on the grill?
3. What is the greatest number of folk that you intend to feed from the
4. How much are you willing to spend on a grill.
Since so many are looking for gas grills, I excerpted this from my new
book, The Great American Barbecue & Grilling Manual in order to pass it
along now to the many folk who have questions. If you never intend to have
a gas grill, this may not be a burning need, but I hope it is not
Gas grills, whether fired by natural gas, or (bottled gas), are neat and
convenient. Whether they are the relatively cheap $89.95 disposables or the
gussied up $2000 grills, their functions are quite similar — all have gas
burners much like gas kitchen stove ovens. The more expensive will, or
should, deliver more heat, have more space, be sturdier and have sideboards
and accessories. But, if the el cheapo can deliver at least 30,000 BTU's, it
will broil a steak and cook a roast — which is about all any gas grill can
do. Some smoke flavor may be added by various means, but, barbecue, by
definition, cannot be cooked in gas heat.
In grills, propane or butane (bottled) gas will usually produce more BTU's
than natural (methane) gas in grills because propane is delivered at a
higher pressure, and therefore more gas is available for burning at any
given time. It also produces more BTU's per cubic foot of gas. Propane gas
pressure is adjustable by a pressure regulator which normally provides gas
at 6.3 ounces per square inch (11 inches of water column). Natural gas is
normally delivered to households at 4 ounces per square inches (7 inches of
water column) past the regulator --- corrected for elevation.
Because liquid is more dense than gas, butane and propane are bottled
under pressure in their liquid state. Their low boiling points causes them
to make a phase change to gas when the bottle valves are opened. For
heating/cooking purposes, methane is delivered by pipe because methane gas
requires tremendous pressure and cooling to change into liquid.
Propane's ( C3H8) boiling point, at atmospheric pressure, is -44o F. while
butane's (C4H10) boiling point is 310 F. Natural (methane, CH4) gas boils
at -260o F. Higher boiling point is why propane is more widely used as
bottled gas than butane.
Without getting too deeply into physics, boiling points rise with
pressure. Bottled gasses are under varying pressures, depending upon the
quantity of gas in the tank and temperature. Therefore, while propane boils
at -44O at atmospheric pressure, 14.7 pounds per square inch (psi), the
boiling point of the liquid under 100 pounds of pressure per square inch
will be much higher.
Thus, when the propane bottle is left outdoors and the ambient temperature
gets down below the 30os, propane does not vaporize as well and your grill
may not be able to produce as much heat. To remedy this, store the bottle
in a heated area overnight, wrap it in a blanket to take it outdoors, and
the gas will vaporize much better. An option is to wrap the gas bottle in a
small electric blanket.
Propane gas is 1.5 times heavier than air, while natural gas is only 60%
as heavy as air. Butane is 2 times as heavy as air. This means that propane
or butane gas will flow to the lowest point available and, when it
accumulates, presents an explosion hazard. Natural gas will dissipate in
air, and can still be ignited, but it presents less of a hazard than
propane or butane because it would be less concentrated.
Propane produces 2488 BTU's per cubic foot of vapor (gas) while methane
produces 1000 BTU per cubic foot. The ideal air-to-gas ratio for combustion
is 24 to 1 for propane and 10 to 1 for methane.
Gas fired stoves have been used in homes for more than a century. During
that time, there has been little change in the technology. The entire
operating system consists of a gas valve, an orifice (read small hole), a
venturi ( a tube having a variable slotted section to draw in air) and a
burner (a tube or other shape which has holes in it for the gas/air mixture
There is nothing complicated about the process — except in the mind of the
manufacturers. As a class, manufacturers know less about what a grill is
supposed to do than a fifth grade social studies class. Apparently their
consuming interest is in manufacturing products which will satisfy the
retailer and, thereby, generate sales and profits for their companies. You
have only to read their brochures to discover that they are unburdened by
the weight of obligations to the consumer to provide complete and accurate
information. Follow their recommendations for operation and maintenance,
but ignore their cooking hints and recipes.
A couple of gas grill manufacturers have incorporated the new ceramic
burner technology which, although more expensive, is much more efficient in
converting gas to usable, radiant heat. Such grills are capable of
producing temperatures almost as high as their prices, but I am not
convinced that either is justified for the backyard broiler. If any heat
source can produce temperatures in the 7-800o range, it is entirely
adequate for broiling a steak. I know of no other cooking use which
requires a higher temperature. I suspect that the boasts of grill
manufacturers and restauranteurs of 1500-1800o for broiling steaks most
likely comes from hot air. Iron begins to soften at 1530o Fahrenheit.
Next time, we will discuss Safety Considerations, Cleaning and Maintenance
as well as what to look for in selecting a gas grill.
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