Before you venture to your local grill store in search of a new barbecue, here are a few things to consider:
What is your favorite grilled food?
If hamburgers, hot dogs, and the occasional steak are as far as you get, there is a wide range of reliable, reasonably featured grills to choose from. If you are cooking a variety of meals, a number of burners will give you more precise control, while side burners and rotisserie capability make it even easier to impress your guests.
How many people are you grilling for?
Most grills can be filed into a few categories. Small, space conscious grills designed for condo living and empty nesters make preparing a meal for four to six people easy enough, but for more than that you will have to get creative. Most grills in this category have a primary grill surface of between 300 and 400 square inches. Grilling for between four and eight people and occasional crowds of 12 or more is better suited to 400 square inches or more. If you're preparing a feast on a regular basis, many grilling surfaces are available with more than 500 square inches.
How will it perform?
Quality construction and sound cooking performance are likely the reason you're replacing your old barbecue, so do some homework for the new one. What kind of burners are in the new barbecue, what are they made of, and how are they shaped? Tube style burners, and 'H' or '8' shaped burners offer even heat distribution and excellent performance. Is there something covering the burners? This is called the heat medium. Briquettes and lava rock are antiquated heat media; most new grills have stainless or porcelain coated steel vaporizers. They are reliable, durable, and easy to look after. It is important that they protect the burner from food residue, promote even heating, and don't have flat spots for grease to pool and flare up. Most importantly, these vaporizers create that smoky barbecue flavor you're looking for by vaporizing juices as they fall through the cooking grids.
What are the cooking grids made of?
Look for cast iron or stainless steel. These cooking grids are heavy enough to retain heat, and promote excellent cooking performance. Either of these options will let you create steakhouse style sear marks to wow your guests, and they are still easy to look after.
Where is it made?
While it is possible to buy foreign-built barbecues that perform well, and are durable, there are domestic manufacturers building outstanding barbecues at a great value. By purchasing from a North American manufacturer you get customer service at your fingertips should you ever need it. When buying, look into the warranty. Any reliable barbecue manufacturer will offer a significant warranty covering all components, and back that up with attentive customer service.
Other questions to consider:
What does it look like? Is it available in propane or natural gas? How much storage and preparation space is available? Does it come with a cover (or can I buy an exact-fit option)? What accessories are available to enhance the grilling experience even more?