For tailgaters, game is optional but grilling is not

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Turns out that getting tickets to the game is one of the least important things to tailgaters. In the latest Weber GrillWatch survey, 57 percent of respondents said that they had attended a tailgate party in the last year without attending the game. Tickets were trumped by such must-haves as a grill (82 percent), food (80 percent) and cooler (also 80 percent) followed by chairs and alcoholic beverages. One of every three tailgate hosts brings a full-size grill to the party while the rest opt for portable models. With the start of tailgating season, here are some gas grills that were big winners in Consumer Reports tests.

Grilling at tailgate parties is on the rise, reports Weber, with 20 percent of grill owners reporting that they had attended a tailgate party in the last year, a 6 percent increase over 2012. The top five foods they like to grill are hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, chicken, and steak. On average, grill owners spend $122 for food and drinks for a tailgating party.

For just a little more than that, you can buy the $130 Back Yard Grill BY13-101-001-11, a small grill that just missed our list of top grill picks. Very good overall, the grill has three burners and a two-wheeled stand that makes it easy to move. It preheated like a champ and was very good at high temperature, low temperature and indirect cooking.

The winner of our tests for small grills was the Weber Spirit E-220 46310001, $450, which was excellent at high and low temperature evenness and very good at preheating and indirect cooking. It has two main burners and a four-wheeled cart for easy moving. Scoring a close second was the Napoleon Terrace SE325PK, $600, which was excellent at low temperatures and very good at all other grilling tasks. The Napoleon has two main burners and a handy four-wheeled cart.

For backyard barbecues
Just as tailgating season is getting started, some homeowners are planning their final barbecue of the season for Labor Day. Large and medium grills are the best choice for big gatherings. Weber also topped our group of midsized grills with its Weber Spirit SP-320 46700401, $600.  It preheated evenly and was superb on high and low heat and indirect cooking. For a lot less, consider one of two CR Best Buys in this group, the Brinkmann 810-2545-C, $260, sold at Walmart and the Kenmore 16142, $350. Both were solid performers in our tests.
Hot tip: We found the Brinkman on sale for $228 this weekend and the Kenmore marked down to $315.

The high scorer in our tests of large grills was the Jenn-Air 720-0709, $950, sold at Sam’s Club. It was very good overall and has five burners to handle food for a crowd. For about half as much, consider the Grand Hall Grand Tech, $500, which preheated quickly and evenly and was excellent on high heat. Low heat and indirect cooking were impressive.

End-of-season grill sales
If your grill is cooked, look for end-of-season sales. Most stores don’t want these behemoths crowding the aisles in the off-season. This weekend, Home Depot is offering free shipping on grills $399 or more.  Lowe’s is featuring 20 percent off Char-Broil Commercial Series Gas Grills including the Char-Broil Commercial 463241113, which did pretty well in our tests. Walmart is discounting some of its Brinkmann grills, which have been respectable performers in our tests. And Sears has sales of up to 25 percent off select grills. Keep in mind that you may find some unadvertised deals on good grills by checking the inventory at your local hardware or home improvement store.

—Mary H.J. Farrell

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