Grilling delicious tasting food over an open flame has been a past time for many for thousands of years, in one form or another. Over the generations, grilling has changed to such a degree that it is now considered a culinary art form of its own.
Regardless of which method the backyard chef employs or regardless of which recipe, there is one thing all great backyard grillers have in common, and that is a great grill. While some still choose charcoal, many backyard barbecue practitioners have moved to the quick and easy to use, propane grill.
For many the decision to move to gas from charcoal is the fact that propane is fast lighting and faster grilling. There is no heat distribution curve to contend with. However, there is a different reason that bears consideration. The fact that propane could in fact be healthier than standard charcoal.
This is due to the clean burning characteristic of propane. When charcoal undergoes combustion, the process is not 100 percent efficient. This leaves combustion by products that can attach themselves to the meat. In many cases, charcoal has chemical additives and fillers and these are not consumed in the combustion process and will attach to the meat.
Some of these chemicals are toxic and if a person enjoys grilled food a lot, it can be a health hazard. With clean burning propane this is not a concern. Thus propane is in fact a healthier choice.
Getting a Good Propane Grill
A grill has to have a balance of three considerations, heat production, heat distribution and heat retention. Propane grills by their very nature have good heat production. This is due to the continual production of heat from the burners.
The specific amount of heat per burner is not as important as the overall heat production. The main difference being how fast something is cooked. A 40K BTU heat source will cook things faster than a 20K but both will cook efficiently, one will just take longer. That leaves heat retention and heat distribution.
Good Heat Retention
Heat retention is how well the heat is retained and focused in order to properly cook the food. Heat that is lost is not working for you but against you. Most heat loss occurs at the top of the grill. This is due to the fact that heat energy rises in air.
Thus getting a propane grill with a double walled lid contributed to better cooking results than a single wall lid that allows the heat to radiate outward.
Heat will transfer energy to the lid material, which comes at a loss of energy. This material will then radiate the heat outwards and again suffering from a loss of energy. This loss of energy contributed to cooking time, less heat available for increasing the internal temperature of the food and more.
Of course construction of the grill body as a role in heat retention. Therefore it is better to find a grill with solid construction such as stainlesss steel or a porcelain coated steel, in order to better retain the heat. The construction material of the fire box is less important for propane grills, again because of the continual nature of the heat.
Good Heat Distribution
Good heat distribution is by far the single most important of the three considerations. Without good heat distribution the food will over cook in some places and under cook in others. The dreaded hot and cold spots in food.
Heat distribution is not dependent on the heat source. The best way to determine the heat distribution is to look at the cooking grates. Porcelain coated, cast iron cooking grates offer the superior heat distribution over other types. The list of grate materials in descending order of superiority is:
- Porcelain Coated, Cast Iron
- Cast Iron
- Porcelain Coated Nickle Steel
- Porcelain Coated Stainless Steel
- Porcelain Coated Steel
- Stainless Steel
In some top end propane grills, there are also heat wave guides that help focus the heat to the grates and this means that a lesser material can be used to produce the same results as a higher end grate.
Also infrared grills or grills with infrared technology use a different method to distribute the heat and thus can use a less material grate and achieve great results.
Typically, propane grills that use infrared technology are superior in heat distribution than standard grills but can be lacking in the other two characteristics. Some grills will even use both infrared technology and standard cooking grates and materials to allow for both styles. However, these are usually in premium grills.
Importantly, grills are like vehicles and a lot depends on personal preference. Some chefs will prefer certain brands over others and there will always be some form of debate as to which type of grill or which fuel is better.
By using the three characteristics as the basis of purchasing a grill to fit your direct needs, you can be assured of getting a grill that you will like and prefer.
One thing is the same among all grills and that is they all need to be protected from the elements when not in use.
Additionally, each grill has a specific cleaning method that the manufacturer recommends for their grills. To protect the investment, it is best to follow the cleaning method for that specific grill as outlined in the manual. Propane grills offer great grilled food and are fast and easy to light, easy to clean and fun to use.