How Many Burners do I Need?
How Many Burners Do I Need for my Outdoor Grill?
This is a tricky question and it depends on various factors. Budget, brand, grill size, design, actual and perceived requirements… the list goes on. The question should probably read: How many burners do I need "for me"? So, let us detail out a few factors to consider and then the choice will be up to you, personal to your cooking style, needs and requirements.
Firstly, when we talk about burners, we mean the 'primary' or 'main burners', the ones under the cooking grate that you actually use for grilling, and not the 'secondary burners' (i.e. the side burner, rotisserie burner, smoker burner, or sear burner, etc). The main burners provide the heat source and power to your grill and are key to successful cooking as they control the temperature. Secondary burners can be very useful features, but only if you will use them. For example, if you enjoy steak, particularly if you like it rare or medium-rare, then consider adding an infrared or searing burner for intense heat and better results. Check what different models offer and consider if you think that they will form part of your cooking regime.
There are two types of cooking when it comes to grilling on your barbecue, irrespective of whether its gas or charcoal. They are 'direct' (grilling) and 'indirect' (roasting) cooking. The former involves getting one area of the grill hot with the heat source directly beneath the food. The latter is done by having no direct heat below the food and cooking is done by a convection flow from the surrounding burners.
Whilst you can do indirect cooking on a 2 burner grill, 3 or more is easier and better. Having more burners means that you will have a more "diversified" grill - in other words, you can cook different items at different heat levels at the same time (you can have hot, medium, and low zones). For example, you could be searing a steak over high heat while roasting some delicate peppers at a lower heat in another grill zone.
On gas grills, aluminium burners corrode and cast-iron burners rust, so we therefore recommend stainless steel or brass burners. Most barbecues in the more modest price range have tubular steel burners which have a shorter life expectancy to their cast metal counterparts found on premium or luxury range grills.
Power Vs. Efficiency
An inefficient grill, one that can't hold the heat that it generates, one with lightweight components, needs more power so that it can grill a steak in the amount of time you expect. A good grill is heavy, its metal parts, particularly the cooking grates, heat up and retain that heat. For example, cast iron grates generally make better use of the heat energy the burners generate by having greater heat retention, even heat distribution and faster cooking times.
The Infrared Exception
Infrared grills, of course, are different. While the burners of a standard gas grill heat the cooking chamber by convection, an infrared grill converts the heat of its burners to direct radiant energy, making infrared grills incredibly efficient.
As a general rule you can take the number of burners as a good guide to the power and size of the grill. However, you should also consider the square area of the cooking surface and the power output expressed in kWh (or sometimes the imperial version BTU).
NB. When doing your research, beware that many manufacturers will include secondary burners (back burner, side burner etc) in their product descriptions, as well as the warming rack in the cooking surface area specifications! In this respect we try and do a fair realistic comparison, so our figures may sometimes differ from the manufacturers.