Find a grill friend
The barbecue has become an essential item for summer social gatherings, and there’s plenty of choice when it comes to types, styles and sizes. KATIE LEE has put together a buying checklist so you can spend less time in the shop and more by the barbie.
Everyone’s needs are different, which is why there are so many barbecues on the market. Gas is quick to light, easy to clean and smoke-free but those pluses don’t count for those who crave the smoky taste of charcoal.
So that big shiny six-burner built-in may look impressive in the shop but end up being a waste of cash and space.
On the other hand, buying the cheapest model available may also disappoint because it doesn’t fulfil all your needs.
According to Barbeques Galore product manager Peter Anderson, gas models are powerful, portable and easy to control. They are also cleaner, faster to start than coal burning models and tend to have bigger cooking areas. They burn either bottled LPG or natural gas. Natural gas is cheaper than LPG, but as this gas comes from the mains the barbecue is not as portable.
The majority of barbecues in Australia are designed for LPG and there is a vast array, from simple side burners to high-tech Radiant Quartz Technology (RQT) burners that cook with radiant heat, minimise flare-ups, have great temperature control and can replicate cooking over charcoal without the cost and mess.
Gas barbecues are often described by the number of burners they possess. Most sold for home use are four-burner.
Charcoal-fuelled barbecues are great for enthusiasts who like a smoky flavour, though this type of barbecue requires a bit of work. It takes time to master the heat control and longer to start up, plus it’s messier.
Mostly, the charcoal is sold in the form of shaped briquettes, some of which can burn for four hours or more before needing to be topped up. They can also be re-used if extinguished. Some prefer to use lump charcoal, which burns faster and hotter than briquettes, but also less evenly, requiring more work for the cook.
Electric barbecues are great if they can be used close to a power source and under cover. There is no risk of running out of fuel and, according to Mr Anderson, running costs are low.
- Portable and camping barbecues are smaller, more compact and cheaper, but have limited capacity. They suit homes with small outdoor spaces like balconies as they can often be folded away when not in use.
- Backyard barbecues usually have multiple burners and are big enough to cater for two to 20 or more people. This is the biggest category sold in Australia so there’s a lot of variety.
- Built-in barbecues are for people who want to arrange their own surrounds for the barbecue or to use one in an outdoor kitchen.
- Islands are modular designed to create a freestanding outdoor kitchen in your own backyard.
- Hotplate models use conducted heat. It is quick and efficient and easy to clean afterwards.
- Open grills use convection heat, vaporise juices and create smoke for more authentic flavour.
- Multiple burner hooded barbecues have more flexibility. As well as operating as a conventional barbecue, the hood can be lowered to cook roasts and other dishes.
- Rear burners allow radiant heat transfer to a rotisserie that’s self-basting.
- RQT burners are a recent innovation using true radiant heat directly below the food and a quartz dome over the burner to allow control flare and sear the food on the outside, while keeping it tender on the inside.
Steel and cast-iron hotplates and grills are cheaper, have good heat transfer but can rust if they’re not cared for. Stainless steel, enamelled cast iron and non-stick flexible liners are all becoming more common, especially for coastal areas.
Exterior finishes range from painted surfaces and vitreous enamel to stainless steel.
Paint is the cheapest but it can scratch or flake off over time. Vitreous enamel is tougher and more durable, easy to clean and heat resistant. It is ideal for a barbecue built within brickwork or outside in the elements. Stainless steel is durable and perfect for coastal locations but can discolour when heated and may require extra cleaning as it shows smudges easily.
The number of people you are cooking for will determine the size of the barbecue you need. For a couple, a two or three-burner should suffice but a large family may need a five or six-burner model. Once you’ve settled on the options above, then you can delve into the details from ignition points, trolleys and side burners to accessories.
Ignition types are usually piezo, electronic or flame thrower. Piezo is where you press a button or one of the gas knobs and it generates a spark to ignite the gas, while electronic ignition uses a battery to create a spark. Mr Anderson said better quality barbecues used flame-thrower ignition that automatically lit when you turned the knob.
Side burners are a cooking area attached to the side of the barbecue, often good for frying in a wok or boiling food in a saucepan.
It is handy to have a flat cover over the side burner for extra bench space when not in use. Other additions are infrared back burners, which are great for spit cooking, or rotisseries.
Fat draining trays are important to reduce the likelihood of fat catching on fire. A fat tray should be easy to remove and replace. Simple barbecues have a slide out drain tray but the higher-end models often have a double drainage system that’s more effective and easier to clean.
Trolleys are handy when you want to move your barbecue around. Check they’re easy to use and the height and hand-grip is comfortable for you, look for large side trays and storage.
- Make sure there is easy access to the cooking area.
- A simple “shake test” can show how well a barbecue is put together. Too much horizontal movement signifies a poorly-built barbecue.
- Handles should be far enough from the hot hood panel so you don’t burn your hand.
- Generally speaking, the more you spend the better quality you’re going to get.
- Read the warranty fine print to see exactly what components it covers.
- Keep gas cylinders off the ground to prevent rusting.
© The West Australian
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