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Published May 30, 2010, 12:00 AM

Beyond briquettes

Kick off grilling season with these hot gadgets
There’s something primitive about grilling. This could be because, like our ancestors did long ago, grilling pits us against nature to cook a meal over flames or smoldering coals.

There’s something primitive about grilling.

This could be because, like our ancestors did long ago, grilling pits us against nature to cook a meal over flames or smoldering coals.

But while cooking meats or veggies outdoors might connect us to primal instincts, these days grilling can be pretty high-tech with a host of fancy or otherwise non-cavemanish gadgets available.

With Memorial Day weekend seen as an unofficial start to summer – the prime grilling season – we surveyed the grilling landscape to see what’s hot for grillmasters. Among our finds ranging from expensive and exquisite to thrifty and thoughtful were flexible skewers, personalized steak branding irons and a decked-out grilling outfit fit for a Kingsford.

Wood-pellet grill

Price: $400 to $1,000

“Absolutely fabulous,” are the words Scheels Home and Hardware sales associate Bob Klein uses to describe the feedback he’s heard on wood-pellet grills.

The pellets these grills burn/smolder for fuel offer a hearty dose of smoke flavor, and there’s no need to deal with the dangers of lighter fluid with these systems; some operate by using an electric current to ignite the pellets. Of course, that also means you miss out on the thrill of turning your grill into a billowing ball of fire. Life is, after all, about choices.

Smoker boxes

Prices start under $10

Charcoal snobs beware: This little gadget could level the field a bit for gas grillers. Smoker boxes are stocked with wood chips and put in grills to smolder and hit the grub with a dose of smoke flavor.

Such boxes could be used with either a gas or charcoal grill, says J.J. Fankhanel, barbecue manager (which, incidentally, may be the coolest job title in the world) at Scheels Home and Hardware.

If you want to go the really easy route, get the $3.99 (I saw it on sale for $2.99) smoke cone. It’s a candle-like thing that’s a placed in the grill to provide some smoke. Throw it on the grill, and it does the rest.

Fire Wire flexible grilling skewer

$10 (two-pack)

From the “why didn’t I think of that” department, these stainless-steel skewer cables are flexible, allowing them to snake around the grilling surface, maximizing the cooking area. You can also leave one end of the Fire Wire cable outside the grill for burn-free removal. And, since they’re flexible, you can throw a pre-assembled kabob right into a marinade bag.

Grill ’N Chill Tailgater with Draft System

$3,000

No list of to-die-for grill items is complete without a ridiculously over-the-top kitchen on wheels posing as a grill. Hence, the inclusion of the Grill ’N Chill Tailgater with Draft System.

Hmm. Where shall we begin? It has a 24,000-BTU infrared grill, an integrated 210-watt AM/FM/CD satellite-ready stereo, a 50-quart ice chest, dual 18-by-12-by-1½-inch-thick solid-maple butcher-block lids that double as cutting surfaces, a stainless steel warming rack, a chrome-tower draft system for beverages and, of course, a chassis system because it’s portable.

If you listen closely, you can faintly hear Tim Allen making guttural noises right now.

G Weber Performer

$329

Even if you’re a charcoal lover, it’s easy to hate the hassle of getting the briquettes going. Enter Weber’s Performer charcoal grill. Its gas-powered briquette-lighting mechanism gets the charcoal going with the push of a button and without using potentially dangerous lighter fluid.

Charcoal Companion Deluxe Mini-Burger set

Price: $30

The Smurflings and Scrappy-Doo proved that not everything is better in a smaller, cuter form. But with little burgers, the advantages of the larger manifestation remain even as the cuteness factor gets amped up.

So embrace this burger system that allows you to press out your own mini- patties and then grill them nine at a time. The results are bound to be more popular than Scrappy-Doo.

The infrared grill

Prices vary

It sounds like what you’d use to cook in the backyard of the Starship Enterprise, but the infrared grill has become common here on Earth.

Many grills now have a section that cooks with infrared energy, which is supposed to seal juices inside a seared and flavorful outer crust. According to a 2007 article by MSNBC, infrared energy lies somewhere between “visible light and microwave energy on the electromagnetic spectrum.” It’s also possible to get a 100 percent infrared grill.

Ultimately, infrared grills might just be hotter. The MSNBC article quotes one grill manufacturer as saying that its infrared surface operates at 450 to 900 degrees, as compared to the 450 to 750 degrees of a standard gas burner.

Chef’n Mini magnetic salt/pepper grinder set

$12 (on sale at Amazon.com)

Maybe you’re holding the grill lid; maybe you’ve just had your paw in a bag of raw-meat marinade; maybe you’re swatting at mosquitoes. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of times at the grill when you only have one free hand. But with this grinder set’s squeeze-handle design, you can salt or pepper the food on the grill single-handedly. This set also comes with magnets for easy storage on a metal surface.

Steven Raichlen Potato Grill Rack

Price: $10.99

Steven Raichlen, author and barbecue guru, offers this simple but useful gadget that basically spears four spuds for barbecuing purposes.

“Metal conducts heat inside … for faster cooking,” says the bestofbarbecue.com website. The Potato Grill Rack also gets bonus points because the product’s Web page offers the possibility of coating the potatoes in bacon fat.

Personalized BBQ Branding Iron

$34 (at www.homewetbar.com)

Your steak really isn’t done until you’ve branded your initials onto it. Well, the days of incomplete steak preparation are over when you get a personalized steak branding iron bearing your initials.

“This is it,” says www.homewetbar.com, “the best steak branding iron on the market.”

I’m so glad they cleared this up, putting an end to the endless conflict surrounding the topic of which steak branding iron is paramount.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

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