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Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling

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  • "Only one outdoor cooking book this summer? Make it 'Meathead'" Chicago Tribune
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Best Value Grills And Smokers of 2016

A new survey commissioned by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) shows consumers plan to barbecue more in 2016 and purchase more new grills, smokers, and accessories to elevate their game. "Our national pastime for gathering around the grill is not only strong but also showing all indications that the passion will increase in the months and years ahead,” said Jack Goldman, president and CEO, HPBA.*

Manufacturers are responding to growing interest in barbecue with an explosion of grill and smoker choices. To make your purchase less daunting, we have selected the Best Value Grills & Smokers of 2016 from our searchable database of ratings and reviews of more than 500 cookers from 180 manufacturers.

By far, the biggest news for 2016 is the addition of two new Charcoal Grills to Weber's Premium Summit line. Although Weber was hush-hush about the new Summits prior to the April 16 roll out, they invited Max Good, our Director of Equipment Reviews, to test one for our exclusive launch-day review.

Max had just returned from the 2016 Hearth Patio and Barbecue Expo in New Orleans where the exhibit hall was abuzz with speculation about these top secret new cookers. Everyone was certain they were kamados and while the resemblance to kamados is clear, these new Summits are in a class of their own. More Kamettle or Ketelado than kamado, they are a profound reimagining of the classic Weber kettle, only bigger, badder and even more versatile. In fact, we couldn't decide whether they belonged on our Charcoal Grills or Backyard Smokers list. So we created a new list for Multifunction Grills And Smokers and you will see our summary review there.

This year's winners are equipped with more features than ever before. Many gas grills now have special high heat sear burners for crispier brown steaks, while charcoal grills are designed for easier ash removal. More manufacturers are integrating digital technology and some even feature remote systems that monitor and even control cooking from a smartphone or tablet.

Weber dominated the list as it usually does with nine of the 54 selections because their machines are so well engineered, built to last, and carry reliable warranties. Classics like Portable Kitchen and Modern Home Products (the original gas grill), remain on our lists from previous years, but several newcomers have cracked the lineup. Among them the popular, low-cost Huntington Gas Grill that sells for about $100, and on the opposite end of price spectrum, the stunning, high-performance, $9,500 Rockwell by Caliber.

Of the 54 selections, prices range from $30 to $50,000, with 24 choices under $500. 28 were made primarily in the US, 14 come from China, 9 from Canada, one from Denmark, one from Germany, and one from Indonesia.

Some categories, like kamados and pellet smokers are growing rapidly. Kamados are usually egg shaped and well insulated, with many made from ceramics. Pellet smokers are another hot item. In fact 2016 may be The Year of the Pellet Smoker. They burn wood pellets made from compressed hardwood sawdust from saw mills. Over the last few years all serious players in the pellet arena have upgraded to digital, thermostatic controllers. A big improvement over the cave era Low-Medium-High controllers of yesterday.

Max explains "We rate and review as objectively as possible, measuring temperatures, slamming lids, turning dials, studying warranties, and kicking casters, but inevitably intangibles such as look and feel have to be considered. One of my favorites is the Pit Barrel Cooker, on our list for its third year. The US made barrel shaped smoker is only $299 delivery included."

By the way, Max is the only person in the world whose full time job is testing, researching, rating, and reviewing grills and smokers. He laments that most manufacturers continue to include cheap bimetal dial thermometers mounted in the top of the lid. They are frequently off by more than 50°F! He thinks it is time for them to start installing digital thermometers on the cooking surface and indeed a few are leading the way. And while they're at it, he'd love to see gas grills add a feature that every indoor gas oven has: A thermostat. "We shudder to think how much food is ruined because backyard cooks can't control the temp of their cooker." He recommends that you budget for a good digital oven thermometer and a separate digital food thermometer. We also have a database of reviews or more than 150 of them.

* HPBA State of the Barbecue Industry Report. For additional information visit hpba.org

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grouchy?1) Please use the table of contents or the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help, then please post your question on the appropriate page.

2) Please tell us everything we need to know to answer your question such as the type of cooker and thermometer you are using. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can't help you. Please read this article about thermometers.

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About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, science, mythbusting, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, and how to cook great food outdoors. There are also buying guides to hundreds of barbeque smokers, grills, accessories, and thermometers, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, pulled pork, Texas brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, chili, barbecue sauces, spice rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best all edited by Meathead Goldwyn.

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