Grate Bargain: How to Buy a Grill on a Budget

Food & Drink

Grilling season is upon us. Time to pull the dusty cover off your trusty flame-harnessing friend in the backyard and get your sizzle on. That is, if your “seasoned” grill is ready for another summer of scraping, searing and skewering. If you’re like I was recently, you’ll be holding your breath as you peek under the cover, hoping it awakens from its winter hibernation in the same working condition as back in early September. But if it’s time to retire your grill, fear not. I’ll show you how I found a shiny, new replacement without burning up my budget.

Let’s start with the decision to move on from my dearly departed Char-Broil RED. About a decade ago, when I became a homeowner with a backyard for the first time, I splurged on an innovative grill. The Char-Broil RED cooks with infrared heat, so the flame never touches the food. That means no flare-ups and nothing charred to a crisp. Just nicely marked, evenly cooked meats. That bad boy ran me $600 at the time, which was a little more than I wanted to spend. But, you know, nothing like going big right out of the gate.

Problem is, a few years ago, I moved to a lovely coastal town. Which means salt air. Which means rust. In just one year, the trough rusted all the way through. If had just been that part, I’d have just paid $30 for a replacement, but the elements were talking a toll on the exterior. So after 10 years, it was time to move on. Given the rapid deterioration of ol’ RED, I decided to go with a cheaper model. But I still wanted some of the amenities of a higher-end grill. Thus began the quest to find a high-quality, low-cost grill.

STEP 1: Know Your Needs

In a way, grills are like cars. No one model will make sense for everyone. If you’re going to be hosting block parties every other weekend, you’re going to need a bigger, more powerful grill. On the other hand, if you’re only cooking for a few people on the regular, you can get by with a more compact option. In my case, I like to throw chicken, burgers and tri-tip on the grill about every other week, so I don’t need anything fancy.

Also consider the extras. That grill I was putting out to pasture had a nice side burner…that I never used even once. These kinds of features can look enticing in the store, but be realistic about what you’ll actually need. Consider grill size, BTU (heating power), natural gas vs. propane vs. charcoal and grates, racks and shelves.

STEP 2: Do Some Research

I’m not a very decisive shopper. It takes me 10 minutes just to pick out bananas at the market. So the more legwork I can put in ahead of time, the better. I began my search online, googling “best value grills,” “top cheap grills” and fun words trios like those. I found some helpful comparisons here and here. It only takes a few minutes to get a sense of what’s available and it’ll pay dividends when you’re not walking around a store like a clueless beginner.

STEP 3: Look Under the Lid

Time to go to the store. You could certainly shop online and save the hassle of lugging home a giant box. But I want to see what I’m buying firsthand. If I’m only purchasing a grill once a decade, or even every five years, I want to kick the tires and get a sense of the durability. Do the plastic knobs feel flimsy? Are the side shelves sturdy? My first stop was Home Depot. They had a decent selection with prices ranging from $99 to $999.

A fleet of Webers on the left and smokers on the right. Is this all they’ve got? Nope. There are more in the back.

That’s better. Solid selection. But what happened to the Char-Broil REDs? It’s all silver and black, kinda feels like I’m at a Raiders game.

Then there was this little alcove of charcoal and unconventional grills. I’ll keep it simple, thank you.

I spent a good 45 minutes lifting lids and turning knobs on brands like Dyna-Glo, Weber and KitchenAid. I was looking to spend around $200 and I wasn’t loving the options currently in stock in that price range. So I thought, “There’s a Target down the road. I’m just going to pop in there to see what they’ve got.”

Here’s what they had. Yeah, not much.

Just a scant three grills on display. But one of them was a Char-Broil and I had a bit of brand loyalty flowing through my head. So I took a closer look, which led me to…

Step 4: The Decision 

For me, the winner was a Char-Broil Performance 475 4-Burner 36,000 BTU Gas Grill with Side Burner. It’s the one on the left above. At $199.99, it was right on budget and it had everything I was looking for and more: reputable brand, 4 burners, a top rack and it even has a side burner (which I probably still won’t use). Also, at that price, if the salty air and wind in my area have their way with this grill, I’m not so invested that I’ll sweat any rust spots.

Lots of assembly required.

It did take a couple of hours to piece this thing together, but then I fired it up the same day and was happy with the results. There is a bit of direct contact with the flame, unlike the infrared grill. But the burners have heat tents that mostly prevent charring. So far, the Char-Broil Performance 475 has gotten the job done admirably.

There’s plenty of room for all the deliciousness I need to cook up. And for the wife’s zucchini sticks.

If you’re looking to grill up great meals while keeping your costs down, you’ll find that there’s an option that’s juuuuust right for you. Then, as a savvy saver, you can complement your new grill with the tools and tastes that’ll crank up the flavor!