Firing up the barbecue and entertaining friends is what summer is all about. We all love the idea of it, but sometimes the reality can involve frantic dashes between the kitchen and the BBQ, and even if you’ve got one of the best BBQs, it’s common to feel a huge sigh of relief when all the food is on the table - and not too burnt.
I recently discovered the joys of a side burner on one of the best gas BBQs. Yes, it’s a hob ring on your BBQ and for some people, it will be pointless. But there are many reasons why I think they’re a great idea and can not only alleviate some of the stress of a BBQ, but elevate the experience, opening up more opportunities to get creative.
So if you’re not sure, read on as I dive into the advantages as well as the disadvantages to this extra BBQ feature. To provide some added inspiration I’ll tell you what I used the side burner for when I tried one out for a recent BBQ review, and you might be surprised.
The side burner on this very affordable gas BBQ from Vonhaus is one of its highlights. You can use it to fry onions for burgers, for steaks or anything else you fancy.
Read our full Vonhaus 4 + 1 burner BBQ review.
If you're anti side burner, then the Everdure Force is a pretty much perfect BBQ that makes use of existing space by putting in a handy side table instead.
Read our full Everdure Force review.
Advantages and uses of side burners
One of the big plus points is having the opportunity to heat up a side dish or a sauce while you barbecue. I found that searing a tasty steak while a peppercorn sauce simmered alongside it, allowed me to coordinate the timings so the sauce was ready as I plated up the steak alongside some tasty seared BBQ greens.
Even if you’re not making anything adventurous, the side burner can still be used to soften onions for your burgers and hotdogs. Or to fry eggs to pop on top of a barbecued gammon steak. All these little added extras elevate a meal, but if you had to run between the barbecue and the kitchen, you probably wouldn’t bother. Or you’d just stress yourself out.
When I recently reviewed a gas BBQ with side burners I made a BBQ fry up, and I used the side burner to heat the beans as well as fry the eggs, which meant I could do the whole meal outside. I never would have attempted this meal on a BBQ if I had to make half of it in the kitchen.
And then there’s the opportunity to use it even when you’re not barbecuing. I’m envisioning a pan full of winter mulled wine bubbling away while you sit around a fire pit. Or a pan of hot chocolate keeping warm as you have fun with sparklers on bonfire night. If you’ve got an outdoor projector, you could even use it to make the popcorn. The level of versatility a simple gas side burner can add to your outdoor kitchen is actually quite surprising, and impressive.
Disadvantages of side burners
Usually a side burner is set into one of the side tables, so when you’re cooking on it, you lose out on a side table, which is a minor inconvenience. But most have a lid that closes on top of the burner so you still get to use the space as a table if you’re not cooking on the burner.
The other point to note, is that if you like a barbecue with fold-down side tables for space-saving storage, the side with the burner will usually be fixed. This means the barbecue is bigger and bulkier to store.
While I do think a side burner can lessen the stress of cooking, by reducing the amount of trips between the barbecue and the kitchen. The flip side is that when you try to do too much on the barbecue it can become a bit of a juggling act. I certainly found that when I made the aforementioned fry-up, I did start to get a bit overwhelmed by all the different elements I was cooking at once. That said, when I kept things simple, it was super helpful. So it depends on what you're cooking.
Lastly, no matter how many uses a side burner has, it’s a pointless addition if you never use it. So it is worth thinking very carefully about what you usually cook on a barbecue and whether the addition of a side burner would come in handy for side dishes and sauces. Depending on the BBQ brand, a side burner can increase the price of the barbecue, so if you know you’ll never use it, save some money and choose a more pared-back model instead.
Are side burners worth it?
To sum up, in my opinion a side burner will be invaluable for budding BBQ chefs and keen cooks, and definitely adds an extra dimension to your al fresco cooking experience. But if you simply want to grill a chicken breast and walk away, then it’s probably not for you. And when deciding, consider the size and cost implications of this extra feature to see if the maths stack up for you.
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After completing a Home Economics degree, Helen went on to work for the Good Housekeeping Institute and has been reviewing home appliances ever since. She lives in a small village in Buckinghamshire in the UK.
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