Hot items for those who barbecue

May 25, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

Next to the coals or flame, what's the hottest thing in barbecuing today?

Cooking-tool sets, condiment holders to fasten to the side of a grill, grill brushes, fancy wooden-handled thermometers, skewer sets, and grill toppers -- grids to keep small items from falling through the grill rack -- are all popular at Watson's, according to Ross McClelland, a manager's assistant at the garden-fireplace-patio emporium in Timonium.

Bags of wood chips are popular too, he says. "There's also a sampler -- 6 samples, like little cans of tuna. You punch a holes in the cans and put them in the coals and the smoke comes out and flavors the food." Apple, cherry, mesquite and hickory are some of the sample wood "flavors."

"The big trend in grilling today is the shift from charcoal to gas," Mr. McClelland says. "A lot of people are going for the convenience of gas."

Watson's stocks Weber gas grills for $429 to about $900; premium gas grills made by Ducane from $489 to "well over $1,000," he says, depending on features.

A spokesman for Hechinger, the Maryland-based chain of home improvement stores, said customers there are buying second grills, or upgrading from simpler models to fancier ones. A new product that's proving popular is a horizontal charcoal smoker, described as being "like a pit barbecue." It's about 4 1/2 feet wide -- big enough for four whole turkeys. It's made by New Braunsels and costs $219.

"Accessories are always popular," says Greg Bale, a manager at Stebbins-Anderson in Towson. "The one item we've sold the most of is a chimney starter device that uses crumpled-up newspaper" to start the coals.

A number of companies that make tool sets have revamped their lines this year to make them more stylish -- "more European-style," he says.

Mr. Bale also noted that vinyl grill covers are popular, in both full-length and half length. There's some dispute over how much protection the covers offer, he says; some people say condensation underneath the covers defeats the purpose of putting them on to protect grills from moisture. But after last winter's harsh weather, people may be hoping to give their favorite grill an edge.

"We're getting a lot of that this year," says Mr. Bale, who reports a representative of a grill manufacturer telling him at a trade show recently that they were getting a lot more repair calls. "He said things like hinges and handle pieces that usually are indestructible, the ice seemed to do a good job on them."

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