It's time again to take a look at the outdoor cooking industry and see what trends will be hitting the stores and what new products you will be finding there. Despite the recession, this year looks to be an innovative one as more companies both new and old look for ways to improve your barbecue and grilling experience. In the past year we have seen the affects of the economy in declining grill sales and increasing charcoal sales implying that people are sticking with the equipment they have while cooking out more as they stay away from restaurants. According to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA) grill sales were down about 4% from 2007's record year. The biggest portion of this decline was in gas grill sales. Electric grill sales were actually up as more and more local governments ban gas and charcoal from patios and balconies and as more electric grills hit the market. As for the future, many of the people I have spoken with expect this year to be flat to slightly lower compared with 2008. Most are optimistic that once confidence is restored sales will increase as many people look to replace their aging grills and smokers.
The Charcoal/Gas Grill: The growth in charcoal consumption follows the trend of more people returning to charcoal grills, particularly as a secondary grill. Having a gas grill for small family gatherings or quick weekday meals, while keeping a charcoal grill for the big weekend cookouts is something we have seem more and more in the last few years. This trend has led to the introduction of a couple of gas/charcoal combination grills. From Char-Griller's $500 dual chamber gas/charcoal duo grill to Brinkmann's $400 Triple Function gas/charcoal, grill/smoker to Nexgrill's $1,299 Gas/Charcoal Island Grill, these grills promise to be hot items as more people look for a complete solution. After all, versatility has become the big feature in outdoor cooking with many companies looking for that one feature, or combination of features that will make their grill the one you can't turn down.
Getting What You Pay For: According to HPBA statistics the average price spent on a gas grill in North America has risen around $35USD. During this time material costs for making gas grills has nearly doubled. This has led many manufacturers to cut quality and durability nearly in half. This has left more and more people dissatisfied with their purchased and the internet has been flooded with complaints (for instance this page at Consumeraffairs.com). Unfortunately most grills are impulse purchased made by people who have done little research and compared few models. Since most retailers carry only a limited selection of models from few manufacturers, making an informed decision is often difficult. Because of this there is not a lot of reward to produce a good grill and most companies have cut quality in favor of gimmicky features from computer controls to inexpensive refrigerators. My advice remains the same, spend as much as you are comfortable with and get the most basic grill you can find.
Refrigerators and Ovens: In recent years we have seen a number of grills featuring gas powered ovens. This year we are seeing more grills with built in refrigerators. If you have researched outdoor refrigeration you know that it is very difficult to get one that is of good quality and durability for less than $1,000USD, yet grills, selling for under $500USD now feature small, plastic refrigerators. Often these are aftermarket units simply set inside the grill cart with the refrigerator door bolted to the cabinet door. Remember, if you really don't need it, don't buy it. These refrigerators are not built to last in an outdoor setting and I suggest you avoid them.