This summer, more families will likely be trading restaurant meals for home-cooked suppers. And for those who like to grill, there's good news: Consumer Reports' latest report on gas grills found five CR Best Buys for $500 or less. Additionally Consumer Reports notes that consumers will see less stainless steel on many grills as manufacturers instead add painted-steel carts and shelves or stainless-steel trim as a way to maintain prices.
Consumer Reports found that while some manufacturers are using vibrant colors in their designs, others are adding features, like the top-rated large Fiesta Blue Ember iQue FGQ65079-U403 ($900), which has a touch-screen display and controls and claims to use sonar to gauge the amount of propane in the tank, or the Nexgrill 720-0665 ($860) which has a minifridge that can hold a number of beverages and condiments.
Although gas grills have been more popular in the market over the past 14 years, sales of charcoal grills are making a comeback, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. Nearly 41 percent of the 16.7 million grills shipped in the U.S. last year were charcoal. To find out whether gas or charcoal serves up more appetizing food, Consumer Reports ran taste tests on a gas and a charcoal model. Tasters said that gas-grilled foods had a cleaner taste, and that while charcoal-grilled food had added flavor, the charcoal cooking didn't necessarily enhance the taste.
Five CR Best Buys
Consumer Reports found that lower-cost grills can deliver performance that matches or beats that of big-budget models. Cooking and safety tests of 40 grills produced five CR Best Buys:
• The Fiesta Blue Ember FG50069-U409, $450, available at Home Depot, surpassed the $1400 Napoleon Prestige II PT450RBI for overall performance. The Fiesta Blue Ember also comes with a rotisserie.
• The Char-Broil Red 463250509, available at Home Depot for $450 scored Excellent for evenness, and Very Good for low-temperature grilling, convenience and features. It provides lots of shelf space, and has a lifetime warranty on its three burners.
• For even less money, the Kenmore 16641 ($350), is a good value considering the price, and also comes with a 10 year burner warranty.
• The Char-Broil Commercial Series 463268008, available at Lowe's is also a good value at $300, and comes with a lifetime burner warrantee. It scored Very Good for evenness and Excellent for low-temperature grilling.
• The Char-Broil Commercial Quantum 463247209, available at Lowe's, $500, is a quality large grill that is mostly stainless.
How to Choose
Given the state of the economy, sales might be more abundant this year. Look for Memorial Day and July Fourth specials, as well as coupons and rebates. Keep in mind that many retailers assemble grills free but charge $40 to $100 for delivery. Beyond price, consider these factors when shopping for a grill:
Size up the cooking area: While manufacturers might account for warming racks when measuring size, Consumer Reports categorizes grills in three sizes based on cooking area: small/portable, which typically have one to two burners (cooking area 340 square inches or smaller); medium grills, which have two to four burners (340 to 490 square inches); and large (more than 490 square inches), which have three to six burners. Remember, cooking in batches is a simple solution if you have a small grill but are having a large gathering.
Don't be dazzled by Btu: A grill that has a higher Btu/hr (British thermal units per hour) rating won't necessarily deliver faster heating or higher grilling temperatures. The figure merely indicates how much gas a grill uses and usually tracks with the number of burners it has and the size of the grill.
Focus on features: Sometimes grills in a company's line are the same except for a feature or two. Side burners, rotisseries and minifridges are nice extras, but may not be worth the money. Check to see whether the manufacturer sells accessories separately, like rotisserie motors and spits, which can add about $60 to $180 to the price of a grill. When it comes to grates, Consumer Reports recommends stainless-steel or porcelain-coated cast iron cooking surfaces, which should last longer and sear better.
Inspect the units: A simple inspection of a grill before purchase can prevent any safety issues. A gentle nudge of the model from several angles will ensure the grill is sturdy, while the grill handles should be far away from the hot lid. Also check for sharp corners and edges on the cart, firebox, lid, and shelves. For stainless steel parts, take a magnet to the store with you. Lower grades of stainless steel are magnetic. Higher grades aren't and should fight corrosion better.
Consumers will see less stainless steel on many grills as manufacturers instead add painted-steel carts and shelves or stainless-steel trim as a way to mai...