The Best Grills for Everyone, From Budget Propane to Serious Smokers
At Sunset, we’ve been geeking out over grilling for almost a century. Here are the grills we’re coveting now: gas, charcoal, live-fire, and wood pellet; high-end to budget; and high-tech to old-school
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A Hotter Hibachi
Once relegated to izakayas and yakitori restaurants, the Japanese konro grill has become the secret weapon of some of the world’s best chefs. Even with million-dollar kitchen buildouts, chefs like to keep one of these little tabletop grills loaded with blazing hot, smokeless binchotan to sear off delicate seafood and vegetables with the konro’s steady heat. The kiln-fired diatomite bricks are super insulating and preserve the coals’ heat for hours making this the perfect grill for an all-day, self-serve Japanese feast in your backyard.
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It’s a Gas, Gas… Grill!
Weber is the leader in the category of workhorse, well-warrantied, super versatile, user-friendly, gas grills. How do I know? I’ve had one for almost 20 years and it’s still going strong despite extreme neglect and abuse: I never cover it, and I’ve used it as a ladder when I’ve needed to touch up the paint on my house (don’t try this at home). In spite of all this, I’ve only needed to replace the grates and the flavorizer bars once. And I cook on it nearly once a week. Yes you can spark it up on a whim for a weeknight mixed grill, but the Summit E-470 is also a behemoth with a motorized spit so you can rotisserie poultry, slow roast lamb, or try your hand at spit-roasted al pastor. The side burner is brilliant for outdoor frying: no smelly odors indoors or backsplash to clean!
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Grill Like a Chef
Peek into the kitchens of any number of restaurants that bill themselves as “wood-fired” (a pretty high number these days) and chances are you’ll see a Grillworks grill doing its thing. But you don’t have to be a restaurateur to make the most of this bad boy. Building and adjusting a wood fire, searing steaks as the flames dance beneath the grates, and ember-roasting vegetables is universally primal and satisfying. The Grillworks 26 is worth the investment. Modern stainless steel meets Argentine-inspired styling, with features that include a crank for raising and lowering the cooking surface, and V-channels for capturing the cooking juices for basting. Grills are made to order and take 8 to 10 weeks.
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Asador Like an Argentine
Could there be a more tantalizing sight than a whole chicken suspended from a string crisping up and dripping fat onto red hot coals? This 'grammable culinary moment can be yours if you splurge on a Mallmann’s Grill. Legendary Argentine chef Francis Mallmann single-handedly jump-started the craze for all things wood-fired, smoke-tinged, and ember-roasted. Design-minded outfitters Best Made partnered with him on this steel beauty that features a plancha-style flat-top option and hanging racks for slow smoking or roasting of meats and vegetables.
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You Say Kamado
Ceramic-lined kamado-style grills have a rabid fan base that tout the benefits of its sturdy, heavily-insulated build, and its ability to smoke and sear. It basically does everything normal old non-kamado style grills do, but with that kamado-style flair (read: obsessive, humble-braggy, and deservedly so). Kamado Joe’s model sports a spring-assisted lid, refined venting, and a tight gasket seal that locks in heat and smoke. Plus it’s fire-engine red.
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Izakaya Pop-Up Time!
Cult Japanese outdoor lifestyle brand Snowpeak has taken the izakaya grilling experience and gone mod modular. The stainless steel fireplace kit packs flat, and sets up sturdy for on-the-go grilling. It can be expanded with a communal, wrap-around dining bar, and infinitely extendable bamboo table add-ons for that epic field-style dining experience.
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Old School Cool
First produced in Tyler, Texas in 1952, the PK Grill (PK stands for Portable Kitchen) is now made in Arkansas and has become the standard for chefs because of its cast aluminum, capsule shaped design, and hinged grate that allows for easy dual zone cooking and smoking. Bonus: The aluminum build means it's rust-proof, which also means you don’t have to cover it with one of those not super-attractive black vinyl grill covers. It’s a favorite with everyone from barbecue guru Aaron Franklin to Sunset
editors. You can get more tricked-out models, but we like the classic model, with its minimalist base and retro good looks.
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Gas Grill Gets Smart
Weber’s Genesis II line improves upon what was already a pretty great gas grill, with turn-and-click ignition, better heat distribution, and easier grease management. And you can boost the grill’s IQ by adding a compatible iGrill 3 thermometer
—a $74 Bluetooth-enabled device that tracks cooking times and temperatures, sends alerts to your phone within a 150-foot range, and lets you know when the tank is getting low. Shown here: Genesis II LX S-340.
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Instead of wringing your hands over getting the grill’s temperature just right, you can grab a beer and let the Traeger Timberline 850 do the work for you. Once you set the temperature (as low as 165° or as high as 500°), the Traeger automatically feeds hardwood pellets into the burn chamber to smoke, bake, grill, or braise your food on three tiers of grates. You can also connect to the grill via an app on your phone, letting you remotely monitor time, change grill temperature, and get recipes searchable by protein type, occasion, and dietary preference (including paleo, naturally).
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Put the Kettle to the Metal
Nothing beats a classic kettle grill for budget utilitarian grilling. But Weber has topped itself with the Summit Charcoal Grill, the burlier, sturdier version of the iconic model. It just may having us trading in old faithful. Built like an armored car, the Summit’s thick walls help insulate it for consistent low-and-slow smoking (without the need for a messy water pan) or high-temp grilling, with minimal use of fuel. The snap-jet gas ignition lights the coals in a flash.
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Small-Space Charcoal Grill
Remember the hibachi? The Japanese-style grill (which first appeared in Sunset
in 1956) is still just the thing for small cookouts on a patio or at the park. You’ll pay a tad more for the Marsh Allen 30052 Cast-Iron Hibachi than for other models, but the sturdy construction, curved grates (for keeping food in place), adjustable grate height, and air vents for controlling heat are worth it.
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Cutest Live-Fire Grill
What looks like R2-D2 and lets you make pizza, grill burgers, and charge your devices anywhere a wood fire is allowed? The BioLite BaseCamp PizzaDome Bundle. At just over a foot wide and about 30 inches tall, the unit includes a gooseneck light as well as a grill, pizza stone, and dome lid. As small pieces of firewood burn, using a fan for efficiency and minimum smoke, the BioLite creates and stores electricity, which you can harness via a USB port and cable.
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Best Small-Space Smoker
Only 25 inches wide, the Pit Barrel Cooker can nonetheless accommodate multiple chickens or racks of ribs, thanks to a space-saving design. Inside the drum, you simply hang food on hooks from rods. (The PBC also comes with a grill grate, should you want to set out fish, burgers, or other foods flat.) The meat cooks right over the coals without the need for a water pan, and the drippings produce smoke to flavor the food. Maintaining a steady low temperature takes almost zero effort, but you can also take the lid off to increase the heat for grilling.
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Best Water Smoker
Outdoor cooks swear by Weber’s Smokey Mountain, for good reasons. Thanks to the elongated shape and careful venting, the cooker holds the steady low temperature you need for smoking with almost zero effort. Slow-cooked brisket, ribs, and other foods come out super-tender. A water pan over the charcoal keeps food moist.