South Charlotte

Great grilling: The right equipment makes a difference

Grilling season is here, so invest in some information before you invest in the grill.

There are a lot of models and manufacturers to choose from, so do price and product shopping.

Natural gas and propane are more convenient than charcoal, but keep charcoal as an option. Piedmont Gas will often run a new line to your house at no charge if you add a qualifying appliance.

Propane bottles must be refilled, so have at least two of them on hand to always have one ready.

Any grill must have at least three burners, or "cooking zones." This will allow grilling both directly over the flame and indirectly off the flame, for better heat-to-meat control, and a safe place to go in case of flare-ups. Most retail three-burner grills allow you to easily cook for 10-15 people and will fit on most decks or patios.

Before shopping, decide how big a grill you need by thinking about how many people you'll regularly be grilling for. .

The recession has pushed some manufacturers, like Barbeques Galore, out of business.

Parts wear out, and if the manufacturer is gone you're out of luck. Buy a name brand grill.

A cheap grill, usually less than $300, will wear out in a few years, so in the long run the better value is to buy better equipment. Stainless steel looks great but costs a lot more, doesn't last any longer and definitely doesn't grill any better.

The cooking grates will be porcelain-coated or steel. While the porcelain wears off and rusts, the steel will last longer and leave nicer grill marks but is more expensive.

The grill should have an upper grate for food that needs a little more cooking time - just not on the grill - and a warmer-basket keeps food warm while you are still cooking other food.

Infrared is a "hot" new item but not worth the added cost.

A high-quality grill and the right technique will allow you to sear without the price tag of infrared.

If you want grilling diversity, two must-haves are a rotisserie and a side burner.

The rotisserie lets you grill whole birds, roasts and tenderloins, and with a side burner you can sauté mushrooms and onions or heat up sauce.

There are hundreds of accessories, but only a few other essentials. Buy a smoker box - sold in most retail stores - so you can smoke food on a gas grill. Soak some wood chips, put them in the box and place it just above the flame.

Turn the grill on high and wait for smoke.

Invest in extra-long mitts, long tongs and a spatula, a long basting brush and an instant-read digital thermometer.

A large square grill basket and a flat rectangular one let you easily cook fish, shrimp, clams and vegetables, and a rib rack stands ribs upright rather than flat so you can grill more at one time.

Before you know it, you'll be grilling like the pros.