Think of a grill as being like a car: Its fundamental purpose is to get you from one point to another--in this case, from raw to cooked. Grill buyers can opt for anything from a sensible, sub-$100 compact to a $6,000 steel-plated gas-guzzler capable of melting some types of metal. Go all out and you can avail yourself of motorized rotisserie spits and infrared burners that put a professional-grade sear on your supermarket steak.
But the biggest decision involves choosing the fuel: charcoal or gas. When it comes to taste, charcoal wins hands down, experts say, but propane grills are cleaner and more convenient, and typically offer more bells and whistles. Of course, the one essential tool for great grilling that no patio shop sells is a competent chef.
Weber Performer ($349)
This classic charcoal grill, with its domed design, appeals to outdoor cooking purists while adding a few suburban comforts such as a side table and thermometer. weber.com
Viking 41-inch T-Series ($5,700)
With a professional searing mechanism capable of producing 1,000-degree heat, this propane grill creates surface charring similar to what you'd find in commercial steak houses. It also has a forked rotisserie spit and a smoke box for wood chips. vikingrange.com
Big Green Egg ($840)
Based on a 3,000-year-old Japanese design, this ceramic-lined charcoal grill excels at smoking because it retains heat and moisture to add flavor to foods. The insulated lining keeps the heat level consistent. biggreenegg.com
Vermont Castings four-burner propane grill ($1,150)
Heavy porcelain-covered cast-iron cooking grates provide searing heat, which locks in juices and adds serious grill marks. In addition to the 450-square-inch grilling space, it has a side burner for sauces. myownbbq.com
Coleman RoadTrip Party Grill ($44)
There's not much to it, but with an instant starter and a grill area that's 13 inches across, this mini propane grill is all you need for burgers and dogs on the go. coleman.com