The summer guide for choosing a BBQ

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

No sooner did the sunshine enter our lockdown world than the aroma of smoke and sizzling food started to waft over our garden fence. It’s just a hunch, but we think that so far this year our neighbours are rushing out to light up their barbecues with a greater frequency than ever before...

If you’re feeling in the mood for grilled food but either don’t have a barbecue or have discovered the one you did have is now a pile of rust at the back of the shed, then deciding what product to purchase can be a bit daunting. So to help you get a better understanding of just some of the choices available, here’s our sizzling guide to buying a new BBQ. 

 

Charcoal vs Gas 

The first decision is how your BBQ is going to be powered. There are essentially two main choices: the traditional way with charcoal, or the quick and convenient way with gas. For those who get frustrated with the process of lighting coals and waiting for them to reach the desired temperature before hoping they don’t burn through too quickly and leaving behind a mess, then gas is the easy option. It’s clean, gets up to temperature in an instant and you have much more control over your cooking. 

But for many, the main fun of a barbecue is in embracing the back-to-basics cooking that hot coal brings, besides the additional flavours you’ll get from a smoking, natural barbecue fire. You’ll also find a far greater range of charcoal barbecues, with many of them a fraction of the cost of their gas counterparts. 

 

Size 

For anyone who likes to throw a garden party with a busy barbecue at the centre of the action then there are some vast grills available on which to blaze your banquet. But unless you’re regularly feeding the masses then these BBQ beasts can be impractical—often the whole area needs to be pumping out heat, even if you’re just toasting a few marshmallows in one corner. Smaller meals are better suited to smaller equipment, so be realistic about the size that best suits you.  

Diminutive BBQs often come with the added bonus of extra portability, making them suitable for a camping trip. At the smaller end of the BBQ range we rather like the Indian Prakti, available from The Charcoal Burner Company—it’s compact and sturdy, has a heat controlling vent on the door where the charcoal is tidily tucked away, and is suitable for a plate-full of grilled food, saucepan or kettle. 

 

Open grill or lid 

Whilst roaming the barbecue selection of your nearest retailer you’ll notice that some of them have lids. These will usually be round (they are often called ‘kettle’ barbecues) and will set you back more than the lidless options. While an open grill is great for rapidly singing slabs of meat and veg, if you want the benefit of being able to cook larger items over a longer period of time, such as a whole chicken, then a lid will be essential. Make sure it’s built to last, made from thick steel with good air vents, and fits securely, or your chicken-cooking efforts will be wasted. Both Weber and Napoleon are two reliable manufacturers, or for the ultimate BBQ with space-age looks and superior cooking prowess, take a look at the Halo Cooltouch.  

 

Fire pits and chimineas 

Besides traditional types of barbecues there are a few other outdoor cooking devices you may want to consider, with fire pits and chimineas being two of the most popular. These items will not only cook up a meal or two but they’ll also make more of a feature in the garden.  

Fire pits can be built of brick, stone or metal and their principle function is to act as an outdoor fireplace, providing heat to keep you warm as the sun goes down. Many of these are easily adapted to suit cooking, such as Kadai’s Firebowls, which come with a huge range of attachments for all manner of BBQ-style cooking. 

Chimineas are Mexican ovens that have a large belly for the heat source and a chimney sending the smoke skywards—much like a log burning stove (they were originally designed for indoor cooking, but in the UK you’ll likely only come across outdoor versions). As with fire pits, they’re great as a general heat source, but can also be fitted with a grill (like the Gardeco Toldedo Chiminea that swings in and out of the belly to cook up your meal.  

Whatever route you go down it’s worth investing in the best BBQ you can afford so you can look forward to many summers sizzling long after the lockdowns are lifted. 

Read more: 10 Summer barbecue ideas

Read more: 8 Treats to eat around the campfire


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