The Ultimate Guide to Outdoor Grilling

Is there a better pastime than firing up the grill on a warm spring afternoon? There’s magic in the intense heat, the sound of food searing, and that irresistible aroma wafting through the air. After a long winter stuck inside, most people can’t wait to dust off their tongs and aprons!

But before you light up, you need suitable cooking equipment and the best fuel for grilling! It doesn’t matter whether you’re cooking up a juicy steak, a lean chicken, or a medley of hearty vegetables. Grilling is an art, and a big part of mastering it is choosing the right tools for the job.

Smoker vs. Grill vs. Griddle: Which One Is Best?

It won’t take too long into your shopping journey to realize that many different types of outdoor cooking tools are available. People are looking for new ways to cook up their favorite meals, and the demand for outdoor cookers is higher than ever. As a result, you have plenty of options to sift through.

The three main categories are smokers, grills, and griddles. Among them are multiple variants and styles, but the core functionality remains the same. So, which one is best for you? Find out with this ultimate grilling guide.

Smokers

A smoker is a unique cooking tool that harnesses the power of smoke to slow-cook meats and impart flavor. Smoking meat is nothing new. Your early ancestors used the age-old preservation method to keep food edible longer than standard cooking methods.

However, smoking has experienced a big popularity boom in recent years. Thanks to the wide availability of backyard smokers, anyone can spend a day cooking up some truly delectable meals.

Smokers work through convection and indirect heat. Instead of exposing the meat to flames and heated grills, these cookers generate smoke to circulate heat around the food. The best fuel for barbecue smoker grills will take on a specific flavor, giving you that signature taste people pay so much for at restaurants and grill houses.

It’s a slow and steady race! The cooking process takes hours to cook meat at a relatively low temperature. The wait can be agonizing, but smoking makes the connective tissue in the meat melt and turn into mouthwatering gelatin.

The end product? Ultra-tender meat that’s moist and packed full of smoky flavor. What’s not to like?

Grills

Here’s what most people are familiar with using. A grill is a cooker that utilizes a slatted cooking surface suspended over a heat source. There are several types of grills on the market today with different fuel options. For now, the critical thing to know is what a grill brings to the table.

There are a few unique benefits of grilling. First, grills let you use direct heat and high temperatures. Whether you put your food over a flame or let the heated grill grates do the cooking, you’re applying the hot temperatures directly to the meat.

That process enables the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction that causes deep-brown searing and flavor. Plus, you can get those signature grill marks!

In many cases, grills are also the healthier choice. The direct heat releases fat from the meat. Meanwhile, the slatted grills let it drip away, ensuring that you don’t cook the meat in oil.

Overall, grills are the faster option. But make no mistake: Grilling is also very versatile. In addition to cooking quick veggies and lean meats, you can also use grills for slow-cooking barbecue. It all depends on the grilling fuels and methods you use.

Griddles

Grill griddles are a classic cooking appliance most associated with All-American diners of yesteryear and today. They feature a large, flat surface over a heat source. Whether it’s flames, infrared burners, or traditional coils, the heat source raises the temperature of the entire griddle surface. As a result, you have a massive cooking surface to utilize! 

Griddles come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. You can find grill-sized units, portable tabletop models, and even pans made of cast iron or aluminum. However, the traditional diner-style griddle equipment usually has an easy-to-clean stainless-steel surface.

What are the differences between a griddle and a grill? The most obvious is the lack of slats. You don’t get the signature grill marks with a griddle. However, you also don’t lose any of the fat and flavor. While it’s all a matter of personal preference, cooking steak on a griddle versus a grill usually results in an even, pan-seared crust and more of that coveted Maillard effect.

Another big perk is that griddles offer more versatility. The flat surface is perfect for cooking breakfast from eggs to pancakes. Try doing that with a grill!

Is a Griddle Healthier Than a Grill?

Both grills and griddles are versatile cookers that can help you whip up fantastic springtime meals. But when it comes to healthy cooking, there are a few clear distinctions in the griddle versus grill argument.

The healthiest option depends entirely on your concern. Grilling is the way to go if your priority is to cut back on fat and grease. The heat releases fat and allows the drippings to fall away from the meat. On a griddle, the fat would accumulate and stick with your food.

Griddling might be a better option if your worry is potential cancer-causing carcinogens. Grilling over an open flame creates more potentially harmful compounds on the meat. More controlled cooking on a griddle may make it easier to avoid carcinogens.

Despite the inherent shortcomings in the outdoor griddle versus grill battle, there are plenty of ways to adjust your cooking style to make things healthier regardless of how you choose to cook. You can stay on top of cooking temperatures, trim excess fat, and alter your recipes to make things much healthier.

Is It Better to Have a Smoker or a Grill?

There’s no denying that smokers are game changers that can take your grilling efforts to the next level. But if you have to choose between a grill and a smoker, most meat lovers will tell you to put your money toward a top-notch grill.

Smokers are amazing cookers that can do a lot more than people realize. However, the core design is limited. That’s not the case with grills.

With a grill, you can do both high-temperature cooking and low-heat barbecue. Not only that, but it’s possible to turn your grill into a smoker. The sheer versatility alone is enough to make grills a go-to.

What Is the Best Fuel for Outdoor Grilling?

Don’t stop at choosing the perfect grill for your needs. The grill fuel you utilize is a critical decision, too. 

Grills, smokers, and griddles can utilize various fuel sources. Some will stick to just one. However, cookers that do multiple grilling types might accept more than one. So, deciding what grilling fuel is best for you can help you choose your equipment and vice versa.

Here’s a breakdown of the most common fuels you’ll use when grilling.

Gas

Many consider gas to be the best fuel for grilling. It’s not hard to see why.

Gas offers versatility, power, and quick results. There’s no waiting around for things to get hot. Once you know how to start a grill, you can start cooking immediately. It’s akin to cooking on a gas range. You have an ignitor to start the flames and a knob to control the temperature.

Operating a gas grill is straightforward, and the approachable temperature control settings can make your finished meal a bit healthier.

Within the gas grill category, you can split things up further. Grills can utilize propane or natural gas from your home. Propane requires refillable tanks. Meanwhile, natural gas grills connect to your home’s existing plumbing.

Generally, propane offers more power thanks to the higher Btu rating. But, natural gas comes with the convenience of not requiring tank refills.

Charcoal Briquettes

Next up, there are charcoal briquettes. Charcoal is a type of carbon residue made of sawdust and other additives. It’s collected and compressed into easy-to-use briquette shapes.

Briquettes can be challenging to use. Heating them requires the use of a grilling chimney. However, many manufacturers incorporate lighter fluid and other accelerants into the mix to make things easier.

Charcoal briquettes produce a good amount of smoke for flavor. Plus, they are versatile enough for slow-cooked barbecue and faster flash cooking.

Charcoal Lumps

This fuel is similar to the last one. It’s a form of carbon that works well in smokers and grills. The critical difference, however, is the composition. Charcoal lumps are pure carbonized wood with no additives whatsoever.

Many consider lumps to be the best fuel for charcoal grills. They’re also one of the best fuels for a kamado grill. Lumps burn hotter and faster while delivering a distinct flavor you can’t help but love!

The biggest issue with charcoal lumps is consistent temperature. It’s more challenging to keep things stable because the pieces aren’t uniform like briquettes.

Wood Pellets

Wood pellets are the best fuel for barbecue smokers. Pellets are compressed wood shavings with the air and moisture removed. They’re about the size of a bean, and they look like cattle food. Some brands might use additives or unique hardwoods, giving you plenty of enticing flavor profiles for your food. 

In a pellet grill, this fuel burns very slowly. Pellets aren’t supposed to create a flame. Instead, the focus is producing as much hot smoke as possible.

Wood Logs or Chunks

Barbecue fuel like charcoal is accessible and easy to use. But if you want to go all-natural, hardwood pieces are certainly worth trying. It’s the traditional way of doing things, but it’s more of a luxury nowadays.

You can buy wood chips and chunks just like charcoal. Alternatively, you can use firewood on your own property! The best types of hardwood for grilling include:

  • Applewood
  • Hickory
  • Mesquite
  • Oak
  • Juniper
  • Pecan
  • Heather
  • Cherrywood
  • Alder
  • Walnut

That strong aroma you smell in the raw wood will make its way into your food through the smoke for a punch of flavor. Hardwood is also one of the best fuels for charcoal grills because it provides more heat and a longer burn time.

Electricity

Last but not least is electricity. Some grilling purists might turn their noses up at electric grills. However, these cookers offer many perks.

Using electricity eliminates the need for gas, charcoal, and even open flames. These units are typically more portable and can meet the strict rules of an apartment or a condominium complex.

Electricity is the best fuel for hibachi grills and flat-iron grills. Flame-based alternatives do exist, but electricity provides more consistency and control. The only downside is that you don’t get all the benefits of real flames and smoke.

Understanding the different types of outdoor grilling and their fuel goes a long way into making the perfect spring meal. Find a True Value store near you to find the gear you need to up your grilling game.