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A Guide to Buying the Right Grill, Smoker or Fryer for Outdoor Cooking

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April 3, 2013
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Outdoor cooking remains more popular than ever, with 85 percent of Americans revealing they prefer cooking out over eating out to save money, according to 2012 national poll released by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association.

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Portable propane grills and stoves are a great option for camping or tailgating.

If you're one of the 85 percent looking for a new grill or looking for an addition to the family, here's a guide to your options.

Grills choosing the right one

When buying a new grill, choosing will depend on a number of factors: how often you plan to cook on it; how many people you feed; where you plan to do the cooking; what barbecue techniques you prefer; and how much money you're planning to spend.

There are grills for every conceivable situation, from handy portables for camping and picnics to elaborate, multi-grid models with deluxe service units that are practically a kitchen in themselves. 

Basic types of grills from which to choose use a different methods for heating the food:

Grills that use gas

Gas grills are more popular than others, with more than 8.5 million sold in 2010. They come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges, from portable tabletops to elaborate wagons, complete with cutting boards, condiment trays and sometimes even a dry bar.

Gas grills are most commonly fueled by refillable liquid propane tanks, but some models may be fired by natural-gas lines underneath the lawn or with disposable 16.4-ounce propane cylinders. The grate often is lined with specially made briquettes or with "lava rocks," made from natural volcanic stone, which are heated by gas jets. The rocks or briquettes radiate heat, which cooks the food.

Popular models include Char-Broil's stainless-steel 4-Burner and 6-Burner gas grills, which have side burners, electronic ignition and closed storage space; Teton Grill Company's gas grills, which feature beautiful outdoor scenes on the stainless-steel hood and doors; and Bass Pro Shops' High Output Propane Grill and Stove, a portable combination cooker great for camping or tailgating.

Grills that use charcoal

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When it comes to charcoal grills, there are many options and sizes to choose from.

Grills that cook with charcoal also are very popular, with 47 percent surveyed by the HPBA choosing it. With the lid up or off, these grills can be used in the most basic way — to grill foods directly over hot coals. However, because of their deep bottoms, they are also excellent for indirect cooking in which a drip pan is placed on the bottom of the grill, just underneath the food, and briquettes are banked to one side. (This allows fat to drip into the pan, not onto hot coals, preventing flare-ups and excessive smoke.)

With the lid on, the charcoal grill acts like an oven, roasting and lightly smoking the food at the same time. Vents in the bottom are used to regulate heat. This method doesn't require a lot of attention — you just pop in the food and time it.

You can do an entire meal on a charcoal grill, from hors d'oeuvres to fish to roasts. You can bake potatoes, grill vegetables, toast bread and use the dying embers to warm up pies, other desserts and coffee. This is an easy, efficient way to cook and ideal for entertaining.

The variety of models from which to choose is nearly endless. For camping or tailgating, you might select a small portable grill or tabletop grill like Lodge Logic's Cast Iron Sportsman's Charcoal Grill or Weber's Smokey Joe Silver Portable Charcoal Grill. For outdoor entertaining at home for a large crowd, you may want something bigger like Char-Griller's Outlaw Charcoal Grill with a whopping 1,000-square inches of cooking area.

Among the newest charcoal grill innovations are ceramic cookers, like Browning's Ceramic Charcoal Grill. Thick ceramic walls retain and distribute heat better than conventional metal grills, permitting less charcoal usage, quicker cooking times and juicier, more delicious foods.

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Camp grills are perfect for using over an open fire.

Grills used over campfires

When cooking over a campfire, it's helpful to have a grill for direct cooking over hot coals or on which you can set skillets, pots and pans. Camp grills like Camp Chef's Mountain Man Grill are ideal for this purpose, allowing you to prepare a meal over an open fire with no fuss.

Grills for special applications

Some grills also are made for special applications, such as Springfield's Marine Rail-Mount Grill and Magma's Marine Kettle Propane grill made for mounting on a pontoon boat or other water craft. Also available are combination cookers such as Char-Griller's 5050 Duo-Gas-and-Charcoal Grill, which features two compartments so you can grill with gas, charcoal or both at the time.


Smoke cooking is extremely popular with outdoor chefs, and manufacturers have made a wide variety of smokers from which one can choose. Although smoking is the slowest method of barbecuing, food cooked on low, even heat is always tender, moist and delicious. Foods particularly suited to this method of cooking include wild game, slabs of ribs, beef briskets, roasts and whole fish.

Smokers that use charcoal

Charcoal smokers like Weber's 18.5-inch Smokey Mountain Cooker and Bass Pro Shops' Smoke'n Grill are among the least expensive and most popular models. Each is a tall, cylindrical covered cooker with a fire pan for coals, a water pan, one or two grids and a dome-shaped cover. The food is placed on a grid high above the coals. A pan of water or other liquid is placed between the coals and the grid holding the food. In some smokers, there's a second grid above the first for smoking several different foods at the same time. The food cooks very slowly in a dense cloud of smoke and steam.

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Electric smokers allow you to control time, temperature and smoke control when cooking large amounts of food.

Soaked aromatic wood chips can be periodically thrown on the coals to create smoke and add another dimension of flavor. For other interesting taste variations, beer, fruit juice or wine can be substituted for water.

Smokers that are electric

Today's cook also can choose from a variety of smokers you can plug in and start using. These electric smokers include Masterbuilt's 30" Electric Smoker with a built-in thermostat and variablel temperature controls and the Bradley Smoker's 6-Rack Digital Electric Smoker that allows you to control the time, temperature and smoke level while cooking large amounts of food.

Smokers that use propane gas

Propane smokers are very popular, too, like Masterbuilt's Extra Wide Propane Smoker, which offers 1,333 square inches of cooking space over four oversized cooking racks.

Fish Fryers

Fish fries and fried fish are popular almost everywhere, so it's not surprising that manufacturers offer a variety of fryers for quickly cooking a mess of fish fillets, steaks or pan-dressed fish along with fixings such as hushpuppies and French fries. Most come complete with a single, heavy-duty burner that runs off a propane tank, a large fry pot (aluminum, stainless steel or cast iron) with basket, a gas regulator and hose, and a deep-fry thermometer. More expensive versions may include options such as multiple burners or accessories that allow you to steam or boil foods such as lobsters, crawfish, clams and vegetables.

Among the many models available are Bass Pro Shops' Cast Iron Fish Fryer, a portable propane appliance that comes with a powerful 58,000-BTU, cast-iron burner and a 6.5-quart cast-iron Dutch oven pot for better heat distribution and easier oil temperature regulation; and the Cajun Fryer by R & V Works, which comes in an either an 8.5-gallon or a 12-gallon propane cooker/deep fryer, which utilizes a unique design not only to fry fish, but also turkeys, chickens or any other food you decide to cook up.

Turkey Fryers

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Oil-less turkey friers uses radiant heat to fry turkeys, eliminating the need for oil. Click here to see turkey fryer video at Bass Pro Shops.

Deep-fried turkey, a longtime favorite in the South, has spread its flavorful wings and become popular throughout the country in recent years. Celebrity chefs rave about its crispy skin and tender, juicy meat, and millions of cooks have learned just how convenient it is to have their holiday bird done in about 45 minutes (3 1/2 minutes per pound) instead of counting down the hours.

These turkey fryers made especially for cooking this delectable dish have a propane-fired burner and accessories similar to those used with fish cookers, but they come with a larger (typically 30 quart as compared to 10 quart) fry pot with lid, plus a special turkey rack and hook, and an injector so you can shoot up your bird with delicious marinades that enhance the flavor. Also available are pumps and funnels for removing and storing cooking oil and a variety of special cooking utensils.

Among the turkey fryers from which you can choose are Bass Pro Shops Stainless Steel Turkey Fryer, which features a 30-quart stainless steel pot equipped with a handy copper spigot that makes oil removal a snap; and Char-Broil's Big Easy Oil-less Turkey Fryer, which lets you prepare a turkey up to 16 pounds using oil-less infrared heat that circles the meat in the cooker evenly, sealing in its juices for a crispy outside and moist, juicy inside.

Specialty cooker technology

Recent years have seen outdoor cooking technology advance to never-before-seen levels of excellence.  Recent examples include:

  • Orion Charcoal Cooker: simultaneously smokes, steams and uses convection for an extraordinarily fast cooking time. Cook a 20-pound turkey in just over 2 hours.
  • Coleman All-in-One Cooker: features include a removable, porcelain-coated, stamped steel grill grate, a nickel-coated stove grate, non-stick skillet/griddle and an aluminized steel drip pan.
  • Bass Pro Shops Stainless Steel 3-in-1 Combo Cooker: comes with a large 30-quart stainless-steel pot, stainless-steel strainer/steamer basket, steamer grid and stainless-steel turkey hook and stand, giving you everything you need to cook your favorite foods by frying, steaming or boiling.

Bon appetit!


Tagged under Read 7823 times Last modified on May 25, 2016
Keith Sutton

With a resume listing more than 3,500 magazine, newspaper and website articles about fishing, hunting, wildlife and conservation, Keith Sutton of Alexander, Ark., has established a reputation as one of the country’s best-known outdoor writers. In 2011, Sutton, who has authored 12 books, was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a “Legendary Communicator.” Visit his website at

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