Americans love to grill, and from suburban backyards to estates, rural farms to tiny urban decks, virtually everyone with the outdoor space for it has some kind of grill, from tiny charcoal hibachis to a classic Weber kettle to a multi-burner propane grill. In year-round outdoor living hotspots like Scottsdale and Southern California, more serious cooks have full outdoor kitchens, while the explosion of interest in slow cooked barbecue has seen a corresponding jump in the sales of more complex smokers and once niche grills like the Big Green Egg.
But no matter what grill you have, there is always the temptation that there is some food you could cook even better with a new and different grill, and some folks are running two, three, four or more different fiery cooking apparatuses in their backward. But there’s a very good chance you don’t have any of these cool and unique devices, and acquiring one will make you the envy of the neighborhood.
But be careful what you wish for – once you install one of these bad boys in your yard, you will be expected to entertain, and you might have trouble keeping the guests away.
1. A Taste of Buenos Aires: Argentina is the most barbecue happy country on earth, eating roughly twice the amount of beef per capita as we do in the states – and it is all cooked almost exactly the same way, on a parilla grill over an open fire of chopped wood and logs. Argentina is home to some of the finest cattle producers and steakhouses on the planet, but they take a very different approach, eschewing sauté pan sears and ultra-high temperature commercial broilers for flame grilling, cooking their steaks slowly until thoroughly and evenly cooked, not crusty on the outside like our high-end steakhouses. They go with a constant heat and control it by raising and lowering the grill. It is caveman-simple, yet fun, authentic and delicious. Here in the US, for 30 years a company called Grillworks has been making very heavy-duty, very high quality versions of these traditional Argentinean grills, and they are as functional as they are beautiful – and will last a lifetime. Many are in use at famous hotels and restaurants around the country. They are the best.
Grillworks does many custom jobs, restaurants, kitchens and permanent outdoor installations of all types andsizes, but also make a range of 10 free-standing ready to order grills, including the original Grillery, which launched the company three decades ago. All of these models feature one or two of the signature oversized crankwheels for adjusting grates, are completely made of heavy gauge stainless steel, and feature V-shaped grate bars and lots of smart features for easy cleanup. They that look just like the ones found inside the kitchens of the finest steakhouses in Buenos Aires. These beauties do not come cheap – the entry level original Grillery runs $2,750 and the top of the line home model, the Dual 42 CRE, with two independently controlled grates, is $8,875. Their top of the line Infierno has to be seen to be believed, and it is not the Cadillac of grills but more like the rock star tour bus of grills, with prices and specs on request. Get something from Grillworks and your neighbors won’t just envy you, they will take pictures!
2. Go Caveman, With Style: FireGrill takes a simpler approach to cooking over an open fire – but is no less aesthetically pleasing. That’s because its creator, Charly Kocher, is Swiss, an engineer, and a restaurateur who ran an Asian-European fusion restaurant in Boston for 20 years. One winter day he was relaxing in front of his fireplace when he had the idea for a well machined modular grilling system that could cook over coal or wood, inside or out, in the fireplace or at the beach.
The FireGrill’s heart is a heavy duty stand (all the components are Swiss-engineered and made in the USA of cast iron or carbon steel with high-heat resistant coating) to which the other components can be mounted. The most basic configuration is a large rectangular grill that can easily be raised and lowered while cooking, but there is also a pot hanger for a cowboy-style Dutch oven, a 6-skewer shish-kabob rack, a ring for a wok, even a motorized rotisserie. There is also a wok-shaped fire pit for holding coal. The grill and stand run around $300, and as shown, with fire pit, $407. I cooked with this unit at BBQ University (which I wrote about last week) and it is bulletproof, fun and very, very portable.
3. Super Simple Smoking: The burgeoning popularity of authentic American barbecue in the Southern and Texan styles has led to rash of new home converts to the “low and slow” cooking style. This involves cooking meat with heated smoke in the most indirect fashion possible, without ever really touching the flame, usually in a tightly controlled temperature range of 225-250° for a long time – a rack of ribs takes 5-6 hours, a whole brisket 12-14. The results are fantastic, but it is as much art as science (maybe more), with a healthy dose of mysticism, and it is not a type of cooking to take up lightly. The pitmasters at roadside shacks in the Carolinas or BBQ temples in rural Texas make it look easy, but only because most of them have been doing it for decades. At home, keeping the temperature constant whilefeeding the fire, in varying weather conditions, having enough natural hardwood charcoal and even cleaning up are all bigger chores than they look – I know because I smoke a lot of food, using an upright water smoker, and I have judged some of the most prestigious barbecue competitions in the world. To be honest there are times I choose not to smoke because of all the labor involved (and because I don’t have a Traeger). It’s a rewarding pursuit but frankly, most part-time ‘cuers wish it could be just as good but easier. That’s where a pellet smoker comes in. Same exact cooking method, except it burns wood pellets, fed automatically. Set it to the temperature you want – say 235° – and it stay at 235°, period, end of story. If it needs a refill, you pour more pellets in the hopper . That’s it. And no one has more experience or a better reputation making pellet smokers than Traeger.
Push a button it lights, and 4-minutes later you are ready to smoke – no newspaper, coal chimneys, matches, or waiting for the smoke to die down. If you line the bottom pan with foil, clean up consists of throwing it away. With a flip of the dial you can high-temperature grill, bake, roast or braise in the same machine – even cook pizzas. Also, Traeger makes eight flavors of wood pellets, just like the hardwood chunks I buy for my smoker, apple, cherry, mesquite, oak, etc., all 100% natural with no binders or chemicals. The briskets and ribs coming off the Traeger taste just as good as almost any smoker run by someone who knows what they are doing – and better than those run by most people. If you have room for only one grill but wanted to cover all the bases of cooking with fire, this is the one you need. The only knock on the Traeger is that it makes cooking too simple and easy – barbecue expert and author Steven Raichlen said, “There’s no challenge to smoking with it because nothing can go wrong.”Shown is the Texas Grill, their most popular model ($999). Four other residential models are available ($399-$1,199).
4. Pizza Pizzaz! If barbecue is a trend, than brick oven pizza is a cult – these restaurants have popped up in every city and across the country, sometimes by the dozen. There are three brick oven pizzerias within 15 minutes of my home in rural Vermont! Why the sudden popularity? Because the stuff cooked in these ovens tastes great! So who wouldn’t want such an oven in their backyard? After all they do a lot more than make pizza – in Italy they bake breads, roast meats and vegetables, cook the entire meal in one.
Most residential backyard brick ovens or brick pizza ovens are homemade, from plans or kits, because these are hard to ship and stores don’t stock them. But there are exceptions, most notably Forno Bravo, the undisputed king of wood burning ovens. They do it all – restaurant installations, full custom, home kits, and fully built home ovens delivered to you. An 80s rock-star-turned-journalist I know in LA has a Forno Bravo and loves it. The choices are truly staggering. The turnkey Primavera 60 with stand as shown costs $2,150 and other fully assembled, ready to cook versions run $1,950-$3,800. Complete “modular” kits for do-it-yourself assembly span a greater range of sizes, run $1,250-$5,150 and come with everything from the stainless steel chimney and metal door to the dome, insulation, and mortar.
5. Churrascaria Your Way: Yesterday I featured the Carson Rotisserie Grill in detail on its own because it is so one-of-a-kind, so cool looking, so practical, so affordable and so totally unexpected. It basically replicates the Brazilian churrasco style of restaurant cooking and serving on rotisserie skewers at home (think chains like Fogo de Chao or Texas de Brazil). The Carson Rotisserie cooks up to seven skewers and 60 pounds of food at once, with no flipping, basting and nice even cooking, all in a compact grill that folds into a suitcase and runs on a rechargeable battery at the beach or tailgate.
This is simply my favorite grill of the year, revolutionary, and you can read a lot more detail about it in yesterday’s piece. But the bottom line is this: for $729 you can instantly transform your backyard into the hottest eatery in town. After all, summer is here and the grilling is easy.