Homemade is Better—The Case for Grills

Usually, I would be writing about a recipe or some history about why you do things a certain way in the kitchen.  This week I thought I’d talk about grills.  I recently bought a new grill, and it wasn’t cheap.  Still, after more than three years of research, tire kicking, contemplating, evaluating the level of quality in the different models and anecdotal experiences from friends and neighbours, I decided to go the mid-range in the more expensive grill lines.

I bought the Napoleon Prestige 500, which includes an infrared side burner and rotisserie with back burners.  A few things I noticed about this grill when I was putting it together was the quality of the metal used.  The grill grates are stainless steel and weigh a decent amount.  They have some heft to them—which you want.  .  I also noticed that the tub was very heavy, with thick metal.  The tub is all one piece; I didn’t have to put the lid on separately, which I think is relatively standard.  Each part of this grill was made which quality products and manufactured here in Canada.

Now, this article isn’t to convince you to buy an expensive grill, nor is it an endorsement for my grill.  Instead, I want to discuss what to look for in a quality grill and why the cheap grills have a time and a place.  I will also dispense with some cleaning tips to ensure you get as many years out of the grill you buy or have already bought.

Previous to this grill, I bought a grocery store brand that was inexpensive.  It was an ok grill for what I needed at the time, but I wasn’t pleased with it.   Money was tighter then, and the more expensive grill was out of reach for us.  I bought the grill I thought would work for the time being.  That grill lasted us ten years and would still keep going with some fixing up.

The parts I didn’t like about it have more to do with the quality of materials used and the range of cooking space.  The first third of the grill received no heat.  The burners only heated 2/3 of the grill.  It had drawers for holding all sorts of materials, which got wet if it rained and it wasn’t covered, so you couldn’t keep anything important in there.  The grills themselves were cast iron, which is perfect, right?  Well, it turns out cast iron is not my favourite material to grill on.

I love it in pans because it disperses the heat, but as a grill is terrible because it rusts easily.  I had a light in the tub, but after a few cooks, the light was useless because the grease from the grill covered it.  The rotisserie was pretty good, though.  The motor had decent horsepower and was able to grill out a decent meal.  However, to use it, I had to remove the grills because anything larger than a sausage rubbed against them.  Now that I’ve given you a list of what I hated about my last grill let’s look at some things you should look for when buying a grill and why those things will become important to consider.

Construction

First, let’s talk about the cooking surface.  The most crucial detail about grill gates you want to consider is what material they are made from.  Heavy-gauge stainless steel is my preference because it conducts heat efficiently in grills.  That’s why your oven racks are made from steel.  Now, they will rust, but not the same way as cast iron.  Cast iron needs to be cared for, babied, even coddled.  You still need to clean it regularly, but then also keep it seasoned.  If you can put in the time and energy to care for your cast iron, it will love you back.

But I prefer steel because it doesn’t need the same kind of care.  I can wash it, dry it, and leave it.  I can scrape it clean and keep cooking, and any rust I might get on it will be only on the surface and can be cleaned off easily.  Cast iron needs more care and more work unless you get enamelled.  But, in my opinion, enamelled doesn’t make sense.  The coating is prone to chipping, leading to the grills rusting and being more brittle.  I also have to add that this is my logic; you should always research what you want in a grill but consider these points.

The second aspect of buying a new grill you will want to look at is the quality of the tub materials.  The significant difference between my old grill and my new grill is the thickness of the material used.  My new grill is heavy and is a single-cast body, vs my old grill, which was welded and not very thick.  The thickness of the metal matters because of thermodynamics. Who would have thought the law of thermodynamics would be relevant in your life.  But thermodynamics are a vital definer of how the tub of a grill will hold in heat vs releasing it.

We want to trap as much heat inside the grill’s body because the more heat we trap, the more consistent the cooking is.  If a grill tub is poor at holding in the heat, it requires more energy to cook, which uses more fuel, which costs more money on your gas bill (for natural gas) or more propane fill-ups for propane grills.

Also, if your grill holds more energy, you can reduce the flame needed to cook the same cook—a fact I noticed immediately as I cook steak for the first time on the new grill.  I almost overcooked them because there was WAY more heat kept in the body of the grill.

Third, consider the warranty and what it covers.  If you buy a quality grill, the warranty will be more comprehensive and likely to cover more of the grill’s parts.  A quick comparison of a few name-brand grills shows a warranty of at least ten years on most, if not all, parts, provided you follow the maintenance schedule that the manufacturer provides.  I had my superstore branded grill for ten years, but it fell apart quicker because I didn’t put in the work it needed and because it was made from cheap materials.  My new grill has a lifetime warranty on many parts (lifetime of the grill, not your lifetime), but 15 years on other parts, so one could infer that lifetime, in this case, is at least 15 years with proper care and maintenance.

Accessories

After these considerations, every grill will have accessories you can look at, such as rotisserie, lights, side burners; the list could go on.  I’m sure if you paid enough, it would fetch you a beverage and open it for you too!  These become nice to have, but I will say that I used my side burner on my last model quite a bit, and I also used my rotisserie a few times a year.  It’s very versatile because you can put beef, pork, chicken, or even make your own Donair meat.  The point is, think about what you will use the accessories for and how often you will use them.  A side burner can be handy, while a rotisserie might not be.  A searing station is nice to have, but are you going to sear your steak before you cook it?  I don’t, but if I’m cooking a roast, I would.

Maintenance

Once you’ve selected your grill, you will want to ensure you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on how to care for it.  If you bought cast iron grates, clean them with soap and water before the first cook.  Next, cover them in lard, coconut oil, or vegetable shortening and turn your grill to high.  You will want to make sure you coat the entire grill grate in fat, then cook them to season them.  After you’ve done this, you will need to re-season them at least once a week if you use your grill regularly or after the fifth cook otherwise.

If you have enamelled or stainless steel, you can skip this step, but you will want to ensure you leave your grill on for at least five minutes after you have used the grill.  You want to turn the heat up to high and let the grill cook off any extra food leftover with a grill brush.  I’m using a combination of a steel brush and a wooden one.  The wooden one is good if because it can mould to the grooves or your grill.

If you do not use your grill more than five to six times a month, you should deep clean it in late September or mid-October.  If you use it more frequently, then you should deep clean it every two months.  To deep clean your grill, you will want to ensure your natural gas line is turned off, and you can disconnect it if you have a quick connection.  For propane, remove your tank and unscrew the connection.  Next, get yourself some rubber or nitrile gloves, baking soda, a bucket, a putty knife, a scrub brush, vinegar and water mixed 2:1 (water: vinegar) in a spray bottle, a shop vacuum, adjustable wrench, toothpicks or the burner tube cleaning materials your grill came with, and shop towels.  You will also need a big plastic tub with soapy water to fit your grill grates.

  • Put on the gloves and eye protection if you have it and want it, then fill your cleaning tub with warm soapy water. Scrub your grills to get all the debris off, then dry them off and set them aside.  Repeat this step with your diffuser plates (those are the angled metal that goes above your burner tubes).  Set these aside to dry.
  • Unscrew or remove the clip for your burner tubes and inspect them. If they look like they are blocked, you can use a toothpick, or if your grill came with a wire brush and drill bit, you could use those to clean out the holes.  Make sure the debris inside is removed as well.
  • Use the vacuum to get out as much of the loose material as you can, then sprinkle the baking soda on the inside of the grill tub to get the grease off. Use the vinegar/water solution to get the baking soda to react.  Once the solution has started to work, you can use the scrub brush to remove most debris.  You will need the putty knife for the caked-on material, then respray it.  You could also use a degreaser or oven cleaner, but the vinegar/water method is easier on the lungs.
  • If your grill has a removable tray, you will want to carefully remove it as it will have all sorts of material on it as well. Use your vacuum to remove the loose material, then put it in the Rubbermaid tub to clean it off.
  • Put everything back together how you took it out and fire up the grill to dry everything more thoroughly.
  • You are ready to go for the next cooking session!

I hope this article is helpful to anyone who is thinking of buying a new grill.  It doesn’t need to be expensive; if you care for it, you can get many years out of it, and if you can afford the higher-end models, then look for the quality materials I discussed.

[Ed Note:  Chef Corey is of course the actual author of this piece.]

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