How to Choose the Perfect Barbecue
The Models Available
- Charcoal Barbecue
The charcoal barbecue, a real classic, has come back into style due to the particular flavour it imparts to food. 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 barbecues: 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.
Smoker barbecues use the heat from smoke to cook your meat, instead of the heat generated directly from your fuel source. This creates a “low and slow” cooking effect, making your food extra tender and flavourful. Smokers can take between 3 and 12 hours to fully cook your food.
You can achieve a variety of flavours by using different fuel sources, like charcoal, maple or mesquite.
- Wood Pellet Grills
A wood pellet grill uses safe, easy-to-use hardwood pellets to generate heat. You can choose pellets in a variety of flavours to enhance your food, like hickory, mesquite, apple or oak.
Pellet grills are versatile and can be used to smoke, braise, barbecue or sear your food.
- Propane Gas Barbecue
To determine how much power you need, divide the number of BTUs by the total cooking surface in square inches. Ideally, you will have around 110 BTUs per square inch.
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.
The 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 315°C 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.
Finally, there are barbecues equipped with infrared radiant burners, the main advantage being that a temperature of 1800°C 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.
Back burner – Roaster or Rotisserie
The heating elements
- Ceramic briquettes: 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
- Porcelain-coated steel grates:Easy to maintain, you can clean them once they've cooled. Steel grates without porcelain tends to rust. Furthermore, since steel does not retain heat as well, burners must 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 have 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.
- 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 rating, 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.
Storage shelves and cabinets
Adequate lighting means that you can use the barbecue later in the evening, after nightfall. Some barbecues come with an LED light attached to the grill handle that automatically lights up when the lid is opened, and turns off when lid is closed. Grill lights are also available for purchase separately and are compatible with most grill handles.
The Tools and Accessories
Stainless steel heat diffusers are a replacement for briquettes and stones. They protect the burner and distribute heat evenly throughout the cook box.
The Portable Barbecues
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.
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 this 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 spiderwebs 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 this purpose.
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.
Five Barbecue Tips
A Clean Barbecue
Cooking on a clean grill is the first rule for barbecue success. When you’re finished cooking, heat the barbecue for up to 10 minutes with the lid closed. Any leftover residue will burn and turn to ashes. You can then scrub the grill with a barbecue brush.
A Well-Oiled Grill
Oiling the grill is an important step to prevent food from sticking. Rub an oil-soaked cloth over the grill using tongs.
Achieve a more evenly cooked result by removing meat from the fridge 30 to 60 minutes before barbecuing.
Salt Right Before Cooking
Salt should be added at the very last minute before cooking, since it dries and hardens the meat.
Let the meat rest for 5 to 10 minutes after cooking. The meat will reabsorb the juice, which will make it less dry. To do so, place the meat on a cutting board and cover it with aluminum foil, without sealing.