How to Choose the BBQ That’s Right for You

A man grilling meat and vegetables on a BBQ

Summer is the season of backyard hangouts, scoops of ice cream, sprinkler showers and—perhaps best of all—food fresh from the BBQ. But if the thought of buying a new BBQ leaves you scratching your head, you’re not alone. The hardest task is deciding on type: Do you go with natural gas, propane, charcoal or something else altogether? We asked grilling expert Stephanie Foster of Steph Foster’s Feasts to help us compare types of BBQ grills and discuss the pros and cons of each.

And if you already know what you’re looking for and want to start shopping ASAP, check out our top BBQs of the year.

In this guide

1. What are the main types of BBQ grills?

To land on the best type of BBQ grill that works for you and your family, you’ll need to want to consider cost, size and versatility. You’ll also want to think about what features are important to you. “People use grills differently and all the choices can be intimidating,” says Foster. All the more reason to do your research so you can make an informed purchase.

Natural Gas BBQ

Price range: $250 to $950

If you have a pre-existing natural gas line, a natural gas BBQ is by far the easiest way to bring your indoor cooking game outdoors. “I lived off of my gas grill for 10 years and I loved it. I thought it was the be all and end all,” says Foster. “There is truly nothing wrong with it. It’s that mid-range [of price and features].” If you want to be more adventurous with your cooking and flavours, that’s where you might branch off to a charcoal, wood pellet or kamado grill.

Pros
Cons
Pros
  • Natural gas grills start at around $300.

  • Your fuel source is constant and doesn’t require you to replenish it the way charcoal or portable propane tanks do.

  • It’s easy and comfortable to use and often includes features such as multiple burners, warming shelves and storage space.

  • It’s ideal for grilling fish or vegetables (but will certainly do the job for burgers and steaks, too).

  • It’s easy to clean and maintain by brushing off stuck-on food and grease.

Cons
  • Installing a natural gas line isn’t cheap,[1] and even attaching a BBQ to an existing line may require a professional.[2]

  • A natural gas BBQ doesn’t get as hot as charcoal and is not ideal for high-heat searing or chargrilling of meats.

  • It won’t give you the smoky flavour you would get with charcoal or wood pellets.

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Propane BBQ

Price range: $125 to $1,100

“Natural gas and propane BBQs are going to deliver very similar results,” says Foster. The main difference is that one is wired to your home through a natural gas port, and the other one runs off a portable propane tank, which allows it to be transportable. Either way, gas BBQs (meaning propane or natural gas) are what most people gravitate towards, because they’re the easiest to use and maintain.

Pros
Cons
Pros
  • Propane BBQs are usually less expensive upfront compared with natural gas grills (even as low as $100) and they come in smaller sizes.

  • Propane is portable because the tank travels with the BBQ.

  • It’s as versatile as a natural gas BBQ for cooking meat, fish and vegetables.

  • It offers many of the same features as your natural gas grills, including multiple burners, shelves and storage.

  • It’s easy to clean with a brush.

Cons
  • You have to deal with refilling your propane tank. As a rule of thumb, a 20-pound propane tank will last up to 20 hours on a medium-sized grill.[3]

  • It can be complicated to check the propane level and you could run out of gas while cooking.[4]

  • In the long run, propane can be more expensive than natural gas.[5]

  • Like natural gas, a propane BBQ doesn’t get as hot as charcoal.

  • Like all gas BBQs, you don’t get the authentic smoky flavour or chargrilled texture you would get with charcoal.

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Charcoal BBQ

A charcoal grill with side tray

Price range: $150 to $600

To cook with a charcoal BBQ, you have to build up a pile of charcoal, light it on fire and tend to it before you can start cooking. “It’s carnal and gets you in touch with your primal instincts, but it’s messy,” says Foster. It requires more time, patience and clean-up than other BBQ types—but it’s worth it if you love your steaks and burgers smoky and beautifully seared.

Pros
Cons
Pros
  • A charcoal BBQ is one of the most affordable grilling options. You can get a small, basic model for as low as $30 or an extra-large heavy-duty one for $400.

  • It’s generally more lightweight and portable than other BBQs.

  • Charcoal burns hotter than gas—700oF versus 500 or 600oF– for getting that perfect sear on a steak or burger.

  • It gives you that true smoky flavour.

Cons
  • It requires more experience to use, such as knowing how to count out the correct number of charcoal briquettes for the amount of food you need to cook.

  • Dealing with charcoal is sooty and messy.

  • It’s slower to start than gas and takes longer to reach a hot temperature.

  • It’s more hands-on and can be tricky to control the temperature.

  • It requires more cleaning and maintenance, including ash disposal.

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Wood pellet grill

A wood pellet grill with a bag of pellets

Price range: $350 to $1,300

wood pellet grill is an outdoor cooker that’s powered by electricity and uses wood pellets for fuel. It adds wood-fired flavour to your food while a fan circulates the heat and smoke for even cooking.[6] A pellet grill is perfect for low and slow cooking of meats using indirect heat, meaning the food isn’t in direct contact with the flame.[7] “This is my jam. I love my pellet grills,” says Foster. “You can really transform your food based on the different woods you put into the hopper.”

Pros
Cons
Pros
  • A wood pellet grill is mid-priced. You can get a brand name for under $600.

  • It’s versatile: if you can smoke it, roast it, grill it or bake it, you can probably also cook it in the pellet grill.

  • It provides mild smoky flavour (but not as much as you would get with a traditional smoker).

  • The convection-style cooking is great for keeping food moist.

  • It’s super easy to use: Pour wood pellets into a hopper and push a few buttons.

Cons
  • You can only use it for indirect heat, which is a slower way of cooking, unless you have a gas-pellet combo grill.

  • It’s bulky. A typical wood pellet grill weighs over 100 lbs.[8]

  • It needs a source of electricity.

  • Smoke enthusiasts may find the flavour too mild.

  • It requires more maintenance and cleaning out ash. A shop vacuum will help.

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Kamado grill

A kamado grill with side shelves.

Price range: $425 to $1,500

The Kamado is a Japanese-style ceramic BBQ. It’s oval or egg-shaped and it functions in a similar way to a high-end charcoal grill, but it’s known for being able to circulate and retain heat much better.[9] “They’re definitely unique and versatile,” says Foster. “I would compare it with a premium charcoal kettle grill, but because it’s insulated you can get a bit of a longer cook.”

Pros
Cons
Pros
  • It’s insulated, so you have many different options under one grill, from grilled meat to cold-smoked sausage to pizza.

  • The insulation also helps meat stay tender and juicy.

  • You can get a wide temperature range, sustained over a long period of time.[10]

  • It’s more durable than your average charcoal or gas BBQ.

  • It has a simple design and small footprint.

  • The ceramic interior is easy to clean. It works like a self-cleaning oven.

  • It gives you the true smoky BBQ flavour of cooking with charcoal.

Cons
  • It’s pricey. A good self-standing kamado grill can start at $1,000.

  • It’s often heavy. A standard family-sized model is 250 pounds.[11]

  • You still have to deal with soot and ash from the charcoal.

  • Like other charcoal grills, it’s slower to start than a gas BBQ.

  • The insulation means it takes longer to cool down as well.[12]

  • Some models don’t allow you to do two-zone cooking, which means you can’t cook multiple things at the same time.[13]

  • You need to invest more time to learn to use it properly.

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Electric BBQ

Price range: $75 to $500

If you live in an apartment or condo that prohibits the use of traditional BBQs, an electric grill may be your best (and only) option. Think about an electric BBQ as a modern, large-scale frying pan. They’re basically flat-top grills or griddles that you plug in, and they’re great for frying up things like big breakfasts of eggs, pancakes and bacon or diner-style burgers. “I also see a lot of people making different types of rice and fajitas,” Foster says. “It’s a fun way to cook.”

Pros
Cons
Pros
  • An electric BBQ is low budget—starting at about $75.

  • It’s compact and easy to store.

  • It’s available for indoor and outdoor use as long as you have a power outlet.

  • Use it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

  • It’s easy to clean.

Cons
  • It can be difficult to generate sufficient heat to cook well on. Make sure to read reviews before buying.

  • It can take longer to heat up.

  • Cooking times can be slower than what you’re used to with a grill.

  • You won’t get an authentic grilled flavour or texture.

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Portable BBQ

A portable BBQ grill on a picnic table

Price range: $25 to $550

These aptly named barbecues are great for families on the go: camping, outdoor gatherings or tailgating are all situations where a portable grill comes in handy. They typically run on small propane tanks (although some models use charcoal or wood pellets) and are just as useful for quickly boiling water as they are for grilling up a few hot dogs. Look for smaller models that max out on cooking surface to minimize grilling in batches for larger families.

Pros
Cons
Pros
  • Portable barbecues are easy to store when not in use.

  • It’s less expensive than other models.

  • It’s great to take on the road when you want a fresh, hot meal.

  • These grills can be propane or charcoal.

  • Great for condo dwellers or others with small outdoor spaces.

Cons
  • Smaller surface area means cooking less food at a time.

  • Propane models run out of fuel faster than regular propane barbecues.

  • The smaller size makes it uncomfortable to cook on for long periods of time.

  • Charcoal models can emit an unpleasant odour and uncontrollable smoke.

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Smokers

A smoker with meat in it

Price range: $150 to $1,200

Low and slow is the name of the game with smokers, which deliver that deeper, smokier flavour and fall-off-the-bone texture outdoor cooks may crave. Smokers come in several styles (charcoal, pellet, electric and propane) with emerging features like integrated thermometers and push-button controls. If your family loves experimenting with different wood chips and deep flavours, invest in a standalone smoker or a dual unit with plenty of cooking surface to make each and every smoke worth it.

Pros
Cons
Pros
  • There are many different models and types to choose from, including grills with integrated smokers.

  • Some models boast large cooking areas for easy batch cooking.

  • Some models allow for cold and hot smoking.

  • Many electric models allow you to “set it and forget it.”

  • You can further customize flavours by experimenting with different wood chips.

Cons
  • Standalone smokers can take up extra space in small backyards.

  • Smoked food needs longer to cook than a regular barbecue.

  • Some models are finicky and need constant watching.

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2. What is a BTU rating and why should I care?

BTU stands for British Thermal Unit—a traditional way of measuring heat output. But BTU ratings can be deceptive as they’re only relative to the cooking surface and aren’t consistent across models. “It’s just as important to know what the grill features are and how the heat is being distributed,” notes Foster. Many BBQ experts say a more useful metric is the temperature range in degrees.

3. What size of cooking surface do I need?

A good rule of thumb is to give 24 square inches for the average chicken breast or steak, and about 20 square inches for the average hamburger.[14] A family of four or five would do well with a 400– to 500–square-inch range, unless they’re big entertainers.[15]

Cooking surface Amount
200 square inches 10 hamburgers / 8 chicken breasts or steaks
400 square inches 20 hamburgers / 17 chicken breasts or steaks
500 square inches 24 hamburgers / 21 chicken breasts or steaks
600 square inches 30 hamburgers / 25 chicken breasts or steaks

4. How do I choose a BBQ that will last?

Grills (and cooking grates) can be made of numerous materials, which makes choosing one a tad confusing. “Budget is often going to dictate what you get,” says Foster. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

  • When you go ultra-affordable: You could end up with low-quality steel, cast-aluminum, wire grates, plastic and heat-resistant paint that will eventually chip off with exposure to the outdoors.
  • When you invest more: You’ll get heavy stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic and porcelain coating.

5. Are there any extra features I should watch for?

A chart of BBQ features

Modern grills come with a dizzying number of extras you don’t always need, including everything from side burners that allow you to boil a pot of water to smart technology that can enhance your grilling experience. You can refer to this image to get an idea of options that are widely available. Below are some of the most popular features to consider when researching the best BBQ for your needs.

  • Multiple main burners (the average is two to four).
  • Side burners (typically smaller and off to the side, used for sauces and side dishes).
  • Infrared burners (which can get much hotter than charcoal or traditional gas grills).
  • Warming racks (an extra grate used to cook food at a lower temperature or keep food warm).
  • Side shelves, drawers and hooks.
  • Heavy-duty, adjustable grates.
  • Wi-Fi technology (to monitor your grill from an app on your phone).

6. How do I use a BBQ safely?

There are important safety considerations when cooking with fire and gas. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and keep your grill clean and well-maintained to avoid fire hazards such as grease flare-ups. Health Canada has many useful safety tips for handling common BBQ fuels.

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Article Sources
Claire is a Toronto-based freelance lifestyle journalist and self-proclaimed carb-influencer, with words published in Today’s Parent, Chatelaine, FLARE, Maclean’s and Reader’s Digest among other Canadian magazines. When she’s not writing or eating, she’s learning to bake, chasing her young daughters around, obsessing over her houseplants and longing to travel.

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This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.