Barbecue burners are the elements inside a grill through which the heat used to cook food is emitted. These burners can emit flames, as is the case with gas grills, or can be ceramic tiles like those used in infrared grills. The burners are generally made of cast iron or aluminum and are frequently located under the grill rack on which the food is placed, so the cooking heat emanates from the bottom and is contained by the lid of the grill, if it is closed. The shape of the barbecue burners can help to determine the level of heat control that can be attained while grilling, as well as the hot and cold areas where food can be placed. Regular cleaning of the burners can help to extend their lifespan, but most will need to be replaced over time as a result of ordinary wear and tear.
Some of the primary aspects that separate the different barbecue burners from one another are their shape and layout. An important part of grilling is being able to control the areas of the grill that the heat is actually warming, and being able to have areas of the grill that are cooler than the rest. This is because of the barbecue cooking methods known as direct and indirect grilling.
Direct grilling means the heat is being applied directly under the food. Almost all barbecue burners provide this type of heat control, because the meat can be placed over an active burner. The only consideration with direct grilling is being able to control the level of heat that is generated.
Indirect grilling involves placing the meat either between two heat sources or just to the side of one. This provides a slower cooking time that keeps the outside of the food from burning while the inside cooks slowly. For a barbecue burner to be able to allow indirect grilling, it has to have a way to be lighted on only one side of the grill, or to have some center part of the burner turned off. While many grills do provide this type of control, smaller grills might have a more difficult time balancing heat distribution in this way.
Most grills have barbecue burners that are actually long bars with holes along their length to emit the flame at regular intervals. Some of these burners are configured in ways so one side or the other, or the center, can be turned off. Another type of barbecue burner, though, is designed more like a circular range-top burner with several burners ones placed throughout the grill. These can be very effective for indirect grilling but have the potential to provide inconsistent heat for direct grilling of large foods.