Barbecue Buying guide
Barbecues are a brilliant way to share your garden with friends and family - not to mention a great way to enjoy sizzlingly delicious, freshly-grilled food.
There are so many designs available, everything from temporary, small barbecues to big heavy-duty grillers. So the first question is, what size and design do you need?
If you're camping with the family, a small model will be ideal, but if you're planning on throwing lots of garden parties, a bigger model will be required.
But perhaps the biggest and most controversial choice is whether you choose charcoal or gas. Both have their fans and it will certainly affect the way you cook and enjoy your food.
The lowdown on charcoal barbecues
Charcoal provides a classic barbecue experience. Fans swear by the experience of lighting the coals and stoking the fire, not to mention the unique flavour and atmosphere created by glowing embers.
They're cheaper to run than gas barbecues and they have an advantage in terms of portability. Small, inexpensive models are great for casual cooks or beginners, but large models are also available for the passionate barbecue chef.
Charcoal aficionados swear by the unique smoky flavour charcoal creates. And because of the way the food is seared, the juices get held in for succulent results.
Charcoal barbecues are a more portable option for camping or simply moving around your garden. Models vary significantly in shape and size, from small tabletop and bucket barbecues to large barrel designs.
You'll need to light the barbecue roughly 40 minutes before you start cooking for the charcoal to turn white hot and reach their optimum temperature. Although this takes longer, for many it's an essential part of the experience.
There are two charcoal types - lumpwood and briquettes. Lumpwood gets hot quicker and burns at a higher temperature. It also creates less ash to clean up. Briquettes burn for longer, so are better for extended barbecue sessions.
The lowdown on gas barbecues
Where gas barbecues have the edge is in convenience and flexibility. There's no waiting - they're ready to cook in moments. And you can control the heat, giving you more choice of how and what to cook.
Many models have multiple burners, so you can cook at different heats simultaneously. A choice of attachments also adds to the convenience, including warming racks, griddles and side burners.
Fans argue there's no difference in taste between gas and charcoal cooked food, and several blind taste-tests back this up.
The greater control definitely has benefits, as it allows you to adjust the temperature to suit each different food or recipe, allowing you to perfect your cooking results.
Gas barbecues are larger and heavier, so they're less portable, but the bigger sizes do allow them to cater for larger numbers.
Gas barbecues heat up in moments, so there's little waiting. Many models have several burners, so you can cook foods at different temperatures to get the right results.
Gas is more expensive to buy. Most models use either propane or butane. When you buy fuel for the first time, you'll be asked to pay a deposit for the bottle. When you run out, you can return it and get it replaced with a full bottle, but only pay for the gas.
How long this lasts depends on your barbecue. On average a 13kg bottle will last for 15 cooking hours. Your deposit will be returned when you decide to return the bottle for good.
Barbecue designs can differ hugely, so once you've an idea of whether to go with charcoal or gas, consider what other features will be important for you.
Barbecues of both varieties come with a number of different types of grill racks. Chrome and stainless steel are most common and require regular cleaning and care, although steel is easier to look after and more durable.
Cast iron has a traditional rustic look and holds heat very well, but will require more care to prevent rusting. Porcelain-coated grills are found on more expensive models. They're easy to clean, non-stick, durable and rust resistant.
Hood and lids provide more than just cover. They allow you to use your barbecue like an oven, giving you more options for how to cook. You can even roast whole joints of meat.
If choosing a charcoal barbecue, having a lid with air vents will help you control the temperature. The heat will reduce if no new air can get in, but will rise if you open the vents.
A griddling area provides a place to fry, braise or sauté items that would fall through a grill, such as eggs, small vegetables or prawns.
Gas barbecues sometimes come with additional side burners, which are useful for cooking extras and keeping foods warm.
Many barbecues provide space for you to keep food warm while it waits to be served.
Ash collectors and fat drip trays
Ash collectors are found at the base of charcoal models and fat drip trays on gas models. They catch the ash and fat generated by cooking, so you can easily get rid of it without cleaning the base of your barbecue.
Lava rocks and vapouriser bars
These features help to recreate some of the charcoal barbecue taste on gas barbecues. Lava rocks are placed beneath the grill, while vapouriser bars are built-in to the barbecue. When fat and juices drip from food during cooking, they evaporate and create smoke that adds extra chargrilled flavour.
Care and maintenance
Of the two types, charcoal is harder to clean, but needs very little servicing. A gas barbecue, on the other hand, will require more maintenance and repair over the long term.
Once cold, the grill rack will need scrubbing with a wire brush to remove burnt on fat, before washing in the sink.
You should try to remove the ash as soon as possible after cooking, as it quickly becomes damp and much harder to remove. The rest of the barbecue will require cleaning with an oven cleaner periodically to get rid of burnt-on deposits.
The rack, lid, drip trays and burners should all be cleaned after use. If you turn on the burners, you can burn away residues - turn off once all the smoke has cleared.
The burners should be removed periodically for a detailed clean. Oven cleaner should never be used on a gas barbecue because it could damage surfaces.
Before you make your purchase, it's worth considering some of the important accessories you'll need to use, enjoy and care for your barbecue.
A good set of utensils is essential for proper and safe cooking. Most sets come with a spatula and tongs. Other useful utensils include a meat fork, wire cleaning brush and silicone brush for glazing
A barbecue cover will protect your barbecue and keep it clean. It's absolutely essential if you're keeping it outside, and will help keep the dust off it when stored indoors.
A starter chimney helps to heat charcoal faster, so you can start cooking much quicker. You add charcoal to the chimney and light a little paper at the base. The flames travel up the chimney super-heating the charcoal. When ready, simply empty into your barbecue.
Designed for gas barbecues, pizza boxes can be placed easily over your burners to bake pizzas to perfection. They're also great for roasting meat and fish.