Summer is the time to head out to the patio, light the fire, and get to grilling. One of the best things to do to celebrate a new home is to get your grill on. Many first-time house owners have not yet picked out their grill, and there’s a lot of things to consider. Here’s some tips to help you decide what is right for you.

Charcoal vs. Gas: Fight!

The fact is, you’re never going to get a definitive answer on which kind of grill is better. There are such things as charcoal purists, who cite smoky flavor, higher heat, ability to slow cook and smoke your food, and of course, the sheer primitive joy of making fire and searing meat. Also, charcoal grills tend to cost less to. But gas grillers, who tend to be a bit more low-key, will point out that gas might be more expensive, but it is easier to get going, are ready to cook on faster, provide better heat control, and are easier to clean.

The difference in flavor is usually not noticeable unless you’re into long, slow, smoked food. Charcoal’s higher heat can be better for red meats, but require practice, attention, and knowledge of techniques such as two-zone fires. Patience is a virtue with charcoal, because it can take at least fifteen minutes to get the heat in the right ranges. You’re also more likely to burn some food while you learn how to handle your grill. Once you’re done, you also need to dispose of the ashes and clean the grill regularly.

Gas, on the other hand, has a lower top-end for heat, which means some kinds of preparations are harder to master. It’s definitely easier to have multiple zones of heat for grilling different kinds of food, you don’t have to pay quite as much attention to the flames, and cleanup is usually easier–just some grease buildups now and then. Gas costs more to buy, and the fuel is often more expensive than charcoal or wood. Gas grills usually come with more accessories than can expand your range of options while cooking, but all of those also require mastering new skills and cleaning things up. And gas grills generally don’t smoke food well at all, no matter what extras you’ve bought.

In the end, it’s about what you prefer and feel most comfortable with.

What Should You Look For?

Most grills, gas or charcoal, have some common basic requirements you can keep in mind. You’re going to want a good solid grill body–because they’re outside most of the time, rust can be a problem. Cheap, poorly-made grills can have paint that bubbles under high heat, giving another way for rust to get started.

You’ll also want enough space to grill more than one thing at a time, even if you don’t make use of it. Even kettle grills should let you set up two zones of heat. You want good tight lids to hold in heat and smoke, ways to control the temperature (air vents for charcoal, accurate knobs for gas). A good rule of thumb for size of grill is to consider how many people you’ll normally cook for. You’ll want about 10 inches by 10 inches of usable cooking grate person. It’s also good to have about a foot of space between the grate itself and the top of the lid.

What Are the Best Accessories?

While there are bells and whistles aplenty out there, there are a few things everyone should want:

    • A good built-in thermostat, or a way to check the heat without having to open the lid all the time
    • A weatherproof grill cover that can handle high winds and keep your grill safe
    • Solid shelves on the sides to hold all your plates, trays, and utensils
    • And don’t forget the brass brush and other cleaning implements