Most people are familiar with the ease, fun, and great taste of grilling, yet some may be unaware of the benefits of a grill side burner. In addition to the primary grate for grilling, some gas or hybrid gas-charcoal grills have cooking surfaces attached to the side. These side burners allow for making other foods and side items while grilling, which is a beneficial addition when it comes to outdoor cooking.
So, you maybe be wondering: What is the side burner on a grill for?
These are the top 10 benefits of a grill side burner:
- Separate temperature control
- Cook variety of foods
- Cook side dishes
- Cook sauces and glazes
- Boil vegetables
- Save time
- Save energy
- Full outdoor cooking experience
- Keep cooking smells and mess out of the kitchen
- Back-up cooking surface
Not all gas or hybrid gas-charcoal grills are equipped with side burners, and many grilling experts claim that they are not a necessary feature. However, side burners offer many great benefits when it comes to grilling and outdoor cooking as a whole. As our relationship to food changes, so does the way we prepare it, and grilling with the option of a side burner allows for healthy, simple, varied, and delicious meals.
By the way, side burners aren’t for everyone! Maybe you’re just a main entree’ kind of grill master and you’re just looking for the right gas grill. If that’s the case, we recommend you checking out our article on the best gas grills under $200.
What Is a Side Burner on a Grill For?
A side burner is a gas-powered cooking surface attached to the side of a gas grill or hybrid gas-charcoal grill. Check out this page to see our list of the Top 10 Gas Grills and you’ll see just how side burners are situationed.
In short though, the grill side burner is designed to function like burners found in kitchen stoves. Generally, gas grill side burners are smaller than the actual primary cooking grate of the grill, which limits their ability to cook large items or large amounts of food. However, they are excellent for making sauces and side items while the main course cooks on the primary grill grate.
Here are the top 10 benefits of a grill side burner:
1. Separate Temperature Control
Perhaps the greatest benefit of a gas grill side burner is that it offers an additional cooking surface with separate temperature control. Grill side burners are powered by a separate flame from the main grill, which allows for cooking foods at a different temperature than what is being grilled on the primary grate.
A grill’s primary grate can reach extremely high temperatures, which makes it ideal to grill chicken, steak, ribs, and other large items. Unfortunately, such high heat can easily burn vegetables or other small food items.
With a grill side burner, however, vegetables and smaller foods can be cooked separately from the meat or large items on the primary grill grate. The side burner features a separate temperature knob to control and adjust heating for cooking sauces, side dishes, or other smaller food items that require temperature sensitivity.
Side burners function through a separate flame and heat source than the main cooking grate of a grill. Therefore, the temperature of the side burner can be reduced or increased without adversely affecting the main course on the grill. In a sense, grills that have attached side burners provide the benefit of outdoor stovetop cooking as well as grilling.
2. Cook Variety of Foods
Many people are converting to a meatless diet through vegetarianism or veganism. This can create some difficulty for those who like to grill, considering most grilled main courses involve meat of some kind. A grill side burner allows for cooking a variety of food, which can accommodate meatless diets in addition to those that enjoy grilled meat at the same time.
Grills are often used for barbecues, parties, and gatherings, which generally means that several people are present to enjoy food. Yet, there are some people with more restrictive diets that may have trouble enjoying events where outdoor grilling, and especially meat, is involved. With a side burner, hosts can make sure to include these guests without going to the additional trouble of cooking a separate dish inside.
Here are some examples of the variety of meatless foods that can be prepared with a grill side burner, along with a main course of grilled meat:
- Vegetable stir fry
- Vegetable fajitas
- Pasta salads
- Vegetables and rice
- Vegetarian antipasti
For the most part, a grill side burner can be used in the same manner as a stovetop burner. This is beneficial in creating more options for grill cooking and accommodating all types of eaters.
3. Cook Side Dishes
Since grill side burners function the same way as a gas stovetop burner, they are beneficial for cooking side dishes to go along with the primary course being cooked on the grill. This feature can make it easy for outdoor cooks to both grill and perform typically “indoor” cooking tasks at the same time with the same appliance.
Most cookouts are made up of a main dish that is grilled, such as chicken, steak, fish, or ribs. BBQ Side dishes are commonly paired with the main dish as well and are sometimes provided by guests as a pot-luck event. However, if the cookout host also wishes to cook a side dish, a grill side burner provides a convenient method for doing so.
4. Cook Sauces and Glazes
A grill equipped with a side burner allows for the benefit and creation of delicious sauces and glazes to complement a grilled main course. Sauce or glaze ingredients can be added to a pan and then placed on the side burner.
Since sauces and glazes require cooking at a much lower temperature than other foods, a grill side burner is ideal with its separate temperature control. Outdoor cooks can let their accompanying sauces simmer or remain warm and close at hand for glazing, basting, or drizzling over the primary course right while it’s grilling.
5. Boil Vegetables
A great benefit to having a grill side burner is the fact that you can boil vegetables on your grill. Heat from a side burner can boil water for vegetables, such as fresh corn on the cob, while the main dish cooks on the primary grill grate. This allows for healthy and delicious vegetable sides to complement a grilled meal without having to boil them separately on a stovetop indoors.
6. Save Time
Grill side burners can save time for outdoor cooks in many ways. With the advantage of a side burner, those who are grilling can save time by multi-tasking and preparing side dishes, sauces, and vegetables as they grill the main dish. Side burners can also be used to keep certain foods that grill at a faster rate warm while other foods finish cooking.
Being able to grill and simultaneously cook other small items with a side burner is an advantage in that less cooking and preparation are required ahead of time. Side burners can also save time for outdoor cooks in that they can remain at the grill rather than spending time going back and forth to the kitchen stovetop.
7. Save Energy
Grill side burners can save energy when it comes to both power and human effort. By using the gas grill side burner to cook additional food, it may be unnecessary to utilize indoor kitchen appliances such as the stovetop. This can save energy by conserving either gas or electricity to power just one cooking appliance.
In addition, many people grill when it is warm outside. If cooking is being done outdoors, there may be less need inside to run fans or an air conditioner, further saving energy and power.
Grill side burners can save human energy as well by alleviating the need to run back and forth to use the kitchen stove top. Making the effort to grill outside and cook inside at the same time can be tiresome and make the occasion seem less worthwhile. Using a grill side burner helps save such energy and effort.
8. Full Outdoor Cooking Experience
One complaint among those hosting a barbecue or grilling get-together is that one person is generally stationed outside at the grill, mingling with guests, whereas another person is stationed inside the kitchen away from guests and cooking the extras. With grill side burners, everyone can share in the full outdoor cooking experience, as the need for indoor cooking is almost eliminated.
Occasionally, household members will divide up the cooking chores with one person in charge of grilling and another in charge of making other dishes on an indoor stove. Grill side burners provide the chance for everyone to cook in one place and enjoy the full outdoor cooking experience as well. Of course, not all cooking can be done with an outside grill—even those with side burners. However, with preparation and a properly equipped grill, many complete meals can be created fully outdoors.
9. Keep Cooking Smells and Messes Out of the Kitchen
Other benefits of grill side burners are that they can keep cooking smells and messes out of the kitchen. This is especially true when grilling meats such as ribs and fish, which may have strong odors. Side burners offer an area right next to the grill for an additional cooking surface so that more can be accomplished outside at the grill rather than bringing any cooking smells inside.
In addition, increasing the surface area and options for cooking with side burners can keep cooking messes out of the kitchen. Being able to cook sauces, vegetables, and side dishes alongside the primary food being grilled allows outdoor cooks to corral any cooking mess near the grill as opposed to creating the need to clean both the grill and indoor stovetop.
10. Back-up Cooking Surface
It’s a terrible feeling to prepare for a barbecue or cookout, only to find that your grill’s main burner has stopped working. While a main burner fail can certainly put a damper on grilling, the gathering and food would not be completely lost with a gas grill side burner. Since side burners are powered by a separate heat source, they are useful as a back-up cooking surface in the event that the grill’s main burner breaks down.
Of course, due to its size and capacity, large food items would not be ideal for cooking on a side burner. However, having a grill side burner is an effective option for cooking smaller food items if the grill’s main burner stops working.
Types of Side Burners and Further Questions
Depending on the model of gas or hybrid gas-charcoal grill, there are different types of side burners available. Some grills feature single burners, double burners, searing burners, and infrared burners. The following sections address typical questions regarding grill side burners.
What is a searing side burner used for?
Searing is a cooking technique in which food, typically meat, is cooked at a high temperature until it forms a brown crust. First, you’ll want to find that just right cut of meat and then you can incorporate into your grilling the technique of seraing. Searing creates a contrasting flavor between the “skin” and inside of the food, and it is very desirable when grilling. Some gas grills feature a searing side burner, which is similar to a standard side burner but with some differences.
Generally, a sear station is found on the main grill area with burners close together. This creates an area on the grill that can quickly become hotter than the rest of the cooking surface area. The purpose of the searing area is to heat that area of the grill grate more effectively and efficiently for searing food.
Cooks can initially sear meat by placing it above the sear burners for a certain amount of time and then finish cooking at a lower temperature elsewhere on the grill. Another use would be for cooks to grill food at a lower temperature first and then move it to the searing station just before it finishes cooking.
No matter in which order it’s used, a searing side burner is an excellent feature when it comes to gas grills.
What is an infrared side burner?
An infrared side burner uses infrared technology as a heat source. Rather than directly heating the grill grate with flame from the gas grill, infrared burners utilize an infrared element between the grate and flame. This works by focusing the flame of a standard gas burner onto a ceramic tile with thousands of microscopic holes that convert the flame heat into infrared energy.
As a result of this technology, infrared burners are known for their efficiency when it comes to grilled flavor, energy, and convenience. Infrared energy retains the moisture boundary found in food, preserving its tenderness and juiciness.
These burners heat quickly and evenly, and they allow for a faster grill time without compromising quality or taste.
Do grill side burners require more BTU?
British Thermal Unit (BTU) is the measurement of the amount of heat produced by a grill. Generally, it’s recommended for grill owners to compare the BTUs to the size of usable cooking surface area. Typically, 80-100 BTUs per square inch of cooking space is considered sufficient. Grill models with side burners do not require more BTUs.
Grills with more BTUs may burn hotter, but they also burn fuel faster. When it comes to grills, the quality and weight of materials, as well as how tight the lid fits are as impactful as BTU levels. Grills with excellent construction work far better, independent of BTUs.
Are there Weber side burner add-ons?
Some grilling enthusiasts may wonder whether they can customize their Weber grill by adding on a side burner. Unfortunately, any modifications to a Weber grill that distinctly changes it from its original factory design voids the warranty.
Adding features such as side burners to grills that are not designed to accommodate them may pose a huge safety risk. Therefore, Weber does not supply nor sanction any side burner add-on to its grill models that are not already equipped for and with this feature.
2 Simple Gas Side Burner Recipes
There are many gas grill side burner recipes to enhance the grilling experience. Most of these recipes are for sauces and side dishes. However, almost anything that can be created on a stove burner can be made on a grill side burner. This conveniently allows you to make an entire meal outdoors without using the indoor stove. Here are 2 simple recipes to use with a gas grill side burner.
Grilled Chicken Sauce
Use gas grill side burner to saute’ chopped onions, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. Add half cup of white wine, cup of chicken stock, and let reduce while grilling chicken. Brush sauce onto chicken while grilling and use as extra sauce for serving.
White Bean Saute’
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet on a side burner and saute’ chopped onions and minced garlic for 5 minutes. Add 15 oz. canned cannellini beans, fresh tarragon, salt, and pepper, and gently saute’ for another 3-5 minutes. Deglaze pan with 2-3 tablespoons of white wine, let reduce, and then serve.
In Conclusion: Side Burners Are A Must
There are many more helpful recipes and tips available to make full use of a grill side burner. Overall, though it is not an essential feature for gas or hybrid gas-charcoal grills, side burners offer many benefits and provide opportunities for an enhanced outdoor grilling experience through creating delicious food and cookout memories.