Top Tips for Barbecue Season
The weather is finally heating up, which can only mean one thing: it's barbecue season! Grilling food over an open fire responds to our most basic cooking instincts, but we've come a long way since cavemen times. With so many different models on the market, which type should you choose? Check out our guide to barbecue season, and find out which type is the cheapest for your needs.
The Charcoal Barbecue
Many see the charcoal grill as the "king" of the barbecues. Most purists prefer it for its taste, especially when the charcoal is made from natural wood.
Advantages: Most agree that charcoal barbecues impart a certain flavour to food that other types of barbecues can't beat. As charcoal barbecues tend to reach higher temperatures, more experienced barbecue enthusiasts will appreciate the cooking options that charcoal barbecues offer, such as searing, smoking, grilling and more.
Disadvantages: While they are generally cheaper to buy than their gas-fired counterparts, charcoal barbecues tend to be more expensive to use over the long run, as the cost of charcoal will add up with continual use. They also take longer to heat up, and are more complicated to use than other barbecue types.
Best for: The barbecue purist. Foodies and purists won't mind the extra time needed to barbecue with charcoal, as the multiple cooking options and and taste will make the wait worthwhile.
The Gas Grill
These are an increasingly popular type of grill on the market, due to their convenience. Many gas grills are run on propane, but they can be easily be converted to natural gas supplied by your utility or retail provider.
Advantages: Easy to fire up & easy to clean, gas-fired barbecues are convenient to use, and temperature can be controlled - which is probably why they are so popular!
Disadvantages: Gas grills can cost considerably more than a charcoal or electric grill. They also aren't able to produce the same smokey flavour that you can get with a charcoal barbecue.
Best for: The weekday griller. While gas barbecues require a bit of an up-front investment, they are much cheaper to run and therefore more economical in the long run. You can save even more on fuel costs by hooking up your grill to your natural gas connection, if you have one.
The Electric Grill
With both indoor and outdoor options, electric grills cook food using heated grill plates that are powered by electricity - no fire necessary.
Advantages: Small and compact, electric grills are best for people living in small areas that don't have the space for or are not allowed to use gas- or charcoal-burning barbecues. They are also easy to clean.
Disadvantages: In a word, taste. Most agree that electric grills are unable to impart the same authentic barbecue flavour as gas- or charcoal-fired grills
Best for: apartment dwellers and those who cannot use gas or charcoal-fired grills due to fire regulations. The health conscious will also appreciate being able to avoid any carcinogens associated with charred meat.
Can You Barbecue Green?
While the gas-vs-charcoal debate is still going strong, at least when looking at environmental impacts we have a clear winner. If you're looking for a greener barbecue option, go for gas (or - depending on where you live - electric). Gas burns much cleaner and leaves behind less waste than charcoal briquettes, which may contain chemical additives and emit carbon monoxide and VOCs when burned.
Other ways to green your barbecue include: go for vegetables over meat, choose local and seasonal produce, and check out our money-saving tips below, which will help you use your grill efficiently.
How to Save Money on Grilling
Here are some of our top tips for keeping your savings from going up in flames when you fire up the barbecue:
Choose the Right Type of Grill for Your Needs
If you're an occasional, weekend griller, a charcoal grill is probably best suited to your needs. However, if you're a passionate grill-enthusiast, you might want to consider investing in a gas barbecue, as its lower fuel costs will make it cheaper in the long run. Also make sure to buy a grill that is the right size for of your household. Most barbecue experts recommend a two-burner grill for a family of two, a three-burner for a family of four, and a four-burner for large families or if you entertain regularly.
Switch to Natural Gas
Got a gas grill already and already have a natural gas line installed in your home? Don't keep buying propane tanks! Connecting your gas-fired grill to your natural gas line is not only a lot more convenient than purchasing/refilling propane tanks, it's cheaper as well.
Don't Waste Fuel
Whatever your choice of barbecue type, try to make sure that you use fuel efficiently when you grill. The simplest thing you can do is to make sure that you are ready to grill when your barbecue is. Gas grills take around five to 10 minutes to heat up; charcoal grills take about 15 minutes. Try to have everything prepared ahead of time so that all you have to do once your barbecue is ready is throw food on it.
How you cook can also have an impact on your fuel costs. If you have a gas barbecue, make sure to keep the lid shut while cooking. Don't keep all burners going once the grill has reached the desired temperature - not only is this not necessary to maintain temperature, but most grilling recipes suggest indirect cooking as opposed to direct cooking. If you're using charcoal, make sure to keep the lid closed, and don't fill the chimney starter to the brim.
There's a whole world out there beyond steaks, sausages and hamburgers. Vegetables, kebabs, even pizzas can be cooked on the barbecue. If meat is what you're after, consider buying larger cuts of meat, and cutting them into smaller pieces yourself. Cheaper cuts of meat can be made tender and even more delicious with a tasty marinade or rub.
Keep Your Grill in Good Condition
A little bit of maintenance can go a long way. Clean your grill before and after each use. Don't forget to change the catch-pan liner on a gas grill, or to dispose of charcoal ashes once they're cool. As grease and salt can accelerate corrosion, make sure to clean up any food spills once your grill has cooled.