From capacity to fuel and ease of use, there are many factors to consider when shopping for a new grill that fits your barbecue needs. It doesn't get much easier once you narrow it down to a stainless steel gas grill because there are a ton of options on the market.
The term stainless steel is one of those deceptive phrases that continually causes confusion. What makes stainless steel special isn't the steel, and it certainly isn't stainless. Stainless steel can rust, discolor, and lose its luster and appearance over time. There are many types of stainless steel, and each has unique qualities. It's good to know what to look for before you head to the store or browse countless websites. By checking out the steel's grade, thickness, and finish, you'll be able to choose a well-built grill that's right for you.
Stainless Steel Grades
A stainless steel grill may be made from several different grades of metal, and the body's metal may differ from some of the parts. Higher-quality steel will last longer and won't rust as quickly, though it also costs more.
- Grade 304 stainless steel is considered commercial grade. It is non-magnetic and prized for superior corrosion resistance. The most expensive grills use 304 exclusively, but it's also used for specific parts in grills made of other steel.
- Grade 443 is a newer type of steel that's becoming more common in affordable grills. It contains more chrome and titanium, so it is magnetic. However, that combination also makes it nearly as durable and rust-resistant as 304.
- Grade 430 stainless steel is often found in low-priced grills, and the cheapest use a very thin version. It is magnetic, and the amount of iron makes it prone to rust and stress fractures. To keep the shine, these grills need to be polished often.
For years, the advice was to use a magnet to indicate the stainless steel's grade. The theory was that a magnet would stick to 430 and not 304, so you could instantly tell which grade was used to make a grill and its parts. Since the introduction of the magnetic 443 grade, this test has been inaccurate. However, because it's one indication of quality, manufacturers will likely state clearly if a grill is made of grades 304 or 443.
Stainless Steel Thickness
Thicker metal is better and will not discolor as fast as thinner stainless steel. You don't need to take a pair of calipers to buy a gas grill. Instead, the overall weight of the grill and how hard the metal feels will give you a good idea of the metal's thickness. Compare the weight of a few similarly sized grills; the lighter ones likely use thinner steel. Don't be afraid to press the grill in the middle of the hood. If it doesn't budge, the metal is probably pretty thick.
Stainless Steel Finishes
Most rust gets its start in surface imperfections on the metal. Tiny holes let moisture and chemicals sit and eat away at metal. Though resistant to corrosion, stainless steel isn't immune to these problems. When looking at a gas grill, feel the surface. Whether it has a brushed or smooth finish, the steel should feel smooth, unpitted, and even. Poorer quality stainless will feel uneven because the metal is raw from the factory and not finished.
Assembly of the Parts
A properly assembled stainless steel grill makes the most of the metal's rust resistance. Spot welding—joining metal parts with a series of small welds—leaves the components vulnerable to corrosion in the joints. The best stainless steel grills are constructed with continuous welding, which is an expensive process not available on most lower-end grills. Grills may also be assembled with bolts or even rivets rather than welds.
Look for grill parts that come together nicely and are either welded or fastened with stainless steel bolts. It is best if the bolts are 304 (or 316) stainless steel and not magnetic. Avoid grills assembled with non-stainless steel bolts because these will rust quickly. Generally, pop rivets are a bad idea, and it's best to avoid riveted grills.
If you end up with a stainless steel gas grill, you need to take care of it. Keep it clean and covered, and avoid spraying chemicals near the metal. Lawn fertilizers are corrosive agents and can ruin even the highest quality gas grills. With a bit of maintenance, your new grill should bring many years of delicious barbecue fare to share with family and friends.