In my last segment, I discussed the fire box on which all of the other grill components are mounted.  In this segment I will cover burners and the grates/flame tamers that are on top of the burners.

Burners come in all sizes and shapes, to many to cover in this article, so I will just discuss the different materials that burners are made out of and the pros and cons of each.

Cast Iron - Cast iron burners have been around for a long time.  Cast iron burners are still being used in a lot of grills today.  One advantage of cast iron is that the burner heats up and holds the heat.  The thicker the casting of the burner, the more heat it holds.  Cast iron burners can also be less expensive than burners made out of other materials.  The major drawback to cast iron burners is that cast iron rusts and corrodes faster than other materials.  This rust and corrosion results in the narrowing, and eventually the closing of the gas ports that produce the cooking flame.  I have also seen cast iron burners warp and deform over time.  This is especially true with the thinner cast iron burners found on the Chinese import grills.  If you grill you are considering has cast iron burners, check the thickness of the cast iron burner, the thicker the material the less chance it will warp or deform, and the longer it will take to rust and corrode.

Brass - Brass burners are found on some grills instead of the cast iron.  In many cases the shape, size, etc of the brass burner is identical to cast iron burners.  Brass burners share the same heat holding characteristics as cast iron, but do not rust or corrode as fast and are more resistant to warping and deforming.  Brass will cost more than cast iron.

Stainless Steel - Stainless steel burners will not hold heat like the cast iron and brass burners will.  This means when you open the lid of your grill the temperature drops more rapidly than with a cast iron or brass burner.  Stainlees steel burners will take much longer to corrode than cast iron or brass, but they will eventually corrode and wear out.  How long the corrosion process takes, depends on what type of stainless steel is used in the burner.  As with any other stainless steel component on a grill, it should be heavy guage, 304 stainless.  The better the grade of stainless steel, the longer it will last.  Check the warranty on the grill, and the burner if it has one, the longer the warranty the better quality of the parts.  Chef's Choice and Pro Fire grills, for example, have a life time warranty on all of their stainless steel burners.

The newest type of burner is the "infrared burner".  Infrared burners do not cook by direct flame, like a conventional burner, but instead have a ceramic grid with small holes covering the acutal burner.  This allows the heat to move up and cook the food.  These burners get extremely hot in a very short period of time when compared to conventional burners.  These burners were originally created to "sear" the surface of food to hold in juices, the food was then moved to a convential burner for cooking to temperature.  Early infrared burners had only one heat setting, high.  Infrared burners also have the advantage of vaporizing grease and dripping that fall on to their surface, creating smoke that flavors the food, and keeps the infrared burner clean.

Newer infrared burners now have a wider range of temperature control.  This allows a wider variety of foods to be cooked over an infrared burner.  Infrared burners heat up in 3 to 5 minutes and cook very quickly.  This means shorter cooking times, but also means that food can be overcooked, or burned, very quickly.  It takes a little practice before you get it right, and ruining your fisrt meal, or two, is not unusual.

Infrared burners are often included with convential burners inside of one grill.  Some grills have one or two infrared burners and the rest are conventional.  This provides the best of both worlds, as a wider variety of food, and more temperature control is available.

The simplest grate/flame tamer is made out of sheet metal and sits directly cover the burners.  They do a good job of protecting the burners, but not of dispersing heat evenly throughout the grill.  They also wear out quickly becuase they will rust, corrode, and warp faster than other materials.

Some grates are simple "wire" grates that consist of rods welded together in intervals at a 90 degree angle.  The thickness of the rods, usally 1/8" to 5/16", determines how long before heat and corrosion wear them out.  These grates have to have something on top of them to protect the burners below and disperse heat.  Originally, lava rock was used, but lava rock is not consistent in shape, size, or thickness.  This means that lava rock is not real good at dispersing heat evenly in the grill.  Lava rock also has holes in its surface, this allows grease to fall into the holes, which can not be cleaned out.  This grease creates smoke the next time the grill is used affecting the taste of the food being cooked.  Lava rock has been replaced by newer materials.

Ceramic and porcelain "rocks" are the replacement for the lava rock.  Ceramic or porcelain rocks come in all shapes and sizes, some are round, some are square, some are shaped like a pyramid. Ceramic and porcelain rocks heat evenly and therefore disperse the heat evenly through out the grill.  Ceramic and porcelain rocks are also non-porus.  Grease that drips onto the rocks is burned off creating smoke that flavors the food, but is not present when the next food is cooked. The major difference between ceramic and porcelain, is that ceramic rocks will deteriorate faster than procelain.  When the ceramic or porcelain rocks start to crumble, it is time to replace them.

Some grills use sheet metal or stainless steel racks that hold ceramic or porcelain rocks as grates.  These types of grates are the most efficient at protecting the burners and dispersing the heat in the grill.  Of course, the stainless steel grates will last longer than the sheet metal, and the better the grade of the stainless steel the longer it will last.  In some grills, the rocks in the grates can be replaced as they wear out.  In other grills, the entire rack has to be replaced and the grates can be expensive.

When you are shopping for a new grill, do not be afraid to take out the cooking rack and inspect the grates above the burners. Then take out the grates and look closely at the burners themselves.  You have a right to know what you are buying.  Also, check the warranty length and what parts of the grill are covered by the warranty.  Most Chinese import grills are considered "throw away items", but if you buy a new grill every 3 to 4 years, you will end up spending as much as a good quality grill will cost, but the quality grill will last a life time.

In the next segment we will cover different types of ignition systems and cooking grates.