NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
OK, so maybe you're not Bobby Flay, host of the Food Network's "Hot Off the Grill with Bobby Flay." But you can still impress family and friends this Memorial Day weekend with a traditional cookout.
Consumer Reports is out with its list of top gas grills in its June issue. So, if you're looking to cook things up a bit, here are today's five tips.
1. Don't buy more grill than you need.
Admit it. We've all walked into a store thinking we know exactly what we want and need and the next thing you know you're splurging on something totally out of your price range with all the bells and whistles.
That's when it's time for a reality check. As we head into grilling season, take a step back and consider what you really need from a grill. Are you planning on cooking for 20 people this summer? Or will it be used for small family cookouts?
Consumer Reports says gas grills are typically priced not only by their size, but by their quality, their convenience and their features. But first things first. The three major price ranges for grills are basic, mid-priced and high-end.
A "basic" grill is best for those who want gas-grill barbecuing without the frills, according to Consumer Reports. With this grill, the cooking area tends to be relatively small as is the cart it rolls on. A basic grill will cost you anywhere from $100 to $199.
For a step up, you may want to consider a "mid-priced" grill. This will satisfy the needs of most outdoor cooks, since most models can cook enough for 10 people at once.
You'll also find some additional features such as side burners, which help you save time by allowing you to prepare side dishes, fuel gauges, steamers, and stainless-steel or coated cast-iron grates. Both of these grates tend to sear better while keeping grilling temperatures more consistent than grates made of porcelain-coated steel.
The price tag on these can be anywhere from $200 to $499. But you'll want to be careful since some of the grills in this price range are actually closer to the basic model, despite the size.
Finally, if you want to spring for the $500 to $1,500 grill you'll be able to invite just about the entire neighborhood over. These all-stainless steel grills can accommodate food for 15 or more people and some even have a rotisserie burner attached.
Keep in mind however, that the larger the cooking area, the harder it may be to distribute the heat evenly. Remember, whatever type of grill you decide to buy, make sure it has the features you really need. Otherwise it can be a real waste of money.
2. Of course, you'll want to go for the best buy.
Now that you have a better understanding of what grills cost, you're ready to go out there and find the best bang for your buck. And there is another plus for consumers: more competition. Competition among Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowe's and other large retailers, which now sell more than 70 percent of gas grills, is fueling a more-for-less trend.
CNNfn's Gerri Willis takes a closer look at Consumer Reports' grill winners.|
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So, how do you make a decision? Consumer Reports has some ideas. They recently tested 29 grills in three categories, small, average-sized and large. They tested each grill's evenness when cooking, grilling and convenience, and they narrowed the playing field even more by singling out five grills into a "Best buy" category.
Among the smaller grills, the Kenmore received the best buy rating. It costs $170 and is available at Sears. You will, however, need a potholder to grip its handle, which gets very hot during cooking.
While not on the best buy list, the Weber Q is another fun option if you are in the market for a smaller grill. This is a portable grill designed mostly for tailgate parties. It also features an optional cart and larger tank for stationary barbecues. The price tag? $265.
For average-size grills, consider a Vermont Castings, sold at Home Depot for $400. Besides getting excellent ratings on its test results, this grill has stainless-steel trim and lots of shelf space.
The Thermos Stainless is another average-sized grill sold at Target for $400. It is among the most reasonably priced stainless-steel grills.
Consumer Reports also recommends the Coleman 5100 Series for its long warranty. It is sold at Lowe's for $270. And the Fiesta Optima has a spacious warming rack and sells for just $200.
You can find full details on other grills in the June issue of Consumer Reports. Pick up a copy on the newsstand or log onto www.consumerreports.org. However, this is a paid Web site ($4.95 a month or $26 a year).
3. Take the wiggle test.
That grill may look attractive, but is it a hazard waiting to happen?
First and foremost feel how solid and sturdy the grill is. A poorly made grill will most likely wiggle. If it wiggles in the store, you can only wonder how it may hold up on your patio. Make sure to check this in the store. How many wheels does it have? Two or four?
Second, consumers should opt for plastic or wooden handles on grills. These handles usually don't get as hot as metal ones.
A good drainage system that siphons off grease is also key. This will help prevent flare-ups.
Another important test is the drop-lid test. You want to see if the grill stays lit when the lid is dropped very quickly or if it is a very windy day.
How susceptible is the flame to blowing out, especially when it is set for a low setting? This could be dangerous, since propane gas continues pouring into the grill even if the flame is out. If someone sparked a match over the grill, it could ignite the pooled propane gas in a large explosion.
Finally, as far as warranties are concerned, you don't want to settle for anything less than 10 years. Consumer Reports makes note of which grills have a long warranty.
4. Don't botch the barbecue.
OK, so you are now ready to get this barbecue started. But the last thing you want to do is burn those hamburgers in front of family and friends. On www.consumerreports.org, free of charge, wannabe grill masters can find a list of seven ways to botch a barbecue.
These are the key mistakes you don't want to make: Not preheating the grill. Make sure to heat the grill with the lid down for 10 to 15 minutes before you want to cook, with the burners set on high. Food tends to stick to cool grates.
Next, keeping that lid down is key. When it is open heat escapes and your guests may have to wait just a little longer for that hot dog since cooking slows down.
Don't assume that it's necessary to grill thick cuts of meat with a high heat. The meat will end up grilled on the outside but undercooked within. Therefore, use high heat for searing and then turn down the burners beneath the food and set other burners to high or medium-high.
Next, grilling on dirty grates can cause your food to stick and you might be stuck with some unwelcome flavors on the meat.
And finally, the last thing you want to do is run out of gas with 20 people in your backyard. While some grills are sold with a fuel gauge, for others it becomes a guessing game about how much gas is left.
In lab tests Consumer Reports came up with a rough guide on how to tell how much propane is left. They suggest disconnecting the gas tank, pouring some hot water over the side of the tank and feeling it. The cooler area of the tank indicates that gas is present whereas the hotter the sensation, the less gas is available.
5. Get the must-have accessories.
PROPS! You've got the grill, now you just need the cool items to go with it.
Food & Wine magazine surveyed several grilling experts and came up with a list of some must-have items for this summer season.
If you're going to be doing some basting, try the Sili Gourmet Silicone Barbecue Brush. The bristles on this brush are made out of silicone. Unlike synthetic bristles that can fall out of the brush and melt into your food, silicone can withstand the heat, is easy to clean and doesn't shed. The price tag? $17.50.
If it's a grip you are looking for, how about Duncan's BBQ Grips for $20? The grips are made out of a high-end heat-resistant material.
If you need some new tongs, Messermeister has spring-loaded locking tongs for $7.25. Several grilling experts say spring-loading tongs can be resistant to clamping so they're best for people with strong biceps. These could be noted as a "guy-pick." On the flip side, grilling experts also recommend OXO's locking tongs for $9. Their spring-loading is gentler, making them easier to use.
To spice up the taste a bit, consider some wood pellets from BBQr's Delight. You get a one-pound bag for $4.99 and they come in flavors like Sassafras and Black Walnut. You simply put them in your smoker's box for some extra flavor.
And finally, if you just don't have the time to season the grill, Lodge Cast Iron's Lodge Logic Grill Grate has already been seasoned. For $36, it is a cast-iron grid you simply put on top of the one that came with your grill and use it to cook on. Although fantastic for grilling, cast-iron MUST be seasoned to stave off rusting. So this makes your barbecuing more low-maintenance.
Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News. Willis also is co-host of CNNfn's The FlipSide, weekdays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (ET). E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.