Dream Grill

from Simply Perfect Garden Living
Backyard grilling in an outdoor kitchen has become a popular pastime. Learn how to choose and maintain a grill for your deck or balcony.

Not long ago, barbecue grills all looked pretty much the same. Shaped like kettles or large saucers, they stood on thin legs and burned charcoal. Under the watchful eye of the cook, they could be counted on for classic hamburgers and juicy steaks.

Today, outdoor grills still produce mouthwatering summer fare, but that’s where the similarities end. Some grills look more like full-size kitchen ranges than kettles, and many models feature stainless steel rather than enamel-coated metal. And while charcoal remains a popular fuel for outdoor cooking, propane and natural gas are gaining ground. Moreover, the scrumptious alfresco fare has moved beyond burgers to include succulent seafood and roasted vegetables.

Do You ‘Cue?
Cooking out of doors is nothing new. What are new are the sophisticated, weatherproof units that transform an ordinary yard or patio into an extension of the house. “People are turning their backyards into resorts,” says Don McCullough, executive vice president of the nonprofit National Barbecue Association. “After September 11, they stopped traveling quite so much and started spending more time – and money – at home. The grill is now the place where everyone gathers.”

Top-quality grills can still be small and portable and cost less than $75, but they also might be one component in a $25,000 outdoor kitchen island that includes a sink, refrigerator, and ample storage. Real estate agents say while the price tag sounds high, an outdoor kitchen adds to a dwelling’s living space and thus increases a property’s value. Plans (available on the Web) for do-it-yourself, all-weather cooking islands help keep costs reasonable; components purchased at home centers allow handy homeowners to customize there islands and face them in brick, stucco, cast stone, or slate.

Choose Your Fuel
Before purchasing a grill, you need to decide whether it will be powered by gas, charcoal, or electricity. First, check out any regulations that govern you choice; condominium owners, for example, are sometimes barred from installing natural-gas lines, and apartment dwellers might not be allowed anything other than an electrically powered grill on their balconies.

Once you know the types of grills allowed, ask yourself how you like to cook. Is presiding over an open flame and a quick-cooking steak your style? If so, a charcoal grill might be the way to go, as your presence during the cooking process will usually be necessary. On the other hand, if you’d rather join your guests while a whole chicken turns gently on a rotisserie, gas is probably for you; precisely calibrated thermostats free the cook to fix the salad and mix the drinks. Outdoor chefs who long for the best brisket on the planet often opt for electrically powered water smokers, good for slow-cooking a side of beef for several hours and flavoring it with aromatic wood and herbs. Cooks who want the fire ready instantly choose gas, while those who don’t mind waiting 45 minutes for the grill to heat seen happy with charcoal.

Does one fuel impart flavor that’s superior to another? Cooks who prefer charcoal insist they know the answer: Meat juices drip down and mingle with the briquettes to create a superior smoke that permeates the food. But the opposition claims gas grills offer similar flavor. Gas grills use ceramic briquettes, volcanic rock, or steel bars to convert gas to radiant heat and to collect flavorful juices. (Because of flare-ups caused by accumulated grease, many gas grill owners prefer steel bars.)

No matter what fuel they use, the best grills come with a long warranty (10 years is good). The grill’s legs shouldn’t wobble, and construction should be of heavy-gauge aluminum or heavy sheet metal finished with baked-on enamel. If you plan to use your grill near saltwater, a rustproof stainless-steel model offers a sound investment.

When shopping for a gas grill, check out models with two or more separate burners so you can control the heat more easily. No matter how many burners the grill furnishes, be wary if it requires extensive home assembly. You might find yourself cursing and waving a wrench, instead of serving up your first lamb kabobs or teriyaki chicken.

Safety First
To make your grilling experiences happy ones, follow a few simple precautions. For starters, keep your grill clean. Accumulated grease leads to unexpected flare-ups. Cleanliness is especially important when using a gas grill, as insects, spiders, and grease can block fuel lines. Use a pipe cleaner to clean debris from gas hoses while simultaneously checking them for nicks and cracks that may allow gas to leak. If you smell gas, turn off the unit immediately.

Gas grills are fueled by liquid propane, available in convenient refillable tanks, or by natural gas, channeled to your yard by a public utility. When using propane, always transport the containers upright to prevent spillage and never place them the trunk of your car, where excessive heat causes gas pressure to build.

Though gas grills ignite with the push of a button, charcoal grills require matches or, preferably, an electric starting wand. Simply plug the want into an outdoor outlet and place the heating coil in the charcoal. Within five minutes the briquettes will be burning; in another 15 minutes you’ll be cooking.

Fire departments caution against using a propane barbecue grill on a balcony, terrace, or roof. Charcoal grills should be used only if there is at least a 10-foot clearance between the grill and any structure (including the bottom of the balcony above you). In addition, a fire extinguisher or water from a garden hose or a filled 4-gallon bucket must be close at hand.

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