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Steven Raichlen, author of The Barbecue Bible and host of Primal Grill on PBS, is a pragmatic griller. He prefers the smoke flavor that comes from cooking over a wood fire but opts for gas or charcoal when time and convenience matter.
That attitude—along with the 60 grills he owns—makes Raichlen an ideal guru for the average Joe BBQ. Here are his favorite grills. Unless otherwise noted, most can be found at area hardware and home-and-garden stores or through online retailers.
Best all-around charcoal grill: Weber Performer ($329 for model with 22½-inch cooking grid; see weber.com for retailers). It’s a kettle grill built into a cart. A gas ignition makes lighting the briquettes easy. “If I could have only one grill,” Raichlen says, “this would be it.”
Best all-around gas grill: Char-Broil Commercial Series 500 ($399; sold only at Lowe’s). Its features and grill space—500 square inches—are typical of more-expensive models.
Best for tight spaces: Lodge Logic Sportsman’s Grill (around $100). “The best hibachi I’ve found,” Raichlen says. It’s cast iron, which means it holds and radiates heat well. There’s a nifty trap door for adding coals and a bottom vent for controlling heat.
Best barrel smoker: Horizon Classic ($529; hightide.com/horizon2). Designed by a pit master and made from pipe with quarter-inch-thick steel, this is a home version of big rigs from the competition-barbecue circuit. Says Raichlen: “It allows you to cook low and slow.”
Best ceramic cooker: Big Green Egg ($749.95 with an 18-inch cooking grid; see biggreenegg.com for retailers). A ceramic grill and smoker. “The thick ceramic wall holds in heat and moisture, and it goes from low to high temperature in a short time,” Raichlen says. “There’s also something endearing about the egg shape.” Comes in five sizes (cooking grids from 9 to 24 inches), $259.95 to $999.95.
Best high-end grill: Weber Summit S-670 ($2,599). Raichlen says that lots of fancy gas grills don’t get the basics right—such as an easy way to get rid of grease: “But this is a smart grill that’s easy to use and burns hot. It’s got good side tables and a steakhouse-quality searing station.”
Best for the gourmet chef: Grillery ($2,475 from Grillworks; 202-758 7425; grillery.com). An elegant wood-burning grill designed by former Time foreign correspondent Charles Eisendrath, who was influenced by open-fire cooking traditions in Argentina, Uruguay, and France. A flywheel makes it easy to adjust the height of the rack (which is more than 2½ square feet) over the fire. Raichlen calls it “specialized but very cool.”