We grilled everything imaginable—swordfish, some kind of spicy Portuguese sausage, more steak than you could shake a pair of tongs at. We didn’t go hungry during this test. And we did it all for you.
THE STATE OF THE GRILL, 2017
We grilled in a blizzard. We grilled in the dampness of early spring, the smell of cold mud competing with brisket. We grilled morning, noon, and night, dragging these contraptions in and out of the barn, running test after test, all so that we could deliver this report with timeliness and authority.
Not that we’re complaining. And through it all, we learned that we are living in the golden age of grilling. So often we hear that things were better decades ago—the food was fresher, the sky bluer, and all you needed was a Weber in the backyard. But patio cooking has been reanimated. Across this great land people are searing, roasting, braising, and smoking like never before, learning from the Internet or those chefs on TV. Grills have proliferated. (And about that old kettle grill: As worthy as these new grills are of your hard-earned money, the simple Weber holds up. We love the gussied-up version on page 36.)
These grills represent an astonishing range of industrial design. Some are stainless steel. Others are stamped sheet steel. Two are ceramic lined. One has a cast-aluminum body and is built more or less as it was designed in 1952. They’re fired by charcoal, pellets, and propane gas. We ran them hard. We came to many conclusions, the most important of which is this: There is one here for you.
PRIMO OVAL XL 400 – $1,654
COOKING SURFACE: 680 sq. in.
LIKES: A beauty. Probably the sturdiest grill, the Primo is built like a tank but cooks with precision and brings out delicate flavors. It holds temperature extremely well, is easy to tend, and is adaptable to any cooking methods. Also, Primo’s online demo videos are excellent. And proudly American-made.
DISLIKES: Not a big deal, but could use a second handle to help roll it. This thing is heavy.
PK GRILL & SMOKER – $370
COOKING SURFACE: 405 sq. in.
LIKES: PK stands for Portable Kitchen and this is as basic as grilling gets: a big ol’ cast-aluminum capsule-shaped grill with a hinged cast lid that you can lift off. It cooks very well, and the design appears so durable we think you’ll get decades of use from it.
DISLIKES: The lip of the grill is, oddly, flush with the surface of the grill body, so you have to be careful not to skim your burger right over the side when you go to flip it.
VISION PROFESSIONAL C SERIES – $1,000
COOKING SURFACE: 604 sq. in.
LIKES: A solidly built Kamado grill with two attractive and useful side panels that fold down. The lid is hefty but lifts and lowers smoothly, and the grill’s lift-and-slide ash drawer makes cleanup a snap.
DISLIKES: Grill has a tendency to run on the hot side and was not as responsive to venting adjustments (to control temperature) as we would have liked.
HOLLAND FREEDOM BH421AG11 – $800
COOKING SURFACE: 400 sq. in.
LIKES: A simple, sturdy, American-made grill. Twin chimneys create an even and consistent temperature that’s easy to maintain. Steaks cooked especially well.
DISLIKES: Assembly was made unnecessarily difficult by nuts, bolts, washers, and lock washers in one unsorted bag. And a demerit for rough burrs on the handle brackets.
WEBER SPIRIT E-310 – $500
COOKING SURFACE: 529 sq. in.
LIKES: Beautiful packaging, and the assembly was hassle-free. The grill went together in under an hour. The Spirit is perfect for the everyday griller. It’s simple to use and versatile, with three cooking zones.
DISLIKES: We experienced some minor unevenness of temperature on the cooking surfaces.
CHAR-BROIL CHARCOAL 580 – $130
COOKING SURFACE: 580 sq. in.
LIKES: A lot of grill for the money. We became especially fond of the crank-operated height control, which allows you to move the charcoal pan closer to or farther from the cooking grate. Cleanup is easy, too, thanks to the slide-out pan.
DISLIKES: This is such a straightforward, simple product, there’s not much to complain about.
ENGELBRECHT ORIGINAL BRATEN CAMPFIRE GRILL – $290
FUEL: Wood, charcoal
COOKING SURFACE: 720 sq. in.
LIKES: If you’re bored with outdoor cooking, try this product. We had an absolute blast with it over a fire pit in the backyard. American-made and welded together from 12-gauge steel, the Braten has a height-adjustable cooking grate that makes cooking over a campfire far more predictable and fun. The company rates the grate as being able to support 50 pounds of food. We believe it.
TRAEGER PRO SERIES 22 – $800
COOKING SURFACE: 572 sq. in.
LIKES: Excellent temperature control with no hot spots anywhere on the grill surface. Overall, it was one of the easiest grills to cook on. The cooking grates had just the right amount of spacing.
DISLIKES: Not a complaint really, but the Traeger emphasizes closed-lid cooking, which takes some getting used to, especially with steaks.
CHAR-GRILLER TRIO – $500
FUEL: Charcoal, propane
COOKING SURFACE: 1,260 sq. in.
LIKES: One tester described it as a “grilling extravaganza.” Gas on the left, charcoal in the center, and a smoker on the far right. Simple and sturdy, without a lot to break or go wrong.
DISLIKES: It wants to stay put. When we tried to move it, we felt like we were going to tear the smoker off the side. Also, not the sturdiest of grills.
CHAR-BROIL GAS2COAL HYBRID – $300
FUEL: Charcoal, propane
COOKING SURFACE: 420 sq. in.
LIKES: A damn fine grill. You can switch it easily from gas to charcoal to suit your schedule.
DISLIKES: The front panel looks attractive but blocks access to the propane cylinder. Also, the grill could use better venting for charcoal use.
WEBER PERFORMER DELUXE 22″ – $400
COOKING SURFACE: 363 sq. in.
LIKES: Everything you love about the classic Weber kettle but with a few stylish add-ons, like a large work surface, a lid holder, and a propane starter. The pullout bin for storing charcoal is genius.
SABER 500 LP CAST GRILL – $1,100
COOKING SURFACE: 675 sq. in.
LIKES: A beautiful cooking surface with a diffuser underneath that allows nothing to fall on the burners. Heats up quickly and evenly, even in the corners. You can use every square inch of its cooking surface.
DISLIKES: A small complaint: The temperature markings on the knob are these thin, little lines that are difficult to read.