Barbecue in/the Big Easy
By Lisa Readie Mayer
Photos: ©2016 George Long Photography. www.georgelong.com.
If the sentiment at HPBExpo 2016 in New Orleans is any indication, it’s a great time to be in the barbecue and outdoor living business. The city known for food and fun was the perfect backdrop to showcase the latest in grills, accessories and outdoor kitchen products on the show floor. And, for those who saved room between the beignets and gumbo, there was a lot of good cooking going on in the outdoor burn area – everything from wood-fired pizza to smoked turkey to ribs that would inspire NOLA’s native son Louis Armstrong to sing.
In fact, an Armstrong-inspired jazz band led a parade through the Expo Tailgate Party and Big Green Egg Cookoff in the outdoor burn area Thursday night. The fun evening, a gloriously warm and sunny affair after last year’s frigid and snowy party in Nashville, was complete with costumed characters riding on floats, stilt walkers, New Orleans Saints’ cheerleaders, and lots and lots of iconic Mardi Gras beads.
|The Big Green Egg’s Cook-off competition.|
“I think the show is really growing and reflects the great enthusiasm within the barbecue industry right now,” says Brad Barrett, president of GrillGrate, makers of anodized aluminum grilling grates that amplify heat and vaporization. “The industry is booming and there is so much innovation happening. It’s very encouraging.”
In fact, innovation was a common trend among the barbecue products introduced at Expo; R&D departments were clearly working overtime this year. Grill industry newcomer Meyer Corporation earned a Vesta Award for the gas barbecue category, as well as the “Best in Show” award for its Hestan Grill, a heavy-duty, made-in-America grill modeled after the company’s successful restaurant appliance line. The grill has earned multiple patents for its unique Trellis burner system; rotisserie motor and storage system; spring-assisted lid that holds open at any height; diamond-cut grilling grids; motion-sensor interior grill lighting; ceramic briquette heat distribution system; and other features.
Pellet grill innovator MAK Grills added to its Vesta hardware for its new Mini Mak grill and patented FlashFire ceramic ignition system designed to speed heat-up times and virtually eliminate igniter component failures. Caliber introduced the Rockwell Social Grill with a patented hood design that recesses into the grill base, allowing the cook an unobstructed view of guests when built into an outdoor kitchen.
The KBQ from Karubecue LLC, takes the traditional orientation of fire to the food and literally turns it on its head. The Vesta-winning “stick burner” has a patented “Inverted Flame” firebox mounted on the top of the unit and other patented systems to draw pure smoke and heat automatically into the cooker, taking the difficulty out of cooking with real wood. With each unit currently manufactured by hand by inventor Bill Karau, the company is looking to license its patents to a manufacturer.
The latest creation from infrared grill originator Bill Best, the Sterling Patio by Thermal Engineering Corporation (TEC) incorporates a patented two-chamber burner that achieves temperature ranges previously unavailable on an infrared grill, from 200 to 900 degrees. Besides high-heat grilling capability, other cooking surfaces swap out to convert it to a pizza oven, smoker, roaster or griddle.
|The very impressive display at the Blaze Outdoor Products booth.|
The patented design of the BĀK N GRILL from BNR Technology Development positions the gas burner in an offset fire box, preventing flare ups because food is never near the flame. The grill also incorporates a unique gas oven compartment for baking. The company is looking to sell or license the technology. The patent-pending Uuni pizza oven is fueled by wood pellets fed through a hopper on the top of the stainless-steel tabletop oven. The removable stone floor heats in 10 minutes and cooks pizzas in 90 seconds with a hint of wood smoke from the pellets. At only 24 pounds, the unit is portable for tailgating or camping and at $299 retail it expands the entry point for the pizza oven category. Another innovative pizza oven is the Alsace Grill, with a tilt-back pizza oven component that reveals a grilling grid for direct-grilling over the fire.
Camp Chef’s Vesta-nominated Smoke Pro BBQ Sear Box, is a side-burner searing system with a cast-iron cooking grid that adds searing and reverse-searing capabilities to its pellet grills. And, the Aquaforno is a patented, telescoping grill, smoker and pizza oven with a built-in hot water faucet that has the ability to boil a quart of water in 10 minutes.
Cooking over solid fuels – wood, charcoal and pellets – has become an exciting and growing part of the industry. With a distinctive front panel inspired by a ’69 Shelby Mustang, the new American Muscle Grill from Summerset Professional Grills can handle charcoal briquettes, lump charcoal, wood or gas fuels. The American-made grill is big, powerful and heavy-duty – the grill head alone weighs 265 lbs. and the rotisserie can handle 100 lbs. of meat. “It’s a bad-ass grill and our booth was packed all the time,” says Wes Aikin, Summerset’s “Grillin’ Villain.”
The powerful kamado category is seeing the next generation of products, with cookers now made from a variety of materials and accommodating various fuels. Vision Grills was a Vesta finalist for its Vision Hybrid Gas and Charcoal Kamado Grill with interchangeable gas drawer system to convert easily between one fuel and the other. Golden’s Cast Iron Kamado features a patent-pending design and is constructed of cast iron to optimize durability, even heating and heat retention. The Galaxy Rocket Kamado, which company president Bruce Spangrud calls the “Faberge of Smokers,” is a hybrid unit that cooks over gas, wood, charcoal and propane and features a high-end mosaic design. The Caliber kamado grill is made from insulated stainless steel and has a patented flue design and integrated rotisserie system.
Portable kamados are the latest incarnation in the category with units light enough for tailgating or camping, such as the new Primo to Go by Primo, and the Joe Jr. by Kamado Joe joining the Mini Max by Big Green Egg introduced last year. Grill Dome offers a new Tailgate Kit for easy transporting of its small-sized unit, and the opportunity to custom-order the cooker with customer’s choice of glossy team colors with a 10-day turnaround.
Innovative new kamado accessories abounded too. One was the JoeTisserie, an aftermarket rotisserie unit designed to fit a standard kamado grill. The brainchild of retailer-turned-inventor Gary Bertassi and partner Joe Skrodzski captured a Vesta Award for innovation, and a lot of buzz on the floor.
New pellet grill company, Black Earth, introduced the Black Earth Hybrid gas-and-pellet grill, allowing the user to sear directly over high heat, grill with wood smoke, or cook low-and-slow using pellet fuel only. Its unique cylindrical hopper is fed through a sleeve of pellets, making it easy to switch out flavor varieties. Premium pellet grill manufacturer Memphis Wood Fire Grills now offers a WiFi controller for Cloud management of the grill from virtually anywhere, evidence of the growing high-tech trend across the board in outdoor cooking appliances.
The Pit Barrel Cooker, a charcoal grill in a porcelain-coated-steel drum, proves that sometimes “simple” works great too. The cooker incorporates a hinged cooking grate with rebar rods from which to hang racks of ribs, sausage, or whole chickens.
Greater Range in Price Points
A wealth of new grills and outdoor kitchen products were introduced at lower price points, offering a new opportunity for dealers to differentiate themselves from Big Box stores and expand their customer base. “We see the value-priced category growing exponentially,” according to Brian Eskew of Twin Eagles. The company introduced the Del Sol line to provide a more entry-level complement to its existing mid-priced Delta Heat and premium Twin Eagles lines. Napoleon introduced its new entry-priced Rogue series with three models ranging between $649 and $949. “This gives us a whole new customer base, and from the bookings we’ve done at the show, we expect it to be a very successful line,” says national accounts manager Mark Cliffe.
|Napoleon’s barbecue display, at one of the few times there was a lull in traffic.|
Coyote Outdoors showcased a full line of value-priced outdoor kitchen components designed to make outdoor kitchens an achievable option for more consumers. Galaxy introduced affordably priced, modular island components, delivered unfinished on a dolly in up to seven-foot sections. The modular pieces have leveling legs and bolt together much faster than traditional smaller modular components.
Further expanding the audience for outdoor kitchens, Sunset Bay Outdoor has teamed with electric grill manufacturer Kenyon International to offer a powder-coated aluminum outdoor kitchen that, at about 200 pounds, is compact and lightweight enough for apartment and condo balconies. It comes knocked down in panels, can be delivered by UPS in flat boxes to fit in an elevator, and is easily and quickly assembled with thumb screws – no tools needed. The marine-grade, 304 stainless-steel electric grill runs on either a 120 or 240 outlet and has patented technology that positions the heating element directly in contact with the cooking grid to reach temperatures of 600 degrees.
Another great option for outdoor kitchens in multi-family dwellings is the Wall Mount BBQ from Smart. The 304-stainless-steel electric unit is mounted to an exterior wall and folds down when not in use to conserve space. It runs off a 120 volt outlet, reaches 600 degree temperatures on its ceramic cooktop surface, and the dishwasher-safe hood tilts back to become a backsplash to protect the house from splatters.
Barbecue Has a Heart
During the Expo, Stan Hays was honored with the Donna H. Myers Barbecue Leadership Award for his work as a founder of Operation BBQ Relief (OBR), a disaster-relief organization that cooks and serves hot barbecued meals to areas impacted by natural disasters. Ironically, during the Expo, OBR was deployed just outside the city in Monroe, Louisiana, serving over 40,000 meals to first responders and residents displaced by severe flooding. Since it was founded five years ago, OBR, the official charity of HPBA and many individual companies within the hearth, patio and barbecue industries, has served nearly 700,000 meals during 145 days of deployments in 18 states.
Finally, barbecue retailers and manufacturers are encouraged to tie into HPBA’s marketing activities by sharing messages through their own marketing and social media campaigns. Themes and activities for 2016 include a social media quiz “What’s Your BBQ IQ?” timed for National Barbecue Month in May; a summer-timed “Barbecue Your Breakfast” effort encouraging families to cook breakfast on the grill one Saturday a month; and a “Barbecue Your Produce” campaign in the fall promoting grilled vegetables. Look for materials and information from HPBA’s marketing agency Harvest PR throughout the year, suitable for sharing on social media. When we all share the same messages with consumers, the messages will spread exponentially to promote the category, and maybe even “go viral.”
Looks like a banner year for the barbecue business!