How to buy the best barbecue
What to look for before cooking in the great outdoors
All about outdoor cooking
As we all know, things taste a little better on a barbecue and we're here to help you work out which is the best kind of BBQ for your needs, based on size, style and cost.
- What size BBQ do I need?
- What BBQ fuel type should I get?
- Safety considerations if you're barbecuing on a balcony
- What features do I need to look for when buying a BBQ?
- How much should I pay?
Want to know how we get our review results? Check out how we test barbecues.
For tips on maintaining your barbecue barbecue and gas cylinders check how to keep your BBQ safe.
For tips on keeping your barbecue clean read our article on how to clean your BBQ.
Video: Handy tips for buying a home barbecue
What size BBQ do I need?
When it comes time to buy a new barbecue, you have three important factors to consider:
- How much money do I want to spend?
- How big is my entertaining area?
- How many people will I be barbecuing for (most of the time)?
- What fuel type do I need?
These small models are perfect to for travel or smaller balconies.
- Lightweight, easy to lift and mobile.
- Ideal for impromptu get-togethers on the verandah or weekend outings.
- Can come with detachable shelves or as a table top option.
- Available in all fuel types: charcoal (not suitable for balconies), LPG, electricity or propane.
Larger than a travel barbecue, but small enough to suit balconies.
- Ideal if you're after something more permanent in your backyard; some models can accommodate cooking for around 4 to 6 people.
- Often mostly pre-assembled. Just unpack and place on a trolley or a bench.
- You may have to cook in batches when you have guests over.
- Some offer all the features of the larger style BBQs, such as a hood, char-grill plate, solid hotplate and foldable side tables.
- Easy to move around.
- Available in all fuel types: charcoal (not suitable for balconies), LPG, electricity or propane.
Suitable for backyards and if you entertain often.
- Takes up more space in the backyard, is more costly and requires extra cleaning effort.
- May require significant construction and have many heavy parts.
- Some retailers provide delivery of the BBQ fully assembled for a fee; if it's around $100 it'd be wise to take up the offer.
- Most come with a storage cupboard and side tables.
- Can have a side burner.
- Ensure you have a designated area for your gas bottle.
Most common fuel in Australia, its instant heat source and adjustable temperatures make barbecuing simple.
- Natural gas: If you have this plumbed in and are building an outdoor kitchen, this would be the best option as you aren't moving it around. All you need are the natural gas fittings and to direct a pipe to the area and connect it to the barbecue. Most can be converted to natural gas which is much cheaper than LPG.
- LPG (liquid propane gas): These bottles simply connect to the supplied hose and there's usually an area to store the bottle in your BBQ. Bottles come in various sizes. While easy to move, knowing how much gas is left in the bottle is tricky. A gas regulator gauge will indicate when it's getting low so you won't run out halfway during a cook, this is also designed to shut the gas supply during a leak or regulator fail. Refilling the gas bottle or using Swap and Go can be done at local hardware stores and service stations. An 8.5kg gas bottle can cost around $25 to swap.
All BBQs we test have a gas consumption reading and running costs over 5 years.
- Electric BBQs need a power outlet close by.
- Compact and easy to move, most come with a stand or mobile trolley.
- Suitable for balconies and patios and can be taken to powered camping and caravan sites.
- Constant power, so you never run out of fuel.
- Some have non-stick hotplaces which are easy to clean buy you may not get the result you're after. Look for an electric BBQ that has a solid chargrill plate and can get to a temperature of around 300C.
Require patience and practise to get right, but end results are more flavourful.
- A chimney starter will help light the lump charcoal or briquettes evenly and more quickly.
- Can take up to 40 minutes to get the charcoal to temperature.
- Need good ventilation as they produce a lot of smoke and cinders.
- Only have a chargrill plate, so food juices and fat can drip onto the charcoal to produce the smoke and infuse the food.
- Can be costly, around $5 per 2kg of charcoal.
Safety considerations if you're barbecuing on a balcony
Barbecuing accidents are more likely to occur if you live an apartment block. Before buying a new gas barbecue for your balcony:
- Check the by-laws for your complex and/or the owner's corporation (previously called the body corporate) to see if there are any restrictions on using a gas barbecue on your balcony. It could be obscurely listed in the storing of hazardous material, i.e. an LPG gas cylinder.
- Check for restrictions in your contract if you're leasing.
If you're permitted to have a gas babrbecue on your balcony:
- Never store more than one gas cylinder and never place these indoors.
- Make sure it's used in a very well-ventilated space. Barbecuing in an enclosed balcony is not advisable – even those with louvres, café blinds, or a significant amount of privacy screening could be a very risky venture.
What features do I need to look for when buying a BBQ?
Getting the grill/hotplate mix right in a BBQ
Most cooks suggest you look for a half-grill, half-hotplate cooking surface, although a larger barbecue provides more flexibility, allowing you to use more of the surface you need and leave part of the barbecue unused. Cast iron hotplates are more susceptible to rust; if you live in a coastal area, enamel or stainless steel hotplates are recommended.
What's a good BBQ finish? Steel? Enamel?
Exterior finishes include painted surfaces, vitreous enamel and stainless steel.
- Paint is the cheapest finish and can scratch or flake off over time.
- Vitreous enamel is tougher and more durable.
- Stainless steel is also very durable but can discolour when heated, and shows smudges and fingerprints more readily than other surfaces.
Stainless steel has varying degrees of quality. To check the quality, place a magnet on all stainless steel areas. If it sticks, the stainless steel is more likely to rust; if it doesn't, it's better quality.
What should I look for in a BBQ hood?
A good hood will open enough so it doesn't blow smoke in your face with reasonable resistance against accidental closing from gusts of wind etc. Double-skin hoods will reduce the external temperature. Make sure it's easy to access all of the cooking area as some hoods can restrict access with the warming plates.
What should I focus on when looking at BBQ controls?
Look for clearly labeled controls with positive stops at both the high and low position. Check to see that they are easy to grip and turn. Knobs that slant out from the fascia are easier to see, ensuring you don't have to bend over.
What types of ignition are there for BBQs?
Ignition types are usually piezo or electronic. Piezo is where you press a button or one of the gas knobs and it generates a spark to ignite the gas. Some piezo systems direct a jet of flame into the burners to light them more reliably. Electronic ignition uses a battery to create a spark.
What's a sensible design in a BBQ?
Large side trays are useful for placing food and utensils on but be careful not to place plastic items too close to the barbecue as they may melt. Hood handles should have enough space so you don't burn your hands on the hot panel behind them.
The fat tray should be easy to access and replace. It should also be self-centering so it catches all the fat.
Look inside the barbecue for minimal cracks and crevices where dirt and grime can accumulate. A curved interior allows fat to drip down into the drip tray and is easier to clean.
Should I get a side/wok burner?
Often included in larger barbecues, this additional burner is very handy for stir fries; look for a model with double or triple ring burner which delivers a higher heat setting, making it more versatile and a better performer. A cover over the side burner is also handy for extra useable space. Look for a recessed burner so it's protected on windy days.
How useful is a BBQ with a rotisserie?
Most of the large barbecue models currently available can accommodate a rotisserie and some also have am infrared back burner, which is perfect for roasting a chook. An electric rotisserie turner can be a handy feature as it allows you to deal with another cooking task while turning the meat at a consistent rate.
What are the benefits of a BBQ with a trolley?
There are many different trolleys available so look out for the features that will suit your specific needs, such as cupboards or a side burner.
- If you need to move the trolley, even only occasionally, it will be a lot easier if it has four castors.
- If the trolley only has two wheels, check that it is not too heavy to lift the other end for moving and that there are no sharp edges where you grip it.
- Stainless steel trolleys require extra attention when cleaning due to smudges and finger prints. Some may also rust in certain environments.
- A gas bottle hook or area for the bottle to sit in the cupboard.
How much should I pay?
Portable/Small BBQs: Usually have one or two burners and range from just under $200 to around $800. For the higher prices, you should expect to get extra features such as electronic gas ignition, fold-out side tables and a more solid construction.
Large backyard/entertaining BBQs: with three or more burners, come in a range of prices from under $300 to over $2500.
There's a range of different features that can account for a hefty price tag, and you may find the bargain barbecue won't last as long as a pricier model. Look for a barbecue with a solid construction that uses quality materials, as they'll be out in the elements so they need protection.