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The best grills for backyard barbecues and summer cookouts, according to chefs

Summer is almost here, so we tapped some top chefs for their favorite grills!
Family cooking on grill in their garden
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/ Source: TODAY

It's summer — otherwise known as grilling season. Time to start enjoying backyard barbecues and summer cookouts. Flame-broiled burgers, juicy grilled chicken and smoked ribs? Yum. But if you’re dealing with rusty grates and uneven heat on your old-school grill, it may be time to update your cookout equipment.

We get it, with all the add-ons available today, shopping for a new grill can be overwhelming. Do you want a gas grill or charcoal? Gas is convenient, but charcoal might taste smokier. Do you want a grill with smoking capabilities? Or not? And, of course, price is always a factor. The perfect grill differs depending on your needs.

The good news is you can’t go wrong with our list of best grills. TODAY Food asked chefs around the country for their favorite grills for home cooks, and this is what they had to say.

Pick the grill that’s right for your budget, and you’ll be all set to keep the fire going all year long.

Best grill under $100

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Sportsman's Charcoal Grill, $86, Walmart

Justin Walker, chef at Walkers Main, said his favorite home grill costs less than $100. The Lodge Pre-Seasoned Sportsman's Charcoal Grill is nonstick out of the box and Walker said he loves to throw potatoes in foil and put them on the coals.

It's made from cast iron and allows users to adjust the height of the grates to change the cooking speed.

Best grills under $300

Char-Griller Dual 2 Burner Charcoal and Gas Grill, $283, Amazon

This unit from Char-Griller lets users grill with gas and charcoal in the same system and has more than 600 square inches of cooking surface.

“The charcoal option gives the best flavor for smoking, while gas can be more convenient,” chef Jeremy Macak of Todd’s English Tuscany at the Mohegan Sun Resort in Connecticut told TODAY Food. “The temperature controls are also great because you can sear on the charcoal side, then finish off on the gas side for a slow, even cook.”

BC Classics Bene Casa Caja Asadora Large Pit Barbecue Portable Pig Roaster, $296, Amazon

For a slightly more expensive item, Walker loves this pig roaster — the heat radiates from below, so you can cook food in the bottom as if it were in the oven while grilling things on top. He said that he has used this grill to cook paella and salmon and even used it to cater weddings.

Designed to roast pigs, it has a wood exterior and comes with wheels and handles for easy transport. It also comes with four oven mitts and a syringe for injecting meat with additional flavor.

Best grills under $500

Weber 2820 Smokey Mountain Cooker/Smoker, $329, Amazon

This steel charcoal smoker from Weber won’t rust and can hold both a turkey and a ham at once. Barbecue champion, author and TV show host Myron Mixon called this smoker the biggest bang for your buck.

“The key to turning out good barbecue on this smoker is fire management or control,” he advised. “Always keep enough charcoal briquettes in the pit to maintain the exact temperature you want with all the dampers on the smoker open, so that you run a clean fire. If you run a sooty fire, the meat will have a bitter taste.

Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill, $329 (normally $384), Amazon

Brian Whitmer, executive chef of Salishan Resort in Gleneden Beach, Oregon is also a fan of Weber’s grills. But, he prefers the Original Kettle, insisting he always cooks with charcoal and not gas. This grill comes with a 26-inch diameter bowl, a rust-resistant damper and a one-touch cleaning system.

“The design of the Weber I have always used allows for slow cooking and hot searing, as well as the perfect design for partially smoking larger cuts of meat or half-chickens,” he said. “I grill only wild fish and natural meats, and my favorite thing to grill on my Weber is a rib-eye from Oregon's own Painted Hills.”

PK Grill The Original Grill & Smoker with Stainless Steel, $440, Amazon

For those interested in a smoker, chef Hugh Acheson, the owner of several Athens, Georgia and Atlanta-area restaurants, including Five & Ten, The National and Empire State South, recommends the PK Grill and Smoker.

“They are built to last and can be used as a smoker as well — American made and tough as nails,” he told TODAY Food. “The grates are heavy duty, and they require far less charcoal than a lot of grills."

Traeger Pellet Smoker, $450, Home Depot

Several chefs named the Traeger Pellet Smoker as the go-to grill. Chef William Nolan of Black Iron Kitchen + Bar at the Madeline Hotel in Telluride, Colorado, said he likes grills that are easy to operate, but still have a rewarding outcome, and he thinks this product fits the bill.

“I fire it up for big and small events at my home,” he said. “Natural, 100% hardwood pellets are the way the go.” He likes to smoke cuts of meat several hours before grilling them. “When cooking meats that have been smoked already, you do not need to cook very long,” he explained.

Chef Bryan Brown of Bourbon Steak at Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, California, agreed with Traeger’s pick. “The grill has temperature controls that are self-feeding, which is perfect to prepare anything from salmon to steak,” he said. He likes to brush his steaks with a high-quality butter when they come off the grill and let them rest between eight and 10 minutes before slicing, serving and sprinkling with coarse sea salt.

Weber Spirit Gas Grill, $349 (usually $436), Amazon

Culinary director and expert pitmaster Alex Benes, of Wood Ranch, prefers this Weber grill. “Weber is a great brand, and this particular model is also very easy to ignite. Not to mention, pricing is under $500, which is great for a grill of this caliber,” he told TODAY Food.

The grill comes in a variety of colors and offers 450 square inches of cooking space on two burners. It also comes with a 10-year guarantee.

Triple Play 3-Burner Gas and Charcoal Grill, $399, Home Depot

The Triple Play grill from Char-Griller comes with three burners for a total of almost 1,500 square inches of grilling space and can both grill and smoke.

“I use this [grill] at home, and I like it because I can smoke or grill over charcoal on one side and use the gas side to hold foods or finish foods that I only want a little amount of smoke on,” said executive chef Bill Sauer of The Duck Dive in San Diego. “It’s perfect for my backyard barbecues.”

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