Understanding the anatomy of a BBQ
Written by JP Lavoie
You might be wondering what you need to consider when purchasing a BBQ. We feel it’s always good to understand how the body of a BBQ works and what its individual parts do: the anatomy of your BBQ! You’re in luck because we’ve got all the answers for you!
Within the anatomy of a BBQ we have one of the most crucial parts: the tank (that is, if your fuel is a gas). The tank is one of the most important parts of the BBQ. It keeps the heat up and allows temperature control within the barbecue. The tank needs to be thick and made of stainless steel or aluminum fusion so it can stay clean and straight while keeping its thermic properties. The thicker it is, the longer it will take to heat, but it will stay hot and warm. A good thick tank usually has better burners so it can continue performing at a higher level.
The fuel tank feeds into the burners, which produces the flame. The bigger the cooking surface, the more burners you’ll need. In fact, a big cooking surface with insufficient burners will increase your gas consumption. The thicker the burners are, the longer they’ll last and the better they’ll store heat. Burners made of thin stainless steel are more at risk of getting crooked when exposed to high temperatures.
Also, we recommend a BBQ with independent burners in order for you to control the heat and make indirect cooking.
You’ll find the grids located above the burners. Stainless Steel, cast iron and porcelain are all used to make cooking grids (or grill grates) for BBQ grills. Porcelain is the least durable material and does not tolerate a high temperature fluctuation. When hot steel expands, the ceramic enamel could crack and the grill can rust easily afterwards.
But what about cast iron grids? Cast iron grids make very nice marking on meat. As cast iron can retain heat, you’ll get a higher temperature than the max temperature of your burner. However, cast iron grids need to be oiled to prevent rust, and you need to oil it often to prevent it from drying out.
Finally, we have the classic stainless steel grids. Depending on the quality of the steel (for example, 304 stainless steel vs 416 stainless steel), the stainless steel grids are usually easier to clean. While you don’t need to oil the grids, they can only be cleaned with a BBQ brush. The heavier the grids are (9 mm vs 7 mm), the more it’ll retain heat.
The infrared burner
The infrared burner allows the grillmaster to sear meat and reproduce the effects of charcoal. These burners can reach a max temperature of 1800°F (that’s really hot!). Made out of ceramic, an infrared burner absorbs heat and grills the meat perfectly. It can be made within the grill, next to a regular burner, or on the side shelf, like a lateral burner like the Napoleon ROGUE models.
The starting/ignition system
The starting system is one of the first components you will usually have to change on an entry-level BBQ, and so this is particularly important within our anatomy of a BBQ. Make sure that the protective casing and the joints are well made to avoid rust and dirt. That being said, an electronic or rotating system would be better than a push-button.
The BTU per hour (British Thermal Unit per hour) is a unit that measures the power of a BBQ in terms of heat quantity for a period of time, produced by a heating element. However, the number of BTUs in a BBQ is more of a sale technique than a necessity. If a BBQ is sealed and well-built, you’ll still be able to achieve desired temperatures even with low BTU values, while consuming less gas.
The best lids on the market are made of stainless steel, ideally 304 commercial steel and thick enough to support a double lid. The better the quality of the enamel used in the lid, the easier it will be to maintain your temperature. It is also very important to check the lid joints since the lid needs to be stable. Any leaks means that heat could seep out.
Make sure there is a space used as a chimney, used to evacuate heat of an over-performing BBQ. That’s why high-end BBQs have a bigger opening at the back. If they didn’t have this feature it would be hard to control the BBQ with low temperatures.
The cart is an important feature of the BBQ’s exterior and aesthetic appeal. Lower-end BBQs may have carts made of steel covered in a thin layer of paint. These carts are likely to oxidize with time since they’re not really protected. The best case scenario here is that the cart will be made of stainless steel covered with quality paint offering an optimal protection. If there are wheels on the cart, make sure to check if there is a locking system.
The magnet trick
There is a very simple trick to know if the lid and cart are made of quality material: you just need to put a magnet on it. If it sticks that means the metal is a mix of steel, nickel, and iron, which is conducive to oxidation and therefore can rust. If the magnet doesn’t stick, it’s because it’s made of high-quality stainless steel.
However, it’s important to know that there is one type of stainless steel that is still magnetic, but still very good: 443 stainless steel. This is a “ferritic stainless steel,” or a high chromium, magnetic stainless steel that has a low carbon content. Known for their good ductility, resistance to corrosion and stress corrosion cracking, ferritic steels are commonly used in automotive applications, kitchenware, and industrial equipment. So there is iron, but it’s super resistant to salt, heat, and fat.
The best stainless steels are the 304 and 443, then more low-end steel like 430 and the 416 that comes with a higher iron content and risk of rusting.
Do you have a better understanding of the anatomy of a BBQ now? Let us know if this article helped you and make sure to message us if you have more detailed questions about individual parts!
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