Choosing the right gas grill requires that you first determine your needs. The most important questions to be answered before choosing a grill are
do you intend to do with it: grill, roast, barbecue, smoke?
How often do you expect to cook on the grill?
What is the greatest number of people that you intend to feed from the grill?
How much are you willing to spend on a grill.
Gas grills, are neat and convenient. Whether they are the relatively cheap £90.00 disposables (well almost) or the top of the range £1500.00 grills, their functions are quite similar — all have gas burners much like gas kitchen stove ovens. The more expensive will, or should, deliver more heat, have more space, be sturdier and have sideboards and accessories. But, if the el cheapo can deliver at least 30,000 BTUs, it will grill a steak and cook a roast, this is about all any gas grill can do. Some smoke flavour may be added by various means, but, barbecue, by definition, cannot be cooked in gas heat.
Because liquid is more dense than gas, butane and propane are bottled under pressure in their liquid state. Their low boiling points causes them to make a phase change to gas when the bottle valves are opened. For heating/cooking purposes, methane is delivered by pipe because methane gas requires tremendous pressure and cooling to change into liquid.
Propane's ( C3H8) boiling point, at atmospheric pressure, is –42.5C. While butane's (C4H10) boiling point is -0.5C. Higher boiling point is why propane is more widely used as bottled gas than butane.
Propane gas is 1.5 times heavier than air, while natural gas is only 60% as heavy as air. Butane is 2 times as heavy as air. This means that propane or butane gas will flow to the lowest point available and, when it accumulates, presents an explosion hazard. Natural gas will dissipate in air, and can still be ignited, but it presents less of a hazard than propane or butane because it would be less concentrated.
Gas fired cookers have been used in homes for more than a century. During that time, there has been little change in the technology. The entire operating system consists of a gas valve, an orifice (read small hole), a venture ( a tube having a variable slotted section to draw in air) and a burner (a tube or other shape which has holes in it for the gas/air mixture to exit).
There is nothing complicated about the process, except in the mind of the manufacturers. As A class, manufacturers know less about what a grill is supposed to do than a 10th year social studies class. Apparently their consuming interest is in manufacturing products which will satisfy the retailer and, thereby, generate sales and profits for their companies. You have only to read their brochures to discover that they are unburdened by the weight of obligations to the consumer to provide complete and accurate information. Follow their recommendations for operation and maintenance, but ignore their cooking hints and recipes.
A couple of gas grill manufacturers have incorporated the new ceramic burner technology which, although more expensive, is much more efficient in converting gas to usable, radiant heat. Such grills are capable of producing temperatures almost as high as their prices, but I am not convinced that either is justified for the back garden griller. If any heat source can produce temperatures in the 370-430C range, it is entirely adequate for grilling a steak. I know of no other cooking use which requires a higher temperature. I suspect that the boasts of grill manufacturers and restaurateurs of 800-1000C for grilling steaks most likely comes from hot air. Iron begins to soften at 840C.
Gas flames should always burn clear, bright blue with, at most, a small yellow tip. Yellow colour in the flame indicates incomplete combustion and produces deadly carbon monoxide and other polluting, but less dangerous, compounds. Normally, the problem is caused by lack of sufficient oxygen getting to the point of combustion . Most often this can be corrected by a good cleaning. Refer to your owner's manual for cleaning - but not for cooking.
I recommend that the gas bottle be so located that, if there were a serious flame up or a regulator failure (a remote possibility) allowing uncontrolled gas flow, the bottle valve could be safely operated. On my bottle-fired cookers, I use a 3-4' hose to connect to the bottle.
Auto-ignition systems should have either a time limit or other shut off device which would prevent the continued release of unlit gas. Otherwise, a deficient igniter, which takes a minute or so to generate an ignition spark, may allow enough gas to accumulate to cause an explosion. If there is an igniter, the grill should also have a clear, convenient passage for lighting by other means, after the ignition system fails. Ignite systems on gas grills have about the same life span as a fruit fly.
Propane gas is heavier than air. Therefore any leakage along the supply line will accumulate in the lowest area and will explode when it encounters an ignition source.
Check all connections with a 50/50 solution of water and detergent. Spray or brush on all connections. Open the valve on the gas bottle or on the natural gas supply line but do not open the gas valve on the burner. Soap bubbles at any point will indicate a gas leak. If you cannot eliminate the leak by tightening, replace the part.
CLEANING AND MAINTENANCE
Gas fired grills are really very simple. Propane fired grills have a regulator on the bottle end of the gas supply hose
A gas grill should be designed and constructed so that the venture, burners, their covers and valves should be easily available for cleaning, maintenance or replacement.
Insects and spiders like to build nests and webs in the venture tube. If the flame on your burner begins to burn yellow, this is probably the cause. Take out the venture - carefully- and clean out the Ventura with a small bottle-type brush. A clogged venture may allow unburned gas to escape and create an explosion hazard.
Sometimes the small holes in the burners become stopped up. If there is no flame at any hole, it is stopped up. Turn the grill off, allow the burner to cool, then remove it. Brush it well with a wire brush, then hold a water hose tightly to the entrance of the burner and flush it out. With a small wire awl or pin, open any clogged holes. Inspect for any split seams or burned out holes.
Periodically, remove the gas control knob on the grill and spray a lubricant, such as WD40 into the stem. Replace the knob and turn the valve on and off a few times. If the valve binds severely, it should be replaced.
If the grill does not have a grease trapping system, you will need to remove the burners periodically to clean out the grease before it causes what may be more than a minor conflagration. Ceramic briquettes and lava rocks, which collect grease, can be scrubbed or merely turned over for the flame to clean the greasy side.
Gas grill replacement parts are available from the manufacturer and several other sources. A well built cast aluminium gas grill can be kept in service for a lifetime. With an occasional touch up with high temperature tolerant paint, it can continue to look good, too.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN SELECTING A GAS GRILL
ALUMINIUM (CAST) BODY: the best.
DUAL CONTROLS AND BURNERS ON OPPOSITE ENDS: This allows much more control and, thus, flexibility.
MEAT GRATES: should be adequately substantial for their chore. Cast iron or stainless steel, in that order, are my preferences. Cast iron grates will be wider than the others and, when properly heated, conduct more heat rapidly to deliver the attractive stripe that signifies good grilling.
NO GLASS: you can't see in and the meat can't see out.
MASS: there should be sufficient ceramic briquettes, lava rock or metal between the flames and the meat rack to absorb enough BTUs to produce radiant heat for grilling.
PIEZO IGNITER: Only if you get a 5 year warranty
THERMOSTAT: Should have at least a 5 year warranty.
THERMOMETER: Should be bi-metal probe rather than a coil. It should be easily removable for checking its accuracy. It should have numbers, rather than some nonsensical words.
VALVES AND BURNERS: Look for good bright brass. Burners should be easily removable. Stainless steel is a plus.
HINGES, TIGHTNESS OF LID FIT: The lid should open and close easily, have adequate strength for the task and make a tight fit.
COOKING AREA OF MEAT GRILL: more is better.
GRILL LEVELS: Multiple levels add versatility. The ability to raise and lower are a plus.
ROTISSERIES: worthless for most cooking and only complicate an enjoyable task. The bird or butt will cook just as well sitting still.
SIDE BURNERS: Not worth the price but useful to keep things worm.
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