Charcoal: Charcoal has seen very strong growth for the first time in more than a decade. There are several reasons for this, but don’t worry, the industry will pick the most positive one and run with it. Let me see how many reasons I can come up with:
- Price: With gas grills getting more expensive and/or lower in quality, more people are turning to charcoal units for good quality at a good price.
- Latin Influence: Charcoal is huge in Latin America and with a growing Latin population in the United States we have seen strong growth of grill sales in the states with the largest Latino populations.
- Gourmet Grilling: Charcoal is now the fuel for the gourmet griller (Lump Charcoal not only out grew briquette charcoal in sales, but cut into briquette sales for the first time).
- Weekend Grilling: With gas grills so reliable many people are picking up a second (charcoal) grill to use for real cookouts on the weekends
- The Discovery of Real Barbecue by many more people and the equally important discovery that a gas grill won’t make good barbecue.
- Flavor: Let's not forget that cooking over charcoal gives your food a better flavor than grilling over gas.
Needless to say that these reasons are more than just a fluke and that we really should be looking for good growth in the charcoal side of the business for several years to come. Charcoal really can return as the weekend cookout fuel and put the barbecue back where it belongs, with billowing smoke, and all that great flavor. I know that Weber has noticed this trend and I’m sure others will too so look for more charcoal grills and products on the market very soon.
The New Barbecue: Recently food critics and restaurateurs in New York City have discovered that barbecue is a form of food, that it is good and that people will pay big money to get their hands on it. In reaction to this New York has declared itself the inventors of barbecue and made it their own. Of course you and I know about these silly people from Manhattan and know that barbecue is the true American culinary tradition, but what this symbolizes is the mainstreaming of barbecue. Barbecue is good, barbecue is fun, barbecue is an art form, and barbecue can’t be cooked on a gas grill. The return to authentic cookout fuel (wood) is being facilitated through the gateway drug we like to call charcoal and that means more and more purists, scattered around the globe are finding out that you need a good charcoal grill and some good charcoal to make a great backyard barbecue.
Smokers: Maybe the biggest equipment news in real barbecue is the sanctioning by KCBS of the first propane barbecue competition. The L-P-QUE BBQ Championship is being held under the new competitor series rules and is not only the first gas powered cook-off of its kind, but also boasts the biggest cash price in KCBS history. In this age of corporate sponsored barbecue, imagine what something like this might do to low and low “Q”. We could be looking at the biggest change in barbecue since the offset barrel pit.
Other smoker news is pretty much more of the same. Since many of the serious barbecue pits are being made by small companies who don’t join industrial organizations there is again an under-reporting of smoker sales. While major retailers sold off over 700,000 smokers last year, the big trend continues to be dual purpose unit like the Weber Kettle or the Big Green Egg. The kettle, like the egg had a very good year last year and this direction in smokers continues to be very strong.
I believe that 2007 will see some big changes in the old style metal pits. With steel prices so high and competition tight there are bound to be a few apples shaken from the tree. I have talked with a few people already this year who tell me big changes are near, but nothing can be said about that yet.