Consumer Reports: Grate expectations: Shopping for a new grill


Consider the life of a grill. It stands outside, exposed to the elements, sometimes year-round. When the grill works, it's the life of the party. But when grease builds up, spiders haunt the burner tubes and corrosion kicks in, the party's over.

If this is the year to haul your "old reliable" to the curb and shop for a new model, you'll want to know the differences between grills that cost $300 and the ones that cost $1,000 and more. Consumer Reports offers a guide to common features in three price ranges.

$300 or less

Inexpensive portable, small and mid-sized grills don't have all the bells and whistles of high-priced models, but many can still get the job done.

What you get: Usually, a shorter (one- to five-year) warranty on burners, the part that's most likely to fail. Stainless-steel or coated cast-iron grates are both good for searing and maintaining even temperatures, but stainless are more durable. An electronic igniter is usually more convenient than a rotary or push-button type, though not every grill at this price will have one.

Shopping tip: Construction may not be top-notch. Nudge the grill from several points to test its sturdiness. Look for sharp edges. Lift grates to see if they're heavy-duty or flimsy.

$450 to $1,000

Midrange grills come in small, medium and large sizes, and can deliver impressive performance. They also tend to be sturdier than less-expensive models.

What you get: Expect heavy-duty stainless or cast-iron grates and a side burner for, say, sauteing onions or simmering sauce. Most have an electronic igniter and burner warranties of 10 years or more, and come on four wheels or casters for easy moving. Some come with a fuel gauge, a nice extra that reminds you when it's time for a refill.

Shopping tip: Check the manufacturer's specs on the weight limit of the side burner, so you know how heavy a pot it can hold. Consumer Reports suggests gripping the handle to check for clearance: You won't want your knuckles to be too close to a hot lid.

$1,000 and up

These pricey performers are usually stainless steel and sold at specialty stores and big-box stores' websites.

What you get: Expect high-quality stainless, the heaviest-duty grates (stainless steel or coated cast iron) and burner warranties of 10 years or longer. Features may include searing burners; rotisserie burners with a motorized spit; LED lights inside the grill for flipping burgers in the dark; and a pullout tray for the propane tank.

Shopping tip: Certain grills allow you to use natural gas. Others offer a conversion kit for $50 to $100. Once hooked up to your natural gas line, there's no need for propane tanks and no running out of gas, but the grill will be less mobile. You'll also need a pro to run the gas line.

Grill with confidence

When cooking on a grill, it doesn't matter how beautifully browned your burger looks: If it's not cooked properly, it could make you sick. Consumer Reports offers these tips:

• Wash hands, countertops, cutting boards, plates, platters and utensils with hot, soapy water after they're exposed to raw meat.

• Cook ground beef to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit (check with a meat thermometer). Rare or medium-rare burgers don't reach a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria.

• Steaks that have been mechanically tenderized (check the label) should always be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The tenderizing process can drive surface bacteria deep into the meat, making it more difficult to kill.

• Eating heavily charred food can expose you to potentially cancer-causing compounds.

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