Barbecue Like A Pro

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You want to barbecue, but you don't know beans about purchasing a grill.

The Early Show's Julie Chen checked in with Contributor Bob Vila to review what to look for when shopping for a barbecue range.

The first consideration is what kind of fuel you prefer to use. Are you going to have a traditional charcoal grill, which many folks grew up with, or a gas grill? If it's a gas one, the choices are propane or natural gas, depending on what you have at home.

Some people think that without charcoal, you won't get that taste.

Vila pointed out, "With the gas grills that you have today...and everything else, you do get awfully good flavor variations."

Classic Charcoalcolor>

Many people "are real purists about grilling with charcoal," Vila conceded as he shows off a charcoal grill in the $500 range: "There are no electronic components here. There are no fancy gadgets but there's wonderful construction: heavy-duty cast iron; everything else is steel."

With this grill, the chef can access all the components easily, he said. There's even a cleanout tray so debris can be easily gathered up and disposed. His tip: Put kitty litter in the tray to absorb the drippings.

Grills can be considered investments, he said. "Look at them as summer kitchens."

Cooking With Gas

He demonstrated what he called a good entry-point gas grill, a starter unit for a family of four, or a party of six, eight to 10 people the most. With three cast iron elements, this one costs about $600.

The components come with an enameled finish. "More inexpensive units will have cast (iron)," he said of the grill components. "This is enamel on the cast iron so that it's very easy to keep clean."

"When working with a nice grill like this, always have one of those brass bristle brushes because the brass is a softer metal," Vila advised. He shows off a cooking utensil add-on for grilling vegetables.

Installation Piece

In the West and Southwest, many people now have outdoor kitchens by the pool for use all year round, Vila noted. He demonstrates one unit, costing about $700 to $800, that can be installed into a masonry structure. "What we have created is a stucco and tile island, if you will; it could be in the outdoor area of the pool yard," he said. It also has cast iron construction with enamel.

The grill he showed had a hood, a critical element that can be put down to trap the heat. Not all units do.

Accessories like a griddle can aid in cooking various foods, from hamburgers to fajitas.

Stainless Steelcolor>

Plunking down $2,000 can get you a 100 percent stainless steel unit with four burners. "Not only is it stainless steel throughout the body and throughout all the parts, the most important elements, the heating elements, are also cast stainless steel," Vila said. Other features include solid stainless steel grill sections.

Why might stainless steel be considered preferable? Vila explained that, if properly maintained, a stainless steel surface will stay clean and not corrode.