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If you’re gearing up to buy a new grill, you have a ton of shopping options, including home centers like Home Depot and Lowe’s, discount retailers such as Walmart, and local hardware stores. And right now, many grills are on sale over the Memorial Day weekend.
Retailers will typically assemble a grill for you, but home centers and hardware stores have told CR to expect longer-than-average wait times for this service because of the pandemic. Plus, you’ll have to transport the assembled grill home yourself.
As such, you might want to shop online, where there’s typically a much larger selection of grills than what’s available in stores. Most of them can be shipped directly to your house, many with free shipping.
But there is a trade-off to buying online. You’ll need to tackle the assembly yourself (as you will if you take home an unassembled grill from a walk-in retailer).
Assembling a grill yourself is totally doable—the difficulty level really depends on the model you get. Some arrive in dozens of parts, others hundreds. But that’s no deterrent for Scott Collomb, a veteran CR test technician who assembles almost every single grill that passes through our grill lab each year.
Collomb has assembled hundreds of grills in recent years, and while he acknowledges that every grill goes together differently, he also says there are some universal key lessons he has learned to speed things up. Below are his five tips for at-home grill assembly.
Plus, we highlight five gas grills that perform well in our tests that also qualify for free shipping when you buy online from Amazon, Home Depot, or Lowe’s.
For more on grills, see our grill buying guide. CR members can find out how the grills perform in our tests perform by checking our grill ratings, covering charcoal, gas, kamado, pellet, and portable models.
1. Read Up on Assembly Details Before Buying
Some grills snap together in a few minutes; others can take hours. Once you’ve narrowed your search, go to the manufacturer’s website, or the retailer’s, and download a PDF of the instructions for each grill you’re interested in. They’ll tell you what tools you’ll need, and you can get a real sense for how many parts you’ll be putting together and just what you’re getting into. Some even provide an estimate for how long the grill will take to assemble. “You should obviously consider more than assembly when you’re shopping,” Collomb says. “But if you’re having trouble choosing between a few models that perform well, there’s no reason not to let the complexity of the assembly tip the scales toward a particular model.”
2. Take a Parts Inventory
Some parts will probably arrive in packaging, while others may come preinstalled, or attached to larger components, such as the firebox. “Before I do anything else, I start by removing every single item from the box and taking an inventory of all the pieces,” Collomb says. He also advises inspecting for any damage that may have occurred during shipping, and says that some parts can come loose and get lost in the packaging materials during transport. Once you’ve identified all the parts, lay them out clearly on a clean and flat work surface, so they’re easy to identify and grab as you build.
3. Skip the Power Tools
Tempting as it may be, resist the urge to use your cordless drill. If a screw or nut becomes misaligned in the hole, it’s all too easy for the cordless drill to keep spinning and warp or damage the screw head, which means your screw could get stuck. And the likelihood of this happening is greater with grills: “In my experience, some manufacturers apply a powder coating or paint to metal parts that can make it difficult to get screws to align properly in threaded holes,” Collomb says. To avoid that, use handheld tools instead: screwdrivers, ratchet wrenches, hex keys. Collomb also says some manufacturers use lower-quality screws and other fasteners, making it all too easy to strip them.
4. Enlist the Help of a Partner
Most grills ship with a fully assembled firebox, which is the part that houses the burners and grates. It can be heavy. “Nearly every grill I’ve ever put together advises having a second person on hand to help you lift the firebox onto the stand,” Collomb says. If you’re not currently quarantined with a second person who can help you lift the heavy firebox onto the wheeled frame, consider buying a small grill, so a second person isn’t essential. Or you can delay assembly until it’s again safe to interact with others, or pay for professional assembly.
5. Finish Assembly Before Moving the Grill
It may be tempting to, say, move the grill onto your deck or patio before you’ve attached the side shelves or a side burner. After all, grill pieces are lighter than a fully assembled grill and should be easier to move. But in Collomb’s experience, that’s a bad idea. “Some of those parts actually contribute to the structural integrity of the grill,” he says. “If you try to move the grill before it’s fully built, it might bend or warp permanently.” Collomb says the one exception to this rule is for the flame tamers and cooking grates, which are usually forged from cast iron or heavy steel. Those don’t have to be in place before you move the grill after assembly.
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