Set a budget.The first step is to realistically look at your finances. Just like cars, a BBQ Grill can range from cheap to hugely expensive. Set yourself a limit and stick with it.
How often will you use it?
If you use your BBQ Grill on a daily basis, your biggest concerns
should be fuel and sturdy construction. A Gas BBQ Grill is the easiest
to get fuel for. A heavy gauge steel housing or cast iron is best in
the durability department. Do not be tempted by the light duty stamped
steel models that dominate the dollar stores. They work. But with daily
use, especially if you use charcoal or wood, they'll wear out quickly.
Monthly - If you only use your BBQ Grill once or twice a month. Then a light gauge stamped steel unit is fine. Fuel isn't a major concern either. My main concern here would actually be protection from the elements and a good quality BBQ Grill cover is a must. Picture a favorite car that is placed in storage and only taken out occasionally.
How will you use it?Family cookouts - Family cookouts are great. Every time you cook on your BBQ Grill the most routine meal is a special occasion. Features that I would look for include a temperature gage and an extra burner on the side. You do have the entire kitchen to back you up in case it's needed. Most family cookouts tend to be quick, so for fuel you cannot beat propane or gas.
Entertaining - If your BBQ Grill will be used as the center of a party cookout then your biggest concern needs to be the cook surface and ease of cleaning. Look for as large a cook surface as possible, preferably porcelain coated, and a warming rack. A side burner is mandatory. With porcelain coated grates be sure not to use wire brushes or heavy metal implements that will chip the surface. This is the area where a high end built in unit dominates and is honestly worth looking at. These units are stainless steel, and are billed as outdoor kitchens. Encase your BBQ Grill in brick, use concrete counters, and properly seasoned wood cabinetry for the outdoors and you will own the entertainment circuit in your area.
Road trips - I love road trips. Who doesn't? But packing along a BBQ Grill on the road has it's own challenges to consider. Portability is the key element in this case. Look for something just large enough to do the job. Durability is a close second. Many times the simplest construction is the best. My personal recommendation for road trips is not one, but two, Hibachi BBQ Grills. They are small, solid, use very little charcoal or wood, and the food tastes simply awesome. Once you get used to the small scale, you'll wonder why you never got one before as a backup grill for the house.
What do you cook most often?Steak - This is without a doubt the most cooked item on a BBQ Grill. It is the king and in the world of grilling, how you do a steak makes your reputation. Cooking steaks on your BBQ Grill means you need a very high heat area to sear the meat. The latest accessory to consider is an infrared burner. It is short range and will place that perfect crust on the meat. Then you will need to make sure that you have enough cooking surface to indirectly finish off the steak to the perfect degree of doneness. If you are interested in cooking a great steak indoors, then you might be interested in checking out this article on grilling a great steak without an outdoor grill.
Burgers/Dogs - Believe it or not, cooking burgers and dogs on a BBQ Grill is a lot like grilling a steak. The key elements are to have two heat zones in place. One to sear and one to adjust to a proper temperature to avoid overcooking the outside as the inside makes it to the proper degree of doneness.
Seafood and Vegetables - Seafood or Vegetables on a BBQ Grill are sublime. But, special consideration has to be taken into account because both by and large are delicate. Make sure your BBQ Grill has enough space for more than one heat zone. Be very sure that your cooking grid is non-stick or that you oil the grates very thoroughly. A lot of people will not attempt either (except for traditional corn on the cob) on the grill. Some of that is lack of experience, but a lot is simply that the grill isn't outfitted properly. Be sure you have a basket to prevent small pieces from falling through to the fire below.
Roast Chicken - If you have never roasted a whole chicken on the BBQ Grill then you are missing out. Your biggest concern is that you need a rotisserie. Choose one with variable speeds, make sure the motor is UL rated for high heat. The spear and prongs should be stainless steel or non-stick coated. You will need room under the bird to catch drippings and avoid flare ups. Gas fired BBQ Grills are the best for this since you will maintain a constant temperature. Wood or Charcoal replenishment in the middle of cooking can be tricky. Instead use a smoker box to get that smoke flavor without any hassle.
Accessorize!Accessories for BBQ Grills range from cheap to need-a-loan expensive. Some are billed as the next great thing while others sit in obscurity just waiting for the diligent grill enthusiast to bring them home and put them to use. My list of, pardon the pun, picks and pans is shown below.
Mats - A BBQ Grill mat is nothing more than something that will keep the drippings from landing on your concrete patio or wood deck. And, you can use the mat as an insect repellent with careful spraying and planting of ant traps. This will help curb the grease eating ants that thrive in areas where those that grill have not been down on the mat.
Covers - A cover for your BBQ Grill is an absolute must unless you are putting it into weatherproof storage every night. Wind, rain, snow, ice, hail, and even birds are all out to get your grill. To keep the grill clean, rust free, and working well, choose a very durable cover that will go over the grill and down to the ground level if possible. A cinching system is great to have but isn't required since a couple of bungee cords strategically placed will do the job as well.
Cleaning Tools - Tools designed to clean a BBQ Grill range from stiff brass or steel brushes, to the grill daddy grate cleaner. Some folks even use the home steam cleaners such as "the Shark" to keep their BBQ Grill spotless. You need to have a way to clean the grates. You need to have a way to empty the ash bin for charcoal or wood burning BBQ Grills. You need to have a way to periodically clean the burners and controls. If you are using porcelain grates, stay away from wire brushes or scraping tools. These will damage the grate and render it useless.
Cooking Tools - The simplest batch of tools is the turners or flippers. I prefer tongs or a spatula and tong combo tool. This way I can turn anything from drumsticks to pancakes without piercing the food and allowing the juices to escape. A grilling basket for seafood, fish, and veggies is a must have. Be sure to get the non-stick variety. And, you must have a thermometer. There are times you must check internal temperature for safety reasons. Pork and Poultry come immediately to mind. A near instant read thermometer is ideal for this.
Aftermarket Cooking - Rotisseries and searing burners abound. There are are BBQ Grill woks and griddles to be had. My personal advice, based on a lot of money spent over the years, is that any heat gene3rating items like a rotisserie should be built into the unit you buy. Aftermarket versions are a pain to set up and use. I also suggest that you get a good quality cast iron skillet and a cast iron griddle that will simply sit atop the cooking grates. Lodge makes outstanding cast iron skillets and grates.
And that is about it. If you stick to a budget and consider how often you cook, how you are using it, what you are cooking, and the accessories needed your search for the perfect BBQ Grill will narrow itself automatically. Your perfect choice will stand out. And you will gain years of enjoyment. I truly appreciate your stopping by and taking the time to read. Thanks, and happy grilling.
All Photos except the opening graphic courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Full Size versions of each photo are available at my Flikr Photostream.