Grills 101: Everything You Need to Know About Grill Types
If you're big about enjoying the great outdoors by grilling all sorts of foods and vegetables to serve to your hungry friends, you should familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of grills. You probably have bought this type of cooking equipment for quite some time. You might be under the impression that if you've seen one grill, you've pretty much seen them all. Sadly, this type of thinking can lead to you overpaying for the wrong grilling equipment. It may also lead you to buy the wrong equipment in the first place.
By familiarizing yourself with the basics of grills, you stand to make better buying decisions when it comes time to upgrading your existing grill or buying a new grill for your RV or car. Whatever your particular situation may be, by familiarizing yourself with how grills work, how they're designed, and the context in which they are used, you increase the chances that you would be making informed decisions as far as buying this type of cooking appliance is concerned.
Grills are standard equipment for outdoor cooking
Make no mistake about it, if you're looking to cook outdoors, you need to look into buying a grill. While there are all sorts of outdoor stove types available, they really don't hold a candle to the typical grill. Make no mistake about it, grills are not just for 4th of July barbecues; that is the common stereotype for grills. In fact, according to many popular marketing campaigns, 4th of July and typical outdoor grills are synonymous.
Make no mistake about it, grills can be used to cook a wide range of foods. You can grill outside and eat inside. You can grill inside and eat outside. You can also use the grill the way it's normally used, which is to cook food outside and serve it to your guests outside.
As you can well imagine, there is a tremendous amount of versatility for both in terms of food preparation, as well as food preparation location as far as grills are concerned. Considering how flexible this type of cooking equipment can be, it's easy to get confused as to what exactly a grill is. So let's get back to basics and work from there.
The basic design of grills
If you look at all types of grills, from very expensive models to dirt cheap models, as well as from highly portable models to grills that are designed for use primarily in the house, it's easy to think that you're looking at totally different types of equipment. It's easy to think that their differences in use and design mean that you're looking at completely and fundamentally different cooking equipment. You would be wrong because if you were to strip out all the surface differences of grill models, they all follow the same basic design, keep your eye on the following elements.
- Elevated platform where food is placed
The first thing to look for in defining a grill is, there is some sort of elevated platform. This is where the food is placed. Usually, this platform is made of plain metal or a metal composite. Whatever the case may be, there is some sort of elevation between the heat source at the bottom, and the part where the food is placed.
- Heat comes from below
The second thing that you need to keep in mind is that in the technical grill design, the heat comes from below. It doesn't matter whether the food is going to be heated by charcoal, or gas, or propane gas, the heat generally comes from below.
More contemporary designs of grills include side heat sources. This involves pipes where gas is lit, and heat then comes from the sides, in addition from the more traditional placement of the heat which is at the bottom of the grill. Such grills really try to mirror how ovens work, but they don't stop at being grills; they still work in the same general way as a typical grill. The main source of heat comes from below.
- Heat is supplied by gas, electricity or charcoal
Whatever the ultimate source of the heat may be, there is some sort of heat generated within the chamber itself. It may come from a gas source. A charcoal might be burned, or metal rods may be heated by electricity; it doesn't really matter. The heat is still supplied within the chamber itself.
- Cooking heat is either direct or radiated
Now, make no mistake about it, when you're cooking meat, it's easy to think that if there is a flame involved, then it's the flame doing the cooking. A lot of people think that this is obvious, but believe it or not, when you're grilling food, most of the cooking action is actually done by radiated heat. The heat doesn't come in the form of flame.
For all intents and purposes, flames put on a good show. But if you really want to eat meat that is heated all the way through, you better hope that the grill you're using radiates heat properly. Well-designed
Well-designed grills use two sources of heat, the direct heat, which heats the meat directly underneath. Now, this heat source does a good job in heating the meat directly in contact with it. So the food has to be positioned in a certain way on a side of the food to cook. To complement that heat, the grill has to be designed in a way that the heat is radiated or bounced back and forth in the chamber, so that the food is evenly cooked, regardless of how many times you flip it over.
- Heat is amplified by the design of the grill
This is where design differences play a big role. If you're trying to determine what makes one type of grill more desirable than another type, pay attention to how the internal grill chamber is designed. Well-designed grills do a good job trapping heat. What's the big deal about this feature?
When a grill does a good job of trapping heat, it enables heat to bounce around the chamber. Instead of waiting for a tremendous amount of time and burning through a lot of fuel just to cook your food, a well-designed grill heats your food so efficiently that it takes less fuel and time for you to have a nice hot meal.
- Grills' designs may be basic and classic
There are tons of design variations. Keep in mind that the basic design outline above applies to all grills. You're not dealing with a grill if the design outlines above are violated. With that said, it may seem like a very basic framework, but don't underestimate the creativity of grill manufacturers. They can come up with all sorts of design variations to accommodate all sorts of needs and circumstances, but the basic design still remains.
There's this interplay between the imagination of the designers of the grill manufacturing company and the basic design of the grill which ensures that your meal is heated and cooked properly. Accordingly, consider the design variations and understand that the only limit really is the designer's imagination.
Now, this is qualified by the function of the grill and heat source. The function is important because there's a big difference between a highly portable grill and a grill that is designed primarily to be used around the house. The dynamics are different; the expectations of owners are also different.
Grills by heat source
Generally speaking, you can categorize grills based on how they are heated. Where they get their heat source is a good way of classifying grills. Here are just the basic types of grills by heat source.
Gas grills are powered by flames made possible from gas that comes out of the pipes below the food chamber. The food rack is exposed to small pipes below, and that's where the gas comes from. The gas is ignited, and heat is generated. The heat directly heats the food on top, but the heat also radiates throughout the chamber so that the food ends up cooking faster. Some gas grills come with side griddles and rotisserie attachments.
It is always a good idea to add a few accessories like pizza stones, griddle plates for your gas grill to take the most out of your grilling.
Check out our articles on the different type of portable gas grills, grills with rotisserie attachments, built-in gas grills, etc to know your buying options.
When metal is subjected to electricity, its temperature increases until it becomes red hot. If you control this process, then you have the basic workings of an electric grill. These electric grills are comprised of metal coils heated to a high degree. The great thing about electric grills is that they have heat settings. Since you can control the amount of electricity flowing through a metal rod, you can then control the temperature of that rod to a certain degree.
Of course, electric grill ranges can vary tremendously, so there are very few electric grills with the pinpoint degree by degree control. Regardless, this electric grill gives you more control than other types of grill heat sources. Just like with gas grills, electric grills heat the air, as well as direct radiated heat.
Charcoal grills are powered by charcoal placed beneath the grill tray.
What is charcoal? Charcoal is generally made out of wood that is heated in such a way that the carbon remains. The oxygen has been burned off, as well as other gases. However, the charcoal remains, so it looks black. When you apply heat to the charcoal, you then end up burning up the content of the charcoal.
The reason why people burn charcoal instead of wood is its portability. When you keep a lot of wood around your house, the wood might suffer from mold as well as termites. Wood can degenerate and decay over time, not so with charcoal. Charcoal is actually one of the most stable organic compounds on the planet. Accordingly, you can store charcoal for a long period of time. And you can be assured that when you light it up, you can get the heat that you're looking for.
A charcoal grill's heat is actually generated from the slow-burning charcoal. There's a common misunderstanding regarding charcoal. They think that for it to do its job properly, it has to actually be ignited, meaning it has to be emitting fire, not so. In fact, charcoal is more effective when it's reduced to glowing embers and there's a lot of them stacked together. The heat accumulates, and it creates a tremendous temperature. The secret here is to "stack up " the heat depending on the amount of charcoal.
Another great thing about charcoal grilling is that it has an impact on the flavor of the food that you're preparing. This is especially true if you add wood chips or certain types of chips on top of the charcoal, and you end up with a smoky or a nutty flavor to the meats that you're grilling
Finally, certain wood can be turned into charcoal, and different types of wood have different flavors. So, some of this flavor can make it to the food that you're preparing.
If you want to have the best of both worlds, then you can also consider buying a charcoal grill with a smoker. These units have now become more affordable and come with a lot of new features you definitely want to check out in depth.
If you are more into Kamado Grill styles, don't forget to check out our review on Pit Boss 71240 Kamado BBQ Ceramic Grill Cooker 24".
Smokers are not grills in the classical way. They still use the same heat and tray system, but there's a big difference in where the heat is placed. The heat isn't applied directly to the food. Instead, the heat is located in another chamber.
The whole point of smokers is when heat is created in another chamber, smoke is released, and this smoke is the one that indirectly cooks the food. During this indirect cooking process, a lot of the smoke's flavor is also transferred to the food. Now, as you can well imagine since there is no direct heat involved as far as the food is concerned, it takes a longer time to prepare food using a smoker than a grill. If you have heard about the Kamado Joe jr, Minimax, Green egg kind of grills, you might also know that they feature nice smoking capabilities too.
Keep the considerations above in mind when looking for grills. Grills are not generic. They are not a dime a dozen. Every single grill model out there has its own specific set of advantages and disadvantages. By studying the framework provided by this article, you increase the likelihood that your next grill buying decision would be an informed one.
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