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How Grills Work: A Guide to Gas & Charcoal | Grillscapes

How Do Grills Work?

Everyone loves a good barbecue spread. Some people, however, enjoy the process of grilling even more than eating. Maybe you’re one of these master grillers who wants to understand every intricate detail of their craft, leading you to wonder: How does a grill work?

Whether you’re a dedicated grillmaster or simply curious about how grills work, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll go inside the grill to find out what makes it such a hot commodity.

What Are Grills Made Of?

The barbecue grill market is awash with so many different models in various shapes and sizes. However, while they may vary in appearance, they all share the same basic components that make grilling possible:

  • A heat source - This one may seem obvious but the heat, whether from gas or burning charcoal, is what makes a grill work. Without heat, grills would be useless.
  • Heat dispersal - Unevenly cooked food is a pet peeve of many, not to mention the dangers it can pose for certain meats. The heat dispersal makes sure heat is distributed evenly in the grill, thereby ensuring food is cooked consistently.
  • Cooking surface - The cooking surface, also known as the cooking grate, is available in different styles. Some prefer the mesh pattern, others like the parallel bars, while others opt for a flat metal surface. Some grills also come with a side burner where you can cook sauces or other things that need to be prepared in a pot.
  • Warming rack - This is a grate that hovers above the cooking grate. Food is placed here to keep it warm.
  • Air regulator - The air regulator helps to regulate the temperature of the grill by increasing or decreasing air flow.
  • Handles and legs - The side handles help you to move portable grills to different locations. The legs of the grill keep it upright.
  • Cover / Lid - Some grills come with a cover that helps to retain heat within the grill, thereby promoting faster cooking.


How Does a Gas Grill Work?

Gas grills were invented in the 1960’s by William G. Wepfer and Melton Lancaster of the Arkansas Louisiana Gas Company. They were on a mission to get people to buy more natural gas so they redesigned the charcoal grill to run on bottled propane. The instant flame that the new gas grill provided was very appealing to consumers, making it a huge hit.

So how do grills work when they run on gas? Gas grills mainly run on two fuels – liquid propane and natural gas. A grill running on natural gas needs to be installed permanently where the gas outlet is. On the other hand, we’ve got propane, which is slightly different from natural gas. So how does a propane grill work? Propane grills use liquefied gas in portable canisters or cylinders, meaning it can be moved around since it carries the gas tank with it.

But let’s get into the specifics: how do gas grills work internally? Lighting of a gas grill requires three things: gas, air (oxygen), and a spark. When the gas tank or inlet is opened, gas flows through the regulator hose into a central pipe called the manifold. The manifold is a wide pipe at the front of the grill that distributes the gas to all the burners.

Between the manifold and the pipe that goes to the burner is a very crucial piece – the regulator valve. This valve is controlled by the grill’s knobs. By twisting the knobs, you are able to control the size of the flames by increasing or decreasing gas flow.

The final piece of the puzzle is the spark. When the starter is pressed, the ignition module creates a spark that travels to the burners to ignite the gas flowing through them. There are two main types of ignition on a gas grill:

  • Electronic ignition module - This is a battery-powered ignition that produces a spark when the starter button is pressed.
  • Piezoelectric igniter - This type of starter uses piezoelectric materials, which are materials that produce a spark when they are struck.


How To Work A Gas Grill

Gas grills need to be installed and used with extra care due to the fire hazard that flammable gas poses. Here is a step-by-step of how to properly use a gas grill for the first time:

  • Step 1: Give it a good clean. Clean the grates with a mild soap solution, then make sure to dry them thoroughly to prevent rust. Even if the grill is new, it needs to be washed to remove factory chemicals.
  • Step 2: Install and secure your gas tank in the dedicated spot at the bottom of the grill.
  • Step 3: Connect your regulator hose to the gas tank.
  • Step 4: Open the gas tank by twisting the cap anti-clockwise until it stops. To prevent gas leaking, make sure all the knobs are in the “off” position before doing this.
  • Step 5: Make a soap solution and spray it on two connecting ends of the regulator hose. This helps to check for leaks. If you see a stream of bubbles, there is a leak at that point. Otherwise, the connections are good.
  • Step 6: Open the cover and turn on your grill by pressing the igniter button first, then turning the knob. Some grills have igniters embedded into the knob. You can also light the grill by inserting a lit lighter into the small hole at the side of the grill, then turning the knobs.
  • Step 7: If the grill is new, leave it on for 20-30 minutes to burn the oils and residue that resisted cleaning. Keep the lid open for this.
  • Step 8: After the grill has cooled, you can season it using neutral oil that has a high smoking point, such as canola oil. Coat both sides of the cooking grates as well as the inside of the cover. Then close the lid and leave it on medium heat until the oil starts to smoke.
  • Step 9: Cook your favorite barbecue and enjoy!


How Does a Charcoal Grill Work?

We’ve covered how gas grills work, but how do grills work when they rely on charcoal? Charcoal grills are one of the most common kinds of grill. They require more effort than a gas grill to light and maintain a flame but offer the advantage of a rich smoky flavor in your food.

A typical charcoal grill consists of:

  • A cooking grate - This is the cooking surface that rests over the bed of burning charcoal. Many cooking grates are hinged at the edges to allow you to add more charcoal without having to remove the grate.
  • Charcoal grate - This is the metal piece on which the charcoal is placed. Once burned, the charcoal turns into ashes which drop through this grate to the bottom of the grill.
  • Damper - The damper is a set of holes at the bottom of the grill that can be opened and closed to regulate air flow.
  • Air vent - This is another set of holes at the top of the grill that is used to control air flow and grill temperature.

Charcoal grills are fueled by two main types of charcoal:

  • Briquettes - These are small blocks made by compressing charcoal dust, wood chips, saw dust, and other organic material. They are more uniform in size and shape than lump charcoal.
  • Natural lump charcoal - This is charcoal that is made from whole pieces of hardwood. Unlike briquettes and instant lighter charcoal, lump charcoal has no additives. The advantage of this kind is that they light up fast. However, they don’t last as long as briquettes.


How To Work A Grill That Runs On Charcoal

Charcoal grills require a little more effort to light than gas grills. Here’s how to use a charcoal grill:

  • Step 1: Open your grill and remove the cooking grate to expose the charcoal grate.
  • Step 2: Insert two to three pieces of newspaper in the bottom of a charcoal chimney then place it on the charcoal grate. Proceed to fill the upper part of the charcoal chimney with charcoal until it is three quarters full.
  • Step 3: Light the newspapers using a match.
  • Step 4: Leave the charcoal to light up for 15-20 minutes. Once it becomes hot and ashy, pour the charcoal on the grate. You can spread the charcoal over the whole grate, or just one side to create a two-zone fire. The two zone method is ideal for recipes that require indirect cooking or resting meat.
  • Step 5: Grill your meat to perfection and enjoy!


Find The Perfect Grill at Grillscapes

When it comes to grilling, everyone has their preference. At Grillscapes, we carry products that cater to every griller, from beginners cooking burnt ends for the first time, to the pros making brisket daily.

Whether you prefer the sleek lines of Lynx grills or the reliable durability of Twin Eagles, we’ve got the grill for you. Looking to upgrade your outdoor cooking area? We also offer a vast collection of built-in gas grills and outdoor pizza ovens so you can create your own outdoor oasis.

Contact us today and let us help you find the perfect grill!