Spring has begun and its time to take a serious look at the 2008 outdoor cooking season. There are a number of new products and changes in the industry this year. Once again the statistics look good with Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA) reporting record grill sales again. In 2007 17.4 million grills were shipped in the United States and Canada. That’s up about 400,000 units over 2006. With the rebirth of charcoal continuing to affect the market and infrared becoming the new must have, 2008 looks to be another big year, recession or not. The question on infrared is: Will the variety of technology cause more confusion than demand?
According to Weber’s 19th Annual GrillWatch Survey, gas grill ownership has slowly declined in the last few years. It would seem that the flip side of this statistic is the increase in people using charcoal grills as their primary grill. Over the last years we have seen more and more people buying a second grill (see Grills, Barbecues & Smokers 2007). In most instances this is the addition of a traditional charcoal grill. It would appear that as more people master charcoal grilling they are eliminating their gas grill. Of course, gas grills remain the most popular grill with full sized grill owners (67% of grill owners have a gas grill according the HPBA). With the increasing variety of outdoor cooking products on the market these days the trend should continue toward multiple grill ownership and declining numbers of people who have a single, traditional gas grill.
Price versus Value: A lot of these trends are being driven by the major retailers. A decade ago, most large retailers carried a narrow range of grills, narrow in price range and styles. Over the last decade the price of the smallest and least expensive gas grill on the market has remained virtually unchanged, and yet the highest end grills have increased by a factor of 3 (or 4 in some stores). With increasing material costs and the demand for more features (rotisserie burners, infrared sear burners, multi-function side burners, etc.) going from special to standard we have seen a continuous decline in the quality of many products. This reduces the lifespan of these grills. According the HPBA the number of years that the average gas grill lasts continues to slowly decline and is currently around three and a half years.
The High End: It is in the high end that we continue to see the most activity. According to Jack Goldman, president of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, 372,000 outdoor kitchens were built in 2007. While this still represents a tiny fraction of households (there are about 90,000,000 households in America) is show that the interest continues and that more and more the “outdoor room” is becoming the norm. At this end there are a number of inventive grills on the market like the Fuego or Kalamazoo’s Edo. These grills offer more than just grilling, they offer a cooking experience and a gathering place for entertaining.
Char-Broil Infrared: Regardless of the general trends most companies are looking towards innovation to propel them into the future (or at least ensure they have a future). From Char-Broil we have two new “infrared” products on the tail of their revolutionary The Big Easy “oil-less” turkey fryer. Char-Broil has won awards for their infrared turkey fryer design and proven that they can be innovative and ready for change. In trying to live down the problems of last years Char-Broil/TEC infrared grill, Char-Broil has introduced the Quantum and the much more interesting Char-Broil RED. While the RED looks promising there are limits to its construction and just as the Char-Broil/TEC had its problems (thermal screws inside the burners couldn’t take the heat) and may have problems of its own. One thing is sure, Char-Broil may have had its problems but don’t discount them yet.
Stainless Steel: Despite surveys telling you that color is the new option in gas grills, stainless steel continues to be the color of choice. Unfortunately, for the grill buyer stainless steel prices have started back up to record levels again after softening later last year. This has continued to cut into the profits of stainless steel grill makers and forced more and more models of grills to move towards painted steel and lower quality stainless (see The Truth about Stainless Steel. This leaves more problems for the consumer who will find a large number of "painted" steel grills this year. Painted or enameled steel scratches easily, leaving room for moisture and corrosion to seep in and rust your grill.
While some grills are loosing their high quality stainless steel shells, others are finding more and more low quality stainless steel pieces covering them. Even Weber is moving to the lower cost and lower quality 430 stainless steel. The 400 series stainless steel, which will rust and lose its appearance relatively quickly, is taking the place of the much more expensive 304 stainless steel. If you find yourself shopping for a grill these days you need to carry a magnet in your pocket. A magnet will not stick to good quality stainless steel. It will, however stick to low quality stainless. Some manufacturers are finding it very easy to fool consumers by putting 304 stainless steel hoods onto 400 series stainless steel grills.