By Marni Jameson
When DC and I blended our households not quite two years ago, it was like Noah filling his Ark: We brought two of almost everything – his and hers toasters, blenders, televisions, even two chocolate fountains, which reassured me that he had his priorities straight.
But, somehow, we’d left ashore the outdoor grills.
DC sold his charcoal grill with his home. I had left my gas grill cemented in stone when I moved out of the last house I owned years before.
We had been limping by with an indoor George Foreman grill, which wasn’t cutting it.
“I can’t face another summer like that,” I said to DC earlier this month, as I began my pitch for an outdoor grill. Turned out, he was thinking the same thing.
“What kind were you thinking about?” he asked.
“Something sleek, rectangular and stainless.” I said, picturing a transformed patio space.
“No, I mean do you want gas, charcoal, or electric wood pellet?”
My screwed-up face told DC I hadn’t the foggiest notion.
He started showing me grills on his iPad.
“This one’s great,” he pointed to a picture of a bright green egg-shaped grill that looked as if it fell from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. “I used to have one like this.”
“You did?” I asked, working to keep the incredulity from my voice. (How did I miss that?) “I kind of want one that looks good.”
“How about this one?” He shows me another grill that looked like the Sputnik. I wrinkle my nose.
“Is there something clean-lined, and cool looking that you like that doesn’t look like a UFO crash?”
“You’re focusing on the wrong thing,” he said. “What matters is how the food tastes.”
In that instant, I discovered a fundamental difference between DC and me, at least in the universe of outdoor cooking: He likes function. I like form. I want a grill that looks great in the yard. He wants one that fires up his inner caveman.
Then I did something highly uncharacteristic. I shut up. See, part of my motivation for getting an outdoor grill is so I can hand over the tongs more often. If DC is going to be doing the outdoor grilling – and I know there are outstanding women grill chefs, I am just not one of them, nor do I strive to be, because, to me, outdoor cooking falls in the arena of cultivated incompetence; the worse you are at something, the less you will be asked to do it — he needs to get a grill he likes.
If I weren’t careful, I’d be the one left holding the tongs. So we agreed I would do some research. I consulted a few experts to learn the options and trends. Here’s what I learned to ask before choosing an outdoor grill:
- Where will it go? Make sure you have a level spot near connections to gas or electricity, as needed, said Russ Faulk, chief designer and head of product for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. Also place your grill close to your indoor kitchen, which you will need to access, but also away from the door, so smoke doesn’t blow inside.
- What fuel do you want to use? Grills today run on gas, charcoal, or electricity. In the United States, 75 percent of adults own a grill or smoker. Of those, 62 percent own a gas grill, 53 percent own charcoal, and 12 percent own electric, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. Yes, that adds up to more than 100, because many consumers have two grills. Here are the pros and cons of each.
- Fueled by natural gas or propane, gas grills are easiest to cook with because they heat up instantly, and the flame is easy to manage, said Dan Parrilli, senior merchant of grills for The Home Depot. The downside: You don’t get that charcoal or wood-flavor that you do with charcoal or wood-pellet grills. (You can add smoker boxes with wood chips, but that only gives a hint of smoke flavor.) Also, propane tanks need to be refilled, and are notorious for running out in the middle of your barbecue party.
- Charcoal. These grills give food the flavor that grill enthusiasts love, which gas grills simply can’t match. They also can get hotter than gas grills, up to 700 degrees, said Parrilli. Their downside: charcoal (whether lump, which is preferred, or briquets) takes time to heat up, requires new fuel each time you cook, and can leave you looking like a chimney sweep when you’re done.
- A good option for those in apartments or condos where gas or charcoal grilling isn’t allowed, electric grills heat up fast, are easy to clean, and you don’t need any fuel, just a nearby outlet. But they don’t get as hot as gas or charcoal, and don’t provide the flame or flavor.
- Wood-pellet. Though still a small player in the grill market, electric wood-pellet grills are by far the fastest growing segment today, experts agree. “Although Traeger first brought these wood-pellet grills to market in 1987, in last few years they have hit the mainstream market in a big way,” said Parrilli. “They make cooking simple and less messy; you get better temperature control and great wood flavor.”
- How big? Grill surfaces are measured in square inches, and also in terms of burger count: Four square inches equals one paddy. When choosing, consider how many people you will likely be cooking for, as well as how much space you have outside. When debating between two sizes, round up. “Buy a grill not for the cook you are now, but for the cook you aspire to be,” said Faulk.
As DC and I weighed the pros, cons and appearances of each option, we chose the Traeger wood-pellet grill. Though not sleek and stainless, I think it will ignite DC’s inner caveman. And that’s something to get fired up about.
Join me next week when we fire up the new grill, and find out what else is hot in the grill market.
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.
Hot new trend — Traeger came out with the wood-fired grill, which burns 100 percent hardwood pellets and works like a convection oven, in 1987. But they’ve only recently begun to catch fire with consumers. Photo courtesy of Traeger.