The first day of summer is June 20, but the first day of grilling season is definitely Memorial Day.
According to grill-maker Weber, more than 70 percent of owners will light the grill this weekend. While not as popular as Independence Day (90 percent) or summer birthdays (76 percent), chances are you’ll smell some sizzling burger and steak coming from your neighbors’ backyards.
According to Weber, three-quarters of grill owners use theirs at least weekly during grilling season. Here’s what to do if you’re considering buying or upgrading…
1. Think about when you’ll use it
If you plan to grill throughout the year, and especially on weekdays, you might not always have the flexibility or patience to wait on a charcoal grill to heat up – and the less you use the grill, the less you’re getting your money’s worth. You may want to consider gas or electric instead.
How often you grill might also matter when it comes to the grates – porcelain-coated, cast-iron grids are easiest to clean, resist rust, and usually last the longest. Stainless steel grids are rust-resistant too, but food might stick to them.
2. Don’t keep up with these Joneses
This advice goes for many things, including grills: Forget what your friends and neighbors have. Instead, think about what you need based on the kind of cooking you plan to do.
A giant grill capable of cooking a side of beef and sporting features like a warming tray, a steamer, infrared cooking, and fuel and temperature gauges sounds pretty cool. But it costs a lot more to buy and more to heat, meaning it’s going to be more expensive to use than a smaller, simpler grill. Plus, bigger cooking areas make it harder to distribute heat evenly, which means you may have to pay more attention to placing food on the cooking surface. It’ll also take longer to clean and require more storage space.
3. Ignore the hottest grill
BTUs are a heavily-advertised way to measure a grill’s heating ability, but they’re not as important as other factors. The BTU measurement is related to the size of the burner, so a comparison of BTU ratings between different-sized grills doesn’t make sense. Instead, look for the ability to distribute heat evenly, as well as more burners – which allows you to control the temperature on different parts of the grill.
4. Watch for stainless steals
As mentioned in the video, there’s a big difference between cheap stainless and quality American stainless steel. Pure stainless will last longer, clean faster, look better – and cost more. Bring a magnet when you go shopping so you can test it. If it sticks, that’s not high-quality stainless. (If you’re not set on stainless, consider a porcelain-coated grill. It’s easier to keep shiny.)
5. Lower your fuel costs
If you buy a propane grill, it’s cheaper to get your tank refilled at a refill station than swapping your tank at one of the racks in convenience and grocery stores. But gas is still cheaper than charcoal, so if that’s what you’re going for, always check for coupons. In both cases, being ready to cook as soon as the grill’s warmed up will save you money, since you’ll waste less heat.
Electric grills can be an even more efficient option, and you’ll never have to shop for fuel deals: Just plug it in. But barbecue aficionados will complain that electric-cooked food lacks the flavor traditional grills add.
Another big summer expense you might want to save on? Leisure travel. Check out "20 Ways to Save Big on Your Next Vacation."
Brandon Ballenger is a writer for Money Talks News, a consumer/personal finance TV news feature that airs in about 80 cities as well as around the Web. This column first appeared in Money Talks News.