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The range in barbecues nowadays is astounding to say the least. Now before you let hubby run off to buy the latest and greatest in the barbecue range, you need to sit down and ask yourself honestly how often you are going to be using the barbecue and if the benefits outweigh the expense. If you’ve looked at any of the home decorating magazines of late you would see the trend heading towards the humble barbecue being more like an extension of your kitchen, where it’s not enough just to be able to grill some steaks, but the options to stir fry vegetables, rotisserie to keep the food warm, refrigeration and lots more takes dining to another level altogether.

Take a serious look at your backyard – do you have the space to accomodate a bohemoth barbecue? How often will you be dining alfresco? Will a smaller kettle portable version be sufficient for your needs – yes you may have to put up with whining kids and hungry adults who aren’t getting fed fast enough but is that just going to be that one off time at Christmas or Thanksgiving when all the family descend on your home? Or do you love entertaining and have barbecues almost every other weekend with friends and family in which case a gourmet kitchen model barbecue is well worth the expense?

A few pointers when picking one :

  • Natural gas is by far the cleanest and economical fuel. Charcoal and wood just don’t cut it nowadays. Gone are the days when you have to start the charcoal beads burning with firestarters an hour before you can actually start cooking. Having said that, I know many diehard charcoal barbecuers who would swear that NOTHING beats the taste of a steak grilled on charcoal!
  • Stainless steel grills are easier to clean.
  • If you’re after a hot plate, pick one that’s ceramic-coated or cast iron for better heat transfer.
  • Some barbecues perform better than others. Just because one barbecue has a high BTU (british thermal unit) doesn’t mean it’s got great cooking capacity. You need to weigh that up with the cooking space. The size of the barbecue, how it’s designed and the type of materials used all play a role in how much heat you are going to get so don’t just buy a grill based on a high BTU rating. A grill giving out 40,000BTUs over 400 square inches is pretty decent.
  • If you’ve only got a balcony or a small courtyard, a small compact kettle model that can be wheeled away into a corner would be ideal. High rise buildings are often exposed to the elements so opt for stainless steel or vitreous enamel coated models. Also invest in a good sturdy barbecue cover that won’t blow off in the wind.
  • Take a good hard look at the model before you buy. Test for sturdiness with a wobble test. Are those clean streamlined edges (read sharp) also potential hazards? Will those drop down ends support a plateful of steaks? And the bane of every avid barbecuer – the fat traps – try to visualize where potential pockets of fat can (and will) gather – you’re going to have to clean them!

With most barbecues you’ll get what you pay for. Stainless steel is the priciest of the lot but it’s also the most long lasting. A vitreous enamel model will probably last 10-15 years. If you can afford it (and if portability isn’t a problem), hooking the barbecue up to your home gas mains would save you years of carting the gas bottle to and fro to refill it.

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