As birds are driven by some ancient instinct to migrate, or that special part of a beaver's brain that makes it look at a flowing river and think "Not on my watch!"- so now at this time of year does the British male develop an unquenchable need to barbecue.
Although the days of the Empire are long gone, and our economy is in a worse state than a month-old bus ticket passed through a washing machine, we can take some solace that barbequing is one thing we Brits do best! Let the Americans keep their fancy brisket and ribs! And the Aussies are welcome to their shrimp-ladened 'barbies'. We can still, for the time being, rest assured that burgers and sausages still rule the waves.
Unfounded patriotism aside, the British Summer (all 20 glorious minutes of it) is a wonderful time to cook and eat outdoors. So if you're looking to dip your toe into the wonderful world of grilled meats, or looking for an upgrade to your current setup, there are a lot of different things to consider.
The first thing to consider is, what do you actually want to do with the BBQ? I mean, obviously, you want to barbeque with it- you're not buying one to drive around Northern France. But, is this a party BBQ or a family BBQ? At first, it's very tempting to listen to that primal part of the brain that says "bigger is best." But on the other hand, if you do host a big family gathering or party with the neighbors- the last things you want are hungry, grumpy guests as you meekly serve up only half a dozen sausages at a time because the grill is too small. You're probably going to need to find a compromise- but function, price, and where you're going to store the damn thing for most of the year should all play a factor in which one to get.
Another big factor is gas VS Charcoal. I won't bother going into electric, because frankly if you're considering an electric BBQ then you might as well be cooking indoors.
The big advantage of charcoal BBQs is the taste. Even the most fantastical gas griller will grudgingly admit there is nothing on earth to beat that smoky, flame-grilled flavour. Also, it just feels better. Building the fire up, the anticipation- all part of the experience. However, with that smoky flame-grilled favour comes, well, smoke. And unless your neighbours are at the party, they probably won't appreciate it. Lighting fires, and getting the right layer of ash on the coals is also a fiddly balancing act. Cook too soon and you'll burn the food, leave it too late and you won't have enough time.
As a final point, charcoal isn't fantastic for the environment either. But then if you're eating a metric ton of red meat at a BBQ then a bit of extra carbon is hardly going to make a big difference.
In contrast with the ritualism of building up the fuel for charcoal BBQ, gas is all about convenience. Turn the knob, click the clicky thingy and BAM! You're cooking with gas. Literally.
There is something lovely about being able to go from fridge to cooking in less than a minute, however, the faffy part about a gas BBQ is the bottle. If like me you're always a little untrusting of gas, certain it could explode at any moment, playing around with the twisty thing under the BBQ is never fun. Also, with charcoal, you know how much fuel you have- just look in the bag. But with gas, you have the exciting adventure of lugging a big metal cylinder to the special gas shop to get it filled up again. Looking enviously as you drive past half a dozen petrol stations with huge bags of charcoal smirking at you outside.
BBQ tongs and accessories are rather like the royal regalia of the grill master. The orb and sceptre that denote your authority over the assembled gathering, as well as tools of the trade for flipping, prodding, and serving to your delighted guests. The best type of tools are ones that will last a while so it's worth paying a visit to a garden centre to find a set you really like. Well, sets plural- you'll need one for raw meat, and another for cooked/vegetables. How do they feel in your hand? Do they make a satisfying clicking noise upon closing and opening?
I'd also heartily recommend an apron. Partly because it stops spitting fat from getting on your clothes, but also because I'm a complete sucker for a novelty six-pack apron. Although barbequing can (and should) demand a certain amount of obsession and over-fixation, it's also a lot of fun- so have fun with it! Treat yourself to a few novelty bits and pieces- a sword-hilted spatula, or a rotating bun warmer. It's your party after all.