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How to choose the perfect barbecue

Barbecue-cooked meals are one of the celebrations of summer. Built-in, mobile or portable, charcoal, gas, wood or electric… There are barbecues to suit everyone's taste! Here are criteria and features to consider when purchasing a barbecue this summer.

Models

There are many barbecues available: charcoal, gas and electric. Barbecues can be mobile, portable, built-in to a counter, or integrated into an outdoor kitchen.
  • Charcoal Barbecue
    The charcoal barbecue, a real classic, seems to be coming back into vogue lately due to the particular flavour it imparts to food and for safety reasons. Manufacturers provide models with a number of attractive features: a contemporary look, improved performance, solid construction, practical work surfaces and storage, greater facility for adding wood, larger ash catcher, and a propane lighter. It is light and therefore ideal for camping.

    Some models have an adjustable vent, which accelerates combustion the more the vent is opened, somewhat like a heat control. An integrated thermometer helps you keep track of temperatures.

    Charcoal is available in pieces or briquettes. Pieces of charcoal are easily lit and heat up quickly. Harder to start, briquettes last much longer which makes them ideal for roasting. The height of the grate can usually be adjusted, as well as the tray under the charcoal briquettes. Models with round lids ensure better heat distribution.

    Since some municipalities have banned the use of gas barbecues on apartment and condo balconies, charcoal barbecues may present an interesting alternative. They can only be used outdoors, although not recommended in high winds.
  • Gas Barbecue
    There are two types of gas barbecue: those that use propane gas from a refillable tank and those that use natural gas connected directly to the house supply. Which of the two is more popular? Propane is the winner, due to its accessibility and mobility. .

    Gas barbecues are simple to use; they heat up quickly and temperatures can be controlled easily. Food and marinades hold their flavour. Gas barbecues can only be used outside. Their use may be prohibited in certain places and condo buildings.
  • Electric Barbecue
    Practical in urban areas, electric grills can be used throughout the year. They are available in two sizes, with either a large or small cooking surface. The compact model is perfect for one or two people. Electric barbecues do, however, take longer to heat up making the cooking process much slower.

    The barbecue season can be extended to the whole year with an electric barbecue, since they can be used both indoors and outdoors: an excellent choice for apartment and condo-dwellers. Eco-friendly electric barbecues use a heating element to heat the grill directly. Pour water into the tray under the grill, and then as the food is cooking, the fat drips into the water and doesn't burn. No smoke or toxic fumes are produced.
  • Propane Gas Barbecue

Features

The most popular barbecue in use today is the mobile propane gas barbecue. With independent central and side burners, it is ideal for cooking several dishes at the same time at different temperatures. The gas barbecue reaches the desired temperature much more quickly than charcoal and electric barbecues.

Cooking power

Gas barbecues currently available are very powerful, producing between 25 000 and 60 000 BTUs. This number (British Thermal Units) reflects the quantity of heat the unit consumes per hour when all the burners are lit. The higher the BTUs, the hotter the grill potential, which means the faster the food you're cooking will be ready for a large number of people.

To determine how much power you need, divide the number of BTUs by the total cooking surface in square inches. Allow 110 BTUs per in2 per person.

Power is measured in Watts on electric grills, which generally varies between 1500 and 2400 W. To sear meat properly, you should opt for a model capable of more than 2000 W.

Main burners

Barbecues generally have 1 to 6 burners: they constitute the main source of heat. The heat distribution plate, situated directly under the burner or burners, distributes heat in the body of the barbecue and under the cooking surface. Burners can be independent from each other, which makes it possible to cook food at the same time but at different temperatures.

LThe shape of the burner is an important factor since it is the burner that spreads the heat. Burners are H, 8, butterfly or coil-shaped. Burner performance depends on the efficiency of the barbecue. For example, an 8–shaped burner ensures an even distribution of heat over the cooking surface. A Super 8TM type burner makes it possible to reach 315oC in just a few minutes, which is ideal for searing meat.

Also available: Dual-TubeTM tubular burners made of high-quality steel. These burners provide an even flame which spreads very effectively under the cooking surface.
infrared radiant burners, the main advantage being that a temperature of 1800oC can be attained in a matter of seconds. Cooking is of course much faster. On the other hand, the high intense heat implies extra caution when cooking vegetables and fish, which burn very easily.

Side burners

Some barbecue models are equipped with a side burner for preparing sauces and side dishes in a saucepan.

Back burner – Roaster or Rotisserie

Other barbecues are equipped with a back burner, which is ideal for a roaster. Removable, this type of burner reduces flames and gas consumption. It is perfect for cooking chicken on a spit. Collect the cooking juices in a container placed under the spit; you can use the liquid later for basting or making a sauce.

The heating elements

It's the job of the heating elements to add radiant heat over the whole surface of the barbecue: they spread heat, absorb some of the smoke, prevent grease from dripping directly on the burners and act as intermediary between food and flames. They come in three varieties:
  • Ceramic briquettese: Hold and distribute heat very efficiently, but must be replaced every three years.
  • Lava rocks: Are used with gas and electric barbecues, heat up quickly and disperse the heat to the grill. The rocks collect the juices and fat that drip down from the cooking area, producing smoke that then wafts up around the food. Lava rocks should be replaced once a year.
  • Heat Plate: Can be cleaned easily, spreads heat very evenly and is long-lasting.

Cooking surface and grates

Cooking surfaces vary between 273 in2 and 1000 in2. The number of people you regularly cook for will help you determine the ideal size for your family. Use this calculation: approximately 60 in2 per portion, multiplied by the number of people.
  • Porcelain-coated steel grates:Easy to maintain, you can clean them once they've cooled. Steel grates without porcelain have a tendency to rust. Furthermore, since steel does not retain heat as well, burners have to be turned higher in order to maintain enough heat during cooking.
  • Porcelain-coated cast iron grates: Easy to maintain, you can clean them once they've cooled.
  • Cast iron grates: There are reversible cast iron grates: on one side, they have grill markings and on the other side, grooves to collect the cooking juices that are so good for basting. These very resistant grates hold a lot of heat and continue to cook food even when the burner is only used to a fraction of its capacity.
  • Cast iron is a very durable material, but grates have a tendency to rust if not porcelain-coated. Coat the grates with vegetable oil to protect them, and clean them while they are still warm.
  • Stainless steel grates: Harder to clean, these grates must be scraped with a brush while still warm. They won't rust, they retain heat for a long time, and they're very resistant. Choose a higher quality grate that won't discolour over time.

Pro's advice

Opt for a barbecue with an additional grate above the main grill which will provide you with extra cooking space, the possibility of keeping dishes warm, and the option of simultaneously cooking different things at different temperatures.

Barbecue structure

Store-bought barbecues are made of stainless steel, enameled steel, cast iron, or aluminum. The main body of the barbecue must be solid so that the lid closes properly. Choose a deep enough body for the heat to spread evenly, which will also prevent sudden blazes from occurring.
  • Stainless steel structure: Stainless steel is rust-proof and doesn't break. The thickness of the structure varies, however, and durability is evaluated in accordance with International Standards for Stainless Steel. The ratings for barbecues fall between 204 and 430: the higher the figure, the thinner the stainless steel, which translates into steel of lower quality and durability. Remember when you purchase your barbecue that a lower figure corresponds to a material that will ensure adequate heating when the barbecue is in use. Stainless steel that is too thin will discolour over time and is more difficult to clean.
  • Enameled steel structure: Enameled steel is more affordable, but it is also more vulnerable to fluctuations in temperature and less impact-resistant. Opt for a model with a solid structure and castors.

Ignition system

Barbecue igniters are divided into two categories: push-buttons and rotary or electronic controls. The difference between the two systems is that the push button produces one single spark, whereas the rotary and electronic controls produce several sparks, making lighting the barbecue much easier. Clean controls thoroughly to remove all grease spatters and any rust; careful maintenance will ensure proper functioning of your ignition system.

Storage shelves and cabinets

Integrated storage shelves and drawers are a definite plus; an extra work surface is always useful for setting dishes and utensils, and space to store spices and accessories is very handy. Before you buy your barbecue, make sure the shelves are solid. However, shelves will always be more solid on stationary, built-in barbecues than on their mobile and portable counterparts.

Lighting

Adequate lighting means that you can use the barbecue later in the evening, after nightfall.


Need help assembling your new barbecue? Ask professionals to do it for you.

Tools and accessories

Cover - An adjustable cover that fits the barbecue properly will protect it from the elements. The choice of material depends on your needs and, of course, on your budget.
Cooking accessories - Facilitate food preparation with a number of kitchen accessories designed for the barbecue: a roaster, grill cover and electric kebab turner will nuance the flavours of your meat.
Ustensils - There is a vast array of barbecue utensils to choose from, made of wood, stainless steel, or silicone. Opt for utensils that have long handles and that are thermo-resistant to reduce the risk of burns.
Lighters - To light a charcoal barbecue, opt for a lighter that gives you more flexibility than matches. Some lighters have a device that permits you to adjust the flame and include a child safety mechanism as well.
Smokers and barbecues - Personalize your dishes with a barrel-shaped horizontal smoker, a ceramic grill-smoker or an electrically or propane-powered smoker. These smokers mean you can cook large pieces of meat or fish slowly.

Make a discovery with the Big Steel Keg charcoal grill, a smoker and convection heated barbecue. The shape was specially-designed for efficient convection cooking. You can grill or smoke all your dishes to perfection, from slow-cooking to oven simulation.
Heat distributer - The stainless steel heat distributor Flav-R-Wave is a replacement for briquettes and stones. It protects the burner and distributes heat evenly throughout the cook box.

Portable Barbecues

Delight in summer cuisine where and when you like with a portable barbecue. Smaller than conventional barbecues, the portable version is limited to the basic components. Pay particular attention to weight, the quality of the closing mechanism, and the comfort of the handle you'll be using to carry it. You'll save a lot of back fatigue with a light-weight model.

Gas models are the runaway favourites among grilling aficionados. They are accessible and cooking can be done easily and quickly, which can be an important factor. Vigilance is required, however; gas can be dangerous and must always be handled with care.

If you want your barbecue cooking to have an authentic smoky taste, the charcoal barbecue reigns supreme: ideal for camping devotees and those who savour the charred flavour only a charcoal model can produce. Set up your charcoal barbecue in a location out of the wind to prevent the risk of fire.

Very safe and transportable, electric barbecues are practical for holiday trips and campgrounds equipped with hydro. It's worth noting that you can just as easily use an electric barbecue indoors as out¸.

Maintenance

A little maintenance will go a long way towards ensuring a properly functioning barbecue for a long time.
Before the barbecuing season begins, take out all removable parts and clean the barbecue thoroughly with soapy water. Use a nylon brush to clean the grates or use a barbecue-specific cleaner or an oven cleaner. If necessary, replace the drip pan. Be careful not to submerge the thermometer in water; clean it gently with a rag instead. Replace the lava rocks every year and the ceramic briquettes every three years

Cleaning a burner requires special attention. It's important to clean the feeder tubes that move the gas from the front controls to the burners. Spiders' webs and small cocoons can interfere with gas flow to the burners, which compromises performance and creates a potential fire hazard around the controls.

The best way to find out if the gas is flowing to the burner properly is to observe the flames: if the flames are yellowish and burn slowly, the tubes are probably blocked. To remove the obstruction, use a cleaner developed for the purpose.

Check the gas feed pipe as well, and if it is cracked or broken, replace it. If you suspect a gas leak, brush soapy water onto the tube connections; if bubbles appear when the gas is turned on, you know you have a leak. Adjust or replace any broken or defective handles and castors on your barbecue.

After cleaning, turn the barbecue on for fifteen minutes, one side at a time. Stay nearby to make sure everything is functioning properly.

You may need to repaint the barbecue after a few years. After sanding the surface with steel wool or sand paper, clean, rinse and let dry. Apply a high-temperature spray paint. Let the paint dry for at least two days before using the barbecue again. Important: Never paint grates or cooking surfaces.

During the summer, clean the gas supply tube frequently to remove all traces of food, which can attract small animals. Turn over lava rocks or ceramic briquettes two or three times during the season. As for charcoal barbecues, ashes should be disposed of after use, but only when the ashes are completely cooled.

After each use, wait until the grates have cooled then scrape them clean with a nylon brush or soak them in soapy water. Barbecue-specific products or an oven cleaner will do the trick on tough cleaning jobs.

A barbecue placed in a location where it will be exposed to sunlight is less likely to collect spiders' webs and attract other insects than a barbecue placed in a cool and damp spot. The best solution, however, is to protect your barbecue from both sun and rain with a cover designed for the purpose

Propane cylinders

It is imperative that you never throw propane cylinders out with the regular garbage. A rusty, dented, faulty cylinder or a cylinder more than 10 years old can be hazardous and should be returned immediately to your propane distributor. Have it disposed of or exchanged for a new one. Even if a cylinder no longer contains sufficient gas to light the barbecue, the residual gas may be enough to cause an explosion.

Propane cylinders must be stored outside at all times, summer and winter. They must also be kept in an upright position, whether in storage or being transported.

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