Time Again to Get All Fired Up for the Fourth

clfrey@aol.com

The Fourth of July just isn't the Fourth of July without a good barbecue. And so, to properly celebrate the holiday, I knew I would have to get a grill of my own.

I sampled several Web sites to find a smaller, cheaper and portable version of my father's Weber grill. There are loads of Web sites selling barbecues, and most of them have about the same prices, quality and service, allowing you to pick the site you're most comfortable with.

I started my shopping trip at--where else?--Weber's own Web site, at http://www.weber.com.

Listing more than two dozen grills, the site categorizes its products by type--gas, charcoal and portable. It has a nice feature that allows customers to compare the characteristics of as many as three grills at a time. After viewing the specifics for all three Smokey Joe portable grills, I decided on the low-end model (14.5-inch diameter), and clicked on the Buy It link to submit my order.

The site, however, wouldn't let me buy it.

Though it offers a buying guide, recipes and even barbecue-inspired e-cards, the site does not sell Weber merchandise. The Buy It button simply provides you with a list of real-world Weber dealers and links to two online retailers: Abt Electronics (http://www.abtelectronics.com) and Amazon (http://www.amazon.com).

Since Abt Electronics did not carry the Smokey Joe model I wanted, I headed to Amazon. The link from the Weber site took me directly to Amazon's Weber products. After a quick browse through the selection of portable grills, I found the Smokey Joe for $29.99. Shipping was free.

After processing my order, the site--in typical Amazon style--informed me what other products Smokey Joe buyers had purchased from the site: replacement charcoal grates, grill brushes and, what every great barbecue chef apparently cannot go without, a "Charlie's Angels" DVD.

I passed on the DVD and moved on to the Web site for Irvine-based grill retailer Barbeques Galore. The site, at http://www.bbqgalore-online.com, offers 18 brands searchable by fuel type, price range and size. Its selection includes a wide variety of Weber grills, from the $3,000 Summit 650 6-Burner to the $27.70 Smokey Joe.

Because I live within 25 miles of a Barbeques Galore store, I had the option of paying an extra $30 to have the grill shipped from the nearest store, presumably to speed delivery. (For customers living more than 25 miles away, shipping fees vary.) I could also pay $25 more to have the grill assembled.

This seemed a bit outrageous for a barbecue that's less than $30, so I decided to have my Smokey Joe shipped from the main warehouse for about $8.

In the end, however, the site's detailed shipping policies were unnecessary. The total cost for the grill, taxes included, came to $29.99. For whatever reason, they didn't charge me for shipping.

Having bought two Smokey Joes for the same price--and without shipping fees--I was pretty picky about buying from other sites.

Target's Web site charged $29.99 for the grill with $5.95 for shipping. Wal-Mart wanted only $27.70, but the store added $7.31 for shipping. Home Depot charged $27.76 with a shipping fee of $4.91.

Even though all of the prices were more than what I paid for my other two Smokey Joes, I decided to order one more from Home Depot (http://www.homedepot.com) just to see how fast it would arrive.

I received both the Home Depot and Amazon purchases in three business days. Barbeques Galore, despite the proximity of its headquarters, took six days.

All of the grills required assembly, but I didn't need to pay someone else to do it. I put together one grill--without any tools--in less than 10 minutes.

It wasn't any cheaper buying a barbecue online, but then again, at least I didn't have to drive anywhere.

Now let's eat.

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Christine Frey is a freelance writer.

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