Michael J. Knell -- Casual Living, April 20, 2012
Since the Spanish colonization of the Americas when the conquistadors discovered the caribbean natives' practice of slow-cooking meat over a wooden platform and referred to it as "barbecoa" some 500 years ago, the culinary techniques of barbecuing, grilling and smoking have come a long way.
No longer is outdoor cooking relegated to tossing hamburgers and hot dogs onto primitive, bare-bones charcoal and gas grills as it was in the '50s, '60s and '70s. Due to advancements in barbecue grills and accessories as well as the recent advent of the outdoor kitchen, what was once merely an alternative way to prepare food has morphed into a technical art form. Today's tools and technologies have transformed backyard burger-flippers into gourmet grillmasters, who are now charting new waters in the world of outdoor cooking.
"Back when I was a kid, grilling was pretty simple food on a charcoal grill," said Jerry Scott, VP of sales and marketing, RH Peterson. "Since that time, grilling has gone from the charcoal grill to the outdoor kitchen. It has gone from simply the grill to the grill and side burners for sauces and side dishes, pizza ovens, smokers - a full outdoor kitchen. People are experimenting with dishes and taking pride in developing their own recipes and styles in the outdoor kitchen like they used to do in the indoor kitchen."
Gourmet grilling still begins with barbecue fundamentals, but heightened technological capabilities as well as the increasing influence of celebrity chefs are inviting experimentation for outdoor chefs, shifting their creative genius into overdrive.
"Gourmet grilling to us is somebody who is going to go the extra step in their recipe," said Marc Zemel, president and CEO, Mr. Bar-B-Q. The basics of hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and steaks are there, but now people are dressing it up and doing them at a level we've never seen before. When you grill, you use the same gas grill and the same accessories, but you might be using better grills and accessories for the cooking you're doing.
What started as chicken, burgers and hot dogs has really changed because over the last decade there have been so many celebrity chefs that have come into the marketplace. "Now it's on national TV and people get to see it, learn it and get educated about grilling in these different formats. If we came out with a pizza stone kit or braising tongs or some searing toppers a decade ago, people wouldn't understand them like they do today," he said.
Regional influences are also propelling the gourmet grilling concept. Now, outdoor chefs are adopting outdoor cooking practices from one part of the country - seen on TV, read about on the Internet or otherwise - for use in their own backyards. As examples, Zemel cited the emerging trends of using the grill to smoke meats and cook jalapeño peppers, practices that began in the southern portion of the country but have since become national phenomena.
"We live in a transitory society, so you have northerners moving down south, southerners moving up north, east to west and all points in between," said Bruce Bjorkman, director of sales and marketing, MAK Grills. "And because of that, those life experiences go with us, and barbecue has become much more versatile in terms of the units used to cook. Pellet grills, for example, are 26 years old - look at how that one category has revolutionized backyard grilling and smoking. Now you've got all of these developments and inventions that have continued to expand the interest level of barbecue grilling and smoking."
BIGGER, FASTER, STRONGER
The newfound flexibility and versatility found in contemporary barbecue grills and accessories serve as the foundation of gourmet grilling, according to industry experts. Simply put, the technological advancements of recent years have given today's outdoor chefs a lot better things with which to do a lot more stuff.
"I think with the traditional barbecue grill, the average consumer always felt that he was somewhat limited to the more standard steaks, burgers and sausages. If he was getting a little bit crazy, maybe he was grilling vegetables," said Brian Eskew, marketing manager, Twin Eagles. "And with these new professional-style grills - with all of these unique, convenient, high-performance features - we've really trained the retail channel to explore all of these different culinary and gourmet cooking capabilities with consumers because it helps reinforce and justify the premium price associated with professional grills and outdoor kitchen products."
Flexibility is the hallmark of Twin Eagles' best-selling 42-and 36-inch built-in models, both of which are three-burner units that offer the capability of "zone management." In other words, one burner can be set to 200 degrees, another set to 400 degrees and another set to 600 degrees, made possible by dividers that keep the heat specific to each functional burner area. "So when you're talking about flexibility when cooking things outdoors, specific zone management allows you to do a number of different food items on the grill at different temperatures," Eskew said.
Grill manufacturers have also upgraded the technology that surrounds the grill, inspiring consumers to expand their al fresco menus. For example, increasingly sophisticated side burner technology has given the outdoor chef more versatility than ever before.
"Side burners are a key component to any gourmet outdoor kitchen that has a grill," said Dale Seiden, co-founder of Alfresco Grills. "You can't use cookware on a grill, so you really need that side burner to be able to do your sautéing all the way down to doing a couple of eggs in a frying pan."
More specifically, power burners - large, oversized burners designed to provide high-power cooking - offer a particularly fine-dining, gourmet element to outdoor cooking. Measuring 20 inches wide, Twin Eagles' power burner drops into a countertop and heats up to 70,000 Btus for that oversized stock pot, but can also deliver gentler temperatures for simmering. "Something that makes [the power burner] really speak to gourmet cuisine outdoors is specifically its versatility," Eskew said.
"Power burners are becoming very popular outside," Seiden said. "[Alfresco Grills] developed one that goes from 400 Btus to 65,000 Btus, so you can cook anything from a single egg to a 100-quart stock pot. You talk about a gourmet element there."
THE GOURMET EXPERIENCE
The advent of the outdoor kitchen is also responsible for perpetuating the gourmet grilling concept. In addition to offering the tools and technology needed to execute gourmet grilling, the barbecue industry is now offering the components needed to create the gourmet experience.
"People are more sophisticated in their outdoor kitchens," Bjorkman said. "The options are just uncanny with the ice boxes, garbage compactors, cabinetry and drawers - all those interesting things you can add to accentuate the outdoor cooking experience whether you're grilling, barbecuing or smoking."
Seiden, who has an extensive portfolio of designing outdoor kitchens for celebrities and beyond, describes the "perfect setup" as one having ample storage in addition to seating and a cooking area, observing the trend of outdoor kitchens becoming more complete in terms of their functionality.
"There are these new sealed dry storage pantries," Seiden said. "You can keep spices, packaged foods and fl at ware in there - everything essential to the culinary gourmet experience could be left in that dry storage area. And if you have a pantry and you have a refrigerator, you have those essentials just a few steps away from your cooking area because you don't want to have to run back and forth inside and outside of the house to replenish and get more of something. That's what outdoor kitchens are shifting to today - to be fully functional."
In addition to grills and grilling accessories, Alfresco Grills offers an assortment of outdoor kitchen components - refrigerators, sealed pantries, sinks, warming drawers and bartending centers among them - in its attempt to create that fully functional gourmet experience. "That part of our business is what has made our business grow so incredibly well in the last couple of years," Seiden said. "As the outdoor kitchen trend continues to flourish, we have to create different things that allow the consumer to bring that super-gourmet element into their outdoor kitchen."
As the staycation trend becomes a cultural mainstay, the barbecue industry will continue responding to the consumer's desire to entertain at home by upgrading grilling horsepower, devising more high-tech gadgets and gizmos, and offering the range of amenities needed to create a backyard grilling oasis. Outdoor dining is only getting finer.
|In conjunction with Cooking with Paula Deen magazine, Dale Seiden, co-founder of Alfresco
Grills, renovated the backyard of a stately Birmingham, Ala. home. The island kitchen features
a 42-inch LX2 grill installed over a 42-inch, under-grill refrigerator with side burners,
prep sink and trash center on the left, and a plate and garnish center and food warmer on the
|Made of cast iron to absorb and retain heat at the
high temperatures required for searing steak or
chicken, Mr. Bar-B-Q’s ribbed fajita platter set
lends festive fl air to Mexican cuisine.|
|Bounties of the sea are taking to barbecue grills of the backyard
thanks to powerful yet fl exible side burners which provide chefs
with outdoor cooking versatility never before experienced.|
|A versatile vegetable medley serves as a testament to the rise of
gourmet grilling. “Basically anything that can be prepared in an
indoor kitchen can be prepared in an outdoor kitchen with the
fl air and added fl avor of grilling,” said Jerry Scott, VP of sales and
marketing, RH Peterson.|
|In response to the consumer’s growing
appetite for gourmet grilling, Mr.
Bar-B-Q offers a host of barbecue
accessories that make barbecue grilling
limitless in possibilities. Case in point is
the non-stick jalapeño cooker.|
|The Twin Eagles power burner yields the versatility
that outdoor chefs need to realize their gourmet grilling
ambitions. Measuring 20 inches wide, the power
burner generates commercial-style, restaurant-quality
heat up to 70,000 Btus.|
|Creating the gourmet experience is a natural extension of business for manufacturers responding to increasing
consumer demand for gourmet outdoor cooking. “One thing I always talk about with consumers is this isn’t just
where you’re going to eat, it’s where you’re going to be entertaining. [The outdoor kitchen] is a true extension of
your indoor living space,” said Brian Eskew, marketing manager, Twin Eagles.|
|Derek Jeter’s new 31,000-sq.-ft. home in Tampa Bay, Fla. includes a
commercial-grade outdoor kitchen outfi tted by Dale Seiden, co-founder of
Alfresco Grills. From the grill to the sink to ample storage space, the Yankee
legend’s gourmet grilling refuge is an example of the trend of outdoor
kitchens becoming more fully functional.|
Seiden designed an outdoor cooking paradise for a backyard in The Oaks of Calabasas, an affl uent community located in Los Angeles County, Calif. The open, circular layout is both functional and inviting, which creates a “social, interactive environment,” according to Seiden.