Turns out our HOA only allows gas grills, so now our search has turned to gas grills. My criterion: it has to last (whether through build quality, feature set, or both), must be cheap enough that if the hubs ends up hating propane (he hasn't used it before), I wont feel bad about how much I spent. If it turns out that A loves gas grilling, then I would have no problem upgrading a grill that was inexpensive to begin with.
Top picks thus far:
Weber Spirit E-310 ($400)
(side note: this comes in a smaller E-210 version for $325, but it was too tiny for me to consider it a real contender)
PROS- Weber name, quality build, and warranty. Plus, it just looks nice. Everyone wants a Weber, and A is no exception. I'm certain that this thing would last him a long time. It feels like a solid grill for its price range, but I will note that it doesn't feel as solid as the more expensive Weber Genesis line.
CONS- Personally, I think it's pretty overpriced for what it is—three burners and a moderately sized grill area. The knobs also take up one of the two work spaces. The grill grates it comes with are porcelain and look and feel cheap to touch. Consumer Reports state that the durability is unknown because the line is fairly new (this line of Spirits were released last year), but it's backed by Weber. If A ended up loving gas, I'm not sure this grill is feature filled enough (because it really doesn't have any) to last us as long as the grill's lifespan. In other words, while built to last, this grill doesn't seem nice enough for me to NOT want to upgrade it later, and the price tag of this makes it kinda sad to think that.
Ducane Affinity 3100 ($330)
PROS- Weber's bastard child line, Ducanes supposedly have the quality build and customer support of Webers, but half the warranty (5 yrs instead of 10) and a sweeter price tag. The specs on this guy are exactly the same as the Weber above, except the grill grates are stainless steel instead of the cheap porcelain and the control knobs were moved to the front, freeing the work table. I believe this grill will last, and I feel it's a much better value for the money than the Spirit.
CONS- Half the warranty of the real Weber deal and made in China (good or bad? I dunno). While it is said to have Weber build quality, some reviews state that they use some cheaper materials (like lower grade stainless steel) in the Ducanes. Because this is essentially the same grill as the Spirit, the last con I listed up there applies here, except the price tag on this is easier to swallow for an upgrade.
Char-Broil Stainless Steel Lowes Exclusive ($300)
PROS- The largest grill we considered, it offers the most grilling space and a lifetime warranty on its burners. It received great reviews from users (4.4/5 from 266 reviews), and was listed as a top budget grill in Consumer Reports (outdone only by the one listed below). Porcelain coated cast iron grates are an upgrade from what's given on the Weber, plus this comes with the added features of a side burner, an extra main burner, higher total BTU output (which may not matter, but still), and a lifetime warranty on the burners.
CONS- Other online reviews (About.com mainly) say that low end Char-Broils are all worthless. We haven't seen this one in person, so I don't know how it feels. Other Char-Broils in this price range that we have seen feel about the same build quality as the Brinkmanns below.
Brinkmann Stainless Steel Models 810-8410 and Pro Series 8300 ($200)
These models are used interchangeably in reviews.
PROS- The price, obviously. With porcelain coated cast iron grates, large surface area, a side burner and high BTU output, the features and look of these grills seem to be worth far more than their price tag. At $200, I wont feel bad if A hates gas…or even if he loves gas and wants to upgrade to a better gas grill later on. Plus, this rated as Consumer Reports and Consumer Searches TOP budget gas grill. Users seem to love it, too.
CONS- The warranties on these guys are pretty limited, and the durability is questioned in non-user reviews. In person, they look awesome, but the feel is definitely not as solid as a Weber. I'm afraid that because it's so cheap its going to turn into a pile of rust in a couple years (not likely since we don't live in a humid climate, but it's so cheap I'm scared!). About.com said this was a good grill, but you can get better for your money. (However, all the alternatives listed were close to $500 each with Webers and a higher model Ducane than the one I'm considering at the top of the list. Not exactly a fair comparison, I think.) Grill forums have stated that Brinkmann has terrible customer service, but out of all the threads I've read, none of them have the specific grills we're looking at.