AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Awards for Best Value Grills & Smokers
If you are thinking of replacing that old rustbucket, the 2018 AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Awards for Best Value Grills & Smokers is the list of great cookers to take with you when you go shopping. I am the only person in the world whose full time job is testing, researching, reviewing, and rating grills and smokers. I make the annual selections, which are now in their 6th year (previously called Top Ten Awards), and this year I considered more than 500 cookers from 191 manufacturers in the world’s largest database of outdoor cooker ratings and reviews that I maintain. Of the 42 selections here, prices range from $30 to $1,995, with 20 choices under $500. 19 were made primarily in the US, 13 come from China, 9 from Canada, and one from Denmark. Industry giants, Weber and Napoleon, dominated the lists, running neck and neck with six picks each out of 42 total selections. Cast aluminum classics like Portable Kitchen and Modern Home Products (the original gas grill), remain on our lists from previous years, and one of my favorite economically priced smokers, The Pit Barrel Cooker, is back for the fifth year in a row.
With so many options available, finding the right one can be a daunting task for any backyard cooking enthusiast. At AmazingRibs.com, my goal is to help pick the best grill or smoker for your unique needs by providing in-depth reviews based not only on performance but also on fuel type, overall design, functionality, and price.
Gas grills remain the instrument of choice for most outdoor cooks. The have been outselling charcoal grills for years. New for 2018 is Weber's Spirit II. Like its predecessor, Spirit II is a solid workhorse that is easy to use and easy to clean. Our main complaint for just about every grill is the obligatory bi-metal dial thermometer in the hood that gives you a ballpark reading of what the temperature is high above the meat. Since we cook down on the grates, it's always better to use your own digital thermometer and place a probe at the cook surface. With their acquisition of iGrill digital thermometers, Weber is addressing this issue. Spirit II has a mounting place on the right side shelf for an optional iGrill 3 digital thermometer. This Bluetooth device works with a Weber app that can be downloaded on current iOS or Android Smart devices and provides accurate info for internal meat and cooking temperatures.
For some time many manufacturers have been wary of adding too much technology because electronic components are susceptible to failure under the harsh conditions imposed by outdoor cooking, and failure means customer complaints and tarnished reputations. Digital thermometers, pellet smokers and some electric smokers are the exception. In all three of these categories, we have witnessed increased offerings of remote control and monitoring with sophisticated apps that work from smart phones. However, much to our ongoing consternation, gas grill manufacturers still have not stepped up to the plate with effective, affordable, thermostatically controlled grills. Why? For decades, we have enjoyed the "luxury" of thermostatic temperature control in our gas ovens indoors. Why can't that technology be adapted for outdoor grills? In our view, we are long overdue for thermostatically controlled outdoor gas grills. As the performance, durability, and affordability of electronic components continues to improve, we still hold out hope. Rumors are in the air. Maybe next year.
Until then, don't rely on those out of date heat estimators built into the hood of your cooker. Unless your grill or smoker has accurate digital capability to monitor cooking temperature, you are simply guessing at what's going on under the hood, guessing when the food is done, and putting yourself at risk for burnt food, undercooked food, burnt embarrassment, or worse. I strongly recommend you budget for a good digital oven thermometer and a separate digital food thermometer. We have a searchable database of reviews for more than 150 of them, including several affordable options. In June, our thermometer expert, electrical engineer Bill McGrath, will announce his AmazingRibs.com PItmaster Awards for Best Value Cooking Thermometers.
Interest in smoking, particularly with kamados and pellet smokers, continues to trend upward. While many cooks swear by their kamados, others don't want to fuss with lighting the charcoal or wood and cleaning out the ash. A newcomer to our Best Value Smokers list, Vision Grills, attempts to resolve these common complaints with their patented ProZone System, consisting of a slide out ash removal tray with a slot for an optional electric fire stater. Recently, Vision expanded on this unique design with an optional Quickchange Gas Insert that can be swapped out with ProZone to turn their charcoal kamados into gas grills for fast, simple weeknight meals.
If ProZone and Quickchange are still too much work for you, I have two words: pellet smoker. These once mysterious "grills" can be turned on with a button and set to your desired cooking temperature just like your indoor oven. The one big difference? They burn wood in the form of small wood pellets, which allows them to produce delicious smoky BBQ that is often better than what you get at restaurants. Although typically referred to as grills, pellet grills work best for smoking, roasting and baking because they lack the ability to produce high temperatures across the entire cook surface for searing steaks and such. To solve this problem, some pellet grills are incorporating sear zones. Breaking onto our 2018 Best Value Combo Cooker list is Camp Chef's Woodwind Pellet Grill, a modestly priced, high quality pellet smoker with a small, super hot gas "Sear Box" attached to the side.
Stick burning (log burning) smoker aficionados may notice that Yoder's Loaded Wichita 20" is on the list for the first time this year. This 1/4" heavy metal smoker pit is very similar to Horizon's 20" RD Special, a reliable smoker that has made the list for many years. The two companies have an interesting shared history and both make great offset smokers in the same price range. They are both great choices.
"Quality means doing it right when no one is looking."Henry Ford
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