The BBQ is a staple of the traditional English summer and a great way for us to get back to our primal instincts and cook on an open fire. With summer on our doorstep, many of us will be looking to engage in more BBQs with family, but how do you choose the best one for you?
To give you a helping hand, we’ve covered many of the basics you’ll need to consider when it comes to purchasing a new BBQ, to ensure you get the perfect one for your needs and requirements, without breaking the bank.
Charcoal vs. Gas – The Great Debate
The debate around charcoal or gas BBQ has long rumbled on, as many argue the virtues of opting for one over the other. In reality, both have their own merits and which one you opt for is likely to boil down to your budget and lifestyle. But to help you decide on whether to opt for a charcoal or gas model, below we’ve outlined some of their pros and cons.
- Fast to heat
- Easy to clean as no mess from charcoal
- Better temperature control due to being able to control the burners, this also means cooking is more consistent
- Can cook various food at once and at different temperatures due to a number of burners
- Doesn’t smoke as well as charcoal BBQ, losing the traditional BBQ taste
- More flare-ups are likely, due to cooking with flames rather than hot coals
- Costly to purchase and are likely to require more maintenance during their lifetime
- Full-bodied BBQ flavour achieved due to the smoke hot coals offer
- Cook at a hotter temperature, therefore help your meat get a caramelised flavour
- Can enhance the flavours by adding flavoured wood to the coals
- Slower to ignite, although with the use of a chimney starter you can make lighting a charcoal BBQ quicker and easier
- Messier due to ash and charcoal burning onto the BBQ pan
- Less predictable and require more attention – but this is half the fun of the BBQ, as the men gather around the open flames, sipping beers and watching the meat cook
Selecting The Right Charcoal:
If you’re opting for a charcoal BBQ, you need to consider what type of charcoal you’re going to use as there are a few varieties around with differing benefits.
One form of charcoal you shouldn’t opt for is self-lighting or quick lighting charcoal, as will have more than likely been impregnated with chemicals which although help the coals to light quickly, also results in the coals dying quickly too.
Instead, we recommend you choose between lumpwood and briquettes. Lumpwood is wood that has been fired in a kiln to produce a very combustible form of carbon, and a high-quality lumpwood will burn at higher temperatures. Briquettes, on the other hand, are uniformly shaped lumps of fuel made from particles of waste charcoal mixed with a starch binder. Once lit, these tend to burn for up to twice as long as lumpwood. (source: John Lewis)
BBQ Finding Tips
Is It Durable?
The most common material for BBQs to be made from is stainless steel… but not all stainless steel is the same. We recommend looking for a BBQ which is made from grade 304 stainless steel rather than grade 430 due to the latter rusting quicker.
An easy way to test if the stainless steel is grade 304 or 430 is to use a magnet. If it sticks to the BBQ, it is grade 430 and if it doesn’t, it is grade 304. (source: Men’s Health)
Other areas of your BBQ which can vary on the materials used are the grills. These can either be chrome, stainless steel or cast iron – and each has its benefits and drawbacks. For example, stainless steel is easy to clean and more durable than chrome, whilst cast iron is an excellent source of heat due to holding its temperature well, but it is prone to rust if care isn’t taken.
Features to Look For:
Barbecuing today is more than cooking a few slabs of meat and serving them up with a limp salad and lashings of tomato sauce. Instead, there’s no reason why with your BBQ you cannot cook up many of the treats that your cooker allows you to cook. To help you hone your culinary skills on your BBQ we recommend you look for the following features…
- Lid / Hood – when a BBQ with a lid/hood is closed, heat and smoke is deflected more evenly around the food, helping it to cook thoroughly and get the desired BBQ taste and flavour.
- Warming Rack – a great place for you to keep your food warm whilst it waits to be served.
- Ash Collectors / Fat Drip Trays – catch the ash/fat as you cook on your BBQ, and these can be easily removed making the cleaning of your BBQ easier at the end of the night.
- Griddle – More likely to be found on a gas BBQ, the griddle is a big metal plate that can be used to cook a variety of dishes from stir-fried onions to boiling beans, to accompany the meat cooking away on the main BBQ grill.
Does it suit your needs?
All that being said, what really matters most is finding what’s right for you. While following the advice above is vital for achieving the most optimal BBQ, it’s not always about achieving perfection.
For example, you might be looking for a smaller BBQ made for camping and travelling, opting for ease-of-use and transportability over everything else. And, if you’re simply wanting to enjoy your favourite BBQ foods for yourself all year round, there are more personal options available for doing just that – rain or shine!
Care, Maintenance & Cleaning
How you clean your BBQ and how much maintenance it needs will depend a lot on whether you have a gas or charcoal model. A charcoal BBQ is often harder to clean due to the ash being burnt onto the pan, but such a BBQ will need little maintenance. A gas BBQ, on the other hand, is often relatively straightforward to clean but can require more maintenance over its lifetime.
Whichever model of BBQ you’ve opted for, we’ve provided advice on some of the best ways to clean your BBQ, below. (That being said, if you’re having a BBQ on a budget and don’t want to deal with the hassle of cleaning, there are choices available for that too!)
- Turn on the burners for a couple of minutes on full whack, this will allow any remaining grease or dirt to burn away.
- Once your BBQ has cooled down, remove the racks and drip trays and leave this to soak in hot, soapy water. Once the parts have soaked, scrub them clean and thoroughly dry them, ready to put them back on your BBQ.
- Use a specialist BBQ cleaner, such as the eSpares Premium BBQ Cleaner to remove any grease or dirt which has accumulated on the lid and body of your BBQ.
- Once cooled remove the grill racks from your BBQ, before emptying out any remaining charcoal and ash. It’s recommended to do this before they have the chance to get wet, as wet charcoal/ash will be considerably harder to remove.
- Use a stiff brush to loosen/remove any dirt or burnt-on food which has become stuck on the BBQ pan. Once this is loose, empty it into your bin.
- Spray the eSpares Premium BBQ Cleaner onto the pan of your BBQ and leave it to soak. It’s also a good idea to spray the cleaner onto the grill racks and allow this to soak in and loosen any dirt.
Once the cleaner has soaked into your BBQ, use a bucket of clean, warm water and a cloth to clean away the residue and leave your BBQ sparkling clean, ready to be used again.
Another tip to clean the grills on your charcoal BBQ is to use half a potato dipped in washing up liquid. Simply rub the potato over the grills and allow the starch combined with the washing up liquid to loosen the dirt, before rinsing clean with warm water.
Whichever BBQ you opt for – gas or charcoal – by following the advice outlined in this guide and keeping it clean, you’ll have the perfect BBQ to use for years to come.