There is no doubt that the types of grills found around North America have become more diverse over the past decade. The traditional gas or charcoal grills still dominate the American backyard, but people are quickly realizing the high quality construction and superior cooking ability of other types of grills.
Here is an overview of some of the most popular grills for the backyard. We will start with the traditional gas and charcoal grills. We will then move to other types of grills that may not be know to some readers.
Traditional Gas Grills
- Propane: If using propane, a propane tank must be purchased, filled, and hooked to the grill. Once the tank is empty, it must be refilled or exchanged for a full tank. You can learn more about the process by reading our article on propane tanks.
- Natural Gas: As an alternative to propane, some people run a natural gas line from their house to the grill. The gas line is installed by a professional who is trained to complete this job. While this might seem like a huge cost and inconvenience, it avoids the long-term hassle of having to refill a propane tank. Natural gas is also a cheaper fuel source than propane so the upfront cost of the line installation will pay for itself over time. If you plan on using natural gas, you must buy a natural gas grill or purchase one that can convert into this type of grill.
Lighting the Gas Grill
- Ignitor Button: Most modern gas grills come with an electronic ignition. Lighting the grill is a simple process. You lift the grill lid, turn the gas all the up, twist one burner knob to the high position, and then hold down the ignitor button until a flame is produced.
- Manually: If the grill lacks an ignitor button or the button no longer works, you can light the grill manually. You raise the lid and fully turn on the gas. Next, turn the burner to high. You will then have find the hole at the side of your grill made for manually lighting the burners. Finally, insert the tip of the lighter through the hole to ignite the flame. Always reference the owner’s manual before lighting a gas grill manually.
- Grates: The most common cooking surface on gas grills are porcelain coated cast iron grates. The grates are heated from below from the flames of the burners. The flames have the ability to directly hit the food through the grates during a flare up. This can result in unwanted overly charred food if the person manning the grill is not careful.
- A gas grill is equipped with temperature control knobs. The heat can be adjusted from low to high on each burner.
The fuel source for a charcoal grill is, of course, charcoal. There are several popular types of charcoal available for use. These include:
- Lump – This is made from hardwood that has been slowly charred to remove moisture. It burns faster than briquettes but it also produces more heat. The ash production is low for this charcoal and it generally contains no additives unlike some other charcoals. Lastly, it tends to more pricey compare to briquettes.
- Briquettes – This type of charcoal is a mixture of materials that may include sawdust, peat, and wood chips. They also include an additive material used to bind the ingredients together. Briquettes burn longer than lump and are cheaper. However, the amount of ash produced and the additives are often cited as the downsides to using this charcoal.
- Match Light – This type of charcoal briquettes contains lighter fluid already added to each piece of charcoal. You simply fill the grill with charcoal and it is ready to ignite with a match or lighter. Some people complain that the heavy amount of lighter fluid can be picked up in the food.
- Flavored – Flavored charcoal is lump or briquettes that included things such as applewood, mesquite wood, pecan, and hickory. These bring a desirable smoky flavor to the food.
Lighting the Charcoal Grill
The charcoal is usually lit by using a charcoal chimney that is started by a couple pieces of newspaper and a lighter. The below video by Kitchen Alpha provides a solid tutorial on how to prepare a charcoal grill for grilling using a chimney.
Another lighting method is to stack the coals in a pile on the charcoal grate inside the grill. Then spray lighter fluid on the top of the coals as advised on the lighter fluid label. The coals can then be lit with a utility lighter or long match.
You can also used match light charcoal as discussed earlier.
Similar to a gas grill, a charcoal grill primarily uses a grate for its cooking surface. The grates are heated from below by the charcoals.
The temperature control of a charcoal grill is determined by the number of coals used and the vent position between open and closed.
Charcoal grills typically have vents positioned at the bottom and top of the grill. Closed vents reduce the heat, while open vents increase the heat due to the flow of oxygen.
Additionally, as you likely guessed, more coals burning will produce a higher temperature while less coals will provide a lower temperature. A charcoal grill can be challenging to master the temperature control at first, but after a few meals most people will start to obtain a grasp how to control the heat.
Other Types of Grills
Flat Top Griddle
Outdoor flat top griddles are commonly fueled by propane. Instead of a grill grate for the surface, they have a griddle which is a flat piece of thick steel.
The benefit of this type of surface is that just about any food can be cooked on it. Imagine trying to cook something like rice directly on a traditional grill. The majority of rice would fall through the grill grates to be burned up in the open flame.
A flat top griddle allows foods such as rice or eggs to be cooked on an evenly heated, flat surface without the worry of losing the food to the flames.
Check out our review of the Blackstone 28 inch Griddle for more information on this type of grill.
Pellet grills are versatile in allowing the user to bake, grill, and BBQ. The fuel source is wood pellets that are placed in a hopper on the side of the grill. The grill’s temperature can then be set as desired (i.e. 350°F). An auger then pushes the wood pellets toward a fire pot to fuel the grill while a fan circulates the heat and smoke. The auger pushes the appropriate amount of pellets toward the fire pot to heat the grill to the set temperature. Since wood is used, you can select the type of pellets to flavor your food such as hickory, pecan, apple, or mesquite.
A Japanese style grill that has started to become popular in the United States is the yakitori grill. This grill is designed to cook skewered meat – primarily chicken if you want to be authentic. The home version of this type of grill is a rectangle that is about a couple feet in length. The width is narrow so that the end of the skewers can hang off the edge to allow the meat to be turn easily without burning the hands. Charcoal is the typical source of heat for this grill.
Take a look at our article on the best yakitori grills to see examples of these types of grills.
Credit: Tony Webster
A portable grill is made to easily transport to places such as the park, tailgating, the beach, and camping. They are small compact grills that are usually fueled by charcoal or a small propane cylinder. They are great for at home use when even a traditional small gas grill will not work because of limited space.
A Kamado grill is generally made from a ceramic with thick insulation that holds heat much better than a traditional grill. Their dome shape allows for efficient smoke and heat movement in the grill that cooks the food from all angles.
It is a highly versatile grill that can be used for just about anything from smoking to searing to baking. The grill is commonly heated by charcoal and the heat is controlled by vents at the top and bottom of the grill.
Aura Outdoors provides a solid walkthrough in the video below on how this type of grill works.
Credit: James Bastow
This type of grill is designed after an oil drum cut in half and raised off the ground on its side. In fact, there are people that build their own grills from these barrels.
If you are not the DIY type, you can easily find these commercially for sale. They are fueled by charcoal and often have an offset smoker where charcoal and wood can be added to fuel and add flavor to the food.
A campfire grill is designed to sit over the flames of a fire. The fire provides the heat to cook whatever food is placed on the grill. There is no need for a fuel source such as propane or charcoal since the fire does all the cooking.
These grills are often lightweight and fold down to easily carry them on camping or hiking trips. The most popular designs are as follows:
- Grate – This type of campfire grill has a grate cooking surface that is suspended above the fire by two relatively short legs. The legs commonly fold in to allow the grill to be easily carried.
- Tripod – Three long legs form a teepee-like structure or tripod. This tripod helps suspend the grill grate over the fire. The grate can often to adjusted to various heights.
- Stake – A metal stake is hammered into the ground next to the campfire. A grill grate is then attached to this stake over the fire. The grate can typically be moved up or down until the perfect location is found.