Don’t be afraid to ask questions when buying a gas grill

When buying a gas grill, don’t settle for less than a 10-year warranty.

Shopping for a full-size gas grill may seem easy enough: Lift some lids, compare styles, pick a color. But if you want to choose the best (and safest) grill for your money, dig a little deeper. Ask a few questions about the grill’s basic features before you buy.

• How does a gas grill work? It’s really pretty simple. There are burners to create heat. Above them you’ll find some type of system to disperse the heat from the burners (inverted v-shaped metal bars, ceramic briquettes, lava rock, etc.). Above these lie the cooking grates. Together, these elements make up the cooking system.

• How many burners do I need? Better grills generally have two or more separate burners (not just control knobs). They provide the best heat control. Most lower-priced grills have only one burner which may result in hot and cold spots on the cooking grate. Look for multiple burners made of high-grade stainless steel, they will last longer.

• What about BTUs? BTUs (British Thermal Units) measure how much volume of gas a grill can burn, not heat output, so more is not necessarily better. In fact, a grill with fewer BTUs that reaches 550°F is the most efficient grill you can buy. It will reach broiling temperatures but won’t waste fuel. So look for a grill with the BTU that matters-Better Tank Utilization.

• How is heat distributed? Most grills rely on lava rock or ceramic briquettes to distribute the heat from the burners to the cooking surface.

Drippings from the food tend to pool in these systems causing unwanted flare-ups. Instead, look for a system with inverted v-shaped metal bars (such as the Flavorizer(r) bars pioneered by Weber) to funnel the grease away from the burner flames, greatly reducing flare-ups.

• Where does the grease go? Some manufacturers do not include a catch pan, but instead instruct you to hang an empty soup can on a wire to collect grease. Others provide shallow pans that spill easily when removed. Look for a catch pan that is at least 1-inch deep. It should be easy to access from the front of the grill.

• Is the plumbing a safe distance from hot surfaces? Make sure any electrical wiring and, most importantly, the gas line plumbing is set a safe distance from hot surfaces. Look for a grill with the gas tank located safely off to the side rather than directly below the grill.

• Does your grill come with a tank and a tank scale? If you have to buy the tank separately, it adds to the total price of the grill. Ask before you get a surprise at the checkout counter. And look for a grill with a tank scale-you’ll never run out of fuel mid-barbecue.

• Who’s backing your purchase? Will the manufacturer be around when you need advice next summer or parts 10 years from now? Thorough, easy-to-read instructions should be a given, along with a 24-hour, toll-free, customer service hotline.

• What’s covered by the warranty? The warranty should include more promises than fine print and caveats. Ask before you end up paying extra for what you thought was covered. And don’t compromise on anything less than a 10-year warranty.