By Marni Jameson
I started salivating the minute the truck pulled up with our new outdoor grill, an electric wood-pellet cooker that looks like a cannon and weighs just as much.
“Over here, no over here! Maybe in the garage.” I try to steer the poor delivery guy and his gigantic overweight parcel around the patio like an awkward dance partner. He is demonstrating more patience than I deserve.
The box lands with a thud. I am eagerly tearing it open before the truck has left the street.
I had been waiting for this. For the past year and a half, DC and I had been sentenced to cooking only indoors. Today, we were about to join the 75 percent of U.S. adults who own an outdoor grill, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association.
We were like two inmates just released from kitchen jail. I could already smell the wood fire, and taste the mesquite-infused chipotle chicken. DC could not assemble the grill – a Traeger Eastwood 34 — fast enough.
After the grill was together, we cooked outdoors every night for a week. We grilled burgers and kabobs. We seared steaks and roasted veggies.
We wondered why we had waited so long.
Why? Because choosing a backyard barbecue is not as easy as it used to be. Do you want gas, charcoal, electric, or the wood-pellet burning variety? What size? What color? Built in or free-standing?
I just want dinner.
I did my homework, then let DC pick. And he did. After DC had cooked up a couple excellent meals, I asked for his review.
“It’s the best grill I have ever used,” said DC, who has had both fancy gas and charcoal grills before. “I like that you don’t need to worry about a propane tank running out or blowing up, a gas line, or a supply of charcoal. I like that all you need is an outlet, and wood pellets, which aren’t nearly as messy as charcoal. I like that you get a smoked-wood flavor, and that you can set the temperature like you do on an oven, shut the lid and walk away.”
Apparently, his reaction echoes the marketplace, where “electric wood-pellet grills are the fastest growing segment,” said Dan Parrilli, senior merchant of grills for The Home Depot. “Consumers love that you can grill, smoke, bake, roast, braise, and BBQ with the same cooker, and set the heat for low and slow or fast and hot.”
Beyond this blazing grill trend, America’s passion for outdoor grilling in general is still hot, hot, hot.
“Our national pastime for gathering around the grill is strong and showing all indications of continuing to grow,” said Jack Goldman, president of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, in a statement. He attributes the trend to our “continued passion for culinary adventure.”
Parrilli credits the strong interest to shows on the Food Network. As a result, “outdoor chefs are moving way beyond burgers and dogs, and are cooking pizzas, poppers and even French toast on their outdoor grills.”
As outdoor grilling season starts to heat up, I looked into what the hot trends were in a cooking method that dates back to the cavemen – and women — days.
- No signs of cooling: This year, 37 percent of U.S. adults plan to purchase a new grill or smoker, according to the latest Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association survey. Most buyers will be replacing or upgrading their current grills. Of the 10 percent of grill owners who have outdoor kitchens, one third plan to add to them in the next few years.
- It’s all about the flavor. Of the grill owners surveyed, 71 percent said improved flavor was the number one reason they used grills. (However, I think women – with all due respect to the female pit masters out there — aren’t admitting that it’s really about getting the man of the house fired up to cook a little more.)
- The bells and whistles. The biggest advancements in outdoor grilling are in accessories, said Parrilli. “Today’s outdoor grills feature side burners, searing burners (a super-heated area for steaks), rotisseries, warming racks, smokers, broiling baskets, vegetable baskets, pizza stones, pizza ovens, and oven thermometers. Also new are pans specific for such favorites as grilled cheese sandwiches or jalapeno poppers.
- Game changer. The new Bluetooth grill thermometer is Parrilli’s favorite new gadget. “It lets you monitor the food and grill temperature on your phone,” he said. “You place one probe in the meat, and one on the grill, and your phone gives you real-time feedback.”
- The accessories make the outfit. In addition to long-handled tongs, turners, and heavy-duty gloves, you’ll want grill-cleaning brushes and clean-up blocks. We got a grill cover to protect our grill from the elements.
- Best improvement: Weber has come out with a new infinity ignition switch, which offers a guarantee start every time. That promise comes with a 10-year warranty. No more turning on the gas and tossing in a match hoping you don’t blow up.
- Hottest trend: Though electric wood-pellet grills comprised only 2 percent of the outdoor grill market in 2015, 7 percent of prospective grill buyers planned to buy a wood-pellet grill, according to the survey. I guess we are part of that statistic.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.