How to Choose the Right BBQ for You – Part 1: “Meat & Potatoes”

Summer is approaching.  Your rusted out, old BBQ looks destined for the scrap heap.  You feel that your boat isn’t complete without a meat machine affixed to the starboard railing.  None of your mates will come to your house to watch the footy because you don’t have a barbie – whatever the reason, you’re in the market for a new BBQ.

But you don’t know where to start.  It’s ok, I know how you feel.

question markBack in the day, BBQs all looked the same: black rectangular frame, a few knobs on the front, gas bottle underneath and a hot plate. Then somewhere along the way, BBQs with hoods came out.  Then hoods with built-in thermometers.  Then side-trays.  Cabinet doors.  Warming racks.  Wok burners.  Rotisseries.  And then some new-fangled, shiny, futuristic metal called stainless steel that made barbies look like they were part of NASA’s space program.  And now it’s all too much!  How does one possibly choose?

If you’re like me, you work hard for your money and you want to make sure you invest your money wisely. And I know that, like me, you work hard for your money and want to invest it wisely.

It’s true: BBQs are no longer the simple machines they once were.  But as long as you know what you’re doing, this will work to your advantage.  And you’ll end up taking home the perfect BBQ, suited to your specific needs.

The secret is to

break a BBQ down. Consider which parts you really need and which ones aren’t so important.  Once you put it all together again, you’ll have a picture of the right BBQ for you.  The only thing left to do will be to find it and buy it!

In Part 1 of this blog post, we’re going to look at the “meat and potatoes” (pun intended) of any BBQ: the frame and fuel source.  Once you’ve decided on these, you’ll have a solid launching pad from which you can focus your search.

Size

As anyone who has been to a specialised BBQ store knows, the difference between the smallest and largest models is enormous.  Some table top BBQs look as though they’d be maxed out cooking a steak and two snags, while others look like they were built to feed the army of Alexander the Great.

There are a few important questions to ask yourself when considering what size BBQ is right for you:

  1. How many people will I be cooking for?
  2. Where will I be storing and cooking with my BBQ?
  3. Will I be taking it anywhere?

The number of mouths you’ll be feeding will determine the size of the cooking surface you require, which in the case of a gas BBQ, is often directly related to the number of burners.  The following table will provide a rough indication as to the size of the BBQ that you need:

 

No. of People

Cooking Area Required (cm2)

No. of Gas Burners

Up to 4

Up to 2,000

2

5 – 6

2,000 – 2,500

2 – 4

7 – 8

2,500 – 3,000

4

9 +

3,000 +

6

However, it’s no good buying a trailer BBQ capable of spit roasting an entire pig for a party of 20, if you’ve only got an apartment balcony to cook up on.  Measure up the size of your storage space and cooking area, so that you can select a BBQ to match.

If space is an issue, look out for BBQs that have modular designs with fold-out shelves.  That will help you to maximise your space.

One final thing to think about is how portable you need your BBQ to be.  If it is to become a permanent fixture in your backyard, then this is not an issue, and the size of your BBQ is only limited by the storage and cooking space you have between the clothesline and the neighbour’s fence.  If however, you would like a BBQ that you can throw in the boot of the car and take to your favourite picnic spot, or on to your boat, then you will need something suitably compact.

Environment & Exposure

All BBQs deteriorate and eventually die some day — naturally, you will want to put off this extremely sad day for as long as possible.

By far the biggest threat to the life of your BBQ is rust.  Rust is caused by the oxidation of the steel components.  This occurs in the presence of moisture and is made worse by other nasty elements, particularly salt.

While rust can and will take hold in any location, the threat is much higher in coastal areas (up to 5 kilometres away from the ocean) and humid environments. Therefore, it is especially important to protect your BBQ in these locations if you are to keep it looking good and tasting great for longer.

Precautions such as a high-quality, well-fitted cover and certain protective coatings will help, but nothing is as effective as a BBQ constructed from a highly rust-resistant material, such as stainless steel.  Be sure to buy either 304-grade, 443 grade or, in particularly exposed environments, 316 marine grade stainless steel, with a long warranty (as much as 5 years).

Cheaper, though lower quality, alternatives include aluminium and porcelain-enameled steel.

Fuel

So far we’ve talked about the body of the BBQ, but now we’re going to get to the heart – the thing that makes it burn.  That is, the fuel source.  The three most common types of BBQ are gas, charcoal and electric – each have their own quirks, advantages and disadvantages.

Gas

iStock Man choosing direction226px225px (2)Gas BBQs typically run off standard LPG gas bottles.  They are by far the most commonly bought BBQ in Australia because they are so easy to use. They are sparked up with the press of a button and will maintain a reasonably constant temperature for as long as required.

In addition, they pre-heat 2-3 times faster than charcoal BBQs (10 minutes compared to 20-30), are easier to clean, and gas refills are readily available at your local servo.

This all means that they’re ideal for throwing together a quick meal after a long day and thus, are likely to get more use.

Charcoal

Charcoal BBQs take longer to fire up than gas, the BBQ master (that means you!) requires more skill and experience to maintain a constant heat, and keeping them clean can be annoying.  However, BBQ aficionados would argue that it is all worth it for the traditional rich, smoky flavours that they fill the meats with.

They are also typically smaller, cheaper and more portable than gas barbecues.

Electric

Electric BBQs are becoming increasingly popular due to their simplicity and portability.  Like gas, they are easy to light, operate and clean, but unlike gas and charcoal BBQs, you never need worry about running out of fuel as long as there is a power outlet near by.

This of course can be a blessing and a curse when it comes to portability.  On one hand, you only need to carry the BBQ itself without a heavy gas bottle or bag of charcoal briquettes, which makes it ideal for the boat, caravan or certain campsites.  On the other hand, without a power outlet, you’re just lugging around a big paperweight.

The downside to electric BBQs is that the food cooked on them tastes the least ‘barbecued’.  Without an open flame or ‘flame tamer’ for the juices to drip down on to, they don’t fill the meats with those typical, smoky barbecued flavours the way charcoal, and to a lesser extent gas, BBQs do.

By now, you can probably see that not all BBQs are created equal, and that it’s important to do your homework before buying one.  I know that it can seem a little overwhelming, but don’t worry.  I’m here to help.

Join us for Part 2 of “How to Choose the Right BBQ for You” next week, when we discuss the less obvious, but no less important, differences between the right BBQ for you, and the wrong one.

Marian O'Neill

Marian O'Neill

Managing Director at allBBQs.com.au
My name is Marian O’Neill and I am the owner of All BBQs. My working life commenced as a primary school teacher, however the majority of my career has been in business with my husband. I love BBQ cooking and decided to follow my interest and open an online BBQ superstore after much research revealed how difficult it was to find good quality, australian made BBQs. At allBBQs.com.au we specialise in Australian made BBQs, wood fired pizza ovens and outdoor kitchens. We strive wherever possible to provide high quality Australian made products.

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