So picture this scenario with me, if you would.
It’s an early spring day. About 55 and sunny with those high wispy clouds. You happen to glance out your back window and see a large piece of metal on your porch. You think, “What’s this?! I do believe that hunk of steel is resting in the exact spot where that giant snow mound was towering just last week!” (If you didn’t read that voice in an uppity British accent, go back now and read it again.) At this exact moment your stomach growls and something instinctual buried deep inside of you knows… that hunk of metal is a grill and a vessel which can bring forth tasty nourishment.
But alas, it’s ways are foreign to you. You’ve given your friends the side eye as you watched them heat the grill. A few twisty knobs here, a couple of switches there, some mystery clicks, maybe a lighter, and some already burned chunks of something? It can’t be that hard!
Your stomach is getting louder and thoughts of a double stacked burger with all the trimmings is making you desperate enough to give that thing the old college try.
So, what are you waiting for? Crack that back door and go take a look-see.
There are as many types of grills as there are shoe salesmen (or women). I am personally working on a fleet of grills to have access to whenever I want, but rest assured. No matter what type of grill you have, there will be a recipe for you on this site! Some things I cook low and slow with my smokers (think brisket, pulled pork, ribs, etc.) and others I like hot and fast with good char marks (hamburgers, hot dogs, certain veggies). The most important thing is not buying a brand new $1000 grill, it’s getting to know how to cook great food on the grill you’ve got. Once you get a feel for your grill, you’ll start to recognize features you really like and things you can live without.
Let’s start with the basics:
These grills are the most common type you’ll find on your patio. They use direct heat from the combustible propane gas to grill food hot and fast. They can be adapted for use with indirect heat by only using one of the burners and allowing heat to circulate around your food, but most often I stick with this grill for quick cooks using the high heat and searing ability. Propane grills cook fast, but don’t add anything to your food in terms of flavor so this grill sometimes gets relegated to the duty of keeping the food warm while people are loading up their plates at our backyard cook outs.
Everybody has seen one of these kettle style grills, right? These grills use heated charcoal briquettes as their heat source and are capable of cooking hot and fast or low and slow depending on the amount of briquettes you place inside. It’s super adaptable, but a little more work to operate than a propane grill where you essentially turn on the gas and press an ignition switch. Most charcoal grills require you to fire up the briquettes and get the heat going before you can cook. This process takes about a half an hour for the briquettes to burn enough for the heat to stabilize so there aren’t large swings in temperature. In a grill similar to this, a batch of briquettes can heat the grill for about 4 hours, so it can be good for meat that requires a longer cook time. I’ve cooked with charcoal plenty over the years, but a dedicated charcoal grill isn’t currently in my line up (it’s on my wish list!)
There are many many many kinds of smokers. Impossible to even list them all, really, since loads of people make their own smokers. For the backyard smoker with no greater aspiration than eating the best barbecue ever in the comfort of your own home, you really don’t need anything super fancy. I’m going to focus on the smokers that incorporate ease of use and offer consistent results. I’m not at a place in my life where I really want to go cut down a cherry tree for wood to smoke my food (actually I totally do, but I have limited access to cherry trees with excess wood.) So I guess I’m at the point where I am sticking with ease of use because I don’t own a stick burning wood smoker…. yet.
Pellet grills work by feeding wood pellets through an auger into a fire pot where the pellets are ignited. The pellets burn creating smoke and heat inside the cooking chamber. A digital control on the grill allows you to set a precise level of heat for you grill and the auger adds more pellets to the fire pot as needed to maintain a consistent temperature. These grills are occasionally called “cheaters” on the BBQ competition circuits because they are so simple to use and produce such consistent results. I’ll be honest, my pellet grill (I own a Traeger Texas) is my absolute favorite grill to cook on. I get all of the added flavor of cooking with real wood smoke without having to consistently tend a fire and maintain my temperature. I can smoke, grill, and even bake. It’s pretty awesome.
Another simple option for the backyard smoker is an electric smoker. They don’t take up a ton of space or have a high price tag so they are a great addition for somebody who wants to get into smoking as a hobby without a huge investment. They typically use flavored wood chips that are heated to release smoke and also contain a water basin to help keep food moist while smoking.
The jack of all trades, hybrid grills are a great option if you want a lot of versatility without owning a bunch of different grills. There are a huge variety of hybrid grills: smoker/propane, charcoal/propane, charcoal/infrared/smoker. You get the idea. Sometimes these hybrid grills aren’t as effective as dedicated grills for their individual tasks, but I think they are just fine for the backyard grillmaster.
Now that you know what you’ve got out in your back yard and you know what it can do, it’s time to get cooking! Click on the recipes tab over in that side bar and get searching for food to make you happy!
And I would just like to add that making this list makes me want to do exactly what I counseled against. I wanna go out and blow tons of money on brand new grills and turn my entire porch into a beautiful mosh pit of fire-y delight.