Outdoor Wonder: Grills That Really Cook

Today’s grills are bigger, better and busier
By Alice Liao
July 02, 2010

Summer is upon us and many homeowners have already ventured into their backyards to contemplate nature as intended—with a plate of mixed grill in hand and an ice-cold drink within easy reach. For those with deeper pockets and bigger lots, backyard patios and decks have evolved into elaborate al fresco extensions of indoor kitchens, complete with refrigeration, storage, entertaining amenities and, of course, a grill that, thanks to the mainstreaming of gourmet cooking, little resembles your father’s portable charcoal barbecue.


So what’s different about today’s outdoor grills? For one thing, bigger seems to be better, especially if the grill is to be part of a fully equipped luxury setup. Clients of designer Michael Glassman, of the eponymous firm, for example, usually request barbecues no smaller than 36 in. In fact, his latest project features two units: one that’s 36 in.  and the other, 42 in. He explained, “They want dual barbecues to handle entertaining big groups of people.” With a larger size comes the convenience of more burners, but the heavier hoods can present problems for some. In response, companies have added spring-assist systems for easier opening and closing.

The size trend also applies to built-in barbecues, which, as outdoor kitchens approach their indoor counterparts in both functionality and design, continue to dominate the high-end market. According to Brian Eskew, marketing director for Lynx, “more than 80 percent of the grills that we sell are going into a built-in application.” Not only are built-ins key to a well-integrated look, but, unlike freestanding models, they also allow for more prep space, noted Glassman. And plenty of prep space can come in handy when your grill is doing more than just serving up burgers and hot dogs.


In fact, when it comes to performance, “consumers are looking for the grill that can ‘do it all,’” said Taylor Calhoun, product manager, outdoor for Viking Range Corp. “They want a grill that, in essence, serves as a range.” To this end, rotisseries and side burners have become quite commonplace, as have infrared burners, which deliver the high direct radiant heat needed for searing steaks or even scallops, said Eskew. Although the intense heat of infrared cooking can dry out food, all-infrared grill maker Thermal Engineering Corp. (TEC) has made improvements that “mellow out the performance of the burner” by concealing the flame underneath a glass plate, said Russ Faulk, VP of marketing and product development at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. “And they’ve started licensing their burners to other companies.”

For consumers who desire yet more flexibility, an increasing number of companies are offering hybrid gas grills outfitted with pans or pullout drawers to accommodate charcoal and/or wood. In addition, some barbecues can be customized with carts containing refrigeration or even an oven, allowing one to grill and bake at the same time. And those who like their meat smoked on occasion can opt for accessories such as smoking trays and smoker boxes, or simply invest in a separate smoker. In addition, because grilling is a day- and nighttime activity, many of today’s barbecues incorporate surface lighting, as well as LEDs on the control panel to ensure temperature settings are visible after dark.

Of course, grills are but one component of the growing interest in outdoor kitchens. However, as these spaces continue to expand in functionality, taking on features that allow for year-round enjoyment, so too will the development of grill technology. After all, as Faulk noted, “Everything tastes better off a grill.”

[1] DCS by Fisher & Paykel’s revamped Outdoor Module System now includes a 30-in. All-Grill unit designed to be accessible from all sides. It is equipped with two 25,000-Btu burners, a patented Grease Management System and ceramic radiant technology to ensure even heat distribution. A Side-Burner Sink and a Side-Burner Griddle complete the line, which can be combined with the company’s refrigeration products to create myriad outdoor kitchen layouts.

[2] Be it steakhouse-quality steaks or a bone-in prime rib, Lynx’ 42-in. Built-In Grill with ProSear Burner and Rotisserie can do it all. Unlike other infrared burners, ProSear comes with different settings to cook a variety of foods at temperatures ranging from 275 degrees to 1,000 degrees. In addition, the unit features two cast brass burners, ceramic briquettes to distribute heat evenly and a hood spring-assist system for easy opening. Dual halogen lights illuminate the grill surface and blue LEDs on the control panel ensure visibility after dark.

[3] Thanks to its redesigned hybrid grilling drawer system, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet’s K900 Hybrid Grill makes it easier to barbecue with wood or charcoal. Instead of two drawers—one for gas-only cooking and the other for wood or charcoal—the unit now has a single drawer that can be used for all three. Also new is a spring-assisted hood that can be easily opened with one hand.

[4] Large grills, like the 53-in. Viking Outdoor Ultra-Premium T-Series Grill with TruSear Infrared Burner, are finding favor among those who enjoy entertaining on a grand scale. In addition to infrared cooking, the unit features three 25,000-Btu stainless-steel burners and an infrared rotisserie burner and can be paired with the Outdoor Range Grill Cart, which contains a gas oven for outdoor baking.

[5] Thermal Engineering Corp.’s award-winning TEC G-Sport FR gas grill cooks with 100 percent infrared energy. It features burners that have been redesigned to prevent food from drying out, is available in a countertop model or with a pedestal base and, at less than $2,000, is an affordable option.
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