Barbecue reviews: Features explained
Types of barbecues
Barbecues are simply grills positioned over a heat source, that you use outdoors. But while they’re most commonly used for grilling typical barbecue fare such as sausages and burgers, it’s also possible to buy a barbecue that will allow you to roast, fry, sauté, boil and simmer a wide variety of foods.
Most of the barbecues you’ll find in the shops are fuelled by either charcoal or gas. There are some electric models available but these are few and far between. We’ve tested a range of popular gas and charcoal models – check out our barbecue reviews to see which score best.
There are pros and cons to both charcoal and gas, and deciding which suits your taste, needs and budget is the first step to finding the best barbecue for you. Read our guide on how to buy the best barbecue for our tips and advice.
Grilling food over white-hot charcoal is the traditional method of barbecuing. If a smoky barbecue flavour is your priority then a charcoal grill is your best bet - smoke from the coals and the sizzling fat juices infuse food for that authentic chargrilled taste.
But they can be difficult to light and slow to heat to cooking temperature. Plus, pick a mediocre model and you run the risk of waiting ages for your sausages to cook all the way through while your kebabs have burnt to a crisp. And with ash to dispose of when you’ve finished cooking, cleaning a charcoal barbecue can be a messy job.
When it comes to pre-heating and cooking, gas barbecues are the quick and easy option so you’re likely to get more use out of them. There’s no waiting around for coals to get hot, and because you can adjust the heat you’re far less likely to be left with sausages that are charred on the outside and pink in the middle.
But while gas barbecues are undeniably quick and convenient, some think that food cooked on them lacks that distinctive barbecue taste. They’re more expensive than charcoal barbecues, heavier to move and awkward to store in the shed. Plus you’ve got to buy and top up a gas canister to fuel it, which can be an unsightly feature on your patio.
Barbecue features to look out for
Barbecue hoods and lids
Hoods on barbecues help to retain heat, which is useful if you want to roast food or cook foods more quickly than by just grilling. They work by enclosing the heat source and heating air that’s trapped inside, increasing the temperature in the enclosed space.
Lids are typically just a cover for an open grill to protect it from the elements, although you might find that some hoods are referred to as lids.
Lava rocks and vapouriser bars
Good gas barbecues will have lava rocks or vapouriser bars to help create that smoky barbecue taste. Fat and meat juices dripping onto hot lava rocks below the grill evaporate, producing smoke and helping to add a chargrilled flavour to food. Vapouriser bars work in the same way - fat and meat juices drip onto metal bars, positioned above the burners, which then vapourise to infuse food.
Weber barbecues promote their vapouriser bars as Weber Flavorizer Bars. Another common term for these is flavourisers, but they all perform the same function.
The grill is the metal surface that you cook food on. It can be made from a variety of metals, including cast iron, stainless steel or chrome-plated steel, the latter being less durable and less expensive. You might see it referred to a cooking grid or cooking grate.
These are metal grills that have been coated in a layer of hardened glass – like the inside of an oven - and are generally considered a high-spec feature. These grills are good because porcelain enamel is a non-toxic material that won’t burn, rust, or weather. It’s durable, easy to clean, and gives a smooth surface so food is less likely to stick to it. The downside is that the coating can crack or chip, exposing the metal below, which may result in the grill needing to be replaced.
A griddle is a metal plate on a gas barbecue that’s heated to high temperatures and which offers versatile cooking – you can fry (either directly on the griddle or in a pan that’s placed on it), sauté, braise, stir-fry and even simmer sauces. It’s a great way to cook a wide range of foods, including fish, steaks, lean meats, eggs and vegetables.
Different foods take different lengths of time to cook. A warming rack is a smaller second grill that’s positioned above the main grill. Food that’s cooked can be placed on this warming rack to keep it hot without cooking it further, while other slower-cooking food catches up.
Temperature gauges will only be found on barbecues with hoods because they are used to monitor internal heat. This can help you to roast food more accurately. They also make pre-heating the barbecue quick and precise – you’ll know when the barbecue has reached cooking temperature without having to hover your hand above the grill and guess.
Air vents on charcoal barbecues help control the temperature. You can open the vents to make coals burn faster and hotter, and close them to reduce the heat. You should always light charcoal barbecues with the vents opened.
Ash collectors and fat drip trays
With ash and grease as by-products, barbecuing can be a messy business - especially when it comes to cleaning. But removable ash collectors on charcoal barbecues and fat drip trays on gas models can help. They catch the ash and fat generated by cooking, so you can pull out this tray and clean it separately, rather than having to clean the base of the barbecue.
Lining fat drip trays and ash collectors with a layer of foil and sand absorbs fat, ash and lumps of charcoal and can simply be thrown away, which make cleaning the trays easier.
The utensils, dishes and bottles you use for barbecuing can all add up to a surprising amount of paraphernalia, and having somewhere to store this while you’re cooking can make barbecuing easier.
Side shelves and base storage trays let you rest and store what you need. Some well-designed barbecues will have tool hooks for hanging greasy utensils and condiment baskets to let you keep bottles, sauces and matches close to hand.
Barbecues can be heavy and unwieldy, and if you’re likely to move yours around a lot you’ll need one that’s easy to move and manoeuvre. Most have two wheels so you can lift and wheel it from the opposite end – look out for models that have a handle to make this easier. Some have castors instead of wheels while others have two wheels and two castors; castors let you lock the barbecue in place so it's more stable to cook on.
If you intend to keep your barbecue outside it’s worth buying a tight-fitting cover to protect it from the elements.