There are many barbecues available and some are better than others depending on what you want to cook, the space you have and your particular preference. Barbecues fall in to four groups;
Charcoal is really the essence of barbecue and there is some snobbery amongst charcoal barbecueists (Is that a word?) about those who prefer gas. And I must admit to falling into that school of thought too. Charcoal imparts a wonderful flavour into you food that gas simply can't. Charcoal cooking really doesn't need to be a dirty or messy business but I see the instant heat a gas barbecue has to offer as potentially advantageous. Certainly charcoal barbecues can appear complex if you don't know what it is all about but if you do get to know your charcoal barbecue you will cook great BBQ with that distinctive smokey flavour. Grilling really refers to the technique of placing meet over hot coals. You will learn more about that on the grilling page.
Kettle barbecues are my personal favourite. These barbecues have the ability grill food over hot charcoal but are also versatile enough to hot roast. Hot roasting a whole chicken or a pork loin produces wonderfully flavoured food which is moist and produced that all important crispy skin. Who can resist? Kettle barbecues will also let you cook low and slow. This is a wonderful cooking technique that produces food packed with flavour, is moist and is so tender it will literally break up under it's own weight. If you have ever had a pulled pork sandwich or had a hog roast and wanted to make it yourself this is the barbecue for you.
Arguably more expensive, they certainly can be, gas barbecues do offer convenience and predictability in compensation. There is also the case that they are cleaner, you're not handling charcoal after all. I do like the relatively instant nature of gas barbecues, especially on a busy day.
You can cook almost anything on a gas barbecue. Pick one with a lid and check it has a couple of burners (or more) and there is no reason not be able to grill, roast and even low and slow. Alright, you might loose the smokey flavours of low and slow, though you can still create wood smoke, but temperature control is simple.
Portable barbecues come in different styles from a simple bucket with a grill over the top, mini kettles and skottle braais which are particularly common in Southern Africa. Portable barbecues let you cook small amounts of meat quickly. If you don't have much food to cook or need to cook quickly or on the move portable barbecues are ideal. You'll need to look at what's available as you may have no desire to own a small barbecue that needs a gas bottle to be taken with it. Though in the case of a skottle braai the gas bottle forms part of the barbecue itself. I like the small charcoal grills though the skottle braai is great in the cooler months or for cooking breakfast outside.
Gaining in popularity, electric barbecues offer the clean and convenience of gas. Electricity, may or may not be a source of energy that you can utilise easily. There's always a danger of a power cut but perhaps less likely than running out of gas.
Pellet smokers are probably the most common form of electric barbecue. Though more synonymous with cooking low and slow, they can cook up a variety of different foods. The basic principal of a pellet smoker is that an electric element burns wood pellets that are fed to it from a hopper using an auger. Temperature control with this is very accurate and the hopper can by filled to last hours. This is great if you have a tendency to wonder off, or have to be somewhere while your food is cooking. Perhaps you want to cook a chicken or a pork shoulder, you know how long it will take and with the correct setup you can leave it do it's own devices.
An electric barbecue is capable of cooking most things. Choose carefully to make sure that it the model you are looking at really is capable of hitting the higher temperatures you need to grill. There is some conjecture that pellet smokers can not reach the optimum temperature required to cook a steak. But there is evidence to the contrary with many models.
Other types of barbecue
In the USA offset smokers are common for cooking low and slow food. In Europe these are much harder to find. Without doubt these cookers can produce great food. As they are quite bulky I don't have one. A number of manufactures, including Weber, produce upright smokers. These could probably be adapted to work like a kettle grill. These cookers are smaller than the offset and are capable of cooking huge amounts of meat at a time. If you are determined to cook low and slow and need to do it in large quantities or if the kettle barbecue technique proves more work than you want, then these are the equipment you need. However, I convert my Kettle barbecue into a smoker when I want to smoke food using my Barbecue Stacker. This sits between the kettle and the lid and makes the space I need.