Best Cheap Grills Under $300 for 2017

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Price Range
Cheapism $50 - $300
Mid-Range $300 - $700
High End $700 and up

Recent updates

These less-popular cuts of meat are affordable, delicious, and perfect for any time of year. Check out: 11 Cheap Meats for Summer Grilling

Our Picks

Weber Original Kettle Premium 22" Charcoal Grill
Char-Broil Quickset 3-Burner Gas Grill 463722315
Dyna-Glo DGP350SNP-D Smart Space Living 2-Burner Gas Grill
Char-Broil Kettleman TRU-Infrared 22.5" Charcoal Grill
Huntington 24025HNT Gas Grill
Huntington 30030HNT Gas Grill
Smoke Hollow 2-Burner Gas Grill LS2016-2
Dyna-Glo DGF510SBP-D 5-Burner Gas Grill
Char-Broil Patio Bistro TRU-Infrared Electric Grill 17602047
Pit Barrel Cooker
Weber Spirit E-310 Gas Grill 46510001
Weber Smokey Joe 14" Charcoal Grill

Weber Original Kettle Premium 22" Charcoal Grill Review

From $149 Best

Pros:

  • Hinged cooking grate makes it easy to add more charcoal or reposition coals.
  • Durable porcelain-enameled steel lid.
  • One damper and four air vents for heat control.
  • One-Touch cleaning system makes cleanup quick and painless.
  • Warranty extends to 10 years on some parts.
  • Weber brand is universally admired for durability and ease of use.

Cons:

  • Most Weber grills exceed our $300 budget, and this one is at the top of the range for charcoal grills.

Takeaway: You pretty much can't go wrong with a Weber grill, and the Original Kettle Premium 22" is one of the few options available on a budget. Consumer and expert reviewers are hard-pressed to find flaws in the design, quality, or cooking ability of this charcoal grill. Sacrifice some of the conveniences, like the built-in thermometer and removable ash can, and you can save about $50 with the classic model ($99 on Amazon).

Char-Broil Quickset 3-Burner Gas Grill 463722315 Review

From $160 Best

Pros:

  • 3 main burners plus a side burner and swing-away warming rack.
  • 545 square inches total; 370 square inches of primary cooking space.
  • 36,000 BTUs for the main burners and 12,000 BTUs for the side burner.
  • Easy to put together, according to reviews.
  • Capable of basic grilling and even cooking.
  • One of the least expensive models from a brand known for quality and innovation.

Cons:

  • Experts suggest it may be worth paying more for a model with sturdier construction, better heat output, and a longer life expectancy.

Takeaway: With three burners and 545 square inches of total cooking space, the Char-Broil Quickset 463722315 is an impressive size for the price. While experts aren't wowed by the Quickset 3-Burner line, users report that this grill is easy to set up and performs well for the price, even if it may not last for the long term.

Dyna-Glo DGP350SNP-D Smart Space Living 2-Burner Gas Grill Review

From $245 Best

Pros:

  • Porcelain-coated cast iron cooking grates.
  • Comes with a grill cover.
  • Attractive stainless steel and aluminum body gives the grill a solid, high-quality feel.
  • Easy to start, cooks evenly, and achieves high temperatures, according to reviews.
  • 467 square inches of total cooking surface.
  • Widely available.

Cons:

  • Flare-ups seem to be a real problem for some users, although others claim no issues whatsoever.
  • Some users gripe that the plastic knobs seem chintzy and fit poorly.
  • Many report receiving models that arrived damaged.
  • Only a 1-year warranty, and some users complain that the brackets holding the heat tents in place rust quickly.

Takeaway: The Dyna-Glo Smart Space Living 2-Burner Gas Grill packs a lot of cooking space into a small footprint. Although pricier than our other top picks, it provides a lot of the bang for the buck, with a sleek appearance and many other perks usually reserved for higher-end models. Buyers seem overwhelmingly pleased with the performance and ease of use.

Char-Broil Kettleman TRU-Infrared 22.5" Charcoal Grill Reivew

From $96 Good

Pros:

  • TRU-Infrared technology provides concentrated radiant heat for even cooking, moist food, less burning, and easy searing.
  • Users praise the performance and report that this model uses less charcoal than most charcoal grills.
  • Hinged hood for added convenience.
  • Can be used as a smoker with no additional parts needed.
  • Ash catcher is easy to remove and empty.

Cons:

  • Some complain that the single hood damper and configuration of the air vents don't provide ideal air circulation control.
  • Unique cooking system requires some acclimation to achieve optimal results.
  • Reports of chipping and blistering on porcelain-coated cooking grates.

Takeaway: Experts rave about the infrared cooking technology and hinged lid on the Char-Broil Kettleman 22.5". Overall this charcoal grill is a solid choice for consumers who don't want to spring for a Weber and have the patience to get the hang of the heat control. An older model, without side tables, is still widely available for those who want to spend even less ($110 on Amazon).

Where to buy

Huntington 24025HNT Gas Grill Review

From $167 Good

Pros:

  • Cast aluminum body eliminates rust.
  • Higher-quality parts than many other grills in this price range.
  • 10-year warranty on cast aluminum parts, five years on the stainless steel burner system, and two years on all other parts.
  • Users and some experts praise the quality in online reviews.
  • Reviewers appreciate that Huntington grills are made in North America.

Cons:

  • Relatively small for a gas grill; just 240 square inches of primary cooking surface.
  • Some gripes about complicated assembly.
  • Some experts say the design doesn't retain heat very well.
  • Hard to find except on Amazon.

Takeaway: With comparatively sturdy parts and a 10-year warranty, the Huntington 24025HNT may last longer than competitors. Reviewers seem pleased with this model's ability to grill a decent burger. That said, it's on the smaller side, so don't expect to feed a crowd quickly. Consumers willing to trade steel side tables for heavy-duty plastic can take a chance on the even cheaper Huntington 630114 ($99 at Home Depot). Aside from very slight differences in build, company representatives say the grills are identical.

Where to buy

Huntington 30030HNT Gas Grill Review

From $180 Good

Pros:

  • Durable cast aluminum body and cooking chamber that prevents rust.
  • 10-year warranty on cast aluminum parts, five years on the stainless steel burner system, and two years on all other parts.
  • 30,000 BTUs of heating power for 300 square inches of primary cooking surface add up to a powerful grill.
  • Users find it easy control the heat, cook evenly, and clean up.
  • Huntington earns praise for keeping manufacturing in North America.

Cons:

  • Some users find the assembly instructions hard to follow and illogically sequenced.
  • Some reports of missing parts.

Takeaway: The Huntington 30030HNT provides plenty of power to the burner system. This model doesn't come with a lot of frills, but at least one expert vouches for the solid construction and users admire the grill's performance.

Where to buy

Smoke Hollow 2-Burner Gas Grill LS2016-2 Review

From $82 Think Twice

Pros:

  • Very low price.
  • Mid-size cooking area of 285 square inches.

Cons:

  • With only 15,000 BTUs of total heating power, this model lacks the output to sufficiently cover the primary cooking surface.
  • Users complain that the grill doesn't fully heat up and takes forever to cook food. Experts say it doesn't cook evenly.
  • No warming rack; side tables lack utensil hooks.
  • Limited one-year warranty.

Takeaway: There are much better grills in the Cheapism price range than the Smoke Hollow 2-Burner Gas Grill. The cooking area is a decent size, but that's about all you get for the low price. Don't expect solid craftsmanship or anything above middling performance.

Dyna-Glo DGF510SBP-D 5-Burner Gas Grill Review

From $179 Think Twice

Pros:

  • Five burners and 626 square inches of cooking space -- a lot for the price.
  • Porcelain-coated stainless steel cooking grate.

Cons:

  • At 72,000 BTUs, the number of BTUs per square inch is actually higher than the expert-recommended range, suggesting poor construction as opposed to better performance.
  • Users gripe that this grill burns everything.
  • Experts find it lightweight and flimsy.

Takeaway: The size of the Dyna-Glo 5-Burner Open Cart LP Gas Grill is the only major plus. Although the other specs seem appealing, this grill actually provides sub-par cooking performance, according to reviews. Generally, experts suggest looking for a smaller grill that works better.

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 reviewers and consumers swear by the fancy features, luxury builds, and long-term durability of popular top-end grills from the likes of Napoleon, Broil King, and Blaze, consumers looking to partake in this beloved backyard ritual without burning thousands of dollars have plenty of options. Our research indicates that there are a variety of outdoor grills -- charcoal, gas-fueled, and even electric -- that fall below the $300 dollar mark and still satisfy many users with their features and performance for a few summers, at least.

Gas Grills.

The first thing to consider is, of course, what type of grill to buy. The cheap price range for a gas grill is anywhere from $80 to $300. On the high end, gas models can cost well upward of $1,000. 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 inexpensive gas grills also come with features such as side burners and warming racks to make preparing food easier. The cleanup is simple too: Just turn off the grill and clean the grate.

Our two top picks among gas grills are the Char-Broil Quickset 3-Burner 463722315 (starting at $160), one of the only three-burner grills on the market under $200, and the Dyna-Glo DGP350SNP-D Smart Space Living 2-Burner (starting at $245), a small but solid performer loaded with extras. Our runners-up, the Huntington 30030HNT (starting at $180) and the smaller Huntington 24025HNT (starting at $167), both belong to Huntington's sturdy Cast Series. The brand also receives nods for producing American-made gas grills.

For this buying guide we reviewed freestanding gas grills that run on liquid propane, sometimes known as LP models. Natural gas grills are another option, though usually pricier. For consumers trying to decide between propane and natural gas grills, natural gas definitely has its perks. Natural gas grills are slightly better for the environment. There's less exposure to propane exhaust and no propane tank to change. On the other hand, natural gas grills tend to come with more upfront installation costs, as they require access to a permanent outdoor gas line in lieu of a propane tank. For those who want the option of natural gas at a later date, manufacturers such as Char-Broil carry conversion kits to retrofit some LP grills.

Charcoal Grills.

Prices for budget charcoal grills start at just under $50 and top out at $300, with premium models coming in as high as $700 and beyond. While charcoal grills tend to cost less than gas grills up front, some experts say buying charcoal is pricier in the long run than filling a propane tank every couple of months.

The barbecue and grilling site AmazingRibs.com goes into great detail on the pros and cons of charcoal vs. gas grills. In general, charcoal grills lack the convenience, heat control, and cooking speed of a gas grill. It also take a little bit longer to clean up after cooking on a charcoal barbecue. Users must dispose of the ash and old charcoal (without getting it all over) and give the coals time to properly burn out. On the other hand, using charcoal briquettes (and perhaps wood) as fuel imparts an authentic smokiness undetectable with a gas grill. Many fans of charcoal grilling claim there is just no comparing the flavor, and you simply cannot achieve the same sear on meats with a standard gas grill. Another advantage: Charcoal grills generally take up less space than gas grills. Keep in mind, however, that charcoal grills are sometimes banned by apartment buildings or in certain localities, because of greater fire risk.

Once again this year, our pick for the best cheap charcoal grill is the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22" (starting at $149). This model continues to earn accolades -- users say it lasts forever, and experts commend the ease of use and cleanup.

Infrared Grills.

Infrared technology is not new, but over the years it has remained a costlier feature. While gas and charcoal grills (like convection ovens) 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. With this form of grilling, 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.

While there's certainly a lot to recommend this barbecuing method, grills that employ it tend to be priced considerably higher and usually fall outside the Cheapism range. A surprisingly low-cost addition to Char-Broil's TRU-Infrared line is the Char-Broil Kettleman TRU-Infrared 22.5" Charcoal Grill (starting at $96). A charcoal grill that uses infrared technology is a bit of a rarity. In this case, the grilling surface is a porcelain-coated steel disc, with raised grates and small slits between, that radiates heat. Experts at AmazingRibs.com insist, however, that even with these cutting-edge bells and whistles, the Char-Broil Kettleman doesn't entirely stand up to the classic Weber Premium, but it's still a good enough choice for our second-place spot among charcoal grills.

Another infrared model that might interest outdoor-cooking enthusiasts, particularly those who live in apartments or building complexes with limited balcony/patio space and strict fire codes, is the Char-Broil Patio Bistro TRU-Infrared Electric Grill 17602047 (starting at $200). Some users posting on the manufacturer's website say the grill struggles to reach temperatures higher than 400 degrees and takes too long to cook their food. But most reviews of this model and a previous version sans side tables (starting at $110) agree that the end product generally comes out tasty (complete with grill sear marks), and the ease of use and fuel savings might be worth the tradeoffs. The many color options are also a hit.

Smokers.

Unlike a traditional grill, which cooks meat directly above the flame and exposes it to high heat, a smoker, whether it be electric, gas, or charcoal-powered, cooks 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 egg-shaped to offset. One of the most popular types at present is the pellet smoker. Compressed hardwood pellets supposedly produce a more refined taste than charcoal, and pellet smokers are appreciated for their ease of use -- built-in thermostats and temperature controls let users just set them and walk away.

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 their meat, 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 such as our top pick, the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22". Likewise, the Char-Broil Kettleman 22.5" charcoal grill boasts that it can act as a smoker without the need to buy any additional parts.

Consumers who want a true smoker that's both relatively affordable and easy to use can check out the Pit Barrel Cooker (starting at $299). Although it comes in at the top of the Cheapism range, the price buys a complete smoker with a grilling rack that's delivered to your door already assembled and ready to go, with some special rub mixes included to boot. Expert reviewers and users rave about the ability of this no fuss, beginner-friendly smoker to produce truly scrumptious meats and enthuse that it's a "joy" to use. It can even handle a whole turkey.

Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table

(from $160.00)
Type Gas
Grate Material Porcelain-coated steel
Cooking Surface 545 sq. in. total, 370 sq. in. primary
BTUs 36,000 + 12,000 side burner
Burners / Temperature Control 3 main burners with individual controls, temperature gauge
Extras Swing-away warming rack, side tables
Warranty 5 years on burners, 2 years on firebox and lid, 1 year on other parts
(from $245.00)
Type Gas
Grate Material Porcelain-coated cast iron
Cooking Surface 467 sq. in. total, 350 sq. in. primary
BTUs 30,000
Burners / Temperature Control 2 burners with individual controls, temperature gauge
Extras Warming rack, drop-down side tables with utensil hooks, cover included
Warranty 1 year on parts
(from $149.00)
Type Charcoal
Grate Material Plated steel
Cooking Surface 363 sq. in.
BTUs N/A
Burners / Temperature Control Adjustable damper, 4 air vents, temperature gauge
Extras Hinged cooking grate, tool hooks, One- Touch cleaning system, color options
Warranty 10 years on bowl, lid, and center ring; 5 years on cleaning system and plastic parts; 2 years on other parts
(from $167.00)
Type Gas
Grate Material Porcelain-coated wire
Cooking Surface 390 sq. in. total, 240 sq. in. primary
BTUs 25,000
Burners / Temperature Control 1 burner with dual controls
Extras Warming rack, side tables with utensil hooks
Warranty 10 years on cast aluminum parts, 5 years on burner system, 2 years on other parts
(from $180.00)
Type Gas
Grate Material Porcelain-coated wire
Cooking Surface 430 sq. in. total, 300 sq. in. primary
BTUs 30,000
Burners / Temperature Control 1 burner with dual controls
Extras Warming rack, side tables with utensil hooks
Warranty 10 years on cast aluminum parts, 5 years on burner system, 2 years on other parts
(from $96.00)
Type Charcoal
Grate Material Porcelain-coated steel
Cooking Surface 360 sq. in.
BTUs N/A
Burners / Temperature Control Super-size damper, perimeter air vents, temperature gauge
Extras Hinged lid, no-fall-through grate
Warranty 10 years on firebox and lid, 5 years on ash pan, 2 years on other parts
(from $82.00)
Type Gas
Grate Material Porcelain-coated wire
Cooking Surface 320 sq. in. total, 285 sq. in. primary
BTUs 15,000
Burners / Temperature Control 2 burners with individual controls
Extras Side tables
Warranty 1 year on parts
(from $179.00)
Type Gas
Grate Material Porcelain-coated cast iron
Cooking Surface 626 sq. in. total, 483 sq. in. primary
BTUs 60,000 + 12,000 side burner
Burners / Temperature Control 5 main burners with individual controls, temperature gauge
Extras Warming rack, side tables, bottle opener
Warranty 5 years on burners, 1 year on other parts
(from $30.00)
Type Charcoal, portable
Grate Material Plated steel
Cooking Surface 147 sq. in.
BTUs N/A
Burners / Temperature Control 2 dampers, 4 air vents
Extras N/A
Warranty 10 years on bowl, lid, and center ring; 5 years on cleaning system and plastic parts; 2 years on other parts
(from $499.00)
Type Gas
Grate Material Porcelain-coated cast iron
Cooking Surface 529 sq. in. total, 424 sq. in. primary
BTUs 32,000
Burners / Temperature Control 3 burners with individual controls, temperature gauge
Extras Warming rack, stainless steel side tables with 6 utensil hooks, porcelain-coated flavorizer bars, fuel gauge
Warranty 10 years on cookbox, lid, and burners; 5 years on grates and flavorizer bars; 2 years on other parts
(from $200.00)
Type Electric (Infrared)
Grate Material Porcelain- coated cast iron
Cooking Surface 320 sq. in. total, 240 sq. in. primary
BTUs N/A
Burners / Temperature Control TRU-Infrared cooking surface with one control knob, temperature gauge
Extras Warming rack, drop-down side tables, wire storage shelf, color options
Warranty 2 years on firebox and lid, 1 year on other parts
(from $289.00)
Type Charcoal barrel cooker/smoker
Grate Material Steel
Cooking Surface 240 sq. in. cooking grate, 30-gallon drum (approx. 8 racks of ribs)
BTUs N/A
Burners / Temperature Control Damper at bottom
Extras 8 stainless steel hooks, 2 steel hanging rods, grill grate, charcoal basket, wooden hook remover, barrel stand, complimentary rubs
Warranty 1 year on parts

Budget Grill Reviews: What We Considered

In researching our picks, we favored grill reviews from sources such as AmazingRibs.com, BBQGuys.com, and The Spruce, which judge budget grills on categories such as 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 crowd. At the same time, 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 just "passable" may more than satisfy the average bargain shopper. We supplemented the expert perspective with reviews from consumers to get their firsthand evaluations of grills they've purchased.

Online reviews of any given grill can be hard to find (especially for newer models). Also, vendors tend to favor a few particular brands and carry exclusive models (sometimes with a slightly different model number), offering a limited choice of where to buy some brands and, at times, limited sources of feedback from previous purchasers.

That said, to determine our picks, we tracked down user reviews on manufacturers' own product pages, when available, and on the websites of retailers including Home Depot, Lowe's, Walmart, and Amazon. This sort of commentary was particularly helpful when evaluating a model like the Dyna-Glo Smart Space Living 2-Burner Gas Grill, which is widely available across retailers yet garners little expert feedback. Another example is the Char-Broil Quickset 3-Burner Gas Grill, which greatly impresses users but receives less notice from experts.

Construction.

The main difference between cheap grills and their upmarket counterparts is the materials with which they're made, which affect durability and cooking performance. High-end grills tend to have more durable materials both inside and outside. They're typically made of durable stainless steel, while budget grills tend to be made of lower-grade painted steel or plastic and are not quite as sturdy. For example, the Weber Spirit E-310 Gas Grill 46510001 (starting around $499) has porcelain-enameled cast iron cooking grates, three stainless steel burners, stainless steel side tables, and a cast aluminum cookbox with a sturdy porcelain-enameled shroud that is said to resist fading, peeling, and rust.

The composition of the grill grates determines whether food tends to stick, as well as how evenly the heat disperses and, thus, how well the food cooks. Experts have 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, cast iron needs to 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, whereas cheap grills tend to have simple steel grates that may or may not feature porcelain coating. Only one of our picks, the Dyna-Glo Smart Space Living 2-Burner Gas Grill, claims porcelain-enameled cast iron cooking grates, and it's the most expensive model of the bunch. Still, many users reviewing the grill at Walmart.com compare it to premium Weber models and are pleased to have the same quality cooking ability without the higher price tag.

While our picks certainly can't stand up to the Weber Spirit line in terms of their durability, many consumers provide positive feedback on the lifespans of the best budget grills. Both Huntington models on our list, the 24025HNT and 30030HNT, have bodies made of cast aluminum. The charcoal grills, for their part, have porcelain-enameled kettles that are strong and rust-resistant.

Cooking Surface.

Two-burner gas grills are common in this price range. Consumers can get a well-made grill by going with the smallest model in a line that would otherwise be out of reach. The trick is finding a good grill under $300 that's big enough to feed a crowd. Cheap grills typically fall between 200 and 700 square inches; the higher end of that range is generally reserved for gas grills. It's important to note that any 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.

Among our top picks, the Char-Broil Quickset 3-Burner Gas Grill 463722315 reigns with a total of three burners and 545 square inches of total cooking area. Consumers who have reviewed this model on the Char-Broil website are impressed with the size for the price and say it can definitely feed more than just a few people at a time. Those willing to give up a tiny bit of space to save a bit more can look to a slightly different version, model number 463742215, currently selling at Lowes (starting at $139). It skips the side burner and offers 530 square inches of total area. It still wins accolades for its size, with one reviewer on the site boasting that the grill held a dozen burgers and about eight hot dogs on the main surface with more food on the warmer at the same time.

The rest of our gas grill recommendations fall between 390 square inches (the Huntington 24025HNT) and 467 square inches of total cooking surface (the Dyna-Glo Smart Space Living 2-Burner model). Charcoal barbecues tend to be smaller. Both our picks have just about 360 square inches of cooking space.

The exceptionally large Dyna-Glo DGF510SBP-D 5-Burner Gas Grill (starting at $179) far surpasses any of our top picks space-wise, with 626 square inches of total cooking surface, but experts at The Spruce aren't impressed with its construction or performance and advise that consumers would be better off getting a smaller, cheaper model that works better.

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 fall into a range of 80 to 100 BTUs per square inch. For example, the Char-Broil Quickset 3-Burner Gas Grill we recommend has 36,000 BTUs and 370 square inches of primary cooking space, or about 97 BTUs per square inch. Users marvel at how it heats up fast, cooks evenly, and holds heat inside the lid. Following the same calculations, the largest of our second-tier picks, the Huntington 30030HNT, has 300 square inches of primary cooking space (430 square inches total, including a warming rack) and its two burners generate 30,000 BTUs, or about 100 BTUs per square inch. Another top pick, the Dyna-Glo Smart Space Living 2-Burner Gas Grill, has 350 square inches of cooking space and 30,000 BTUs, coming in at about 86 BTUs per square inch.

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

A prime example of a grill that seems quite powerful on the surface but may not live up to the highest expectations is one of our runners-up, the Huntington 24025HNT. With 25,000 BTUs for just 240 square inches of primary cooking space, it averages 104 BTUs per square inch. However, experts at AmazingRibs.com say it could benefit from even a few more BTUs per square inch to maintain the heat in the porcelain-coated wire grates. While consumer feedback on this model is slim, the few users who have reviewed the Huntington 24025HNT on Amazon nevertheless appear to be very satisfied with its cooking performance. In fact, most say it's perfect for a small barbecue and delivers great quality for the price.

On the very high end of the BTU scale is the Dyna-Glo 5-Burner Gas Grill, which has 72,000 BTUs between its five main burners and one side burner. Of those, 60,000 are dedicated to the primary 483-square inch cooking space, or 124 BTU per square inch -- far more than recommended. Experts say this can indicate a design flaw and, indeed, this grill is said to be constructed of cheap, lightweight materials. Excess heat may be what has prompted complaints on Amazon, where one user says the grill burns everything and another gripes about grease fires every single time the grill is fired up.

At the other extreme is the Smoke Hollow 2-Burner Gas Grill LS2016-2 (starting at $82), another grill that consumers might want to think twice about buying. It has 285 inches of primary cooking space but only 15,000 BTUs, or about 53 BTUs per square inch -- far fewer than experts suggest. This issue is reflected in reviews on the Home Depot website, where one user says he left the grill on high for 10 minutes and even saw the flames, but the grill was still cool to the touch. Another echoes these concerns and says it would take hours to cook for a party on this weak grill.

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 claims that its TRU-Infrared models can reduce fuel consumption by 44 percent or more.

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, in turn, the heat directed at different surface areas. It's a pretty basic setup but can affect how evenly food cooks. All our picks offer individual control over each separate burner, with the exception of the Huntington 24025HNT and 30030HNT. Both have "infinity" burners -- essentially two burners welded together to form one large burner -- but temperature control remains divided between two knobs that adjust the flame on either side. User reviews for both grills generally say they heat evenly. The primary complaints leveled against the 30030HNT on Amazon are that it tends to get very hot even at lower settings and a built-in temperature gauge -- which the 24025HNT also lacks -- would certainly be appreciated. Our other picks, including the two charcoal grills, have lid-mounted thermometers.

With a charcoal grill, heat regulation is much more difficult. It depends on 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.

The Weber Original Kettle Premium 22" has a damper on top as well as four air vents on the bottom. A hinged cooking grate allows users to easily add more charcoal or maneuver coals closer to or farther away from the food as needed. The Char-Broil Kettleman TRU-Infrared 22.5" has an extra-large damper, but some users lament that the grill's air intake cannot be completely shut off due to the configuration of the vents. On the positive side, the infrared design not only requires less charcoal but also shields food from direct flames. This model's technology may take some getting used to, but many users say you can get great results if you get the hang of controlling the heat.

One portable grill we like, the Weber Smokey Joe 14" Charcoal Grill (starting at $30), features two dampers and four air vents to control air circulation. One review on Walmart.com points out that having the air vents on the bottom of this grill helps the coals get hotter than similar models with vents on the sides above the charcoal, which this user said didn't seem to allow as much air to come in. Reviews also claim that, when fully shut, the dampers do a good job of cooling down the coals completely, which allows for reuse and cuts fuel expenses. This portable grill is a great size for camping, tailgating, and even everyday meal prep for couples and smaller families.

Extra Features.

Budget grills often lack convenience features such as a utensil holder or even a warming rack. Fortunately most of our picks have one or the other covered. The Dyna-Glo Smart Space Living 2-Burner Gas Grill takes the title, with a warming rack and two side tables with utensil and towel hooks that can be dropped down when not in use, as well as a grill cover (usually an added expense regardless of the price of the grill). The Char-Broil Quickset 3-Burner Gas Grill has a swing-away warming rack and side tables but no utensil hooks. The stripped-down Smoke Hollow 2-Burner Gas Grill offers nothing but tables on the side. Compare these with the high-end Weber Spirit E-310 Gas Grill, which boasts a warming rack, porcelain-coated flavorizer bars (designed to "catch drippings that smoke and sizzle, adding a smoky flavor to food"), stainless steel side tables, six utensil hooks, and a fuel gauge.

Charcoal grills are another story: None on our list has either a warming rack or utensil hooks. However, the Char-Broil Patio Bistro Electric Grill does have a removable warming rack, side shelves, and, instead of added hooks, a wire rack to stow utensils and other items needed while grilling.

Assembly.

Every model has its quirks, but it's generally not difficult to use the grills on our list, according to reviews. For many consumers, the toughest thing is putting the grill together in the first place, and some models may be tougher to construct than others.

Although some users appreciate simple visuals, many are frustrated by models that rely on diagrams as opposed to written instructions. One such model, the Huntington 30030HNT, garners its fair share of complaints regarding assembly. Not only do some users find the instructions difficult to follow based on the pictures provided, there are gripes concerning the order of the steps and pre-assembled parts that must be reassembled.

The Dyna-Glo Smart Space Living 2-Burner Gas Grill, on the other hand, earns praise for the logical and clear sequencing of its assembly instructions. But be forewarned that the process may take some time -- an hour to an hour and a half seems to be the average, although some users report taking even longer.

If putting a grill together is something of a concern, it may be worth buying from a retailer where assembly is included. Home Depot, for example, offers free in-store assembly for some models. Otherwise plan to factor the cost of assembly into the purchase price.

Warranty.

When determining warranty coverage, it's important to check the product page on the manufacturer's site or look to the manual, as retailers sometimes list these terms incorrectly and a blanket warranty for a brand doesn't always apply. That said, warranties on grills -- even cheap grills -- are usually fairly extensive. It's not uncommon to see a 10-year warranty on the outer components, a 5 year warranty on the burners, and two years on other parts. This is the case with the two Huntington models on our list as well as the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22" and the Char-Broil Kettleman 22.5". The Smoke Hollow 2-Burner Gas Grill, a particularly flimsy model, promises only one year of limited protection on parts. While the Pit Barrel Cooker also offers just a one-year warranty, there's a lot more that can go wrong with a gas grill. A product composed of little more than a metal drum with some rods and charcoal thrown in may not need as much coverage.

Additional Products We Considered

Char-Broil Patio Bistro TRU-Infrared Electric Grill 17602047 Review

From $200

Pros:

  • TRU-Infrared technology.
  • Porcelain-coated cast iron cooking grates.
  • Folding side tables for easy storage.
  • Removable warming rack.
  • Easy and convenient to use -- once assembled.
  • Users particularly admire how well this grill cooks vegetables -- not an easy task on many other models.
  • Less fire risk than a gas or charcoal grill.

Cons:

  • Limited expert reviews.
  • Some users gripe that the grill doesn't get hot enough and takes too long to cook food.

Takeaway: Although the cooking performance of this electric grill may not compare to that of gas and charcoal grills, users appreciate the infrared technology on the Char-Broil Patio Bistro model, the savings on fuel, and how easy it is to use an electric grill -- just plug it in and go. Many are also drawn to the color choices: red, black, and graphite.

Where to buy

Pit Barrel Cooker Review

From $289

Pros:

  • Arrives assembled and reportedly works perfectly upon unboxing.
  • Large-capacity 30-gallon drum and 240 square inches of cooking surface on the steel grate, plus eight hooks for hanging meat.
  • Experts report even cooking regardless where the meat is positioned in relation to the hot coals.
  • Users and experts agree this model makes it easy to walk away for hours and come back to a perfect slab of smoked meat.

Cons:

  • At the very top of our $300 budget.
  • 1-year limited warranty.

Takeaway: While the Pit Barrel Cooker isn't the cheapest or prettiest on the market, reviewers say the design is virtually flawless and holds enough food to feed a crowd. This smoker is described as a joy to use, and meat turns out mouthwateringly juicy from top to bottom.

Weber Spirit E-310 Gas Grill 46510001 Review

From $499

Pros:

  • Porcelain-coated cast iron grates and porcelain-enameled steel hood to prevent rust.
  • 529 square inches of total cooking space.
  • Three stainless steel burners with individual controls.
  • Two stainless steel side tables.
  • Fuel tank gauge.
  • 10-year warranty on cookbox, lid, and burners; 5 years on grates and flavorizer bars; 2 years on all other parts.

Cons:

  • Several users take issue with design changes (the burners are attached differently) in this model compared with older models.
  • A few users report premature rust spots.

Takeaway: This entry-level Weber model outshines comparable gas grills and lives up to the brand's name. Several users even assert that the Spirit E-310 holds its own against the much higher-priced Genesis line. Users appreciate that this grill is built to last, and the fuel gauge means never getting caught with pink meat and not enough propane.

Weber Smokey Joe 14" Charcoal Grill Review

From $30

Pros:

  • 10-year warranty on bowl, lid, and center ring; 5 years on cleaning system and plastic parts; 2 years on all other parts.
  • Easy-to-use One-Touch cleaning system.
  • Experts report that this portable model works as well as a full-size Weber.
  • Consumers find it very easy to use.

Cons:

  • No handle to make moving the grill easier.
  • No hinged lid or place to hook the lid.

Takeaway: The Weber Smokey Joe is a compact grill (147 square inches of total cooking surface) with no frills that earns rave reviews from both experts and users. It suits consumers who live in apartments, typically cook for just two people, or want a good grill for camping or tailgating.