If you're an outdoor entertainer, you'll want a trusty barbecue to show off your skills on the grill. Our home economist has put many barbecues through their paces and knows what makes one easy to use and clean. Here, we'll tell you how we put them to the test.
You can also use our barbecues buying guide to help work out what size and type you need as well as what features suit your cooking and entertaining needs.
Fiona Mair, our home economist, is our go-to person for all things cooking and kitchen related. With over 30 years of experience, she knows how to put any appliance through its paces to tell you which models are worth the money and which to walk away from.
She's been testing barbecues for years, and with our lab's industrial rangehood, she's able to test them inside the test kitchen. Over the years Fiona has narrowed down the factors that make a barbecue easy to use and clean, and can tell you how to get the most out of one.
With so many to choose from, how do we decide to test one barbecue over another? As with most of our product testing, our aim is to test the most popular models on the market and what you are most likely to see in the retailers. We:
- survey manufacturers to find out about their range of models
- check market sales information
- check for any member requests to test specific models.
From this information, we put together a final list that goes to our buyers. They then head out to the retailers and purchase each product, just as a regular consumer would. We do this so we can be sure they're the same as any consumer would find them and not 'tweaked' in any way.
Fiona gives the BBQs a grilling by carrying out the following performance tests.
- Steak: Fiona covers the entire cooking surface with steaks and cooks them with the hood open (unless the manual instructs otherwise), turning them once only. This is a harsh test, and might not be how you'd cook steak on your own barbie – normally you'd move the steak about to allow for hot spots – but our test assesses how evenly the hotplate reaches and maintains a high temperature, and how well it controls flare-ups.
- Sausages: As with steak, the entire cooking surface is covered. Fiona cooks the sausages with the hood closed. This also assesses the hotplate's ability to reach and maintain a high temperature and control flare-ups, which are a particular challenge when cooking sausages due to their higher fat content.
- Whole roast chicken: She roasts a chicken by placing it on a baking tray in the centre of the plates with the outside burners on medium heat. The hood is down and the chicken is turned only once. This assesses the performance at moderate temperatures over a long period.
- Marinated chicken wings: She cooks marinated wings directly on the hotplate and turns them once. The wings need a low temperature so the marinade doesn't burn. Cooking this way is comparable to cooking in an oven.
- Extra features: Occasionally we may test and comment on additional features such as a smoker or pizza functionality.
We've introduced a new pita bread test to assess evenness, but the score is not yet part of the CHOICE Expert Rating (our overall score). For years our kitchen experts have been cooking steak to assess how well the heat is distributed across the whole hotplate.
With the many variables that come into play, like the thickness and fat content of the steak, we've developed a test that eliminates these variables and focuses purely on evenness, providing a useful heat map for each barbecue.
- Pita bread: We preheat the barbecue on high for 10 minutes with the hood closed then fill the entire cooking surface with pita bread that's been carefully cut to size for each barbecue. We cook the pita bread for up to two minutes and what we're left with is an image showing the heat map of each barbecue, which can then provide the evenness score. We plan to phase out the steak test and replace it with pita bread to assess evenness.
Fiona looks at:
- ease of access when moving and turning the food; she notes any discomfort, such as hot smoke blowing into the face
- moving and cleaning the barbecue
- how easy the controls are to use (this includes any apps which may be compatible with the barbecue)
- how easily the gas bottle can be fitted.
The CHOICE Expert Rating, our overall score that determines which products we recommend, is made up of:
- cooking performance (60%)
- ease of use (40%).
For cooking performance, the scores for cooking steak, sausages, marinated chicken wings and roasting a chicken are weighted equally.
The ease of use score is made up of:
- ease of cooking (40%)
- mobility (20%)
- using the controls (20%)
- cleaning (20%).
We maintain a kitchen lab that is up-to-date with the latest reference machines and calibrated measurement tools for our testers to bring you the right results.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.