For many of us, there’s no better way to bring everybody together than with a cookout – a great opportunity to invite all your friends and family to hang out and catch up over some expertly-grilled hamburgers and franks. And it pays to have the right kit for the job: whether you’re looking to invest in your first outdoor grill, or have just retired an older model and are keen for an upgrade, the market is saturated with high-quality grills at a range of prices which should suit most wallets.
Despite charcoal and propane being historically the most common fuels used in grills, an increasing number on the market rely on natural gas to ignite and fuel their burners. Like propane, natural gas is a green fuel in terms of greenhouse gas and carbon monoxide emissions, but natural gas is much more cost-effective. When most grills were rigged to use only propane, the cost of switching to natural gas offset the lower fuel costs, but as more and more grills are rigged for either natural or dual gas, the increase in value-for-money is proving attractive to consumers.
Big names in grilling – like Weber, Broil King and Napoleon – offer a range of natural gas grills. Below are some of the best models on the market.
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What are natural gas grills?
Grills are most popularly used to cook meat, but can typically be used to cook almost anything you could cook in an indoor oven. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and are also fueled in different ways.
Charcoal grills are the most basic available, whereas most gas grills have traditionally used propane – cleaner and simpler than charcoal, but more expensive and sometimes difficult to source. Natural gas grills blend the ease of using propane with the ease of finding charcoal: they require setup, in the form of a gas line out to your porch or patio (or wherever you plan on setting up your grill), but from there you can hook your grill up to your home gas supply without needing expert help. Once set up, the savings in terms of resources and time are considerable, and so natural gas grills have become an increasingly popular option on the outdoor grill market.
The two most common designs for natural gas grills are the same as those for propane-fueled grills. It’s a simple difference: hooded or open?
Hooded grills, as the name suggests, feature a hood which can be raised or lowered as you require. This lets you make the most of the natural gas grill’s power and versatility, allowing you to broil and steam and smoke as well as grill; as long as the hood’s got enough head space to do everything you want to do. If made from the right materials, hooded grills will also tend to last longer than their open relatives if left out in the open.
On the other hand, open grills tend to be the cheaper choice, so if you only plan on using your grill for grilling, you may decide a hood’s not worth the added expense. Be aware that if you do decide to store your grill outside while not in use – or if it’s a built-in model which can’t be moved once installed – the materials it’s made from are even more important than they would be otherwise: in particular, stainless steel should be a priority for any working components which will be exposed to the elements.
Some grills, of course, are more portable and easier to stow away than others. Most large grills sold today will come with some kind of caster-wheeled trolley to help maneuver them into position; and tabletop grills are an increasingly popular option, for consumers who want the ease and power of a gas-fueled grill with the convenience of something truly portable.
Natural gas grills are available in both varieties, from the smallest tabletop models to hulking stainless steel brutes that wouldn’t look out of place in a commercial kitchen. If you’re in the market for a new grill and decide natural gas is the way to go, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Why buy a natural gas grill?
Natural gas grills are only one of the options on offer if you decide you want a new grill, but there are a host of good reasons to buy one.
- Outdoor grills of any kind are essential for cooking outside. Make the most of the good weather and turn cooking itself into a social activity, and then relax and enjoy a freshly-cooked meal in the fresh air.
- The ability to cook large quantities of food outdoors is the perfect excuse for socializing, whether hosting a cookout or (with one of the portable tabletop grills) tailgating. Limited kitchen and oven space tends to mean dinner parties are restricted in how many people you can invite – buy a large enough grill and you can have the whole family over!
- A reliable, good-quality outdoor grill can be a lifesaver if your indoor oven is electric and the power goes out. If you live somewhere power cuts are a part of life, this might even be your number one reason for investing in a grill.
- The metal used for the bulk of most outdoor grills – whether stainless steel or cast iron – tends to hold heat for a significant period of time, allowing you to keep cooking for as long as you need (even after the burner’s been turned off). If stainless steel is used, the grill will also be resistant to corrosion.
- Compared to charcoal grills, gas-fueled grills are easier to get running and control the temperature of. They’re also much easier to clean, making them an all-round more convenient option.
- Between the gas-fueled grills, natural gas stands out as a winner over propane partly due to its convenience. If you’ve already got a gas line out to your porch and patio, you’re ready to go and can readily fuel your grill from your home supply. If you haven’t, you may want to enlist some professional help to get one set up; but after that, you can wave the issues with cleaning charcoal and obtaining propane goodbye.
- Natural gas also beats propane when it comes to cost-effectiveness over time. Both propane and natural gas are classified as green fuels when burned, but natural gas provides better value for money in the long run.
Things to consider
If you’ve decided a natural gas grill is just the thing for your next cookout, there are a number of things to consider when you come to compare individual models.
- Materials. There are a few different materials used in the construction of natural gas grills. The majority of the construction of the grill will be metal; either stainless steel or cast iron. Stainless steel tends to cost more, but it stands up better against rust and corrosion. Other materials used to make natural gas grills include porcelain, sometimes used alongside iron in the construction of the cooking grates, and hard plastic in the grill’s exterior. Pay particular attention to the material used for the grill’s burner: this is the most-replaced part in modern outdoor grills, so look for a burner that’ll last and you can be confident in your choice.
- Hood. This is a simple one: do you want your grill to have a hood? Hoods tend to increase cost, but add protection from the elements and greatly broaden the range of cooking tasks you can perform with your grill.
- Workmanship. How well-made is the grill? A famous brand name and high-grade materials don’t mean a lot if the piece hasn’t been assembled with the care and attention it deserves.
- Size. A larger grill allows you to cook greater quantities of food for more people; but it also costs more, uses more fuel, and takes up more space. If it’s large but has caster wheels for increased mobility, it might not matter how much space it takes up in the yard; but there’s still no point buying something way too big for what you need.
- Assembly. Will the grill require assembly upon delivery? If it will, is that something you’re willing and able to do, or will you need to pay out a second time to get a professional to do the job for you? Factor assembly costs – whether financial or physical – into your final decision.
- Features. Modern natural gas grills can come equipped with all sorts of features, designed to make the grill more effective and your life easier. Some of the more common features include electronic igniters, side burners, LED lighting, fuel gauges, and easy-access gas compartments. Some people will find some features more useful than others, so think about what you’d appreciate on your grill before shopping.
- Needs. That is, your needs – how many people will you typically be grilling for? What do you like to cook? Do you only want to grill, or do you want to use your natural gas grill for steaming or broiling too? How big is your budget? Know what you want and know your limits, and you’re much more likely to be happy with your final purchase.
- Safety. Particularly important if you have children and/or pets, it’s always worth thinking about how safe the grill will be to use. Does it ignite easily? Does it feel stable, or does it wobble anywhere? If it’s on a trolley with caster wheels, do the wheels lock in place and stay locked? Besides gas leaks, the biggest dangers around natural gas grills involve instability and poor construction, so make sure you trust the product you’re going to buy.
- Extras. Has the manufacturer bundled in any extras with the grill to increase the value you’re getting for your money? Some of the more common packaged extras include cooking tools and implements, trolleys for storing ingredients and cooked food, cookbooks, and a heavy-duty cover for the grill itself. These extras shouldn’t be enough to make up your mind, but they may tip the balance in favor of one model over another.
- Price. Some of us will be more concerned about price than others, but whatever your budget you’ll do well to have a rough idea in mind of how much you want to spend before you start shopping. Expect a decent natural gas grill to cost upwards of $250, with larger high-quality models costing over $1000 and luxury grills ramping the price up sharply from there.
Risks and warnings
- Like any cooking device involving heat and inflammable fuel, natural gas grills are items which are dangerous if misused. Wherever and whenever you use your gas grill, it should be used responsibly and with respect.
- Make sure to set your grill up on an even, stable surface. This is easiest with tabletop grills, or when setting a larger grill up on a level man-made surface like a patio. If you’re going to be cooking on uneven ground, take care to make sure your grill is stable and secure before you fire it up.
- Anything involving fire is potentially dangerous to children and animals, so if either of them will be around while you’re grilling, make sure you’re aware of where they are at all times. If they’re old enough, children can be educated about the dangers of a grill in use – some animals might be safer if removed from the area while you’re grilling.
- Natural gas burns, which is why it’s being used in your grill, but it also means you have to be alert for gas leaks. If you start to smell gas, switch the grill off immediately and find out the source of the smell. Unless you’re able to identify and resolve the issue, don’t switch the grill on again until you’ve had someone with the appropriate expertise take a look.
- To preserve the lifespan of your natural gas grill, make sure to clean it regularly and store it responsibly. This will mean you get the best value for money from your grill, and it’ll also keep it safe for longer.