Which barbecues smoke the competition?
From large patio-style models to smaller portable models, and prices ranging from $159 to $2600, there’s a barbecue here to suit most people.
There are two main considerations when deciding which size BBQ you should buy: how much space you have to entertain, and how many people you’ll usually feed – there’s no point investing in a big barbie if you’ll rarely feed a large crowd.
A larger patio/deck barbecue is the best option for feeding the whole whānau. But you’ll need somewhere to store it. If you leave yours outside, get a heavy-duty cover.
Some portables offer features once confined to larger models, such as hoods, hotplates and side tables.
Gas is the most common fuel used for barbecues – the instant heat and adjustable temperature make for easy cooking. There’s a bit of maintenance required with a gas barbecue, as you need to regularly test the connection to make sure it’s not leaking. Running out of gas mid-cook can be a disaster, so check the levels before starting out. Gas bottles can be filled at some petrol stations, or you can take advantage of swap stations dotted around the country.
Charcoal lumps or briquettes are found at your local hardware or barbecue stores. There’s a bit of an art to lighting charcoal, and it can take a while to get up to temperature. The hot charcoal produces smoke that infuses into the food when the juices and fats drip down from the grill above. It’s certainly a lengthy process to cook with charcoal, but some swear the food is more flavoursome.
Electric barbecues require an outdoor power outlet or a lengthy extension cord running into the house. A benefit of going electric is you’ll never run out of fuel, so there’s no gas bottle anxiety. Most incorporate an element below the grill plates to provide the heat. One drawback is you can’t cook if the power goes out, unlike gas or charcoal grills that can keep on trucking.
Consider the materials in your barbecue’s body, trolley, burners, flame diffuser and cooking surfaces – they have a big effect on its lifespan.
Stainless-steel models are the most corrosion-proof – and expensive – option, but they’re harder to clean and show smudges and fingerprints more than other surfaces.
Not all stainless-steel barbecues are created equal. The best are made from 304 grade stainless steel, which is more resistant to rust than other grades used for barbecues. When you’re shopping, take along a fridge magnet – it won’t stick to 304 grade stainless steel.
These models will rust wherever the paint or powder wears through, which is likely after a few years of use. Aluminium is less corrosion-prone than untreated steel, but can develop oxidation (“white rust”). This is unsightly but won’t destroy your barbecue. Some steel or aluminium models are finished with vitreous enamel, which is far more durable than paint.
Cooking surfaces and burners are generally either cast iron or stainless steel. Cast iron can rust out quicker and need replacing, so we recommend stainless steel (or cast iron coated with vitreous enamel) for burners, cooking surfaces and flame diffusers.
Make sure you take these features into account while picking a barbecue.
A domed hood lets you roast as well as grill. Look for a hood with a bit of weight behind it and that it sits firmly back behind the grill when raised, so it won’t blow shut or obstruct your access to cooking surfaces or side plates. A hood thermometer lets you monitor the temperature while roasting; all the models in our test had one, but make sure it’s easy to read.
The hood handle should be durable and heat-resistant, and positioned so you don’t burn yourself using it.
“British Thermal Units” and “Megajoules” measure heat output, and are commonly quoted by salespeople and manufacturers as a selling point. However, we found higher BTU/MJ burners don’t necessarily give better cooking performance or faster pre-heating, so these figures aren’t included in our test results. In fact, the amount of raw heat generated by each burner is less important than how evenly heat spreads across the cooking surfaces, and how reliably it maintains a constant temperature. If you’re worried about how quickly your barbecue will burn through gas, check the running times in our test results.
Look for large dials that stop firmly at their highest and lowest position, and don’t rattle in their housing or have a clumsy feel. Make sure they’re easy to read – dials set into an upward-slanting face are best. Some gas barbecues use a battery starter, while others use piezoelectric push button starters. Battery starters are generally quicker, but you’ll occasionally need to replace the battery.
The bigger the wheels, the easier the barbecue is to move. Some models have four wheels with lockable castors, which means you can roll them without lifting one end. For a portable barbecue, check it’s light enough for you to lift into your car and is easy to dissemble.
This sits below the grill, and should be easy to take out and replace. We recommend lining the tray with tinfoil weighted with sand to make cleaning easier.
A side burner adds versatility – it allows you to boil a pot of rice or get a stir-fry going. Rear/back burners on the back “wall” can be used with a rotisserie accessory for roasting.
Always use the hose and type of fitting recommended by the manufacturer. When you break out the BBQ for summer, check the hose for blockages and make sure all connections fit snugly. Never, ever use a gas barbecue inside.
Make sure it doesn’t rock. If you want to take it camping or on picnics, look for easily detachable legs.
Check the barbecue is easy to take apart and reassemble.
Check spare parts are available.
This allows you to keep cooked food warm.