Gas Grills

Published July 1, 2003. From Cook's Illustrated.

Extra money may get you extra space and burners, but mid-priced grills perform just fine.

Overview:

Update: April 2010

Since our 2003 testing, Weber relaunched Genesis as a high-end line and updated its mid-priced line with the Spirit E-210 and E-310 models. We tested the Spirit grills and have updated our results accordingly.

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Gas grills deliver what 21st—century Americans prize most: ease. Turn on the gas, hit the ignition switch, and voilà—an instant fire of whatever intensity you need for tonight's recipe. It really is, or at least it really should be, a no-brainer.

Figuring out which gas grill to purchase, on the other hand, is a brain-bender. Discount and home improvement stores stock models as far as the eye can see, with burners of various number and type, overall sizes and cooking spaces from mini to maxi, and features ranging from automatic ignition to cup holders. And while no gas grill is cheap—prices start around $150—many constitute a substantial investment of several hundred, even several thousand, dollars. By grilling our way through almost $1,000 worth… read more

Update: April 2010

Since our 2003 testing, Weber relaunched Genesis as a high-end line and updated its mid-priced line with the Spirit E-210 and E-310 models. We tested the Spirit grills and have updated our results accordingly.

___________________________________________________________

Gas grills deliver what 21st—century Americans prize most: ease. Turn on the gas, hit the ignition switch, and voilà—an instant fire of whatever intensity you need for tonight's recipe. It really is, or at least it really should be, a no-brainer.

Figuring out which gas grill to purchase, on the other hand, is a brain-bender. Discount and home improvement stores stock models as far as the eye can see, with burners of various number and type, overall sizes and cooking spaces from mini to maxi, and features ranging from automatic ignition to cup holders. And while no gas grill is cheap—prices start around $150—many constitute a substantial investment of several hundred, even several thousand, dollars. By grilling our way through almost $1,000 worth of groceries over high, medium, and low heat, we learned which designs and features affect performance the most.

All of the grills in our group delivered average high temperature readings were consistently in the range of roughly 600 to 800 degrees. Our high-heat cooking tests, searing both steaks and chicken thighs, put these numbers in perspective. What did we find? That you don't need enough heat to launch a rocket to give steak or chicken a good sear. We noted, in fact, that heat output was not necessarily related to price.

Covering the entire grilling surface with 1-inch-thick planks of eggplant and cooking them over medium-high heat helped us to assess how the grills performed in the moderate heat range, as well as how evenly that heat was distributed. As with heat output, we found that evenness of heating was not necessarily related to price.

Because gas grills allow precise heat control, they are especially well suited to barbecuing and grill-roasting. These techniques require low, indirect heat (in the range of 250 degrees to 350 degrees) for a long time to cook through large cuts of meat, fish, or whole fowl. All but one of the grills performed acceptably, maintaining the temperature at or near the target, with minimal adjustment, for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

Melted fat that drips from hot food down onto the burners causes both excessive smoke and flare-ups that can give food an unwelcome, slightly burnt, "off" flavor. The fatty chicken thighs and steaks that we cooked were reliable indicators of which grills tended to flare. We found that effective design for fat drainage limits this problem.

Methodology:

HIGH TEMPERATURE

Average high temperature (rounded up to the nearest 5), measured on the cooking grate with all burners set to high.

LOW TEMPERATURE

Average low temperature (rounded up to the nearest 5), measured on the cooking grate with all burners set to low. Note that lower temperatures can be achieved by using fewer burners (see the salmon tests).

STEAKS

Cooked to assess the grills' searing performance over medium-high heat. Grills that produced a deep, even, caramelized crust and/or grill marks were rated good. Grills that produced an uneven, overly dark or light crust and/or grill marks were rated fair. Grills that produced a very uneven or dramatically dark or light or charred crust and/or grill marks were rated poor.

CHICKEN THIGHS

Cooked to assess the grills- searing performance over high heat (with burners turned to medium-low to finish cooking), tendency toward flare-ups, and ability to drain fat effectively. Grills that produced even, reddish brown, caramelized grill marks without significant flare-ups were rated good. Grills that produced uneven, overly dark or light grill marks and that allowed moderate flare-ups were rated fair. Grills that produced very uneven or dramatically dark, light, or charred grill marks and that allowed significant flare-ups were rated poor.

EGGPLANT

Cooked to assess the grills' heating evenness across the whole cooking surface. Grills that produced even, reddish brown, caramelized grill marks uniformly on all of the eggplant planks were rated good. Grills that produced uneven, overly dark or light grill marks on some of the eggplant planks were rated fair. Grills that produced very uneven or dramatically dark, light, or charred grill marks on some of the eggplant planks were rated poor.

SALMON

Slow-roasted to assess the grills- ability to maintain a low, even temperature (275 degrees) over an extended time. Grills that required no or little adjustment of the burners to maintain the target temperature and that cooked the fish slowly and evenly were rated good. Grills that required moderate attention and burner adjustments to maintain the temperature or that cooked the fish slightly hotter and faster than ideal were rated fair. Grills that required frequent burner adjustments to maintain the temperature, that were unable to maintain a temperature within 25 degrees of the target temperature, or that cooked the fish much hotter and faster than ideal were rated poor.

Turkey Fit

Grills should accommodate a small turkey or other large cuts of meat with the lid shut tightly for grill-roasting. Grills whose lids could be shut completely over a 12-pound turkey placed on an adjustable V-rack set to its widest position, with clearance around the turkey for air circulation, were rated good. Grills whose lids could be shut over the turkey but grazed it were rated fair. Grills whose lids could not be shut over the turkey were rated poor.

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  • Product Tested

    Results Key:

    Good ★ ★ ★ Fair ★ ★ Poor
  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Highly Recommended - Winner

    Weber Spirit

    A strong performer from Weber and just the right price. Front-to-back two-burner configuration allowed varying heat levels over the 350 square inches of cooking surface. Chicken thighs and steaks developed good crust when seared, and thick eggplant planks browned evenly over every point on the grill. Extra features include a built-in thermometer and attached side table. If you need more cooking surface, and have a little more money to spend, we also recommend the three-burner Weber Spirit E-310 ($498).

    • Salmon ★★★
    • Steaks ★★★
    • Chicken ★★★
    • Eggplant ★★★
    • Turkey Fit ★★★

    $399

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  • Highly Recommended

    Jenn-Air Model JA460P Gas Grill

    Feels as hefty and solid (especially the lid) as a Mercedes-Benz and looks more slick and high-end than the Webers. In the salmon test, two of the four burners had to be left on low to maintain the target temperature, which it did, with just minor adjustments. Fat drainage system very similar to the Webers, which is very good.

    • Salmon ★★★
    • Steaks ★★★
    • Chicken ★★★
    • Eggplant ★★★
    • Turkey Fit ★★★

    DISCONTINUED

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Fiesta Optima Gas Grill, Model ESD45055

    A 12-pound turkey fit, but a 14- pounder would be pushing it. Flare-ups did occur with the chicken, but only one thigh was badly charred. Other thighs were evenly and well marked. Grill marks on the steaks were nice, but the meat between the marks never developed much color or a crust. Great low temperature maintenance—didn’t have to adjust the heat once.

    • Salmon ★★★
    • Steaks ★★
    • Chicken ★★
    • Eggplant ★★★
    • Turkey Fit ★★★

    $200.00

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Char-Broil Professional Series Gas Grill, Model 463-2335

    Neither steaks nor eggplant cooked as evenly as they should have, yet both chicken and salmon were impressive. The grill maintained a low temperature for salmon with minimal adjustment. Burner knobs offered little travel between high and low settings, so fine-tuning the heat could be a challenge. Also, watch your hand when shutting off the gas valve after cooking; the clearance between the valve and the piping-hot drip pan is minimal, so it is easy to burn the top of your hand.

    • Salmon ★★★
    • Steaks ★★
    • Chicken ★★★
    • Eggplant ★★
    • Turkey Fit ★★★

    $900.00

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Weber Summit Gold D6 Gas Grill

    Cavernous cover easily swallowed a 12-pound turkey and could accommodate larger birds. Leaving one burner on low for the salmon test did not generate enough heat to maintain the target temperature, so burners are best used in sets of two. What’s our reservation about this strong performer? Thirteen-hundred dollars, that’s what. But if you have the cash and a crowd to cook for, this is your grill.

    • Salmon ★★★
    • Steaks ★★★
    • Chicken ★★
    • Eggplant ★★★
    • Turkey Fit ★★★

    $1,300.00

  • Not Recommended

    Great Outdoors Model 7000W

    We closed the cover over a 12-pound turkey, but forget about a larger bird. The briquettes must be precisely arranged to achieve optimum heat distribution, but because they are not secured, they are easily knocked out of alignment if you roll or accidentally bump into the grill. Both eggplant and chicken cooked very unevenly, with pieces at the center of the grate charring badly. Lowest temperature we could maintain for the salmon was 330°, 55° higher than the target.

    • Salmon
    • Steaks ★★
    • Chicken
    • Eggplant
    • Turkey Fit ★★

    $275.00

  • Not Recommended

    Thermal Engineering Corporation (TEC) Patio II Infrared, Model PPP-402-L

    Three-inch sections at the front and rear of the cooking area are not directly above the heating element, so foods do not brown perfectly in these spots. The cooking area above the heat source runs very hot, so the heat levels and timing for most recipes will have to be adjusted. Grill marks on eggplant were even, but it was tough, leathery, and charred. Chicken cooked unevenly. Poor fat drainage means very smoky grilling. The steaks, however, were crusty and gorgeous.

    • Salmon ★★★
    • Steaks ★★★
    • Chicken ★★
    • Eggplant ★★
    • Turkey Fit ★★★

    $1,600.00

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