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Hearth & Home April 2018

News from Nashville

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Photos: ©2018 Amiee Stubbs Photography.

A report from the barbecue beat at Expo 2018 shows that new companies and new products are combining to power the industry.

Music City was music to the ears of exhibitors and attendees at last month’s 39th annual Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association Expo. With its vibrant music, nightlife, and restaurant scenes, Nashville is always a popular destination for the show, according to HPBA’s president and CEO Jack Goldman, and this year was no exception.

“This was the largest show in the past three years,” he said. “Attendance was up 25% over 2017. There was a very heavy presence of barbecue-and outdoor-living-related exhibitors on the show floor.”

Barbecue dealers who came to town early to take advantage of the education sessions, took home a wealth of practical and implementable ideas for building their businesses. Keynote speaker Dave Brown showed how fireplaces, fire pits and outdoor kitchens can enhance a home’s “Hot Spots,” to create relaxing, entertaining, and food-centric hubs that draw people together for memorable moments.

Other seminars of interest to barbecue and Outdoor Room dealers included sessions on incorporating fire features in outdoor living spaces; connecting with architects, designers, builders, and other specifiers; using social media marketing to gain customers and grow sales; and improving the in-store customer experience.

Expo was full of exciting events with opportunities for networking, enjoying good food, catching up with old friends, and having fun. Thursday evening featured the 7th Annual HPBExpo Tailgate Party in the Outdoor Burn Area, with barbecue exhibitors rolling out the welcome mat, conducting cooking demos, and serving up tasty bites against a soundtrack of live music from the outdoor stage.

OFYR Grills booth in the outdoor burn area.

In the Jack Daniel’s Experience mobile distillery trailer, visitors could see firsthand how the iconic Tennessee whiskey is made, before gathering under the neighboring big-top tent to check out the action at the Big Green Egg Cookoff. The event, emceed by Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe and judged by Operation BBQ Relief co-founder Stan Hays, Kansas City Barbeque Society executive director Carolyn Wells, and celebrity chef and “Grill of Victory” television show host Kevin Roberts, pitted six teams representing HPBA Regional Affiliates in an exciting (and tasty!) grilling throw-down.

The party paused for a moment to honor Mark Nureddine with the Donna H. Myers Barbecue Leadership Award, an accolade named for the late barbecue industry marketing pioneer. Nureddine, the founder and CEO of Bull Outdoor Products, was recognized for his contributions to the industry over the past 25 years, including growing the concept of the Outdoor Room through Bull’s high-quality, innovative grills and outdoor kitchen products sold at over 900 dealers in the U.S., Canada, and 15 other countries around the world. He was also recognized for his humanitarian efforts on behalf of Grill for Good, a charitable initiative that’s raised more than $100,000 to build school kitchen facilities and provide lunches for impoverished children in Haiti.

Another Expo highlight was the 18th Annual Vesta Award ceremony Friday evening honoring the industry’s most innovative new hearth, barbecue, and Outdoor Room products. This year’s pool of barbecue-category winners included the Quickchange plug-n-play pellet insert for the Icon Kamado Grill; The SmokePro PG24SG, a versatile and feature-filled pellet cooker from Camp Chef; The Space Grill, a clever wall-mounted, fold-away gas grill from Dimplex North America; The Hub from Everdure by Heston Blumenthal, a modern charcoal grill with a built-in electric starter, recessing rotisserie, and other thoughtful design elements; and the Blaze Outdoor Products Pizza Oven, an oversized and energy-efficient gas-fired pizza oven that incorporates a stainless-steel plate instead of a traditional pizza stone.

Perfect for apartment balconies, condo patios, or other small outdoor living spaces, Coyote Outdoor Living’s Electric Grill Island, a compact, thoughtfully designed outdoor kitchen with tabletop electric grill, built-in refrigerator, dining ledge and two stools, won a Vesta Award for best Outdoor Room Furnishings. The FireStream, a decorative fire-water feature from Stellar Hearth Products, captured both the best Outdoor Hearth Product and Best-in-Show Outdoor Room category awards.

Expo excitement continued with a fun “Barbecue Your Breakfast Tailgate” in the outdoor burn area on Saturday. Sponsored by Napoleon Products, the event showcased inventive breakfast and brunch foods prepared by celebrity grilling expert Andreas Rummel, including pancakes with grilled peaches, pralines and bourbon-infused syrup, and tortilla breakfast roll-ups with chicken sausage and Asian slaw. Not only was the breakfast – and accompanying Bloody Mary bar – a winning start to the final day, it drove home the message that dealers can increase sales by promoting other grilling occasions besides dinner.

Montana Grills. (Villa Olympic)

Exhibitors Ecstatic

Exhibitors were pleased with the traffic, especially on the opening day of the show, and found an audience eager to listen, learn, and buy. In fact, by Saturday afternoon many exhibitors, including Brian Eskew of Twin Eagles, had hoarse voices to go with their sore feet, indicative of numerous conversations with visitors to their booths. “We have been so busy, I haven’t stopped talking since the show started,” Eskew said.

Bobby Brennan, president of Kamado Joe, said his team “didn’t have a minute to sit on Thursday, including the evening Tailgate event in the outdoor burn area.” He added that, “Customers then came back to the booth to place orders on Friday, so we were busy then, too.”

Rachel Best, president of Thermal Engineering Corporation (TEC), said she enjoyed the opportunity to connect and catch up with customers over the three-day show.

“I always love coming to Expo,” she says. “The hearth and barbecue industry is very family-oriented, and I love seeing our customers’ families. In many cases, we started doing business with the grandfather, and now the second generation is bringing the third generation to the show, introducing us to their son or daughter who just graduated college and is joining the business. These are good people you can trust, and we feel like we are part of their extended family.” In keeping with the philosophy, Best brought her sister, brother, son, and daughter to work TEC’s indoor and outdoor booths.

Newcomers, too, were very pleased with the reception they found at Expo. In his second year exhibiting, Cory Civilla, co-owner/CEO of Knob Where You Need It, an aftermarket accessory installed on a gas grill control panel that makes it easier and more convenient to turn the propane tank on and off, said he has made many connections that led to sales and enhanced the design evolution of his product.

First-time exhibitor Lisa Hammel of Graham Outdoor, makers of BBQ Store ’n Serve, a mobile prep, serving, and storage island, said, “There was a huge amount of traffic, on Thursday especially. We had lots of great conversations and leads.”

Jeremy Johnson, co-founder of Traditions Life Products, was thrilled with the interest in his company’s new Table Grill, a patio table with a built-in, interactive, teppanyaki-style grill.

“The first three hours were nonstop and, by then, we had already met our goals for the entire show,” he said. “We even learned some things for possible future adaptations to our product.” Dan Johnson, owner-partner of Wood Pellet Pizza Oven, echoed those sentiments. “The show has been unbelievable,” he said. “We got great orders and picked up a distributor. The first hour and a half paid for the show and the rest was icing on the cake.”

Alfresco Home.

Product Trends

But the real stars of the Expo were the grills, accessories, and Outdoor Room products that studded the convention-center aisles like peanuts in a Nashville-made Goo Goo Cluster. Whether they were outdoor kitchen suites with five-figure price tags, or an impulse-priced grilling accessory, these latest and greatest products were heavy on quality, problem-solving ingenuity, and good design.

Several distinct trends emerged at the show that will impact barbecue retailers in the coming years. Among the strongest trends: Pellet grills. Though they still represent a small percentage of all grills sold, they have attained powerhouse status and, according to last year’s HPBA study, 11% of consumers say it’s the type of grill they plan to buy next. In light of the many pellet grills, accessories, and fuels showcased at Expo, manufacturers are clearly giving the people what they want.

Twin Eagles generated excitement with the introduction of its super-premium pellet grill. The new grill is designed with comparable quality, finish, and features of the company’s other grills and outdoor kitchen appliances, but goes a step beyond in terms of technology. The grill incorporates an intuitive, weatherproof, oversized digital control pad on the front panel that is used to manage and monitor grill and food temperatures, cook times, and smoke levels.

It can be controlled manually or remotely via an app, with infinite temperature settings between 140 and 725 degrees, or the user can press a photo icon of one of 26 foods and the grill will automatically cook it according to the optimum preprogrammed method. The new grill is also a hybrid; the user can place a ceramic-briquette plate over the gas burner for high-heat direct-grilling, or insert a solid-fuel tray for cooking with charcoal.

Twin Eagles joined pellet pioneer Traeger, and other category veterans including Green Mountain Grills, Camp Chef, Louisiana Grills/Pit Boss, Memphis Grills, Pitts & Spitts, and Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster Wood Pellet Grills, exhibiting at Expo. In addition, a number of new pellet-fueled grills, pizza ovens, and hybrid grills exhibited this year, including Black Earth Grills, Uuni Pizza Oven, Wood Pellet Pizza Oven, Vision’s Icon Grill with Quickchange Pellet Insert, and Landmann’s Pellet Kettle.

Vision Grills indoor booth.

Kamados remain a strong presence in the industry. The maturing category is now introducing next-generation models with new tweaks, enhancements, materials, and features to improve the cooking experience. Blaze Outdoor Products showcased its solid cast-aluminum Blaze Kamado with amenities such as a patented tongue-and-groove rim to eliminate the need for a gasket; a built-in rotisserie with coal basket; and an optional rounded shelf, available with or without lights, that creates a handy prep or serving surface.

Saffire has incorporated improvements to its redesigned kamado, including stainless-steel handles, side-shelf, and base to complement gas grills in an outdoor kitchen. Its new steel-encased firebox system allows for more charcoal, better air flow, easy clean-out, and protection against cracking. In addition, the firebox is now designed with individual, high-heat ceramic refractory bricks, so in the unlikely event of a crack, the one individual brick, as opposed to the entire firebox, can easily be replaced.

Kamado Joe has improved the cooking system of its top-of-the-line ProJoe model by adding a new hyperbolic chamber that creates completely even heat across the cooking surface. The 700-lb. kamado now accommodates up to three levels of cooking grids, and sports polished stainless-steel handles, bands, and other exterior details to better coordinate with stainless-steel appliances when built into an outdoor kitchen.

Big Green Egg introduced a wealth of new products and innovative updates to its iconic line. The company completely redesigned its XL EGG, retaining the same cooking capacity but reducing the base height by six inches to make it less imposing, and slashing the MAP price in half. It also redesigned the ConvEGGtor plate with easy lifting handles, and upgraded the rEGGulator cap for more precise temperature control and airflow.

For other full-size EGGs, the new IntEGGrated Nest Handler incorporates a heavy-duty handle as part of the nest stand, making it easier to move the cookers around, and a new Portable Nest for the MiniMax elevates the grill to a more convenient cooking height. Another update: All Big Green Eggs are now NSF certified for use in commercial restaurant kitchens.

The next generation of Outdoor Kitchens is here. The new renditions are increasingly modular, lightweight, low-maintenance, and easier for retailers to sell, design, deliver, and install. Copying the modern designs popular in indoor kitchens, many of today’s outdoor kitchens incorporate sleek lines, casual elegance, and indoor-cabinetry looks. Modular outdoor kitchen companies exhibiting at Expo included Sierra Outdoor Designs, NatureKast Weatherproof Cabinetry, Urban Bonfire Outdoor Kitchens, Forshaw, Gensun, Challenger Outdoor Cabinets, and Stone Age Manufacturing.

BBQ Coach introduced the BBQ Island in a Box, a modular outdoor kitchen kit that includes all the sections of steel framework needed to assemble a four-foot island, shipped in a compact box. The pieces easily screw together to form the island framework before it is custom-finished on site. Multiple modular sections can be joined together to build larger islands and create various configurations.

The Big Green Egg booth.

Grill companies such as Bull, Hestan, Napoleon, Fire Magic, Alfresco, Blaze Outdoor Products, Evo, Primo, Kamado Joe, and Saber Grills offer a variety of island systems designed specifically for their grills. Big Green Egg added to its lineup of cooking islands and hardwood table surrounds, with the innovative, sleek Modular Nest Table Island System. The system’s components include Egg nests, and open, slatted shelving units in choice of stainless steel or three types of wood, all supported by black metal frames. The components easily connect together on the patio in unlimited configurations, and the island can be expanded, rearranged, moved, or reconfigured, and the slats changed out any time.

“The response from dealers has been amazing,” said Jodi Burson, director of Brand Enhancement. “Consumers are replacing their nests with island surrounds to create a more stylish and functional outdoor kitchen on the patio. The outdoor kitchen concept is really growing, but not everyone can do a built-in masonry island. The modular concept makes sense for many people, and is more affordable.”

Reflecting the growing consumer interest in outdoor kitchens and Outdoor Rooms, regardless of income, generation, or home size, manufacturers are broadening offerings in terms of price point, size, and configuration. Coyote Outdoor Living’s aforementioned Electric Grill Island is perfect for luxury apartment balconies, penthouse rooftop spaces, condo patios, or smaller homes where downsizing Baby Boomers are moving.

Graham Outdoor’s compact, mobile serving and storage island makes the outdoor kitchen concept attainable for a first-time homebuyer or others with limited budgets. “As the housing market improves and Millennials are finally starting to buy homes, it is influencing the products being introduced,” explains HPBA’s Goldman.

Color is making a comeback with more brightly colored grills on the show floor than ever this year. Colorful grills are a fun and cheerful alternative to the ubiquitous stainless steel or black finishes, and they appeal to Millennials, according to James McLaughlin of Grill Time, makers of Lotus Grills, available in a number of bright colors. Other manufacturers offering a rainbow of grills include Hestan grills, Everdure by Heston Blumenthal, Weber, Grill Dome, and Icon Grills. This year, Saffire introduced a kamado finished in its namesake hue, and Pit Boss even featured a kamado in “Millennial Pink.”

High technology is infiltrating the historically low-tech cooking techniques of grilling and barbecuing. “Smart grilling” digital controls are now standard on many grills, particularly in the pellet and smoker categories. Now, more and more accessory products are available that can program, monitor and/or manage cook times, temperatures, smoke levels, and more without babysitting the grill.

Products such as Weber’s iGrill, the Flame Boss, and a host of high-tech thermometers from Maverick Housewares, operate via a remote display unit or wireless app, so users can track cooking from the indoor kitchen, lawnmower, or living room with ever-increasing range. These products not only provide backyard chefs with consistent results, but also the assurance that they won’t ruin expensive cuts of meat.

Finally, like every year, a new and unexpected trend emerged at Expo: top-down infrared steak cookers. Taking their design from the high-heat broilers in commercial kitchens, these small, tabletop, gas-fired appliances can cook a steak in minutes at reported temperatures between 800 and 1,700 degrees, creating a restaurant-style crusty sear.

Twin Eagles has offered a top-down infrared broiler unit, its patented Salamangrill, for years. But in Nashville, at least three new companies showcased products based on a similar concept. They include the Inferno by NorthFire, the Over-Fired Broiler (OFB) by Otto Wilde, and the Beefer Grillgeräte. “It’s new and exciting and the latest innovation in the barbecue industry,” says Cary Marx of NorthFire.

You might want to keep this category, along with the other Expo trends, on your radar this year. While you’re at it, book your reservations for HPBExpo 2019 in Dallas!

Twin Eagles.

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