June 6, 2011

Fire Up the Grill

The kettle-style barbecue of old is still around, but competing with this classic is a vast selection of grills and accessories that will entice you to ‘get outside and cook.’

BY ELIZABETH GODLEY

Kerrisdale Lumber store manager Reza Mofakham demonstrates grilling techniques on one of the barbecues in the store.

Mark Perry has fond memories of the Weber kettle-style grill his parents bought in the 1970s for their summer home in Point Roberts. Now president of Kerrisdale Lumber in Vancouver, Perry has become something of a barbecue expert.

Although the company’s name suggests two-by-fours and nails, don’t be misled – Kerrisdale Lumber specializes in high-end barbecues by Vermont Castings, Weber, Alfresco, DSC, Twin Eagles and Napoleon, as well as gift items and grill accessories.

Today, Perry says, outdoor kitchens are the thing. These typically include a grill and hood, side panels and a base, as well as a fridge or refrigerated drawers and an ice-maker, all surrounded by lots of counter space. The cost of transforming your patio into a kitchen worthy of any high-end restaurant can run to $30,000 or more.

The top-of-the-line Alfresco grill (Model ALX256BFG, $7,760), measuring 56 inches long and fired by gas to 6,500 BTUs, features an infrared under-burner on the side that heats up to 1,800 degrees, ideal for searing burgers and steaks before putting them on the grill. The under-burner is also handy for boiling water for lobsters or crab and heating sauces.

Perry believes side-burners are an essential part of the barbecuing experience. “The whole point of barbecuing is to get outside and cook. You should be using your side burner, so you can spend more time outdoors and away from the kitchen.”

While most barbecues are fuelled by gas or propane, charcoal is making a comeback, says Perry, this time in the form of “real wood” or “lump” charcoal. This fuel creates little ash and can be manufactured in an environmentally sustainable manner, without the chemicals used to make briquettes.

“This is great for Baby Boomers who are nostalgic for the taste of the steaks Dad used to grill, back in the day,” Perry says.

Accessories are another important part of the grilling experience. These include cedar grilling planks, cast-iron smoke trays, flavoured wood chips, lighters, stainless-steel tongs, flippers or spatulas, and forks. A combination tool, made by Napoleon, includes a folding flipper with a serrated blade along one side and a bottle-opener built into the handle ($25).

You can find a wide selection of pot-holders, oven gloves and tea towels, plates and serving dishes – some colour-coordinated with your patio furniture – at Kerrisdale Lumber, Rona, Home Depot, Canadian Tire and department stores.

To extend the grilling season into early spring and late fall, consider a handsome copper-clad wood-burning outdoor fireplace ($2,000 at Kerrisdale Lumber), or choose from a selection of patio heaters, available at many outlets and priced from $600. A simple garden fireplace, fired by a canister of gel fuel, is $40 at Home Depot, while stand-alone heaters range from $179. Table-top heaters are priced from $120.

When an outdoor kitchen is not an option, stand-alone barbecues come in an abundance of sizes, with prices to match. But before you decide on a barbecue, consider your fuel source: propane, gas, electricity or charcoal. Are you cooking for a crowd? Or just throwing on a couple of steaks for an intimate evening? Do you want portability? And how big is your garden or patio?

For smaller spaces, Coleman’s Even Heat Barbecue ($500, Canadian Tire) features a porcelain-coated cast-iron cooking grid. The compact design boasts the power of a full-size barbecue at 30,000 BTUs, and includes space-saving fold-down side-shelves, tool hooks and a closed cart.

Portable kettle-style grills are an economical choice, available at Rona, Canadian Tire and other outlets for around $70. The original Kettle grill, made by Weber, dates from 1951. A classic that’s been copied many times, it features a kettle-shaped lower chamber that holds the charcoal and distributes heat evenly. The lid prevents flare-ups, allows heat to circulate around the food and holds in the flavour-enhancing smoke produced by wood added to the charcoal fire.

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