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Rating The Grills

In the June issue of the magazine Cook's Illustrated, the editors report on charcoal grills, which they rated. And on The Saturday Early Show, we looked at six grills with Chris Kimball, one of the editors who rated them. He also is a co-author of "The America's Test Kitchen Cookbook."

For die-hard grillers, nothing beats charcoal. It offers a smokey flavor that gas just can't beat. Also, charcoal gives a griller everything he or she wants, red-hot fire and searing meat.

Bottom line: When shopping for a charcoal grill, look for a large cooking surface and extra storage space. Any grill will do the job, so buy one that fits your budget, space and needs.

Here are the criteria for the grills:

  • GRILLING AREA: Bigger is better. Cook's Illustrated prefers grills that measure at least 400 square inches. That kind of space allows you to grill items such as vegetables for other dishes or meals the next day while doing a steak of chop. It's also easier to build a two-level fire in a large grill.
  • THE COVER: The magazine tested 12- and 14-pound turkeys to see if the cover would fit over them. The Braunfels and Sunbeam handled the 14-pounder; the others could only handle a 12-pounder.
  • ATTACHED TABLE: A simple thing, but it makes a big difference. The best were the New Braunfels and the Weber Performer. Two models had no table at all ­ the Weber One-Touch Silver and the Thermos Kettle Grill.
  • ADDING FUEL FOR BBQ: Barbecue means long, slow cooking as opposed to grilling, which is hot and fast. This means that you have to add more fuel over time. The New Braunfels has a door for adding fuel. The Webers offer hinged grates for adding fuel.
  • ADJUSTABLE RACKS: Some models offer the ability to adjust the height of the cooking grate. The New Braunfels, the Cajun, and the Thermos offer this function. On the Sunbeam, the cooking rack can be adjusted. One can, however, build a two-level fire instead on a grill that has no adjustability.
And here is how six grills measured up, according to Cook's Illustrated:
  • New Braunfels Grill, $99: Best buy. It offers a large cooking area, two side tables and adjustable racks. With the large cooking area, you can cook tonight's dinner, plus some vegetables or another cut of meat for dinner the next night. Also, the cover on this grill gives you enough room to cook a 12- or 14-pound turkey if you wanted. Some of the other grills don't allow for that. On the downside, according to Kimball, this grill is not as "well-made as we would have liked. We had to go back several times with a wrench and tighten things up."
  • Weber Performer Grill, $399: Recommended with some reservations. Its price is high, but it is well made. Adds Kimball, "And while this model comes with a gas ignition, you can cut the price by $150 if you get it without that. Also, this grill doesn't offer adjustable rack, so you can't change the distance between the food and the coals."

    The Weber Performer Grill does have such extra features as a storage shelf and thermometer. "They are nice," says Kimball. "We really liked having a shelf or some storage space. It made grilling a lot more convenient. The built-in thermometer was a nice feature, but if you buy a grill that doesn't have one, they are easy to add."

  • Weber One-Touch Silver, $99: Again, it was really well made. Very solid. But with a price of $99, the editors wished it had more features, like shelf space.
  • Sunbeam Grill, $50: It's a good value, but the cooking area is small and, over all, it isn't as well made as the Webers. But if all you want to do is cook a few pork chops, this is a good grill.
  • Thermos Kettle Grill, $60: "It's fine to grill on," says Kimball, "but way too small and it's too shallow for large cuts for grill-roasting."
  • The Cajun Grill, $519: The editors judged this grill as overpriced. Explains Kimball, "At $519, it just doesn't come with enough features to make up for it. It is heavy and solid and feels like it could weather a cyclone. But the rack is too narrow, and no way to add charcoal to the fire when food is cooking."
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