Home » What Size Grill Do I Need: Here’s What Really Matters

What Size Grill Do I Need: Here’s What Really Matters

Backyard barbecues shouldn’t be stressful but that is precisely what happens when you need to cook more food than your grill can handle.  Nobody likes lining up at the grill to be served burgers one at a time.  

The pains of having too small a grill is obvious for large gatherings.  Yet, huge grills also have some not so obvious problems as well.  What you need is a grill that is just the right size.  However, most of us don’t have the foggiest idea about picking the correct grill size.

For those in a hurry, here is the quick answer on choosing the right size barbecue.

When grilling for 6 people or less, three burner gas grills with 450-500 square inches of cooking area is ideal.  For larger gatherings and big families, opt for a 4 or 5 burner grill with at least 600 square inches of cooking space.  As a rule of thumb, your grill needs 80 square inches of cooking area per person.

As expected, the quick answer isn’t enough for everyone so lets dive into all the most important considerations when deciding on which size grill you need.  Spoiler alert!  Cooking area is not the only thing that really matters! 

What is a standard size grill

Like all things in this world, grills come in all shapes and sizes.  There really isn’t a standard size that is best.  It all depends on individual needs and of course, what sells.  Consumers set the standards and manufacturers try to appeal to shopper demands.  As a result, whether it is fueled by gas, charcoal or pellets, the average grill has between 400 and 550 square inches of primary cooking area.  

Understanding if your grilling needs conform to the standard is the first step in selecting the proper size grill.  Don’t just choose based on what is generally most common.  Instead, use the rest of this article to zero in on a decision that suits you best.  

An average grill might be too small for a large family or it could be way oversized for an individual with a small apartment patio.  Think about how many people you plan to feed, the type of food you like to grill and how much space you have in your yard.  Once you do that, you can set your own standard to find the optimal grill size.

Choosing a grill size based on family size

I would argue that the number of people you typically feed is the most critical factor in deciding what size grill you should buy.  Feeding a family of 6 with a single burner, portable grill is do-able but hardly convenient.  I guess you could choose your favorite person and cook their steak first, right?  

Ideally, everyone present for a barbecue dinner wants to eat at the same time so having enough room on the grill to cook each portion is essential.  No one wants to mess up a barbecue dinner which is why I made a handy chart matching up grill size to family size.  That way you’ll never be one burger short of a well fed family.

Grill Size (square inches)Number of People

Grill size depends on cooking style

Are you a “slap it on the grill and forget it” kind of person or do you appreciate the subtle nuances of grilling that can elevate flavors to the next level?  Well, you’re probably somewhere in between.  But just the same, grill size impacts the versatility of your cooking style in a big way.

Most of us think of grilling directly over the flames but cooking with indirect heat is how pros enhance their grilling style to get restaurant quality food.  With steaks in particular, this is called the “sear and slide”.  Searing it on high over direct flame to get beautifully charred grill marks then sliding it over to a spot on the grill where indirect heat can work it’s magic.

A single burner grill renders techniques like this impossible.  You need more control, more burners and more area.  At a minimum, a two burner grill is needed to take advantage of indirect cooking techniques.  One burner is on and the other is off. However, 3 or 4 burner grills give you even more temperature control for things like low and slow cooks on a brisket or even adding a little smokiness with wood chips.

If you need to feed many people while using indirect heat, make sure your grill is large enough to leave at least 1/4 of it free for indirect cooking.

Is a 2 burner grill big enough

Not everyone wants a super sized 6 burner grill with all the trappings of a full kitchen in their back yard.  Yet, visit any Home Depot or other big box store and you’ll see rows of behemoth grills designed to cook enough food to feed the entire neighborhood.   

What about the casual griller who only needs to cook for a few people most of the time with the occasional need to grill ample meat and veggies for a small backyard gathering?  Is a 2 burner grill big enough to do all that?

A typical 2 burner grill has about 360 square inches of cooking area.  If you don’t plan on entertaining often, then a 2 burner gas grill is all the average backyard chef needs to grill meat and veggies for up to 4 or 5 people at one time. 

These grills often have a much smaller total footprint so they are ideal for small yards and patios.  And they still offer decent control over grilling temperature and indirect cooking.  Plus, 2 burner grills cost an average of $200 to $300 less than 3 burner grills.   

How many burgers, steaks or hotdogs fit on a grill

If you are like me, then all this technical talk about barbecues is a tad dull.  All you probably want, and need to know, is how much food will fit on the grill you want to buy.  Whether it’s hotdogs, burgers or steaks, it’s crucial to know how much you can cook at one time.  

To make your life easier, I made a simple chart that you can use as a handy guide when comparing grill sizes to determine what you should get.  Just remember, you never want to over crowd a grill and not all grills can maintain a high heat with a packed grill area (think high heat searing on steaks).

In addition, the amount of food that fits on a barbecue depends on the size of each portion. A half pound burger patty obviously takes up more space than a quarter pounder. Plus, you need to account for space to flip meats as you grill them. You could certainly pack more food on a grill than what I suggest but you might make it more challenging to achieve grilling perfection.

Grill Size (square inches)Large Hotdogs/BratsHamburgers (1/4 pound)Steaks (8-10 ounce)

What about a side burner

Ah yes, who doesn’t love the idea of a side burner on a grill.  It would be so handy for preparing gravy, fried potatoes or a pot of beans.  But is it necessary?  

Of course not.  Although, I have found a side burner quite convenient on more than one occasion.  It eliminates the need to sprint between the stove in the kitchen and the grill outside just to ensure everything is ready to serve all at once.  A side burner also frees up space on your grill that you might otherwise use for a side dish like veggies. 

However, if a compact bbq is something you need then be aware that grills with side burners are sometimes a little bigger than those without.  Also, you’ll pay extra for the privilege of a stove style burner attached to that grill.

Size and BTU ratings

Heat output on a grill is critically important which is why just about all grill manufacturers love to boast about their grill’s BTU rating.  Yet the truth is, BTU ratings can be a bit misleading and somewhat over inflated. 

Before we dive into that mess, first we need to know what a BTU rating even means.

The BTU output on a grill is a measure of how much heat it produces per hour.  The most important heat source on a grill is the main burner right below the primary cooking area.  Theoretically, the higher the BTU rating, the hotter the grill can cook.   But here’s the thing.  Many grill manufacturers have BTU ratings that include all accessory burners such as a side burner or rotisserie.

That’s a problem if you are hoping to buy a grill that can put a proper sear on a beautiful ribeye steak.  Instead, you end up with a grill with an underpowered main burner.  It will never reach the high temperatures needed for that kind of grilling.  

So, instead of taking the manufacturers word for it, do a little digging to see how they list BTU ratings for the grill you are interested in.  If you can, get the BTU figures on the main burners only.  

When it comes to choosing a grill based on BTU output, the size of the grill is a huge factor to consider as well.  30,000 BTU sounds like a lot but on a 650 square inch grill, that is woefully under gunned.  

Ideally, most experts recommend 80 to 100 BTU’s per square inch to get the most out of a grill.  You can determine if any grill meets that criteria by dividing the main burner’s BTU rating by the total area of the primary grill.  

For example, a barbecue with a 450 square inch grill and an output of 40,000 BTU yields 89 BTU per square inch, which is more than enough heat for any grilling enthusiast. 

Overall foot print of your grill

All this talk of BTU ratings, cooking area and the number of burners could be entirely irrelevant if the size of the grill you want is too big for the space you have.

In fact, I should probably have put this part of the discussion at the beginning.  Before ever buying a grill, make sure you have the space for the one you want.  While you may want to cook for a dozen guests, a tiny apartment balcony just isn’t going to accommodate a grill big enough to do so all at once.

Be sure to measure the area of your available space and shop for a grill with that in mind.  You should take a tape measure with you when you go shopping for your new grill.

For those with limited space, avoid grills with side burners or table extensions.  There are some very good compact 2 or 3 burner grills that have a very small foot print.  Portable grills are also a great option.

Key takeaways 

Picking the perfect size barbecue isn’t going to be an exact science.  After considering grill area, the number of burners, accessory burners, the amount of people you cook for and the overall foot print, you’ll hopefully have a better idea of what you need.  

It’s tough to get everything you want in one grill but when it comes to size, just remember to invest in cooking space and heat output as opposed to extra features.  

Now that you are armed with some basic grill knowledge, you should be able to go out and bring home the right grill for you!