Sales of grills have been lackluster lately, but many of the models Consumer Reports recently tested were anything but.
Inexpensive grills offered impressive cooking, and midpriced models were loaded with premium features such as searing burners, lights, and thicker stainless-steel grates.
But Consumer Reports did see trade-offs, including smaller cooking areas, thinner shelves, and lower grades of stainless steel, which past tests have found are more prone to rust and corrosion.
Boutique brands take top spots. Vermont Castings makes the highest-scoring grill, the Signature Series VCS322SSP, $1,000, a midsized model. Huntington’s Patriot 658184 grill, $700, a Best Buy, is its finest-performing large grill. Huntington calls itself a “barbecuing family,” though that family is part of the grilling behemoth Onward Manufacturing. Both aced the cooking tests, producing nicely seared steaks and moist chicken and salmon.
When “made in the USA” matters. Nearly three-quarters of Americans recently surveyed by Consumer Reports said they had tried to buy an American-made product in the past year, and 60 percent said they always or sometimes would rather buy goods made in the United States. Some of the recommended grills were made in the United States, including the Vermont Castings and Huntington Patriot, and Weber’s Genesis E-330, $800, Genesis S-330, $950, and Summit S-470, $1,900, grills.
Among the small models, the Fiesta 24025, $100, is also American-made and offers fine grilling. But so-so indirect cooking kept it from being recommended.
Char-Broil outshines its sleek sister. Saber’s website says its grill is “designed and built for discerning consumers who want an exceptional outdoor cooking experience.” The three grills tested from Saber, Char-Broil’s upscale sibling, were very good but hardly exceptional. In most instances, the Saber grill was outperformed by a less expensive Char-Broil model.
Two Napoleon grills flare-up. To test for flare-up, Consumer Reports cooked fatty steaks on a preheated grill for six minutes with the lid closed. But testers stopped after just 3½ minutes on the Napoleon Prestige P500 because they saw excessive amounts of black smoke and flames. After the grill cooled, they found that the firebox had melted and deformed in several places and that the igniters and burners were damaged.
They bought and tested a second P500 and a P500RSIB, which has the same firebox and burner design. Though the grills flared-up excessively (but not as much as in the first test), they were able to complete the test on both grills. Neither grill was damaged.
Best Buys include the Char-Broil Red 463250511, $400, and Brinkmann 810-2545-W (Walmart), $250, in the medium category, and Char-Broil Red Patio 463250211, $250, in the small category. In the large category, in addition to Huntington’s Patriot 658184, the Master Forge 3218LTN (Lowe’s), $600, and the Kenmore 16136, $600, are Best Buys.
How to choose
Consider the cooking area. While larger grills usually have bigger cooking surfaces, there are exceptions. The Brinkmann Vertex Sear 810-3885-S is nearly 6 feet wide yet its cooking area fits just 20 burgers.
Think beyond BTU. Consumer Reports’ tests have found that more BTU doesn’t guarantee faster preheating or better cooking.
Keep infrared claims in perspective. Infrared burners typically emit intense heat to sear and cook food, but designs differ by manufacturer. Consumer Reports hasn’t found one infrared burner design that’s better than others — or better than standard burners.
Put safety first. Test a grill’s sturdiness with a gentle nudge in several places. Check for sharp corners and edges. Press down on side shelves to see how they’ll support a heavy pot. And check to see if the handle places your hand too close to a hot lid.