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Find the Best Grill or Smoker

Academy Staff
5 min read
The right outdoor cooking equipment means everything when taking food preparation from indoors to outdoors. With so many options to consider before buying a grill, griddle, or smoker, it’s important to know the differences between each type so you know what to expect and how to take your family and friends’ outdoor cooking experience to the next level.
What is the Best Outdoor Grill?
Selecting the correct grill for the job is an absolute must. The best outdoor grill depends entirely on what you would like to cook, the fuel, and Certain grills can allow you to aim for different flavor profiles, while others are all about convenience to make cooking on the go easier and more efficient.
Gas Grills
Known for quick and easy temperature control and consistent heating, gas grills are all about putting the convenience back in cooking. Gas grills bring the easy feel of cooking on your indoor gas stovetop to the great outdoors. This means that gas grills are versatile and, therefore, ideal for sizzling up some tasty burgers, chicken wings, or corn on the cob. With freestanding or built-in models, you can enjoy outdoor cooking from your own backyard or cooking with on-the-go ease with portable gas grill options.
Gas Grill Expert Tips:
  • Use a grill cover to keep grills protected from rain, dust, birds, and bugs – these elements are proven sworn enemies of Taco Tuesday!
  • Keep a backup propane tank to avoid worrying about running out of gas and to keep the good times rolling.
  • Use caution! Note that on gas grills the primary burner runs hotter because it is closest to the fuel source.
  • Reduce flare-ups by oiling the food instead of the grates.
  • Build up a 2-zone cook area complete with your hot cooking side and a cooler side of the grill to move food during flare-ups
  • Clean the grates before you cook by preheating your grill to 500°F, slipping on a BBQ glove, and giving those grates a good scrape with a grill brush.
  • Clean stainless-steel exteriors and surfaces on overcast days about once a month – cleaning during sunny days may result in leaving behind streaks.
Griddles
Speaking of speed, versatility and consistency, griddles take the cake– or should we say pancake? Griddles feature convenient temperature control settings, versatile and consistent heating methods, and significantly decreased cooking flare-ups. Griddles are the best for cooking bacon, smash burgers, fajitas, fried eggs, pancakes, and flapjacks.
Griddle Expert Tips:
  • Squirt bottles are your best friends when griddle cooking; spray oil to cook or season your grill and spray water to steam clean and degrease gunk from your unit.
  • No one likes a burnt pancake: Keep an infrared thermometer around to take the guesswork out of determining your cook-top temp.
  • When using a griddle, you must dump griddle grease traps; placing foil liners over grease traps makes this process easy and less messy.
  • Most griddles thrive when you keep their low-maintenance, nonstick, rust-resistant surfaces maintained so avoid using metal tools on the surface.
  • SEASON. SEASON. SEASON. Applying a thin layer of oil before and after every cooking session helps prevent rust and keeps nonstick surfaces in working order.
  • Look for complementary hi-temp cooking oils such as flaxseed, cottonseed, avocado, or canola oil to prevent excess smoking.
  • Keep it debris-free and keep it covered.
Charcoal Grills
Affordable, portable, and ready to add delicious flavor to any food you can throw on it, charcoal grills are a backyard staple for family barbecues and neighborhood cookouts. Charcoal grills allow for convenient direct or indirect heat cooking and are often smaller in size or portable on wheels. These characteristics help ensure that grilling burgers, steaks, and shrimp on the beach or at the campsite is always a snap.
Charcoal Grill Expert Tips:
  • A charcoal chimney gets your coals hotter and faster!
  • Building a 2-zone fire grants you access to a hot side for direct high-heat sears and a cool side for indirect cooking.
  • Elevate the flavor of your BBQ by adding wood chips on your coals, which adds flavorful layers.
  • Premium lump charcoals are ideal for long cooking sessions.
  • Denser woods and larger lumps are best for higher temps and longer burns.
  • Clean grates make grills great so preheat your grill to 500°F, grab your BBQ glove, reach for your grill brush or scraper to clean your grill regularly.
  • Remove the ashes of past grilled foods to ensure your meals are delicious every time.
  • Different types of wood chips provide different tastes. The Wood Chip Flavor Pairing Guide provides some insight into these pairings for distinctive flavors.
Pellet Grills
For brisket, steak, pulled pork, ribs and pies, we recommend, pellet grills. These grills deliver smoky wood flavors, feature easy temperature control, and provide consistent indirect heat.
Pellet Grill Expert Tips:
  • Wi-Fi and temperature probes allow your phone to remind you to put your beer down and check your brisket.
  • A pellet grill functions as an outdoor oven with awesome smoke flavor, so anything you can do inside you can try outside, like baking a pumpkin pie with pecan pellets – a total game changer!
  • Make dumping grease buckets easy by using foil liners.
  • Remove excess ash from the firepot about every 3 to 5 cooking sessions.
  • Prevent decreased cook temps, clogged augers, and motor burnout by emptying old wood pellets from hoppers or by burning through them.
  • Keep pellets dry, shiny and, snappy by investing in airtight storage containers.
  • Pellets don’t have a quick heat option to get to 500°F for burn-off, so the easiest way to clean it is after cooking. While your pellet grill is still warm, scrape or brush off the grates.
  • Do not forget to use a grill cover to protect one of the most expensive electronics in your backyard.
Smoker
Smoke is what makes barbecue, BBQ. Indirect heat settings allow you to maximize smoke flavors and lure friends and family in when you bring a smoker to the party. Smokers are one of the most essential outdoor cooking tools you can own to take on brisket, tri-tips, ribs, pulled pork, sausage, turkey, and winning BBQ championships.
Smoker Expert Tips:
  • Utilize wireless thermometers to keep your sights on the temperature from a distance.
  • Pre-burn your coals so you can add them to the firebox hot, this helps you maintain a consistent temperature – fire pits or rings are great for this also.
  • Wrapping meat in peach paper at the end of cooking keeps it moist but allows steam to escape, meaning that beautiful, crusty bark you worked so hard for stays just as beautiful as when you made it.
  • BBQ gloves mean fewer burnt fingers!
  • Is it better to dry rub or wet mop the meat in the smoker? Only you have the answer because both will deliver the flavor in the end!
  • Always wipe grates clean and remove those ashes.
Other Considerations for Outdoor Cooking
Now that you know the benefits of grills and smokers, you may be wondering, “Do I need a smoker and a grill?” The short answer is…well, yes and no.

Having a gas, charcoal or electric grill without a doubt makes outdoor cooking possible. You can prepare tons of meals for yourself, friends, and family with a grill alone. Yet, pairing your grill with a smoker allows you to enhance your outdoor cooking space and expand upon the experience.

If your outdoor space does not permit for a lot of outdoor cooking equipment or you want to keep your outdoor cooking area a little more minimal and streamlined, pellet grills blend the benefits of both grills and smokers into the convenience of a single device.
How to Keep your Grill or Smoker Clean
In the video below, renowned pitmaster and founder and CEO of Meat Church BBQ, Matt Pittman, shares his insight for keeping your grill or smoker clean, including addressing a popular belief when it comes to smoking meats: Does smoke buildup add flavor?
Watch and learn below:

To become your neighborhood grill master, find all your outdoor cooking essentials – including griddles, smokers, grills, and more outdoor cooking accessories – when you shop Academy Sports + Outdoors online and in-store.