If you want your barbecue to be the impressive centrepiece of your outdoor entertaining set-up, you'll want one that not only gives great results when you're slinging steaks and snags but one which has a few extra impressive bells and whistles.The latest batch of barbecues that CHOICE experts put to the test in our kitchen labs certainly delivers when it comes to fancy features and extra accessories to take your backyard grilling to new heights.
From barbies with bluetooth connectivity and smart searing zones to cookers that double as smokers or pizza ovens, CHOICE experts share some of their insights into what's new in the world of barbecues and what they discovered in our latest review.
Barbecues have been incorporating smart technology for a couple of years now, but the features available are becoming more extensive and targeted towards helping you get the perfect, most precise results when cooking.
What is a smart grill or smart barbecue?
A smart barbecue or smart grill is bluetooth- or Wi-Fi-enabled so it can be controlled via an app on your smartphone or tablet. A smart barbecue allows you to do everything from remotely tweaking the temperature of your grill to getting an alert to your phone when your lamb joint has reached your desired doneness or when your barbecue is low on fuel.
"Smart technology in barbecues has improved in the last couple of years. There were a few barbecues in our recent lab tests that incorporate smart technology, including the Weber Spirit EX-315 Smart Gas Barbecue and the Everdure by Heston Blumenthal 4K Electric Ignition Charcoal Outdoor BBQ," says CHOICE expert Fiona Mair.
"Both allow you to connect your barbecue to your smartphone via Bluetooth and come with apps that allow you to follow recipes that specify temperatures and settings to help you get precise results."
"If you're slow-cooking large joints of meat or smoking foods, you'll need excellent temperature control for the best results. Smart features such as a digital meat probe will minimise the need to open the hood (which will keep the internal temperature consistent) and give you real-time food temperatures direct to your phone."
CHOICE home economist Fiona Mair tests out a smart barbecue with a digital meat probe.
Less margin for error (and less waste)
Fiona points out that smart barbecues can help you get great results, ensuring you get the most for your money when buying meat or fish and potentially save you from ruining a perfectly good cut by overcooking or undercooking.
"With rising living costs, buying meat – especially large and premium cuts – is becoming more of a luxury, so when you are cooking on a barbecue you want to get it right.
"Smart barbecues will help you get the best results possible. The apps will give you tutorials on how to get the right temperatures for a variety of meats and cuts for slow or fast cooking as well as recipes for marinade and rubs," she says.
Multi-functional barbecues: Smokers, pellet grills and pizza ovens
Back in the day, backyard barbies were usually just used to grill simple sausages and steaks, and perhaps the odd salmon fillet or a few prawns if you were feeling fancy. The new age of barbecues are designed for far greater things, however, with some being more like multi-purpose outdoor ovens that can turn out gourmet pizzas, juicy whole roast chicken, slow-cooked pulled pork or a smoked brisket with ease.
"Depending on the barbecue and the fuel you're using, many more models now allow you to achieve that authentic 'cooked over wood fire' smokiness for things such as steak, seafood or vegetables in your own backyard," says Fiona.
Grab a pizza stone and turn your barbecue into a pizza oven!
"If your barbecue has a hood, you can use a pizza stone to cook pizzas in it," says Fiona.
"It just needs to be preheated well and, by following a few tips, you can get great results."
Some barbecues come with a pizza stone supplied, or have a pizza stone rack for holding a stone (such as the Weber we recently tested). Others have them available to buy as optional extras. If you do buy one, Fiona recommends you make sure it is a suitable size for your barbecue.
When we test barbecues, we give them a score based on how well they cook steak, sausages, whole roast chicken and marinated chicken wings. If a barbecue has extra features such as a smoker or pizza functionality, you can find comments on the performance in each CHOICE review.
What is a pellet grill?
A pellet grill is more like a conventional oven than a barbecue as the food is cooked with the hood closed. These grills use wood pellets as fuel, which are fed into the grill automatically to provide a consistent source of heat. They're great for smoking and slow cooking as they cook indirectly, using a fan to circulate the heat for a more consistent smoke flavour.
It can be tricky at first but the cooking results can be exceptionalCHOICE home economist Fiona Mair
They may not heat up as quickly as gas barbecues but they can be set at a specific temperature and are great at maintaining a more even temperature once they're hot. When it comes to grilling small cuts of meat, they may not sear the meat or give the meat that chargrill effect the same way a gas barbecue does, yet the meat is lighter in colour, evenly cooked and tender.
"If you're after that smoky flavour, almost anything that can be cooked in a conventional oven can be cooked in a pellet grill," says Fiona.
"The strength of the smokiness depends on the flavour of the hardwood pellets you're using, such as cherry, maple or hickory."
"Using a pellet grill does require a bit of trial and error, so we recommend looking for a model that comes with good instructions (you can find info on this in our CHOICE reviews)," she says.
"It can be tricky at first but the cooking results can be exceptional. Look for a grill with a hopper and auger which feed the pellets through the barbecue. One that has a meat probe also takes away a lot of the guesswork. Keep in mind that you have to factor in the cost of hardwood pellets, which can be pricey."
One of best-known brands for pellet grills and wood smokers is Traeger. Find out how the Traeger Ranger Pellet Grill performed in our recent testing.
Amongst many of the bells and whistles advertised by modern barbecues, we sometimes find a few features worth noting. A feature common to a few Weber barbecues we have tested recently is a special searing zone designed for high-temperature cooking.
"A sear zone is an area on the barbecue plate that has a specific control that is designed to create intense heat suitable for cooking steak. It helps create those perfect grill marks on your food and cooks the steak in less than a few minutes, depending on the type of meat and its thickness," says Fiona.
"This fast cooking method helps to maintain the meat's juices and flavour, and we saw some good results when using this zone. It's best used with a digital meat probe to ensure you get your desired doneness," says Fiona.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.