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Growing consumer interest in holiday grilling

Grill, watchesChris marks, general Manager of the good One Smoker/Grill, watches grilling trends as they happen. He leads on-site cooking classes for his dealers across the country, and attendance shows him what people are particularly interested in.
     Marks says one of the hottest courses going right now focuses on holiday meals. Remember the deep-fried turkey trend? The next evolution may be the grilled or smoked turkey, and Marks is doing his part to spread the gospel. He teaches grilling acolytes a streamlined cooking method called "spatch cocking."
     "I cut the backbone out of the turkey, which eliminates the cavity," Marks said. "That speeds up cooking time and, because I lay the turkey flat on the grill, opens up more of the meat for the smoke and flavor to get to."
     Marks said it was only a matter of time before consumers realized they could use their grills and smokers for holiday meals. He says the grilling hobby is always evolving, and people are constantly looking for new ways to cook and prepare their foods.
     "It's nice to change things up for holiday meals," said RettRasmussen, VP of Rasmussen Gas Log and Grills. "Last year I did one turkey in the oven and one in a fryer. The year before I did one in the fryer and one on the grill. We never have the same stale holiday dinner."

Minden Grill recommendsMinden Grill recommends promoting holiday gift ideas to remind consumers to use their grills off season.

     Both Rasmussen and Marks have gone even further a field, grilling steaks and prime rib for their Christmas dinners. The main course isn't the only holiday dish getting the grill treatment, either.
     Jaime Aguirre and his wife, Ginger, own Ginger's Kitchenware in Bend, Ore., where they have seen holiday sales of grilling accessories increase over the last few years, even when the economy there wasn't great.
     "There's definitely been an uptick in sales of accessories that help take traditional holiday foods and give them more robust flavor," said Aguirre. "It's the side dishes and appetizers that they really want to punch up by roasting outdoors."
     Aguirre says his customers have learned that using the grill has given them an added convenience many consumers may not consider. It frees up space in the kitchen.
     "We try to get our customers to rethink a piece of equipment they thought was seasonal," Aguirre said. "If we're entertaining and want to keep things warm but need the oven, you can warm up the grill and use it as a holding vessel. Anything you can put in a casserole that can fit in the grill at low heat will work."
     While Rasmussen enjoys fair holiday weather in Southern California and the climate in Bend is generally sunny in November and December, holiday grilling is happening even in places where the weather doesn't cooperate.
     "I'm doing classes coast to coast, from Arizona to Pennsylvania to upstate New York," Marks said. "Last Christmas, I got call from a guy smoking full prime rib during a blizzard in New Jersey."
     For the record, that customer asked what temperature the finished meat should be and how much charcoal should he use, not whether or not he should be outside grilling in the first place. Marks said he heard back from the customer later. The prime rib came out perfect.IT FREES UP SPACE IN THE KITCHEN.
     "I spoke to a couple of customers last winter who shoveled out their grills to use them," said Clint Stanley, general manager of Minden Grill Company. "I think the biggest factor in using the grill has more to do with the flavor of grilling than the weather or anything else."
     But those consumers tend to be enthusiasts. As Aguirre mentioned earlier, the trick is getting casual grillers to see their grills as all-season instruments. For many dealers, that means getting them into the store at a time of the year they normally don't visit.
     "You can send postcards to customers who may have bought fireplace products," said Rasmussen. "It could be invite or a coupon. You can use Facebook or other social media to send out that same message. It's all about mining your existing customer base."
     To draw new customers, Minden recommends promoting holiday gift ideas.
     "If someone buys one of our grills in the summer, they'll buy accessories in the winter," said Minden. "We have some accessories, like a pizza stone, that we sell a lot of as gifts. I think the holiday season is when the accessories market jumps up."
     Aguirre agrees, adding that recipients who enjoy their gift end to come back to buy it for others.
     "Right now, there's a trend in grilling vegetable baskets," he said. "Someone who has never used a product like that but gets one and thinks, ‘Why didn't I think of this?' because it corrals everything and works easily. They're likely to purchase an item like that for family and friends and encourage them to use it."
     Once dealers get customers into their stores, Marks suggests plenty of education.
     "You make your customer the expert [on holiday grilling], and you do that with classes and demos to show them how to do it," he said. "Dealers have to understand you can't put a blurb on your front window and give them a recipe. Dealers who are winning are the ones who are educating."
     That doesn't necessarily mean cooking classes. Aguirre said he and Ginger like to give their customers ideas about incorporating into holiday dishes foods they'd typically grill in the summer, such as corn and peppers.
     "We also try to get customers away from the idea that certain foods need to be prepared a certain way," he said. "You can take a winter squash, slice it thin and put it on the grill. Most of the folks who are already into grilling have the technique down. All you need to do is give them the idea."
     Aguirre said they used to pack up all their seasonal grilling accessories right after Labor Day. Now, they wouldn't dare.
     "We'll move it to a less prominent place, but it's better to have it out because I know folks will come in through the winter," he said.
     Like Marks, Aguirre has seen firsthand how interest in holiday grilling has grown. In his town, all it takes is a clear day to get people craving the smoky flavor only the grill can offer.

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