Barbecues

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Which barbecues smoke the competition?

From large patio-style models to smaller portable models, and prices ranging from $178 to $2800, there’s a barbecue here to suit most people.

From our test

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Size

The bigger the appliance, the more food you can cook at once. But you’ll need somewhere to store it. If you keep it outside get a heavy-duty cover.

Patio/deck barbecues typically have large cooking surfaces and three to six burners, though a couple of our top performers in this category only have two burners. They often have a side burner (good for boiling a pot), and side tables. They’re the best option for feeding the whole whanau as it avoids the hassle of cooking in batches. But they’re usually made of lots of heavy parts so require effort to construct, and their mobility is limited to rolling between your cooking area and garage.

Portable barbecues are a good option if you’ve got fewer mouths to feed, and want the freedom to pack up your barbecue for a day out. They have considerably smaller cooking areas than patio models and only one or two burners. Some portables offer features once confined to larger models, like hoods, hotplates and side tables.

Built to last

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.

Painted- or powder-coated steel rusts 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.

Features and other considerations

Make sure you take these features into account while picking a barbecue.

  • Hood: A domed hood lets you roast as well as grill. Look for a hood with a bit of weight behind it and one which 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.

  • Hood handles: The hood handle should be durable and heat-resistant, and positioned so you don’t burn yourself using it.

  • Under the hood:

    • Cooking surfaces: Do you need grills, hotplates, or a mix of both? Grills sear food and let fat drip out, while hotplates are less likely to char food.
    • Burners: A heavier gauge of metal lasts longer, so good-quality stainless steel is preferable to cast iron. More burners make it easier to cook a range of food at different speeds, but three or four are usually enough for the average family.
    • Flame diffusers: Perforated metal plates that sit above the burners and below the cooking surface to evenly spread the heat from the flames. Look for flame diffusers set closer to the cooking surface than the burners, and angled to prevent fat dripping on to the burners, which can cause flare-ups.
  • BTUs and MJs: 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 table. 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 table.

  • Controls and ignition: 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.

  • Mobility: 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 is light enough for you to lift into your car and is easy to dissemble.

  • Fat tray: 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.

  • Side and rear/back burners: 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.

  • Safe grilling: 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.

  • Stability: Make sure it doesn’t rock. If you want to take it camping or on picnics, look for easily detachable legs, but try not to compromise on stability when the thing is set up.

  • Cleaning: Check that your model is easy to take apart and reassemble.

  • Spare parts: Check that spare parts are available.

  • Warming rack: This allows you to keep cooked food warm.

What makes a good barbecue?

We’re often asked why Webers keep cleaning up in our annual barbecue test, so we tore apart a top-scoring model and a poor performer to uncover what’s behind the success of these perennial winners.

Find out

Expert barbecuing advice

We sat down with Shaun Clouston, head chef and co-owner of Logan Brown. Shaun’s earned himself a reputation in the capital as a bit of a barbecue virtuoso. Here are his top tips for great grilling.

Read the Q&A

About our test

Cooking tests and method

We pre-heat the barbeque for 10 minutes, then get to work. Note, we test barbecues according to a standard test method, but change our method if the manufacturer’s instructions dictate a certain way of cooking.

  • We cover the entire grill with steaks, then cook them for six to eight minutes each side, with all burners set to the same level. This checks how evenly each model maintains a constant heat across the grilling surface.
  • We grill sausages on a medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes each side, with the entire cooking surface covered and the hood closed (unless the manufacturer states otherwise). This is a tough test as fat drips on to the burners: it looks at how well the barbeque controls flare-ups.
  • We cook marinated chicken wings on the hotplate over a low heat so the marinade doesn’t burn, for about 10 minutes each side.
  • Our final test involves roasting a whole chicken (if possible on the barbecue), with the outer burners set on high and the inner burners low, and the hood closed. This shows the barbecue’s indirect cooking performance over a long period.

Top-scoring barbecues cooked everything evenly throughout, resulting in consistently tender and juicy meat. This also meant the barbecue’s temperature was easy to control, and its heat was evenly distributed across the cooking surface.

Ease of use

Here we looked for:

  • How convenient the barbecues were to cook on. Did they have side panels to reduce draughts when the hood was open? Was there easy access to the cooking surface? Did they come with warmer racks and in-hood thermometers?
  • How easy the controls were to use and whether they were labelled clearly. We also assessed how good the ignition system was at firing up the barbecue.
  • How mobile the barbecues were – their wheels and castors, and the handles for moving them about.
  • How easy they were to clean. We checked whether you could get at all areas for cleaning, how easy it was to wipe down surfaces, whether there were grease-trapping crevices, and how easily the drip tray and grill-hotplate could be removed for cleaning and refitting.
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