The best 'budget' barbecue grill I've found: Char-Broil Performance TRU Infrared 480
I don't expect a $200 grill to last a lifetime. But it has to cook meats and veggies evenly, with good temperature control. And I found a pretty affordable grill that does that reliably.
Until I tried shopping for a barbecue grill, I had no idea how hard it would be.
Choosing a good one for my home on my budget range, around $200 to $300, turned out to be pretty complex. But I found one I love, and have used it regularly for a month now: the Char-Broil Performance TRU Infrared 480.
There are so many factors that go into filtering through barbecue models. What kind of fuel: coal, rocks, gas, or—this surprised me—electric? What shape, what size? If gas, do I need a propane tank or can I hook it up to my home's natural gas line? How "portable" is a portable grill? What exactly is a hibachi, really? And what is it made of: stainless steel, aluminum, porcelain?
I knew what I wanted: a standalone barbecue I could quickly fire up, use, and clean without a lot of hassle. I wanted portable to mean I could roll it around the backyard, and store it easily. It had to be durable and sturdy enough to last me more than a year of steady use.
However, I am a price realist. I don't expect a $200-300 grill to last a lifetime. I just ask that it grill meats and veggies evenly with good temperature control for strategic grill locations (RIP Mitch Hedberg).
High-end grills start at around $1,000 and easily surpass $10,000. I was looking more at modest grills. I needed a good size cooking area to handle parties for 10 to 20 people.
On the lower end of the price spectrum you find charcoal hibachis. They have their place in my BBQ world. Some of the electric and portable hibachis make great camping tools. But I was looking to host get-togethers in my backyard. I wanted a gas grill because it's not messy like charcoal. I wanted the fuel to be propane gas. Hooking up to the natural gas line (like my stove does) wasn't an option in my apartment complex.
I came across the Char-Broil on Amazon, and I liked what I saw.
Char-Broil has a number of product lines for standalone grills priced along features and build quality. The Commercial Series looked great, but I thought that Performance Series gave the perfect balance of build, size and power within my price range. It had Char-Broil's recently upgraded TRU-Infrared™ grill technology, which is their patented radiant heat cooking design.
Grills of corrugated metal are layered to disperse heat and prevent hot-spots and flare-ups. They also claim their design can help you save up to 30% in propane consumption. Not all Char-Broil grills come with TRU-Infrared, but I chose one that did: The Char-Broil Performance TRU Infrared 480 3-Burner Gas Grill with Side Burner, at Amazon. At the time of my purchase, it was $230.
"Infrared Gas: Burners produce radiant heat that in turn heats a special plate. It absorbs heat and emits it as radiant heat in the infrared part of the spectrum. Grates absorb heat and produce conduction heat where they contact the surface of the food."
~Thermodynamics of Cooking - AmazingRibs.com
The grill has a barrier between the gas flame and the upper corrugated steel grill. The flame barrier radiates, heating the upper grill. The corrugated grill is pretty cool and not like other grills in that nothing can fall through. It's corrugated steel with slits on one side, not gaped wire. The corrugated steel evenly disperses the heat and prevents grillin's and drippin's from seeping through, ruining the burners and flaring up or catching fire. Infrared tech promises juicer meats and I wanted to put that to the test...
The grill arrived quickly. Now, I had to assemble it. I didn't know what I had gotten myself into until I opened the box, but it turned out to be a rather quick build and the most sensitive parts--the firebox and the gas connections--are already connected at the factory. No need for me to worry about them.
Most of the assembly is building the lower stand and wheels. Char-Broil makes it very easy to put it together. Instructions are by diagram and the product designers put all the needed hardware in a separate sealed package with a push-out backing. Just match the piece's letter to the instruction drawing then connect with the correct bolt or screw. Easy stuff.
The best part about the stand is how sturdy it is. The front panels have lots of screws to secure the frame and there are a number of specific bracing pieces so the grill doesn't develop that dreaded lean and wobble. There's a weight that attaches to the base of the stand and anchors the grill. Once assembled, I was very happy to see that the stand was also level.
A nice feature of the Performance TRU Infrared 480 is that it instead of being a "lift-and-wheel" portability style, the Performance TRU Infrared 480 has four individually spinning wheels, two with locking casters. This provides flexibility to roll and maneuver the grill as well as lock it down in place. They are made of metal casters with a hard plastic wheel. The wheels screw into the stand legs easily with a provided caster pin.
The assembly instructions recommended that you have two people lift the firebox onto the stand. I had help, but I realized I could have done it all on my own.
Once the firebox is secured atop the stand, next up was attaching the two side shelves. The left shelf has a built-in stove-top style gas burner (keep this side loosely attached until you secure the burner's gas connection in the next step). The shelves comes with holes on the outer edge for accessories purchased separately.
Connecting the propane was straightforward. The base of the stand has a hole in the floor that the base of a standard Liquid Propane tank fits into snugly. A butterfly nut secures it to the grill stand, adding stability. The firebox gasworks comes pre-assembled except for the side burner and tank regulator connections. You'll need that loose-screw slack in the shelf I mentioned earlier to connect side-burner gasworks pieces. But once you do, just tighten everything up, attach the provided security clip to keep things tight and your done with main construction.
Finally, we have to route the electrical work for the starter. Most of the wiring is pre-run and we only need to run one specifically for the side burner. The starter attaches easily to the stand and all the wires run to it, snapping in to complete the connection and the grill assembly. The AA battery the powers the starter is pretty standard easy.
Lay the burner plates and the grill grates in the firebox now, and you are good to go! There are three individually controlled grilling/cooking sections. Each section is equipped with a 10,000 BTU burner. The side burner is also 10k, for a total of 40,000 BTU output.
The grill fires up easily. I connected the grill gas regulator with the standard hand tighten valve then opened the propane tank to let the gas flow.
Next, press on the starter to get the electric spark clicking as I turned the first burner to High. Whoosh! It lit right up. Turn on the next two burners and the they lit automatically from their neighbor.
The box got hot quickly. The unit comes with a thermometer for each of the 3 cooking areas and while you won't get super fine tuning, it does the job just fine.
Tip: a screwdriver can make the thermometer connectors easier to snap-in place. You may need to loosen it a bit. I did.
The side-burner is impressive. While they warn about putting too much weight on it to prevent tipping the grill over, I found the burner can do wonders on sautes and heating up sides.
When the party date came, I used this grill to cook up a ton of sweet corn, burgers, steaks and ribs. It performed flawlessly. The infrared cooked the meat evenly with a great searing on the outside. The corn, even though charred on the outside, was perfectly steamed inside. To really test it, I threw some soft peaches on the grill. They cooked without sticking or getting cut into slits (no wire grill to seep through).
Cleanup was a cinch. Close the cover, burn up any excess grillings, then turn the grill off. Eat what you've grilled, and let the grill cool. When you're done, all you have to do is lift out the three grills and run the provided grill cleaning tool over the trash. Done.
I've been using this grill often since the party (which was a lot of fun, thanks to delicious perfectly-grilled meats and corn on the cob). It really is an easy and fast way to cook, even on days when I'm only cooking for myself alone. It is a great standalone unit that tucks away easily under the deck stairs for easy storage. It's not super huge, super expensive, or a hassle. The Char-Broil really hit the sweet spot for me. It is all I asked for: good size, tougher than normal build, portable, easy to use, and under $300--even with a few essential grilling accessories added in.
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