• Jennifer Bringle

All Fired Up

Pushing The Outer Limits Of Grill Gadgets And Technology

Walking The Show Floor Of The Recent HPBExpo in Nashville, one thing was immediately clear – the grill industry is in the midst of a tech boom.

In a time when people are glued to their smartphones, tablets and other tech devices, grill manufacturers have started embracing technology and incorporating it in a number of new products. Be it lighting and more intuitive controls on the actual grills themselves to smartphone apps that allow consumers to monitor their grill from elsewhere in the house, forwardthinking products utilizing the latest technology are designed to appeal to an increasingly gadgetcentric consumer market.

“I think we are a society that embraces technology, and you see that in every aspect of our living. Certainly that’s true of the outdoor kitchen as well,” said Jerry Scott, senior vice president, RH Peterson Co. “I see things like thermostatically controlled grills where you can set the temperature and control the heat or grills that are hooked up to Wi-Fi. The only limitation is the limitation of our imagination.”

WIRELESS WONDERS

Arguably one of the most talked-about introductions at the Expo was the new EDGE grill from Saber.

Part of the company’s line of premium infrared gas grills, the EDGE gives grillers real time cooking information – grill temperature, burner on/off status, fuel levels and battery life of the LCD screen – via an app that is compatible with Android and iOS smartphones and tablets. The app also gives alerts for pre-heat readiness, temperature changes and when the grill is cool enough for cleaning, as well as offering a range of recipes and instructional videos along with the capability to share information via social media channels such as Facebook.

The EDGE is just the latest addition to a growing trend of wireless capability built into grills.

In 2013, MAK Grills introduced its MAK Grills Mobile technology, which allows cooks to operate their grill – changing and setting temperature, setting meat probe alerts and receiving text or email notifications – using any device with a Web browser. Bruce Bjorkman, director of sales and marketing at MAK Grills, said the company didn’t realize how popular the technology would be with consumers.

The Fire Magic Diamond Echelon grill from RH Peterson Co., offers backlit safety knobs, hot surface ignition and a Magic View window for viewing food without raising the lid. The Fire Magic
The Saber The Saber Edge grill can be monitored via a smartphone app.

“When we introduced MAK Grills Mobile, we knew it would become a big accessory for us, but it surprised us how big it was – it became one of our top five selling accessories,” he said. “In the last two years, technology has started becoming more of a part of the grill world. Now we’re seeing Saber’s EDGE gas grill, which uses the app to monitor the grill, Green Mountain just came out with a Wi-Fi system, and Boneless Grills from Spain has introduced touchpad control and a phone app to both monitor and operate their grill.”

Bjorkman noted that while the wireless technology appeals to a younger consumer – older Millennials and Generation Xers who have more disposable income and a penchant for gadgets – he’s also noticed older grill owners who also have adopted new technology.

“It appeals to all ages of grill users,” he said. “We have a guy in his 70s in Astoria whom you wouldn’t think MAK Grills Mobile would appeal to, but he has embraced it and loves it, and he’ll call us and tell us how much he loves using it. We love to hear that.”

No matter the age of the griller, convenience is a driving force behind the use of these new wireless technologies.

“It all revolves around convenience; it’s a way to make the outdoor cooking experience more convenient and more fun,” Bjorkman said. “People appreciate the ability to not have to be around the grill the whole time and to be able to see the meat temperature, etc., by just looking at their laptop, phone or tablet.”

SMART COOKING

While incorporating new technology is definitely a trend, grill companies are taking care to avoid adding a lot of unnecessary bells and whistles just for technology’s sake.

“It’s a leading trend among a base of younger consumers, and there’s certainly an acceptance of the technology for us as outdoor kitchen manufacturers, but we’re being careful to not use technology in a way that’s not meaningful,” said Brian Eskew, marketing director, Twin Eagles. “You’ll never hear us in a conference room sitting around a table talking about technology. We just don’t think about it that way. For us, it really comes back to that question of are you really making the experience better for the consumer? Are you making their food taste better? If we’re going to do it, the execution has to be flawless.”

MAK Grills’ 3 Star General wood pellet grill features independently controlled dual firepots, a front load pellet hopper and is Wi-Fi capable for use with the MAK Grills Mobile wireless control system. MAK Grills’ 3 Star General
The latest grill from Twin Eagles Created specifically for brick-and-mortar stores, the Elite Grill from Bull Outdoor Products features the company’s ReliaBull Heating Technology, a proprietary accessory developed by Bull to eliminate hot spots on the surface of typical grills. 

That philosophy was put into practice in Twin Eagles’ latest grill, which is so new it is still, at this writing, unnamed. The grill’s space-age look includes continuous gradient illumination of the control panel to facilitate nighttime grilling, along with burner zones equipped with a thermocouple and control knobs with LED indicator lights. When the burners are ignited, the LED indicators on the knobs start out blue; when the burner reaches 140 degrees, the LED changes to yellow, then orange, then red as the temperature increases. This allows the cook to accurately gauge burner temperatures for optimal cooking heat.

“One of the things that we get asked a lot is to make it easier to determine the temperature of your grill,” Eskew said. “What we wanted to do was think about the right way to communicate the grill surface temperature to consumers. The very first thing you need to do before you start grilling is let your grill get hot. What that LED readout is doing is letting you know your grill is hot and ready to cook.

“If you want to do something that doesn’t need as much heat, like fish or vegetables, you can physically dial down that temperature after preheating.”

RH Peterson Co. shares that philosophy of practical innovation. The company takes a pragmatic approach when developing new technologies for its grills and outdoor kitchen equipment.

“There are three basic factors that we look at when we do research and development,” said Scott . “Operationally, we want to make a better grill that’s more enjoyable to use, easier to cook with, holds temperature better and has better temperature control. Durability and reliability in the grilling environment is another important factor since the outdoors is a pretty hostile environment, so we’re looking to make the grill and any innovation reliable and able to last in that environment. And the other key factor is safety – we want to be sure anything we do isn’t going to compromise safety.”

A good example of this is the company’s Fire Magic Diamond Echelon grill, which offers innovations such as backlit safety knobs, hot surface ignition and a Magic View window to allow cooks to see their food without raising the lid.

USER FRIENDLY

With all the technological innovations grill companies are implementing, the influx of new models with increasingly more complex features may seem a bit overwhelming to some retailers. But Bjorkman stressed that retailers need to do their best to stay at the fore of the tech movement in grilling.

Alfresco Home’s new Fervor Grills feature GrillSmart technology, which drains away fat while food is cooking, and provide a self-cleaning system that burns off fats, oils and any remaining residue after cooking.  Alfresco Home’s
The latest grill from Twin Eagles The latest grill from Twin Eagles was designed to make cooking easier with a continuous gradient illuminated control panel to facilitate nighttime grilling and burner zones equipped with a thermocouple and control knobs with LED indicator lights.

“Retailers need to understand that technology is not going away, it’s only going to increase, and you need to seriously look at the grill lines that have this technology because they’re leading the way,” Bjorkman said. “If you’re not carrying those items, you’re behind.”

He added retailers must do their homework before putting these new models on the showroom floor. Today’s consumers, especially those who are interested in technology, are more informed than ever, and they often do their owwn research before stepping foot into a store. So, it’s more crucial than ever that salespeople on the retail floor have the proper training and education so that they can explain and demonstrate how these new grills work.

And for grill companies, it’s the response of those consumers that push the continued development of innovative features and new technologies.

“I think it’s all about the customer,” Scott said. “Outdoor grilling is more than just a task; it’s a form of recreation. We want it to be as enjoyable as possible from the time you start the grill to the time you serve the food. We work to make that experience the best it can be.”

Image of Jennifer BringleJennifer Bringle | Features Editor, Casual Living
jbringle@casualliving.com

Jennifer Bringle is the features editor of Casual Living. She previously served as an editor and reporter at a number of publications, including Kids Today, AAA Living Magazine, The News & Observer of Raleigh and Carolina Parent. Her work also has appeared in The Washington Post, Southern Living, Our State and The News & Record of Greensboro, and she is the author of several non-fiction books for middle and high school-aged children.  Contact her at jbringle@casualliving.com

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