The Best Gas Grill Under $500
We review and test six of the top selling gas grills under $500 to provide you with feedback, reviews, and everything you need to know before you buy . See our winner below.
Grills Selected for Review
- Weber Spirit E 3-Burner
- Char-Broil 4-Burner
- Dyna-Glo 5-Burner
- Nextgrill 4-Burner
- Broil King 4-Burner
- KitchenAid 3-Burner
What We Were looking for
Our goal was to find an affordable gas grill that would rival gas grills in the $2,000 range. Since #MeatGeeks are big fans of smoking meats, our winning gas grill not only had to sear a steak, but had to perform a first-rate slow cook.
Gas grills are all about simplicity. We’re even willing to sacrifice quality – to a certain extent – if it means we don’t have to mess with charcoal, manually maintaining temperature. Therefore, we not only tested gas grills for their effectiveness and usability, but how well they imitated a charcoal grill – delivering a great slow cooked (smoked) rack of ribs.
With a vast selection of grills on the market, being a consumer can prove overwhelming. Even more, money doesn’t protect you from ending up with a sub-par gas grill: some don’t have enough room to cook more than a few burgers, can’t keep a constant temperature, and are constructed poorly with cheap materials.
The Selection Process
We gathered gas grills from the top five brands, selecting their top selling models under $500, all of them available for purchase online.
We ended up with a squad of grills equipped with anywhere from three to five burners, all but one had a side burner fixed into one of the side tables. All grills had features you would expect to find: standard warming racks, hanging shelves and temperature gauges.
What's the Deal with BTUs?
When you’re in the market to buy a gas grill you’ll see BTUs (British Thermal Units) represented as a measurement of quality. This can be misleading. Manufactures compete with each other to wow you with their hefty BTU outputs. BTUs is a number that represents the amount of heat put-out in an hour. This should not be your biggest concern when purchasing a new grill.
Today, it’s all about effective design, and quality materials – not BTUs.
A poorly manufactured grill won’t hold heat well; it can underperform a grill rated with less BTUs. BTUs used to be a relevant measurement of quality in the early days of propane grills, mostly because heat output had to be so high because the grills were engineered poorly. Today, it’s all about effective design, and quality materials – not BTUs.
To find the best grill under $500, we set out to test how well each grill performed in its grilling and slow cooking duties.
We did this using everything from basic grill foods (hotdogs, brats, burgers), to steaks and ribs. Each of the grills had the space available to hold a 13lbs turkey with plenty of room for heat to circulate as needed. We also tested how heat was distributed across the grates using slices of white bread.
In addition, we reviewed other things that make up a good grill: how easy is it to clean, maintenance and maneuver.
The time came to begin cooking with gas – we were off.
One of the most important traits of a good gas grill is how evenly it distributes heat. In order to chart this we used slices of bread laid evenly across the grates. The goal is for the bread toast evenly. Some of the grills did just that –others– well they didn’t. Bad toast isn’t really a big deal, but if the same thing happens to a pricey ribeye, that’s a #MeatGeek Fail.
The vital factor to evenly distributed heat isn’t BTUs, it comes back to the design. Here’s a look at the basic construction of most gas grills.
Burners: Located at the bottom of the grill are flat metal tubes that run vertically. When ignited they put out flames, just like a gas burner on a stove.
Diffusers: Located above the burners, metal heat diffusers encase the burner with their v-like shape. These diffusers are the imperative factor to even heat distribution. They also keep the burners from becoming clogged with grease. The single most important factor to imitating a charcoal grill is in the act of how the drippings from the meat hit these bars and turn in to luscious smoke (flavor) – yum.
It was no surprise that our winning grill had five diffusers – these bars are often referred to as flavorizers – all with good reason.
Maintaining Heat (smoking)
Retaining heat is crucial when smoking a hunk of meat. As mentioned previously, we were on the search for the best grill under $500, while ensuring the grill could execute a quality slow cook.
Some of the grills that failed to hold steady internal temperatures had similar traits: they had puny lids that didn’t seal well, and the vents in the back of the grill didn’t make much design sense.
Gas grills go wrong when it comes to indirect grilling. For starters, the burners run vertical instead of horizontal. Why?
An impressive smoked rack of ribs relies on the effectiveness of indirect cooking. Using a gas grill for indirect cooking is not ideal, and many gas grills fail miserably at it. A sign of a good gas grill (in our opinion) is its ability to cook indirectly – in a way that would rival that of a charcoal grill. Meaning you end up with a tender, smoky-tasting piece of goodness.
Gas grills go wrong when it comes to indirect grilling. For starters, the burners run vertical instead of horizontal. Why? We scratch our heads in bewilderment. Every one of the grills we selected to review had vertical burners; for some reason a majority of the grills on the market are designed this way.
When using a charcoal grill, the indirect grilling method is performed by stacking the charcoal on the opposite side from the vent, then placing the meat on the vent side. Indirect cooking allows the heat generated from the coals to cook the meat slowly, and evenly, without burning it. The key is how the heat is distributed.
With a charcoal grill, the vent is located on the lid. In the illustration above, the figure on the left shows the coals stacked on the same side as the vent with the meat on the opposite side. This allows heat to escape without passing over the meat, leaving you with an unevenly cooked chunk of meat. This is exactly what happens with most gas grills:
Since vents are located in the back of most gas grills, heat (and smoke) escapes right out the back; bypassing the meat. This is bad. If the burners ran horizontal (instead of vertical) you could turn on the front burner and place the meat in the back of the grill; allowing heat to transfer over the meat prior to escaping. However, these days, finding gas grills with burners that run horizontal is uncommon.
This poses a problem when trying to select a gas grill that is competent enough to complete a quality slow cook. Some of the grills we inspected took twice as long to get our rack of ribs to reach temperature; and when they did finally reach temperature – they were rubbery and lacked smoke flavor – boo.
We discovered the only gas grills that had a chance to be taken seriously as a slow cooker: 1) needed a cookbox made of quality materials 2) the ventilation had to be well designed.
A few of the grills we inspected had puzzling vent designs. Most of them had too many vents, and one of the grills we reviewed practically had no back at all – allowing smoke and heat to roll right out, bypassing the meat.
Well-designed ventilation was one of the points that sold us on the Weber Spirit E-310 as our winner. This vent design was imperative to a smoky, tender and evenly cooked rack of ribs.
WEBER SPIRIT II E-310 GAS GRILL
Model Number: 45010001
Price: $499.00 (On Sale)
Grates: Cast Iron
Main Cooking Area: 24" x 17"
Max Grilling Load: 19 (4") burgers
Features: The basics
We had no problem getting a nice sear on steaks and burgers. Almost all the grills we reviewed were able to do this, some more evenly than others. Where the Weber E-310 excelled was in its ability to slow cook. Our racks of ribs came out tender and smoky. It's sturdy design and quality materials make this a grill that will get the job done and stand the test of time.
The Weber Spirit E-310 is designed with durable and solid cast aluminum, the lid is built of heavy duty steel. The vent on the back is comprised of just a single horizontal slit, verses multiple scattered vents.
As for all the “important” features, BTUs and the amount of burners, really aren't much of a factor. When it comes to gas grills there’s no substitute for design and a cookbox made with heavy duty metal. Our winner, the Weber Spirit E-130 had among the least BTUs compared to the other grills we tested and only three burners. However, there were five heat bars (flavorizers) which proved to be key in distributing even heat and allowing for fat drippings to turn into luscious smoke flavors.
Runner Ups - Grills Under $500
CharBroil 4-Burner Gas Grill w/ IR
Grates: Cast Iron
Size of Main Cooking Area: 29.5" x 17"
Max Grilling Load: 24 (4") burgers
Features: IR, Side burner, cast iron griddle, heat spreading steel plates located under the grate
This was the only grill we tested that had a steel plate under the cast iron grates that allowed it to excel at grilling burgers, steaks, etc. With that being said, it wasn't designed as well as the Weber for smoking. The interior design didn't have a good space for wood chips, water pans and our ribs seemed to lack the smoky flavor. All in all, if you're just looking for a grill to cook burgers, dogs and steaks, this grill will do you justice.
DynaGlo 5 Burner Gas Grill /w Side + Rotisserie Burner
Grates: Stainless Steel
Size of Main Cooking Area: 29" x 17"
Max Grilling Load: 28 (4") burgers
Features: Side and rotisserie burner (rotisserie sold separately)
A great looking grill, when we saw it from afar it was a "fan favorite". However, after popping the lid, it was clear there were some issues. The large cooking area was overshadowed with it's inability to evenly cook a burger. The rotisserie burner in the back got in the way of our burger grilling, the warming rack hung fairly low and seemed to be in the way; owners likely remove it. As for a slow cook, this grill didn't fail miserably, it yielded a tender rack of ribs, it seemed to be missing the "smoker" personality. Mostly due to all the openings throughout, including an almost nonexistent back.
NextGrill 4 Burner Propane Gas Grill
Price: $269 (Home Depot)
Grates: Stainless Steel
Size Of Main Cooking Space: 26" X 17"
Max Cooking Load: 15 (4") burgers
Features: The basics
We didn't want to be too hard on this grill and expected it to come up short based on its $270 price point; however, we were told good things when we spoke to the salesmen and the user reviews seemed to backup the story. This grill may be better at smoking than grilling, but it did neither well. When grilling steaks, they cooked uneven (but we already suspected that because the toast showed a similar pattern), when trying to smoke ribs, they came out rubbery; it wasn't until we tried to smoke the ribs the second time, this time placing the ribs a few inches from the lit burner, that they came out "okay". Design is poor, lid is cookie-cutter, and the vents in the back don't make sense.
BroilKing Baron 440 Gas Grill
Grates: Cast Iron
Size of Main Cooking Area: 25" x 17"
Max Cooking Load: 22 (4") burgers
Features: Side burner
With the price tag coming in at $499 we expected this grill to, well, grill. No dice. Save your hamburger meat for steak tartare, because even if you're not a big fan of raw hamburger, it's better than what we ended up with when grilling a few burgers on the "BroilKing". On a positive note, this grill smoked our rack of ribs better than expected, the only problem, we had to keep adjusting the burners to keep the internal temperature at 280 degrees. If it wasn't for a cheap cookbox and a huge vent in the back, this grill could have been rated five stars for indirect cooking. Another thing to note on design, the lid has a large curve which directs smoke into your face when you open it, also, doors came apart when moving the grill over bumpy pavers.
Kitchenaid 3 Burner Gas Grill w/ Sideburner
Price: $449 (Home Depot)
Grates: Stainless Steel
Size of Main Cooking Area: 24" x 19"
Max Cooking Load: 20 (4") burgers
Features: grill cover, side burner
Manufactured by NexGrill (a Chinese company), the Kitchenaid name is well known, but we suspected that it wouldn't finish as the winner. Grilling posed the same uneven issues as some of the other grills, but the heat seemed to be less than it should have been, unless you used the back of the grill, then everything seemed to just burn. While the below usual heat levels didn't work well for steaks, it worked to our advantage when smoking the rack of ribs (except for a lack of smokiness). The body is covered in painted steel – meaning, you better keep that free grill cover (included) handy.
Update 10/27/17: This current model has been discontinued and replaced with model #720-0953. The newer model, while $30 more than the previous model, includes a ceramic sear burner on the side. This helps to improve its poor grilling rating.