Best Cheap Grills

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Our Picks

Dyna-Glo DGB390SNP-D Smart Space Living
Char-Broil Performance Tru-Infrared 463371316
Weber 22" Original Kettle 741001
Weber 18" Jumbo Joe 1211001
Char-Broil Quickset 3-Burner 463742215
Nexgrill 5-Burner 720-0888N
Char-Broil Kettleman 22.5" Tru-Infrared 14301878
Pit Barrel Cooker
Cuisinart CGG-180T Petit Gourmet
Char-Broil Patio Bistro 17602066
Char-Griller Double Play 5650
Char-Griller Akorn Kamado 16620
Weber Spirit II E-310 49010001

Dyna-Glo DGB390SNP-D Smart Space Living Review

From $234 Best

Best Gas Grill Under $300 Overall

Pros:

  • Quick to heat, with good heat retention, according to experts; users praise the responsive temperature control.
  • 3 relatively powerful 12,000-BTU stainless steel burners with heat tents to help with flare-ups.
  • 507 square inches of total cooking surface (390 square-inch primary cooking area plus a warming rack) in a compact design.
  • Sturdy cast-iron grates are porcelain-coated to prevent sticking; double-walled lid for heat retention.
  • Comes with temperature gauge, electric (battery) ignition, single-door cabinet, drop-down side tables with utensil hooks and towel bars, and 4 wheels (2 with locks).
  • Easy to assemble and clean, according to reviews.

Cons:

  • Experts at TopTenReviews report hot and cold spots in testing, which leads to uneven cooking.
  • Some reviewers say the grates are not easy to clean.
  • Scattered concern about limited durability.

Takeaway: There's plenty of value built into this Dyna-Glo Smart Space Living gas grill, according to reviewers. This is a basic, compact three-burner grill that should appeal to both newbie and more experienced outdoor cooks. It's right-sized for decks and small yards, while its cooking surface is big enough to feed a small group. Burgers and steaks cook to perfection, users say, and the good looks and modest price are hard to beat. The manufacturer offers a five-year warranty on the burners and limited one-year warranty on parts.

Where to buy

Char-Broil Performance Tru-Infrared 463371316 Review

From $251 Best

Best Infrared Gas Grill Under $300

Pros:

  • Infrared cooking technology produces even, intense heat, prevents flare-ups, and keeps food moist.
  • 3 8,000-BTU stainless steel burners reach high heats quickly; there's also a 10,000-BTU side burner.
  • Porcelain-coated cooking grates cover a generous primary cooking area of 450 square inches; warming rack adds another 150 square inches of cooking space.
  • Convenience features include a built-in temperature gauge, electric (spark) ignition, side work areas, storage cabinet, and 4 caster wheels with 2 that lock.

Cons:

  • Some owners say they have difficulty cleaning the grates.
  • Scattered reports of rusting on the grates.

Takeaway: Proprietary infrared technology infuses this Char-Broil Performance series three-burner gas grill with budget-friendly pizzazz. The no-fuss process and tasty, tender results commend this model to outdoor cooks, some of whom crow about leaving charcoal grilling far behind after trying it out. Although intended to minimize cleanup -- juices are supposed to vaporize once hitting the grates -- some reviews say grease and marinades accumulate in the grate troughs, interfere with cooking, and require lots of effort to remove. Still, owners like the efficiency and value price. The grill's warranty covers five years on the burners, two years on the lid and fire box, and one year on the remainder.

Weber 22" Original Kettle 741001 Review

From $99 Best

Best Charcoal Grill Under $100

Pros:

  • Simple, effective, and time-tested; reviewers tell of excellent results with all kinds of foods, from burgers and hot dogs to pizza and turkey.
  • 22-inch diameter provides a relatively generous 363 square inches of cooking surface.
  • Heavy-gauge steel grate for charcoal; plated steel grate for cooking.
  • Porcelain-enameled bowl and lid with integrated holder; rust-resistant damper for oxygen flow.
  • Removable ash catcher; One-Touch cleaning system.
  • Easy to assemble and clean, users report; two wheels help with transport.
  • 10-year warranty on the bowl and lid; 5 years on the cleaning system and plastic parts; 2 years on the remainder.

Cons:

  • Scattered grousing about rust spots and weakness in small components, like screws and handles.
  • Occasional reports of missing parts in the packaging.
  • Cooking grate height cannot be adjusted; no temperature gauge.

Takeaway: An all-time favorite, the Weber 22-inch Original Kettle 741001 arguably sets the standard for charcoal grilling. It delivers top-level performance with straightforward operation and comes tagged at a modest price. It's a must for old-time cookouts and can be used as a smoker, as well. Some users say build quality has deteriorated compared with older units, but the vast majority wax enthusiastic over this no-frills Weber charcoal grill. The same design is available in 18-inch and 26-inch sizes. Those looking for a few more bells and whistles, or more color choices, might consider upscale Weber kettles like the Premium or the Weber Master-Touch.

Weber 18" Jumbo Joe 1211001 Review

From $60 Best

Best Cheap Portable Grill

Pros:

  • Good size for family meals and for portability, with excellent searing and tender, moist results, reviewers say.
  • 18-inch diameter with a generous cooking surface (240 square inches) for its small size.
  • Plated steel cooking grate, porcelain-enameled bowl and lid, and heavy-gauge steel charcoal grate.
  • 2 rust-resistant dampers for air flow.
  • Removable ash catcher; One-Touch cleaning system.
  • Heat-resistant handle and lock for the lid.
  • 10-year warranty on the bowl and lid; 5 years on the cleaning system and plastic parts; 2 years on the remainder.

Cons:

  • No built-in temperature gauge.
  • Some grousing that grill can't match quality of previous Weber models.

Takeaway: Take the Weber Jumbo Joe to a picnic, a tailgate, or campout, or fire it up for a quick meal rather than hassling with the full-size grill. Users laud its convenience, efficiency, size, and performance, and many have added the Jumbo Joe to their stable of other Weber models. Some gripes about problems controlling the temperature and disappointing build quality are outweighed by the abundance of four- and five-star reviews.

Where to buy

Char-Broil Quickset 3-Burner 463742215 Review

From $129 Good

Good 3-Burner Gas Grill Under $200

Pros:

  • One of the least expensive models from a brand known for quality and innovation.
  • Provides 530 square inches of total cooking surface: 360 square inches of primary cooking space and 170 square inches on a swing-away warming rack.
  • 3 12,000-BTU burners offer just enough heat to adequately cover the cooking area.
  • Steel cooking grates and inner lid are porcelain-coated.
  • Electric (spark) ignition and 2 side tables.
  • Easy to put together and clean, according to reviews.
  • Light weight and 2 wheels help with portability (although 4 wheels would be better).
  • Silver Medal Award from respected grilling authorities at AmazingRibs.com.

Cons:

  • No temperature gauge.
  • Experts suggest it may be worth paying more for a model with sturdier construction and a longer life expectancy.

Takeaway: While experts aren't especially wowed by the cooking power of this Char-Broil Quickset gas grill, they agree that its got a lot going for it given its incredibly cheap price. Small and simple, this grill has three burners and a good amount of cooking space for just a bit over $100. Satisfied users praise the Quickset's low weight, ease of use, and overall performance. Even if it may not last for the long term, users say the low cost makes replacement no big deal -- it also makes this grill a good choice for a vacation home. The warranty extends five years on the burners, two years on lid and fire box, and one year on all other parts.

Note: There's a newer, nearly identical model, the Char-Broil Classic 3-Burner, that's even cheaper and more widely available (est. price: $113; Buy it from Walmart), but that grill's burners deliver only 30,000 BTUs.

Where to buy

Available from Lowe's

Nexgrill 5-Burner 720-0888N Review

From $199 Good

Good Large Gas Grill Under $200

Pros:

  • Preheats quickly, cooks evenly, and delivers decent heat consistency, according to experts.
  • 5 11,000-BTU stainless steel burners; 12,000-BTU side burner.
  • "Flame tamers" above the main burners to guard against flare-ups and help moderate heat distribution; cast iron grates are coated with porcelain.
  • Large size provides 639 square inches of cooking surface (480 square inches primary and 159 square inches on warming rack).
  • Convenience features include electric (battery) ignition, a temperature gauge, stainless steel side shelves, and 2 wheels for transport.

Cons:

  • Some user and expert concern about build quality and limited longevity.
  • In expert testing by TopTenReviews, flare-ups and issues with food sticking to grates were shortcomings.
  • Many owners say assembly can be a bit tricky and time consuming.

Takeaway: This low-cost Nexgrill 5-burner gas grill provides a lot of bang for the buck, with a sleek appearance and solid specs. Five main burners plus a side burner offer a range of meal-prep options, and both owners and expert reviewers laud the 720-0888N for its generous cooking surface, high heat output, and versatility. While this grill may not be as sturdy or perform as flawlessly as more expensive models, it's still a good choice for consumers looking for a cheap party grill that will serve for at least a few summers. There's a five-year warranty on the burners and one year on the rest.

Where to buy

Available from Home Depot

Char-Broil Kettleman 22.5" Tru-Infrared 14301878 Review

From $99 Good

Good Infrared Charcoal Grill Under $100

Pros:

  • Retains heat well and cooks evenly, with impressive searing, no flare-ups, and speedy, tasty results, according to expert and user reviews.
  • Infrared technology provides concentrated radiant heat for even cooking, moist food, less burning, and easy searing.
  • Easily reaches high temperatures; uses charcoal efficiently.
  • 22.5-inch diameter and 360 square inches of cooking surface on porcelain-coated grates.
  • Hinged lid with temperature gauge and latch; adjustable charcoal grate; removable ash pan; two wheels for transport.
  • 10-year warranty on the bowl and lid; 5 years on the ash pan; 2 years on the remainder.

Cons:

  • Oversize hood damper for controlling the heat is hard to adjust, according to reviews.
  • Unique cooking system requires some acclimation to achieve optimal results.
  • Design of the grate can make it hard to clean.
  • A few reports of chipping and warping.

Takeaway: The Char-Broil Kettleman Tru-Infrared proves its mettle as both charcoal grill and smoker, reviewers write, producing lip-smacking meats, whether beef, poultry, or pork. While the infrared technology may take a bit of getting used to, many even say they prefer this product over the vaunted Weber grills. Supplies appear limited for this well-rated model, however, so we'd suggest now is the moment to buy.

Where to buy

Buying Guide

Choosing a Grill

To many people, a warm evening, a nice patio, and the delectable smell of dinner cooking on the grill approaches perfection. While many expert reviewers and consumers swear by the fancy features, luxury designs, and long-term durability of top-end grills, those looking to partake in this beloved backyard ritual without burning thousands of dollars have plenty of options. Our research found a variety of outdoor grills -- charcoal, gas-fueled, portable, and even electric -- that fall at or below the $300 mark, come with desirable features, and deliver solid performance -- for a few summers, at least.

Grill Brands

The demand for backyard grills is vast, and manufacturers oblige BBQ-happy consumers with a range of models, styles, sizes, and prices. Big names in the business include Weber, Char-Broil, and Char-Griller, which together dominate the offerings of big-box retailers and major ecommerce vendors. Smaller but also respected brands include Dyna-Grill and Nexgrill. At the opposite end of the supply chain, high-end nameplates like Napoleon, Broil King, and Blaze are the standouts. Some companies best known for budget-priced grills have been extending their product lineups into the higher reaches, with grills that incorporate new technologies, more frills, and sturdier builds.

Gas Grills

For this buying guide, we researched primarily freestanding gas grills that run on liquid propane, sometimes known as LP models. Natural gas grills are another option, but this type is less readily available and less in demand (a nearby natural gas hookup is required). The price of a gas grill often climbs well into the thousands of dollars, and some high-end models effectively serve as the linchpin of outdoor kitchens.

Gas grills are popular because they take little time to heat up and provide more precise control over the flame and, thus, the cooking temperature. Many gas grills, including cheaper models, come with features such as side burners, side shelves, and warming racks to make preparing food easier. They generally have two to five burners under the grilling grates with individual controls. Within the same model "family" -- that is, grills with the same features -- prices rise with the number of burners.

Charcoal Grills

Many grilling aficionados extol the virtues of charcoal fire over gas. Inconveniences aside -- such as less heat control, slower cook times, and more cleanup (all that ash has to go someplace) -- using charcoal briquettes (and perhaps wood) as fuel imparts an authentic smokiness undetectable with a gas grill. There's just no comparing the flavor or the sear on meats with a standard gas grill, charcoal fans assert. Plus, charcoal models typically take up less space than gas grills.

Prices for the best entry-level charcoal grills top out at about $200, but some can be had for less than $100. Again, the size of the grill (here, the diameter) affects the price; for example, a 14-inch grill in one model "family" will be cheaper than its 22-inch sibling. The tags on premium models can hit $700 and beyond, and they may include features like electronic ignition, timers, and higher-quality components. While charcoal grills generally cost less than gas grills up front, some experts say buying charcoal is costlier in the long run than filling a propane tank every couple of months.

Infrared Grills

Infrared technology has been around for a while and shows up in some product lines. While gas and charcoal grills rely on heated air to cook the food, infrared grills direct heat toward a solid surface that sits below the grates, radiating infrared waves to the food above. This barrier allows the grill grates to sit closer to the direct heat source for super-quick searing and minimizes charring caused by flare-ups. Meats and vegetables tend to retain more moisture because of the reduced reliance on airflow, which can dry out food. Infrared grills also claim to prevent hot and cold spots, cooking food more quickly and evenly. They are almost exclusively fueled by gas. While these models were once much more expensive, several infrared models now fall into the Cheapism price range.

Smokers

Unlike traditional grills, which cook food directly above the flame and expose it to high heat, smokers -- whether electric, gas, or charcoal-powered -- cook meat at low temperatures in a closed, thickly insulated casing for even heating. Casings come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from bullet to barrel, from offset to cabinet. In general, smoking meat takes much more time than gas or even charcoal grilling. True enthusiasts agree that the rich, complex, succulent flavor can't be achieved any other way, but most people searching for a cheap BBQ grill simply don't have the time to devote to slow-cooking or the money to splurge on a dedicated smoker, which can run from $100 to $10,000 depending on the make, model, and amenities. Instructions from Weber can help you get started smoking on a standard charcoal grill.

Kamado Grills

The modern descendant of an ancient Japanese cooking urn, kamado grills are egg-shaped and very well insulated. The ones on the market these days are most often made from ceramics and sometimes steel. Their high domes catch the heat and redirect it to the food cooking below, while an insulated shell helps hold temperatures steady. Kamado grills are fuel- and oxygen-efficient -- they use less of each than traditional grills -- and can produce very low and very high heat. Leftover coals (be sure to use natural lump charcoal rather than briquettes) can be reused, and with less air circulating, meats stay juicy and tender. These grills excel at smoking, roasting, and baking, and are available at all price points. Big Green Egg is perhaps the best-known maker of kamado grills, with prices starting at about $400 for a mini version.

Cheapism.com participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you choose to purchase a product through a link on our site. This helps support our work and does not influence editorial content.

Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table

(from $234.00)
Type Gas
BTUs/ Burners 36,000 3 burners
Cooking Surface 507 sq. in. total (390 primary; 117 warming)
Extras Cabinet; drop-down side tables
Warranty 5 years on burners, 1 year on parts
(from $251.00)
Type Gas (Infrared)
BTUs/ Burners 24,000 3 main burners + 10,000 side burner
Cooking Surface 600 sq. in. total (450 primary; 150 warming)
Extras Two-door cabinet; side work areas
Warranty 5 years on burners, 2 years on lid and fire box, 1 year on other parts.
(from $99.00)
Type Charcoal
BTUs/ Burners N/A
Cooking Surface 363 sq. in.
Extras One-Touch cleaning system
Warranty 10 years on bowl and lid, 5 years on cleaning system and plastic parts, 2 years on other parts
(from $60.00)
Type Portable Charcoal
BTUs/ Burners N/A
Cooking Surface 240 sq. in.
Extras One-Touch cleaning system; lid lock and carry handle
Warranty 10 years on bowl and lid, 5 years on cleaning system and plastic parts, 2 years on other parts
(from $129.00)
Type Gas
BTUs/ Burners 36,000 3 burners
Cooking Surface 530 sq. in. total (360 primary; 170 warming)
Extras Side tables
Warranty 5 years on burners, 2 years on lid and fire box, 1 year on other parts
(from $199.00)
Type Gas
BTUs/ Burners 55,000 <br />5 main burners <br />+ <br />12,000 <br />side burner
Cooking Surface 639 sq. in. total (480 primary; 159 warming)
Extras Stainless steel side shelves
Warranty 5 years on burners, 1 year on grates and other parts
(from $99.00)
Type Charcoal (Infrared)
BTUs/ Burners N/A
Cooking Surface 360 sq. in.
Extras Hinged lid with temperature gauge and latch
Warranty 10 years on bowl and lid, 5 years on ash pan, 2 years on other parts
(from $87.00)
Type Portable Gas
BTUs/ Burners 5,500 1 burner
Cooking Surface 145 sq. in.
Extras Folding legs; lid latch and carry handle
Warranty 3 years
(from $199.00)
Type Electric (Infrared)
BTUs/ Burners N/A (1750 watts)
Cooking Surface 320 sq. in. total (240 primary; 80 warming)
Extras Temperature gauge; folding side shelves; storage rack
Warranty 2 years on fire box and lid; 1 year on other parts
(from $269.00)
Type Combination Gas and Charcoal
BTUs/ Burners 40,800 3 main burners + 12,000 side burner
Cooking Surface 1,260 sq. in. total (876 primary; 384 warming)
Extras Optional side fire box can be added for smoking
Warranty 5 years on burners, hoods, charcoal bottom, 1 year on ash pan, side burner, and other parts
(from $255.00)
Type Kamado
BTUs/ Burners N/A
Cooking Surface 447 sq. in. total (314 primary; 133 warming)
Extras Folding side shelves; two locking wheels
Warranty 5 years on fire box, 1 year on parts
(from $299.00)
Type Smoker/ Barrel cooker
BTUs/ Burners N/A
Cooking Surface 240 sq. in. on cooking grate; 30-gallon drum (hangs approx. 8 racks of ribs)
Extras Hooks, hanging rods, grill grate, charcoal basket, hook remover, barrel stand
Warranty 1 year
(from $499.00)
Type Natural Gas
BTUs/ Burners 30,000 3 burners
Cooking Surface 529 sq. in. total (424 primary; 105 warming)
Extras Side work shelves; gas connector hose; “smart” thermometer compatible
Warranty 10 years
(from $234.00)
Type Gas
BTUs/ Burners 36,000 3 burners
Cooking Surface 507 sq. in. total (390 primary; 117 warming)
Extras Cabinet; drop-down side tables
Warranty 5 years on burners, 1 year on parts
(from $251.00)
Type Gas (Infrared)
BTUs/ Burners 24,000 3 main burners + 10,000 side burner
Cooking Surface 600 sq. in. total (450 primary; 150 warming)
Extras Two-door cabinet; side work areas
Warranty 5 years on burners, 2 years on lid and fire box, 1 year on other parts.
(from $99.00)
Type Charcoal
BTUs/ Burners N/A
Cooking Surface 363 sq. in.
Extras One-Touch cleaning system
Warranty 10 years on bowl and lid, 5 years on cleaning system and plastic parts, 2 years on other parts
(from $60.00)
Type Portable Charcoal
BTUs/ Burners N/A
Cooking Surface 240 sq. in.
Extras One-Touch cleaning system; lid lock and carry handle
Warranty 10 years on bowl and lid, 5 years on cleaning system and plastic parts, 2 years on other parts
(from $129.00)
Type Gas
BTUs/ Burners 36,000 3 burners
Cooking Surface 530 sq. in. total (360 primary; 170 warming)
Extras Side tables
Warranty 5 years on burners, 2 years on lid and fire box, 1 year on other parts
(from $199.00)
Type Gas
BTUs/ Burners 55,000 <br />5 main burners <br />+ <br />12,000 <br />side burner
Cooking Surface 639 sq. in. total (480 primary; 159 warming)
Extras Stainless steel side shelves
Warranty 5 years on burners, 1 year on grates and other parts
(from $99.00)
Type Charcoal (Infrared)
BTUs/ Burners N/A
Cooking Surface 360 sq. in.
Extras Hinged lid with temperature gauge and latch
Warranty 10 years on bowl and lid, 5 years on ash pan, 2 years on other parts
(from $87.00)
Type Portable Gas
BTUs/ Burners 5,500 1 burner
Cooking Surface 145 sq. in.
Extras Folding legs; lid latch and carry handle
Warranty 3 years
(from $199.00)
Type Electric (Infrared)
BTUs/ Burners N/A (1750 watts)
Cooking Surface 320 sq. in. total (240 primary; 80 warming)
Extras Temperature gauge; folding side shelves; storage rack
Warranty 2 years on fire box and lid; 1 year on other parts
(from $269.00)
Type Combination Gas and Charcoal
BTUs/ Burners 40,800 3 main burners + 12,000 side burner
Cooking Surface 1,260 sq. in. total (876 primary; 384 warming)
Extras Optional side fire box can be added for smoking
Warranty 5 years on burners, hoods, charcoal bottom, 1 year on ash pan, side burner, and other parts
(from $255.00)
Type Kamado
BTUs/ Burners N/A
Cooking Surface 447 sq. in. total (314 primary; 133 warming)
Extras Folding side shelves; two locking wheels
Warranty 5 years on fire box, 1 year on parts
(from $299.00)
Type Smoker/ Barrel cooker
BTUs/ Burners N/A
Cooking Surface 240 sq. in. on cooking grate; 30-gallon drum (hangs approx. 8 racks of ribs)
Extras Hooks, hanging rods, grill grate, charcoal basket, hook remover, barrel stand
Warranty 1 year

Grill Reviews: What We Considered

In researching our picks, we checked grill reviews from sources such as AmazingRibs.com, BBQGuys.com, The Spruce, and TopTenReviews, which judge grills on factors such as overall quality, durability, value, and performance. These reviewers are familiar with so many models that they know what kind of craftsmanship, features, and end results make a grill stand out from the rest.

Experts used to judging more expensive grills tend to have fairly high expectations and can be somewhat harsh in their judgments of more basic models. Grills they deem "passable" may more than satisfy the average bargain shopper, however. Given that value pricing and real-world functionality are Cheapism's primary concerns, we supplemented the expert perspective with reviews from consumers posting on sites including Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe's, Walmart, and manufacturers' product pages.

Construction

The main difference between cheap BBQ grills and their upmarket counterparts is the materials, which affect durability and cooking performance. High-end grills tend to have more durable materials both inside and outside. They're typically made of stainless steel, while some budget grills are made of lower-grade painted steel and are not quite as sturdy.

The composition of the grill grates determines whether food is likely to stick, as well as how evenly the heat disperses and, thus, how well the food cooks. Experts dole out the highest praise for porcelain-coated cast iron. Cast iron grill grates heat up quickly, hold the heat on the surface, and last a very long time. However, they must be oiled to keep food from sticking too much. A high-quality porcelain coating serves the same function, cutting down on maintenance. Not surprisingly, cast-iron cooking grates tend to be more plentiful at higher prices, although some of the best budget grills boast porcelain-coated cast iron grates. Others have simple steel grates that may or may not feature porcelain coating. While our picks certainly can't match the durability standards set by $500 grills, many consumers provide positive feedback on the lifespans of the BBQ grills on our list.

Cooking Surface

The size of the cooking surface depends on both price and grill type. Less expensive grills typically measure between 200 and 700 square inches; the higher end of that range is generally reserved for gas models. It's important to note that a side burner or warming rack is often counted in the cooking surface area listed in the specs, so look for distinctions between measurements for total cooking surface and primary cooking area.

BTUs

One of the most prominent features of a gas grill is its BTU rating (specifically, British thermal units per hour). Manufacturers make it sound as though the grill with the most BTUs is the most powerful, but the size of the primary cooking surface must also factor into any comparison. Experts generally say a gas grill should feature a range of 80 to 100 BTUs per square inch. For example, a three-burner grill with 36,000 BTUs (total of all burners) and 370 square inches of primary cooking space boasts about 97 BTUs per square inch.

There is some leeway to this rule of thumb, as the grates affect heat transfer. A grill with wire grates may need more BTUs than one made with cast iron, because the lower-cost grates won't hold heat as long as the cast iron grates. All told, buyers should be wary of grills that swing too low or too high in BTUs per square inch -- any lower than 80 and the heat output may not be sufficient, while a higher number suggests an inefficient design that allows heat to escape.

Infrared grills are different. Because of the high radiant heat of infrared burners, gas grills that employ this technology require fewer BTUs -- only 60 to 80 per square inch -- to achieve desired temperatures. Char-Broil, for example, advises those using its Tru-Infrared gas grills to plan to decrease the heat settings they're used to by about one-third and to expect food to cook in about half the time.

Temperature Control

Heat control is an important component of cooking -- there has to be a way to regulate those BTUs. On gas grills, knobs attached to each burner can modulate flame levels and the heat directed at different surface areas. It's a pretty basic setup that affects how evenly food cooks. All our picks offer individual control over each burner.

With a charcoal grill, heat regulation is more difficult. It depends how close the grates are to the coals, as well as the configuration of the damper and air vents that control how much air circulates during cooking. Users open the damper to let in additional oxygen to fuel the fire and close it to lower the heat.

As noted above, infrared grills require less fuel to achieve higher heats. Learning to regulate the temperature on these grills may take some getting used to. Once mastered, however, many users assert that the results are well worth the trial-and-error learning process.

Most new grills have lid-mounted thermometers that ideally let you monitor the heat, and adjust it if need be. Experts caution that they're notoriously inaccurate and suggest using an accessory thermometer.

Extras

Convenience features to look for on grills include warming racks, side tables, and utensil hooks for those essential tools. Cheap models may scrimp on the extras, and charcoal grills tend to be the most austere when it comes to add-ons. That said, one accessory that we'd highly recommend is a grill cover to protect your purchase against the elements and prolong its life -- most grills, regardless of price, don't come with one. It's up to owners to decide whether it's worth paying for a custom cover from the manufacturer that's specifically designed for the particular make and model, or whether to save a bit on a generic brand.

Assembly

Every model has its quirks, but for the most part, it's not difficult to get the grills on our list up and running. That said, user feedback indicates that some may be tougher to assemble than others. Problems tend to arise from missing screws or bolts, poorly drilled holes, or parts that just don't align correctly.

According to the reviews we read, the instructions drive some people to distraction. Grill assembly instructions often are conveyed through visuals, but many consumers express frustration with the diagrams and make a plea for written directions that provide logical and clear sequencing. Figure on a good hour or two, and possibly more, when setting up a gas model.

If putting a grill together is a concern, consider buying from a retailer that will assemble it. Home Depot, for example, offers free in-store assembly for some models. Otherwise, factor the cost of assembly into the purchase price.

Warranty

Warranties on low-cost grills range from one year to 10 years, depending on the manufacturer and the model. Some warranties cover the components differentially: five years on the burners, say, and two years on other parts. Manufacturers also tend to provide longer warranties on cheap charcoal grills than on gas, and there's a lot more that can go wrong with the latter.

Additional Products We Considered

Pit Barrel Cooker Review

From $299

Bonus: Best Smoker Under $300

Pros:

  • Delivers consistently delicious results with fire-it-up-and-forget-about-it operation, according to expert and user reviews.
  • Allows users to use cooking grate or hang meats for more even cooking on all sides.
  • 30-gallon steel drum with 18.5-inch diameter has porcelain enamel coating and comes with 8 hooks, 2 hanging rods, charcoal basket, grill grate, hook remover, and stand.
  • No assembly required.

Cons:

  • Hard to regulate temperature, say some reviewers.
  • Scattered pushback on price for a product that could possibly be made DIY.
  • Short 1-year warranty.

Takeaway: The Pit Barrel Cooker isn't the cheapest or prettiest smoker on the market, but experts and the many consumers who give it five-star ratings say the design is virtually flawless, operation is pretty simple and straightforward, and meat turns out mouthwateringly juicy from top to bottom. And, while it's small enough to transport, it's meant to feed a crowd: The drum can handle a whole turkey, two pork butts, or eight slabs of ribs plus vegetables on the grill grates. True, the warranty period on the Pit Barrel is pretty limited, but a product composed of little more than a metal drum with some rods and charcoal thrown in may not need as much coverage.

Cuisinart CGG-180T Petit Gourmet Review

From $87

Bonus: Cheap Portable Gas Grill

Pros:

  • Surprisingly strong performance and generous cooking surface for small, portable grill, reviews say.
  • Its stainless steel gas burner delivers 5,500 BTUs and heats to more than 500 degrees.
  • 145 square-inch cooking surface is a good size to feed a family of four, users say.
  • Designed for simple transport with folding legs, lid latch, and carry handle; sits easily on a picnic table.
  • Porcelain-enameled cast iron grill grate and porcelain-coated steel body.
  • 3-year warranty is quite good for a cheap portable gas grill -- many competitors have warranties that top out in 90 days to a year.

Cons:

  • Scattered reports about clogged burners and electric-charge ignition that doesn't always catch (keep matches on hand).
  • Can be a hassle to clean if food is very greasy, according to some users.
  • Some grousing about lack of replacement parts.

Takeaway: The Cuisinart CGG-180T Petit Gourmet is a dependable and practical choice for tailgating, picnicking, and camping, reviewers write, but they caution that the 13-pound grill may be a bit much to haul on hikes. Red is the standard color, although shoppers can also find black or stainless steel units that sell at a higher price. For those willing to pay a bit more to avoid the smoke and comparative hassle of our top portable pick, the Weber Jumbo Joe 18" charcoal grill, we'd say this Cuisinart portable gas grill is the way to go.

Char-Broil Patio Bistro 17602066 Review

From $199

Bonus: Best Cheap Outdoor Electric Grill

Pros:

  • Compact, convenient, and user-friendly electric alternative to gas and charcoal.
  • Infrared technology minimizes flare-ups and distributes heat evenly; leaves meat tender and well-seared, reviewers say.
  • Steel lid, bowl, and V-shaped grates and grease tray are all porcelain-coated.
  • Built-in temperature gauge; temperature-control knob lights up for easy reading.
  • Warming rack, folding side shelves, storage rack, and 2 wheels for transport.
  • Lower fire risk than a gas or charcoal grill.

Cons:

  • Relatively small 240 square inches of primary cooking surface.
  • Takes a long time to heat, users report; some say it fails to reach levels sufficient for optimal grilling.
  • Assembly and cleanup can be difficult, according to reviews.
  • Short 2-year warranty on the fire box and lid, and just 1 year on all other parts.

Takeaway: The 1,750-watt Char-Broil Patio Bistro electric grill is a decent compromise for frugal consumers keen on outdoor grilling but prohibited from, or disinclined to use a gas or charcoal grill. Although the Patio Bistro's cooking performance may not compare to traditional grills, users appreciate its infrared technology, the savings on fuel, and how easy it is to use -- just plug it in and go. Users particularly admire how well this grill prepares vegetables -- not as easy a task on other models -- and many are also drawn to the overall aesthetic and color choices; this model comes in graphite, black, and red, but graphite is more readily available.

Char-Griller Double Play 5650 Review

From $269

Bonus: Combination Gas & Charcoal Grill Under $300

Pros:

  • Flexible and versatile, with separate chambers for gas grilling and charcoal grilling.
  • 3 powerful 13,600-BTU liquid propane burners with heat tents and a 12,000-BTU side burner.
  • Whopping 1,260 square inches of cooking space: 876-square-inch primary cooking surface and 384 square inches on the warming rack.
  • Adjustable, porcelain-coated cast iron cooking grates; high-density steel shell for better heat retention.
  • Convenience features include an electric ignition, built-in temperature gauge, easy-empty ash pan, and 2 wheels and a lift bar for transport.
  • Option to add a side fire box for smoking.

Cons:

  • Comparatively large footprint; grill measures 66 inches across and 28 inches deep.
  • Learning curve to control temperature, especially on charcoal side.
  • Scattered grousing about build quality.
  • Assembly may take a while, buyers report.

Takeaway: The key attraction of the Char-Griller Double Play 5650 is the dual-fuel design. Users really like the option of going gas or charcoal, and sometimes using both to cook a variety of foods or maximize the results by starting on one side and finishing on the other. Moreover, reviews say this extra-large Char-Griller dual-grill heats evenly all around and produces excellent results. As with other moderately priced grills, some owners voice dismay at the appearance of rust spots and warped metal, but most seem to appreciate the value buy. The manufacturer offers a five-year limited warranty on the main burners, hoods and charcoal grill bottom, with a limited one-year warranty on ash pan, side burner, and other parts.

Where to buy

Available from Home Depot

Char-Griller Akorn Kamado 16620 Review

From $255

Bonus: Best Kamado Grill Under $300

Pros:

  • Kamado grills offer fuel efficiency, heightened charcoal flavor (natural lump charcoal only), and extreme heat range.
  • Diminutive, 20-inch diameter egg-shaped dome has 314 square inches of primary cooking surface and 133 square inches on its (removable) warming rack; grates are cast iron.
  • Enthusiastic users say this unit's triple-wall steel shell with powder-coated exterior and porcelain-coated interior does an excellent job of holding heat in; top and bottom adjustable dampers help with heat regulation.
  • Includes 2 folding side shelves, easy-dump ash pan, and 2 locking wheels in addition to a locking rear caster.

Cons:

  • More of a learning curve for heat control compared with traditional grills.
  • Some complaints about build quality.

Takeaway: The Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Kooker is a good introduction to the world of kamado grills. It's a versatile outdoor cooker with very high heat for rapid grilling and searing and low heat for long, slow smoking -- producing moist, tender results either way. Even better, while Kamado grills typically cost far more than this version, some fans rank it on par with those high-end models. There's some grumbling about units that arrived with dents and dampers that are finicky (making it hard to regulate the heat), but, overall, this Char-Griller kamado satisfies users' hunger for smoked ribs, roast turkeys, and perfectly seared steaks. The manufacturer offers a five-year warranty on fire box and one year on parts.

Weber Spirit II E-310 49010001 Review

From $499

Bonus: Splurge-Worthy Weber Gas Grill

Pros:

  • Meets all expectations and then some, reviews say, with solid performance, easy cleanup, and perfect results.
  • 3 10,000 BTU burners with heat diffuser efficiently and evenly distribute heat.
  • Porcelain-enameled "flavorizer" bars guard against flare-ups and impart smoky essences from drippings.
  • Offers a large amount of cooking space, with a 424-square-inch primary cooking area and 105-square-inch warming rack; cast iron porcelain-coated cooking grate is uniquely designed to tackle both large and small food items.
  • Cook box diverts grease/drippings to easy-access catch pan.
  • Convenience features include electrical (battery) ignition, built-in thermometer (also compatible with iGrill proprietary app-connected thermometer), 1 permanent side shelf and 1 fold-down shelf with utensil hooks, and 2 wheels for transport; 10-foot hose for gas hookup included.
  • Natural gas grills may cost more for the initial setup, but will save money in the long-term and eliminate the need to constantly replace fuel tanks; they're also a little better for the environment.
  • 10-year warranty on entire grill.

Cons:

  • Lifting arrangement using side table as handle is awkward, users report.

Takeaway: Part of Weber's new Spirit II line, the 49010001 is the natural gas version of the E-310, which is also available as a liquid propane grill. Spirit II grills boast several updated features, including a redesigned cook box with grease-management system, reversible cooking grates, more robust ignition, compatibility with a smart device that monitors internal temperature and food readiness, and a longer warranty; not to mention the new look and many color choices now available. There aren't many reviews yet for this model, but the few we found indicate users are thrilled with its performance, and experts agree that Weber seems to have gotten it right again -- and gotten even better -- with these entry-level grills. Both liquid propane (45010001) and natural gas models carry the same price tag.