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August 21, 2007 > I need a new grill

I need a new grill

By Seth Sutel, AP Business Writer

Q. I'm shopping for a new grill to have in time for Labor Day weekend cookouts, and each one seems to be more powerful than the next. How much heating power do I really need?

A. Lots of grills come with boasts about how many BTUs (British thermal units) they have, but guess what _ that's the amount of energy the grill consumes per hour, and it's not the only factor to consider in how effectively the grill is going to work.

It's also important to look at other factors such as whether it's got high-quality cooking grates that will be more likely to absorb and retain heat. That's important in getting those nice grill lines on steaks and other kinds of meat.

The amount of BTUs on a sticker also doesn't necessarily translate into how quickly or well a grill will heat up or how well it sears meat, according to Steven Saltzman, a deputy editor of Consumer Reports.

``The grill companies love to throw numbers at you, and in the case of BTU they want you to believe that bigger is better,'' Saltzman says.

The quality of the gas burners are factors in determining how well effectively a grill will heat, Saltzman says. Also keeping the grates clean is very important in having heat transfer properly to the food you're cooking.

Even some inexpensive models will come with highly-rated premium cooking grates made from high-quality material such as stainless steel or porcelain-coated cast iron, which are very effective at applying heat to food _ even in grills with lower BTU ratings.

Think of the way a cast-iron skillet may take a long time to heat up on the stove, but once it does, it will hold that heat and sear a steak far more effectively than a cooking pan made of another material.

For those wanting super-high cooking power for fully searing the outsides of foods while also leaving the inside rare, consider getting a grill with an infrared burner.

These burners, which are similar to the professional equipment used in restaurant kitchens, use a comparable amount of fuel as standard gas burners but concentrate the burning gas in a compact heating element that emits a reddish glow instead of an open flame.

These infrared burners can generate heat in excess of 700 degrees Fahrenheit, even more than a standard grill temperature of around 600 F. Saltzman recommends these for folks who are in a hurry or like to flash-cook foods like shrimp or thin pieces of chicken to get a crispy crust.

Meanwhile those old standbys, charcoal grills, are starting to make a comeback, Saltzman said, as more people take up old-fashioned smoking and slow cooking. Charcoal grills still make up about 40 percent of all grill sales, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, which also reported that sales of grills rose 15 percent last year.

If you've got the right weather conditions and the time to get a charcoal grill going, Saltzman said, a charcoal grill can emit just as much heating power as a gas grill _ you just need to keep stoking it.

___

Online:

Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association - http://www.hpba.org/

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