Excitement at the Expo
By Lisa Readie Mayer
The hearth, patio, and barbecue industry’s family reunion – a.k.a. HPBExpo – took place March 13-16 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas. The location, in the heart of barbecue country, was fitting for the many outdoor-cooking manufacturers and retailers who convened at the 40th annual event. “It’s our great, big, dysfunctional family gathering,” joked outgoing HPBA chairperson Amie Ryan, of Ryan Bros. Chimney Sweeping, Roseville, California.
Indeed, for grill manufacturers such as Rachael Best, president of Thermal Engineering Corporation (TEC), the chance to reunite with an extended family of industry partners is a highlight of the annual conference.
“I love coming to this show and always look forward to visiting with dealers from all over the country,” she said. “We bring our family to work in our booth, and we enjoy meeting with our dealers’ families. There are so many wonderful, down-to-earth, and really pleasant people in the hearth and barbecue industry. This might be a big industry in terms of dollars, but it’s small in terms of relationships.”
It is a sentiment shared by many. Although a number of the 380-plus exhibitors noted lower foot traffic than last year’s Expo in Nashville, most reported a positive experience. “The show’s been great,” said Scott Moody, chief Marketing officer for PK Grill, the new-and-improved rebrand of the beloved, nearly 70-year-old, cast-aluminum, Portable Kitchen grill. “We don’t do many shows, but this market is important to us. We have a lot of great dealers in Texas, and this show should help us double that number.”
Tom Nitz, senior vice president at Modern Home Products (MHP), said the company’s new Dragon Fire line was getting a lot of attention at Expo. “We’ve had good traffic in our booth and have gotten high-quality leads,” he says. “It’s been a very good show. Winter has lasted so long in much of the country, and consumers are in the doldrums. There is pent-up demand to get outside. I think that bodes well for the barbecue industry this year.”
With that in mind, manufacturers took advantage of the opportunity to introduce new products, get feedback on prototypes in development, and listen to dealers’ wish lists. Some key trends emerged on the show floor.
Pellet grills continue to be hot, with new manufacturers entering the increasingly crowded field. Coyote Outdoor Living won a Vesta Award for its premium, stainless-steel, pellet grill with a gravity-fed hopper and auger system incorporated within the grill cabinet for a streamlined look.
Dansons launched its new Founders Series by Louisiana Grills, a stepped-up line for specialty retailers developed in collaboration with pellet-industry pioneer Joe Traeger.
Landmann’s unique pellet kettle grill joins a wealth of other companies showcasing pellet cookers in a range of styles and price points, including Memphis Wood Fire Grills, Twin Eagles, Camp Chef, Green Mountain Grills, Smoke-n-Hot, Z Grills, Outlaw Smokers, Smokin Brothers, and the pellet-and-gas-combo Black Earth Hybrid Grill.
|4K Charcoal Barbeque from Everdure.|
There is still plenty of love for the kamado category, with products displayed in a wide range of sizes, shapes, finishes, fuels, and feature sets. Everdure by Heston Blumenthal’s uniquely shaped 4K Electric Ignition Charcoal Barbeque, a Vesta Award finalist, was a show-stopper with its unique angular shape, colorful powder-coated-aluminum exterior, electric ignition, and digital controls.
Traffic was heavy at the Big Green Egg booth, with dealers hot for the company’s new modular, outdoor-kitchen islands. Kamado Joe, sharing space with its new sister company Masterbuilt Manufacturing, introduced a host of new features and accessories, while Golden’s Cast Iron displayed its Cast Iron Cooker, a Made-in-America, virtually indestructible kamado.
The new Blaze Combo Cart positions a stainless-steel kamado alongside a gas grill in a stainless-steel cart. ICON Grills offers gas- and pellet-fuel quick-change-out drawers, as well as a new smoking accessory, and Adrenaline Barbecue Company’s Slow ’N Sear Deluxe Kamado uniquely incorporates two-zone cooking capability.
Manufacturers are making it easier than ever for specialty retailers to sell outdoor kitchens. Modular, ready-to-assemble, or otherwise turnkey options are now available in a host of finishes, sizes, and price points, making the Outdoor Room concept accessible to a much wider audience, including Millennials.
Outdoor kitchen lines on the show floor included Forshaw’s Exterus, Napoleon’s Oasis, NatureKast Weatherproof Cabinetry, Hestan Outdoor Kitchen Suites, Urban Bonfire Outdoor Kitchens, Grillnetics’ Outdoor Kitchen Cabinet Systems, TRU Innovative Outdoor’s One-Hour Outdoor Kitchen, Wellspring Bar-B-Que cabinets, Challenger Designs grill cabinets, BBQ Coach DIY Outdoor Kitchens, Bull Outdoor Products Islands, Fire Magic Island Systems, and Cal Flame’s Full Outdoor Kitchen Modular Units.
Manufacturers also are responding to the growing trend of live-fire cooking over wood or natural charcoal. Among the live-fire appliances at Expo were the Wood Fired GrOven grill-oven, Ñuke Paraná Argentinian-style grill, PK Grill, American Muscle Grill, Kudu Grill, Cajun Preaux, Everdure by Heston Blumenthal’s Hub, Fusion and Cube models, and wood-fired ovens by DeliVita and Fontana Forni.
|Firepod Pizza Oven.|
Expo 2019 proved that great things come in small packages. First seen at Expo last year, steakhouse-style, tabletop, infrared, steak cookers are gaining traction, with models now offered by Otto Wilde, Landmann, Inferno by Northfire, and The Beefer, whose Porsche Beefer earned a finalist distinction in the Vesta Awards.
Other small, but mighty-in-sales-potential products included the Gizzo Grill, a portable unit that folds into a briefcase-sized tote, and the Firepod Portable Pizza Oven & Grill with two reversible pizza stones and optional interchangeable cooking surfaces. The Pop-Up Fire Pit, a lightweight, leave-no-trace fire pit, sets up in minutes, burns wood or charcoal, and totes in a sling bag like a camp chair.
|Ninar Grill MG52.|
On the opposite end of the spectrum was the over-the-top, show-stopping Ninar Grill MG52. Imported from Lebanon, the uniquely shaped, stainless-steel grill is hand-embossed with intricate patterns and accented with 24-karat-gold details; no two grills are alike. The hybrid grills, popular in the Middle East, are fueled by gas and charcoal, and feature a rotating shish-kebob rack, rotisserie system, and height-adjustable cooking grid and ventilation hood.
There were dozens more why-didn’t-I-think-of-that, problem-solving products at Expo. Some were recognized at Hearth & Home magazine’s 19th Annual Vesta Awards’ wine reception and ceremony, honoring excellence in innovation in design and technology.
If ever there was a doubt that passion burns hot in the barbecue industry, one need only to have listened to the heartfelt – and often tearful – acceptance speeches given by Vesta winners. It is abundantly clear that barbecue manufacturers are investing considerable heart, soul, sweat, and equity into creating innovative products that are exciting for specialty retailers and consumers alike.
|CasusGrill by Lavaca.|
The CasusGrill, a lightweight, biodegradable, charcoal grill made of cardboard and bamboo, that fits in a backpack and cooks at 600-degree temperatures for an hour, took top honors in the Charcoal/Wood Barbecues category. The Ooni Koda, a uniquely designed, gas-fired, tabletop pizza oven that reaches 900 degrees in 10 minutes, took the prize in the Gas Barbecues category.
|The All-in-1 BBQ by House of BBQ Experts.|
In the Barbecue Accessories category, House of BBQ Experts’ All-in-1, enabling smoking, rotissing, pizza-cooking, and more on a standard charcoal kettle grill, claimed top honors. Other awards went to the previously mentioned Coyote Pellet Grill from Coyote Outdoor Living, The Ultimate Outdoor Game Cabinet from NatureKast Weatherproof Cabinetry, and the Solaira Ziro Disc Radiant Heater from Solaira Radiant Systems.
Education and Extra-Curriculars
The Vesta Awards stage was also a platform for Operation BBQ Relief (OBR) co-founder Stan Hays to update the industry on the organization’s good works. This year, the group served 1.2 million barbecue meals – along with a side of human kindness – to first responders and displaced residents in the aftermath of natural disasters in Florida, North Carolina, California and other states. To date, OBR’s 7,500 volunteers have served 3 million meals over 54 disasters in 25 states, according to Hays, a 2018 CNN Heroes Award finalist.
This year, the group is expanding its mission through the new “Always Serving” program. Spearheaded by former Green Beret Jarrid “Jay” Collins, the program focuses on supporting the military, first-responders, and homeless- and hunger-related causes year-round. Collins kicks off the Always Serving program April 28 with a 3,000-mile run/bike/hand-cycle trek from Los Angeles through Phoenix, San Antonio, Houston, and other cities, before winding up in Tampa on June 20 to coincide with the start of the DOD Warrior Games, in which Collins, an amputee, will compete.
|HearthStone's Patio Oven.|
“The hearth and barbecue industry has been an invaluable partner to Operation BBQ Relief and we are grateful for the support,” said Hays. “We invite everyone to come out and run or bike with Jay on a leg of the tour. We hope companies will continue to partner with us to support the work we do helping people during times of disaster, and now, year-round during non-disaster times, as well.” (Email email@example.com about getting involved.)
The four-day Expo also included a full slate of education sessions with valuable, implementable ideas, tips, and strategies to help barbecue retailers succeed. Topics covered how to effectively market the Outdoor Room; create a better website; leverage HPBA’s “Why I Grill” social-media campaign; connect with female customers better; and prepare for a media interview or television appearance.
In a lively Keynote Address sponsored by Napoleon Products, Mike Holmes, star of the hit DIY Network show “Holmes on Homes,” shared insight into building and remodeling trends and mishaps, and encouraged industry professionals to follow his mantra: Make it Right.
It wouldn’t be a family reunion without food and fun, and HPBExpo did not disappoint in either category. The rockin’ Expo Tailgate Party in the Outdoor Burn area featured appearances by the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and mascot Rowdy. The outdoor exhibitors were exceptional hosts, with many serving up cocktails and delicious grilled fare that ranged from Texas brisket and hot links, to wood-fire-cooked pizza.
This outdoor extravaganza also featured the annual Big Green Egg Cookoff, which pitted six teams competing for best dish prepared in one hour on the Big Green Egg. Celebrity barbecue chef and cookbook author Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe emceed the event, and Carolyn Wells (co-founder and executive director of the Kansas City Barbeque Society), Eddie Deen (proprietor of Eddie Deen’s Ranch), and Sterling Smith (champion pitmaster of Loot N’ Booty BBQ) had the difficult task of judging.
|Winners of the Big Green Egg Cook-Off competition were Dan Ferguson and Brian Rush of Premier Grilling, shown here flanking Jack Goldman, president of the HPBA.
Photo: ©2019 HPBA STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER.
Dallas is cattle country, so not surprisingly, beef was the star ingredient in many of the teams’ dishes, including Grilled Ribeye with Charred Broccolini and Bourbon-Berry Cobbler; Steak Tacos with Grilled Tomatoes, Scallions and Peppers; and Trio of Gourmet Sliders featuring Filet Mignon, Crab Cake and Pimento Cheese Burgers.
When the results were tallied, the surf-and-turf combo of Grilled Beef Tenderloin, Grilled Lobster Tails, and Lobster Risotto by Team PG OG BBQ from Dallas-area retailer Premier Grilling took home the honors. After the judging, lucky attendees lined up to sample the mouthwatering (and highly Instagrammable!) dishes and talk technique with the teams.
Before the winners were announced, Ingrid and Wolfgang Schroeter, founders and owners of Napoleon Products, were honored with the Donna H. Myers Barbecue Industry Leadership Award. Presented in memory of Myers, an industry veteran and advocate who helped promote the barbecue category for decades, the eighth-annual award recognizes recipients for their significant industry contribution and leadership.
|Ingrid and Wolfgang Schroeter, founders and owners of Napoleon Products, were honored with the Donna H. Myers Barbecue Industry Leadership Award.
Photo: ©2019 HPBA STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER.
The Schroeters, who launched the first Napoleon grill in 1995 as an off-season complement to their hearth lines, now have one of the largest barbecue offerings in the industry, an extensive international dealer network, and 1,600 employees. The pair are innovators, thought leaders, and ardent industry supporters, and have contributed their time and talents to HPBA for many years.
Daily in the Outdoor Burn area, the Kansas City Barbeque Society hosted the Great American Cookout, a series of cooking demos designed to help retailers increase their knowledge of outdoor cooking, and conduct better grilling demonstrations at their stores. Topics included how to use spice rubs effectively; a comparison of gas, pellet and charcoal fuels; cooking the Thanksgiving turkey; and how to butcher a pork loin.
|Mike Peters, Great American Cookout Tour co-director for the Kansas City Barbeque Society.|
As the key barbecue selling-season gets underway, Brad Barrett, owner of GrillGrate, left the show feeling energized and positive. “I am very optimistic about independent retailers,” he said. “In spite of all the hype about online shopping, consumers still like to go to the store and smell the smoke. You can’t get that online.”
Next year, the barbecue-industry family will reunite March 11-14, 2020 in New Orleans, a location that has traditionally been a big draw for Expo. This trade show is a must for every retailer in the outdoor cooking business. It is an invaluable opportunity to discover exciting new products and learn tips to differentiate and grow your business.
As the ebullient Max Lavoie, co-owner of BBQ Québec retail stores and manufacturer of House of BBQ Experts accessories, said this week, “We are going to change the world one barbecue at a time.”
For that to happen, you must be at the show.