In case you didn’t already know, outdoor grilling is big business'as I learned at last month’s annual Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) trade show. The HPBA held its yearly all-things-grilling-and-patio shebang at the Salt Palace, which gave me the opportunity to check out everything from the Barr Brothers’ “grizzly spit” portable rotisseries (they run on two D-size batteries) to integrated outdoor grill/sauna/entertainment centers from Cal Spa'complete with pop-up LCD TVs'that cost more than some starter homes.
There’s gold in them thar grills! Check it out: Some 15 million new barbecues were purchased in 2005, which is one of the reasons that hearth, barbecue and patio sales are a $12 billion industry'you gotta wonder why Halliburton isn’t involved. That kind of dough might explain why the keynote speaker at the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Expo 2006 wasn’t Bobby Flay, or grilling gurus Cheryl and Bill Jamison, or even George Foreman. Instead, it was Pam Danziger, author of the books Why People Buy Things They Don’t Need and Let Them Eat Cake: Marketing Luxury to the Masses'as Well as the Classes.
Maybe it’s just sour grapes, because I’m closer to the poverty line than I am to anyone who owns a marble island grill/bar and spa unit complete with pimpmobile-style running lights. But to me, owning a BeefEater Ivis outdoor kitchen center is at the very least overkill, if not incredibly ostentatious. BeefEater outdoor grills are called “the Rolls Royce of the barbecue world,” but with one model priced at approximately $35,000, I think it’s more of a Hummer.
For the record, my own outdoor grilling gear is a bit more humble. I own a 20-year-old classic Weber kettle grill, the cheapest Char-Broil gas grill I could find at Wal-Mart and a lowly tin Brickman smoker. The combined purchase price of this stuff was probably about $150'and I defy anyone to make a better burger on their BeefEater than I can on my Char-Broil.
That includes the ladies. According to the Arlington, Va., based Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, grilling isn’t just for dudes anymore. They are eager to point out that “[m]ore than 35 percent of women are now taking the tongs for gas grilling, up 6 percent from 2003 â€¦ although, men (at 62 percent) are more likely to do the cooking on both gas and charcoal grills.” For some reason, the ladies apparently don’t dig charcoal. The Weber grill company will even send girlfriends a cute little Girls Guide to Grilling for free, with recipes like Flirting with Flank Steak and Ciao Down Corn on the Cob. By the way, the Weber Girls Guide to Grilling only shows photos of white women. Apparently non-Caucasians don’t, you know, grill.
Well, regardless of the HPBA’s stats indicating progress towards gender equality in the barbecue pit'now women get to cook both indoors and outdoors'you wouldn’t know it from the gathering at the Salt Palace. I recall seeing a handful or two of women on the scene to represent the more than 500 exhibitors at the Salt Palace. Women were outnumbered by men at the grilling expo by roughly the same sort of lopsided representation as Republicans vs. Maoists in Utah.
There was some cool stuff, though. For instance, the Lite Cylinder Co. showed up at the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Expo 2006 with a nifty little 12-pound composite propane cylinder aimed'not surprisingly'at women. It comes in nifty colors “to fit your backyard dÃ©cor” like cherry red, sea blue, beechwood and yellow. The small cylinders are corrosion and rust free, and, most brilliant, they are translucent so you can actually see how much propane you have left in your cylinder. It also has an easy-carry handle which makes it perfect for tailgate parties and grilling in the park or at the beach.
Ditto for the super cool'yes, I want one!'mini Weber Q “Baby” grill. Folded up, it’s not much bigger than that hibachi you had in college (14 inches by 27 inches by 16 inches). But the Weber Q puts out 8,500 BTUs per hour, has a total cooking area of 190 square inches, push button ignition and even a removable drip tray. It sells for around $130, and you can pick up an optional rolling cart for it for another $45. I’d love to crank this thing up at Red Butte Garden concerts.
At the other end of the spectrum were the gorgeous'yes, I want one of these, too!'classically designed, solid cast-iron wood-burning cookstoves from Heartland Appliances. Not only can you cook on these antique-looking babies, but they are capable of heating up to 1,800 square feet of your home as well. Unfortunately, the model I’m lusting after runs just under $5,000'which means if I pinch my pennies and write another 13 years of columns like this one, I might just be able to afford a used model in 2019.
For more information or to contact the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, visit www.hpba.org.