If your first experience of "barbecue" was cooking over an open campfire as a Girl or Boy Scout, then buckle up. Barbecue grills have grown up since then. If you're in the market for a new grill, do your research. There is no one best grill for everyone. Like your personal taste in food, there are several factors to be considered before settling on your outdoor cooking method.
It's important to know how much room you have to dedicate to a safe and accessible cooking area. Don't worry if you've only got a small balcony or even if you have to rely on traveling with your barbecue grill. Portable tabletop grills and small kettles can fit any small space. If you have a large patio area, consider a built-in grill or even a full outdoor kitchen.
What kind of food do you like to cook, and do you like it seared, smoked, baked or nearly burnt? Charcoal and pellet cooking give you more options for searing than gas grills. Plus, if you like smoky flavors, you can add flavored wood chips. Do you like to stand over the food as it cooks or tend to walk away to sit with company? Kamado and pellet grills can give you more freedom to let your food cook more evenly without flare-ups that could burn your feast.
You will also want to consider available features such as side burners, which are convenient for heating gravies and side dishes. Check the warranties as they will give you a better idea as to how long the grills and other parts may last. Look at the size of the heating surface and the number of burners, too. Will this accommodate the average amount of food you prepare? Are vents needed to allow for airflow, traps to help clean the grill, and an easy way to add charcoal without disturbing the cook surface? Read reviews for temperature stability and even heating. How easy is the grill to maintain between seasons? Of course, the price needs to be in your budget.
With a charcoal grill, you build the fire with briquettes or lump wood charcoal. You need lighter fluid or another substitute to ignite the fire. Then, you wait until all the fuel is burning evenly and without a visible flame (fat dripping from the food will cause flares). Lump wood charcoal is purer than briquettes, which have added binders. Wood chips can be added for smoky flavor.
Gas grills are fueled by a permanent natural gas line or with a portable propane tank. Many gas grills have convenient igniter buttons to light the burners when you turn the knobs on. The grill tends to heat up quickly and evenly for easy cooking. Not every gas grill can sear your food, but it will cook it through without burning.
Electric griddles cook with heat but no flame and have the advantage of being able to be used both indoors and out. The biggest disadvantage is that you need a nearby electrical outlet. While pellet stoves also require electricity, back-up systems can keep it running in a power failure. Pellet stoves use compressed wood pellets (make sure they are food grade pellets), flavors are optional, and can be set to automatically maintain the cooking temperature without the chef needing to stand over the grill.
Barbecue smokers, like kettles and kamado grills, cook food at low temperatures so that they are imbued with the smoky flavor. Kettles often have a small cook surface; their tripod design and small footprint make them ideal for small patios. Smokers have a large variety of shapes and sizes. All use covers to keep the heat in while the food cooks to a tender and juicy state.
Different sources quote slightly different lists as "Best Grills for 2021" so take the time to discover what you want out of your grill.