A Dash of Flash

Fashionable, commercial-grade grills and accessories are a trend that's catching fire.

Focus On Cooking Out


There was a time when backyard grilling meant lighting charcoal briquettes in a rusty hibachi out on the deck.

Boy, is that time past.

This season, the two words for the properly outfitted barbecue enthusiast to remember are "stainless" and "steel."

Yes, America is going chic and shiny when it comes to grilling this summer. Continuing a trend that started in the late '90s, the hottest things in outdoor cooking are stylish, rust-resistant and match your flatware.

And it's not just those pricey grills either. Some grilling utensils and accessories are sporting the stainless look, too. "Consumers are looking for better quality," said Mike Scott, who buys outdoor products for Charlotte, N.C.-based Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse. "They like stainless. They want higher fashion."

This mirrors what's going on inside people's homes with commercial-grade appliances that look like they were smuggled out of a restaurant kitchen. Scott says the trend is toward "outdoor kitchens." People want a fashionable barbecue, perhaps even a built-in to mesh with their deck or patio.

Yes, that's right. The words, "fashion" and "barbecue" are being used in the same sentence these days. Even Weber, maker of those reliable kettle grills that grace most backyard patios, has redesigned its products this year.

The company has added -- Egad! -- such colors as Burgundy and green to grills that used to come in only black. Heavy-duty sideburners -- not unlike the burners on a kitchen cooktop -- are available on many models. "People seem to like the new style," says Mike Mueller, manager of Barbeques Galore, a specialty retailer in Towson. "They've also gotten rid of the wooden side shelves and replaced them with a heavy plastic that lasts better."

The most popular gas grills can get as hot as a kitchen oven and are about as versatile, too. Built-in thermometers have become standard. Most also come equipped to handle rotisserie cooking. Gas grills now come with porcelain briquettes to catch the grease. They don't have to be replaced like the old lava rocks. "I know people who bake bread and apple pies on these grills," says Mueller.

At Watson's Garden Center in Timonium, the grill line has definitely gone luxury with stainless steel grills starting at $1,500 and running up to $9,000. Even basic, nonstainless gas grills are more elaborate than in the past. They average between $300 and $500 in price.

Manager Chris Travers says his customers want a better grill because it's likely to be used year-round and needs to be durable.

Statistics kept by the manufacturers bear that out. A survey conducted last year by Weber-Stephen Products found that 69 percent of Americans grill during the spring, 96 percent during the summer, 62 percent in the fall and 49 percent in the winter. "People are aware that you get what you pay for," says Travers. "The stainless steel trend is huge. These are products that should last forever."

Travers also sees more interest in fancier accessories such as stainless steel baskets that can cook small, delicate items, and utensils made of stainless steel and expensive woods such as rosewood or teak.

Industry officials suspect consumers want better-looking grills, particularly when they're spending more money on fancy furniture for their decks and patios. "They don't want something ugly and outdated sitting out there with the patio furniture," says Scott.

Larry Gerber, a barbecue aficionado and host of a Chicago TV cooking show, says some of these accessories aren't always worth the investment. Take the long-handled utensils -- please. He suspects most grill owners can get by with spring-loaded tongs and a good spatula to go with them.

But he does like some of the new products -- such as the Grill Pad, a deck protector made by DiversiTech, that keeps ash and marinades off the wood, or the stainless steel baskets that make grilling vegetables much easier. "The nice thing about these grills is that you can fire them up at 5: 30 in the evening and eat at 6 o'clock," he says. "The average Joe doesn't even need to get his hands dirty."

The Top 10 Most Frequently Grilled Foods:

1. Steaks

2. Chicken

3. Hamburgers

4. Hot dogs

5. Chops

6. Ribs

7. Bratwurst/sausages

8. Potatoes

9. Corn

10. Fish

Source: Results of 1999 "GrillWatch" survey conducted for Weber-Stephen Products Co.

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