How We Test Grills: Go Behind the Scenes with Our Lab Team
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The Spruce Eats is committed to recommending the best products to help you cook, wherever you are—whether that’s in your kitchen, in your backyard, or at a campsite at the base of a mountain. Suffice to say, we take grilling very seriously. In order to recommend the best grills across all categories, we knew we had to put them to the test ourselves and compare them side by side. So that’s just what we did at our Lab in Birmingham, Alabama, over the course of more than a month. Here's a quick look at what went into testing (and what came out with grill marks).
40 days of production
770 pounds charcoal
600 pounds wood pellets
123 pounds propane
200 pounds chicken wings
80 pounds hamburger (more than 320 patties!)
63 pounds flank steak
50 pounds baby back ribs
46 chicken breasts
40 pounds bone-in ribeye
15 pounds bratwurst
10 pounds strip steak
10 pounds snapper
50 pounds yellow onions
4 pounds butter
4 gallons BBQ sauce
4 gallons canola oil
Our vigorous testing process began inside, many weeks in advance of firing up a grill. We started with hours of research to find the top-rated grills on the market, read dozens of reviews, consulted experts and our food editors, and talked to the brands to see what’s new and upcoming. Then, we made lists (and checked them twice) until we had a solid lineup of contenders for each category: Pellet, Gas, Charcoal, and Electric. These categories were further broken out by size. After that, we figured out the testing itself—known as testing methodologies.
Once the methodologies were ironed out, we ordered the grills or requested samples from companies (with no guarantee of inclusion)—and then the real fun began. To give you a better idea of everything that goes into Grills Testing at The Spruce Eats, we've outlined our steps for each test below.
Grill assembly is enough to make some people want to forgo this method of cooking altogether. While the time and difficulty of assembling a grill would never strike it from our list of winners, we do feel it’s an important component when ranking a grill’s overall ease of use. It’s also a necessity: All testing begins with this step. Some grills come almost completely assembled out of the box and some brands offer assembly for an additional fee, but for the majority of grills, you’ll have to put in some work. Our Lab production team assembled all 99 of the grills we tested. This effort was led by Steven Schrimpf, our procurement and inventory manager—also known as Chief Grill Assembler—who offered a few key takeaways.
“Generally speaking, I would say that propane grill assembly is more complex than kamado, charcoal, or pellet grills, but complexity doesn’t mean difficulty, per se,” Schrimpf explained. “I have found the degree of difficulty to be based more on manufacturer than style. Certain manufacturers treat assembly as part of the overall experience and clearly devote considerable resources to creating that feel. Traeger, Weber, and a few others stand out in that regard. Most manufacturers seem to treat assembly as something to be endured rather than using it to build even more excitement in the customer—and it shows.”
We used a stopwatch to time the assembly of each model and took notes on the clarity of the instruction manual, any missing parts or extra tools needed, and…general frustration levels.
Temperature Test/Initial Burn
The purpose of this step is to learn how to properly and safely operate the grill (according to the manufacturer’s instructions), to determine how long it takes the grill to heat (to various temperatures), to determine the grill’s maximum temperature, and to complete the initial burn. We used a wired probe thermometer to record temperatures and compare that to the grill’s own internal thermometer, if applicable.
This is where the methodologies diverge depending on the grill category being tested. The below tests were all designed to show the full range of what each grill can do, highlight any flaws or weaknesses, and give our testers an overall sense of the type of consumer the grill is best suited for.
Pellet Grill Tests
Smoked chicken wings at 225 degrees Fahrenheit
Baked frozen pizzas at 425 degrees
Seared flank steaks at 500 degrees
Long smoked pork shoulders at 225 degrees
The Winner: Traeger TBB86RLG Timberline Pellet Grill
Gas Grill Tests
Grilled onions over medium-high heat (around 425 degrees Fahrenheit)
Grilled hamburger patties over high heat (around 475 degrees)
Toasted buttered hamburger buns over medium heat (around 350 degrees)
Grilled fish filets over medium-high heat (around 400 degrees)
Grilled steak using indirect heat, finished by searing for 45 seconds per side at high heat (450-500 degrees)
The Winner: Monument Grills 4-Burner Propane Gas Grill
Charcoal Grill Tests
Seared steaks (around 450-500 degrees Fahrenheit)
Smoked baby back ribs low and slow (225-250 degrees)
Grilled dinner for two: corn on the cob, hamburgers, brats over high heat (350-500 degrees depending on model) (small, portable models only)
The Winner: Weber Performer Deluxe 22-Inch Charcoal Grill
Electric Grill Tests
Grilled white sandwich bread slices over low heat
Grilled flank steak at 450 degrees Fahrenheit
Grilled chicken breasts at 450 degrees
Grilled zucchini planks at 450 degrees
The Winner: George Foreman GFO240S Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill
Portability Tests (for applicable models)
To observe how easy or difficult it is to lift, move, and set up those models marketed as portable, testers rolled or carried them over a variety of surfaces (carpet, cement, pine straw), set up each model, and collapsed/packed them back up. For portable gas grills, we noted how easy or difficult it was to attach the propane tanks. We checked for features like secure locks to keep the lids secure, sturdy legs that could withstand a windy day, and comfortable handles for carrying—in addition to noting weight.
Cool Down and Cleaning
We noted how long it took the grills to cool down and how difficult they were to clean. For some grills, the instructions suggest cleaning while still warm (but not scorching hot). Some brands offer detailed instructions, tips, and features that help in the cleaning department (dishwasher-safe grill grates on some portable models, for example). In general, we appreciated drip trays, removable fireboxes, and nonstick coatings. Usually, grill brushes were our go-to method for removing any stuck-on food, but we also recorded how much food fell through crevices or any spots that were particularly difficult to reach without completely taking the grill apart.
In addition to the hard numbers we collected (temperatures, times, quantities) and the qualitative data we recorded (grill marks, flareups, hot spots, taste), we asked our testers to note design features that make grilling easier, asses how sturdy or flimsy the grills felt, and describe the type of person who would benefit the most from each model (novice or expert, large backyard vs. small space, year-round griller vs. occasional user).
What We Look for in Our Winners
Our goal is to answer the question: What is the best grill? However, that’s a complicated question with a variety of answers depending on what your specific needs are as a consumer. In general, we assess a grill on the following criteria:
Ease of Use
Ease of Cleaning
Performance is our top predictor of a good grill, but we recognize how important ease of use is for beginners and how personal the price is when making a purchase. Some grillmasters are looking for special features or one that can accommodate a BBQ for a crowd, while others are all about convenience and easy cleaning because their grilling is done at a tailgate or at a campsite. All of our testing data is analyzed by multiple editors to deliver recommendations in a wide variety of categories.
The Key Players: Our Lab Team
Meredith Butcher, Associate Director of Research and Testing: Combining her 20+ year background of kitchen product testing and recipe development for print and digital culinary publications, Meredith oversaw grill testing from start to finish and coordinated with editors to turn testing data into consumer-friendly insights.
John Somerall, Editorial Project Manager: With 10 years of restaurant experience, managing kitchens for James Beard-winning chefs, in addition to recipe development and testing, John oversaw grill testing every step of the way, leading the research and methodology creation for each of the grill tests (in addition to flipping more than his fair share of burgers and steaks on test days).
Elizabeth Theriot, Methodology Writer: A background in writing, education, and hospitality drove Elizabeth's thorough research and expert interview process that were the basis for every methodology written.
Steven Schrimpf, Procurement & Inventory Manager: Taking his nearly 20 years of experience in food and grocery store supply chain management as well as his passion for grilling that began around the age of 5 in Nashville, Steven was charged with the procurement and assembly of every single grill tested in addition to managing donation and long-term testing distribution. He lent a hand in day-of testing (and taste testing) as well.
Martin Schnurr, Director of Production: As an Emmy-nominated producer/director who has worked with numerous culinary media outlets, Martin directed each and every day of grill testing—coordinating and staging photography and video, managing testing timelines, and providing quality control of each test.
Shelbie Tunnell, Lab Producer: With a strong background (and Emmy nomination) in food-related video production, Shelbie oversaw every day of grill testing, from setup to cleanup—prepping testers, coordinating with the photo team, and leading the day-of timelines. In a pinch, she even used a leaf blower to divert smoke.
Stephanie Lewis, Production Assistant: A graduate of the International Culinary Center with over a decade of experience in the culinary and hospitality industries, Stephanie assisted in every aspect of day-of testing and photography, especially when it came to food prep—plus, she's on a first-name basis with our local butcher.
Behind the Scenes: What It’s Really Like to Test Grills
“The most challenging aspect about testing grills is all the preparation and planning that goes into testing a category of this size,” said Martin Schnurr, Director of Production. “All of the grills needed to be assembled, massive amounts of food had to be prepared and sourced for testing, and plans were put in place for inclement weather. All while being extremely detail-oriented during the entire process in order to get the proper data. And that’s only testing! Product photography showcasing each grill requires just as much prep and planning.”
Hands down the best part of testing grills? The food. Schnurr said, “We got to taste some amazing grilled food and were able to feed the entire office with around 200 burgers!” Producer Shelbie Tunnell agreed. “My favorite grill test has to be the ribeye steak for the large charcoal grills. Not only did the steak have a beautiful marble to it but it was also prepared by testers who are chefs and know what they’re doing, and the end result was delicious," she said.
“Beyond all the tastings from testing, there is a wealth of knowledge that is learned from putting these grills through rigorous testing. I would normally purchase a gas grill for convenience, but after the charcoal grill testing, I would choose a charcoal grill,” Schnurr said.
It’s not all fun, games, and steak sampling, though. Just ask Schrimpf, who was on the verge of tossing one particular grill that took over three hours to assemble into the pond in front of the office building. Still, he offered up some friendly advice.
“The irony is that the best piece of advice I can give is one thing I have difficulty following myself: patience," he said. "Bring some music, maybe a beer or two, and a full serving platter of patience. There are likely going to be things in the instructions and design that will make you wonder whether the manufacturer purposefully tried to make it as difficult and tedious as possible. Along those same lines, don’t keep a hammer within arms’ reach while you’re working. You’ll thank me later.”
Weber Original Kettle Premium 22-Inch Charcoal Grill: “This is the type of grill that would make someone switch from gas to charcoal. It can be intimidating to make the jump to charcoal, but this grill had some amazing features for a beginner.”— Martin Schnurr
Weber Performer Deluxe 22-Inch Charcoal Grill: "Four features really stand out to me that I haven’t seen in most charcoal grills. There is the CharBin storage container where you’re able to store your charcoal. It’s weather protected by an additional great feature, which is the work table. It provides plenty of room for your prepped food, seasonings, and grill tools. Another feature is the lid holder on the side so you don’t have to awkwardly find a spot to put your lid. Last but not least is the Touch-N-Go gas ignition system, which allows you to start your charcoal with a push of a button." — Shelbie Tunnell
Weber Traveler Portable Gas Grill: "While I usually go for charcoal—and I mean 99.9% of my grilling is using a Weber kettle—I think this portable/tailgate grill has so many cool features and works so well, I am thinking of putting it up at our mountain house. I love how it has enough surface area to grill a whole meal. And it is sturdy and can travel distances (think picnics at the park or beach). I think this is the perfect portable grill for a family. Knowing how much gear you need for a camping/beach trip, I love that it folds down to store anywhere. Plus, it has a side prep table so you aren't having to use another table or even prep on the ground. It's pricey, but since it is Weber, I am very confident it will last a long time!" — Meredith Butcher
Yoder Smokers YS640 Pellet Grill: “I fell absolutely head-over-heels in love with the Yoder Smokers YS640 Pellet Grill during our test. I was more than a little bit sad to see it donated instead of staying here at The Lab, but I’m happy to report that the local youth group it was donated to loves it as well, and it is well used.” — Steven Schrimpf
Kamado Joe Konnected Joe Digital Charcoal Grill and Smoker: “I was lucky enough to get my hands on Kamado Joe's newest kamado-style ceramic grill, the Konnected Joe, and if this grill represents the future of charcoal grilling and smoking, then the future looks very bright. The Konnected Joe is hands down the nicest and easiest-to-use grill I've ever worked with, and I've even found myself grilling more (especially on weeknights) now that it's in my backyard. The Konnected Joe combines the flavor possibilities and temperature capabilities of a ceramic charcoal grill with the ease-of-use features of a pellet grill, making smoking sessions addictive. This is definitely a grill to look out for in 2023.” — John Somerall
Cuisinart CGG-750 Venture Portable Gas Grill: "It can be rare to find adorable products that are also super effective, but we were all impressed with not only how beginner-friendly this portable grill was to use, but also its durable materials and overall strong performance." — Elizabeth Theriot
The Results: Our Complete Buying Guides
Once the tests were completed, the food eaten, and the grills packed away, our editors compiled the results into roundups with all the insights to help you shop.
The Best Inexpensive Pellet Grills
The Best Gas Grills Under $500
The Best Gas Grills Under $250
The Best Grills for Tailgating
What Happens Next?
After the last grill had been tested and the grill gates wiped clean, the team made a plan for all those grills to find more permanent homes. Our Lab throws nothing away.
A large number of grills from each category were selected for long-term testing, which means they were sent to the homes of our experienced editors and testers for further use. Long-term testing allows us to assess quality more thoroughly and observe any problems with durability over an extended period of time. We check in with the testers after three months, six months, and a year and update our recommendations with any additional findings, like rust issues, broken parts, or features that really stand up to heavy use. We also keep some of the grills at our Lab for onsite long-term testing, recipe testing, propping, and—let's be real—the occasional office BBQ.
As for the rest of the grills? Those we donate to a variety of reputable non-profit organizations (and we are always looking for more!). Schrimpf spearheads this process. "Frankly, it's one of the best perks of my job," he said after just coming back from a recent donation drop, which included more than $16,000 worth of products.