Fourth of July and every day: It's great to grill



At Rollier’s Hardware, grills sit center stage.

From either entrance to the Mt. Lebanon hardware store, which carries everything from oven mitts to bathroom vanities, a shopper can’t miss the gleaming array of outdoor cooking devices lined up like parade units in the center aisle: from the $2,500 Weber propane grill with nine knobs to the popular $40 Weber tailgate charcoal grill, the baby of the bunch. Also on display are the $800 18-inch-diameter Big Green Egg, a charcoal grill made of green ceramic; the $800 Traeger pellet grill that uses compressed wood in varieties that include alder, cherry and hickory; and the $300 Weber charcoal smoker.

Where else would these grills be, but at the center of things? After all, the calendar has flipped to summer, and the single biggest grilling day of the year — the Fourth of July — is next weekend.

It’s a time-honored tradition, said Rollier’s owner Doug Satterfield. He would know. The grandson of founder Herman Rollier, Mr. Satterfield has been working at the store for more than 40 years and has sold thousands of grills.

“Everybody wants to get outside and do some grilling of one sort or another at one time or another in the summer. That hasn’t changed,” Mr. Satterfield said.

But just about everything else has -— from the foods to the devices to when we‘‍re using them. The catchword is “more.” Foods: more variety. Devices: more elaborate. When: all year. So observes Keith Tobin of Lower Burrell, manager of Hillmon Appliance in Cranberry, which is owned by Don’s Appliances with locations throughout the region. 

“Every year this category grows,‘‍’‍ Mr. Tobin said from inside a new location off of Rochester Road in Cranberry. He has been in the business for 31 years and has watched outdoor cooking evolve from charcoal to gas to the elaborate $15,000 Kalamazoo hybrid grill with three heating sources: charcoal, gas and wood.

In the showroom, he strides from an infrared outdoor heating tower to an outdoor pizza oven to a smoker to an outdoor refrigerator to grills with brand stamps including Wolf, Viking and Lynx. Hillmon sells Kalamazoos — maybe a half-dozen annually — but none are in stock at the moment.

“These items didn’t exist when I got into the business,” Mr. Tobin said. “It was the 24-inch charcoal grill, then the 54-inch [propane or natural gas] grill. The professional-style appliances started about 15 years ago. Now, we’ve got everything from outdoor pizza ovens to grills with [interior] lighting for nighttime cooking,” he said.

Blame and credit television

He speculated that TV food shows sparked a resurgence in interest in home cooking and that has spilled onto the patio.

Who buys this stuff? Mr. Tobin is on the list, though he said his outdoor kitchen is more modest than many of his customers’. He built his and equipped it with a fridge and a grill with side-burners seven years ago. “I love it. I use it year-round. I have an infrared rotisserie, and I do a beef tenderloin on it every year for New Year’s,‘‍’‍ he said.

For Lisa and Tony Muscato of Adams, building a high-end outdoor kitchen was “on their bucket list” after they returned to the United States from a five-year stint in Europe, where they experienced the thrill of eating or preparing fresh food on a daily basis. After moving into a home in the Treesdale development in 2003, they did an extensive amount of homework and, in 2007, built an elaborate patio kitchen, a project they say essentially extended the heart of their home to a place they like best — the outdoors.

“We like to be outside year-round as much as we can. We like to entertain. And we love to eat. We’re not the type who eat to live. We live to eat,” said Mr. Muscato, who grew up on a farm in western New York and worked with H.J. Heinz Co. for two decades. His wife‘‍s grandfather had a farm near Vandergrift and the family owned a deli, where she worked as a girl. The couple enjoy cooking together and they’ve passed on their love of good food and the preparation of it to their 18-year-old son, Anthony.

Designed by Kitchen & Bath Concepts in the North Hills, their pergola-covered outdoor kitchen sports a Kalamazoo grill and burners flanked by a counter of honed, double-stacked granite with a weighty butcher block on one side. In addition to the gas grill, the Muscatos own a Big Green Egg, a ceramic-covered charcoal cooker. A deep-well side burner is ideal for cooking in large pots -- be it deep-frying a turkey or boiling a lobster. The deep sink, warming drawers and other fixtures are of stainless steel that can be easily hosed off when it’s time to clean.

Decorative elements include custom cabinetry that hides spices and music and lighting controls, a granite-accented backsplash, stucco hood and vaulted ceiling. The floor of tumbled bluestone flows into a flagstone terrace with a table for eight and an Italian hand-painted table with two coordinating benches. Overlooking it all is a stone water feature.

In some ways, it’s not a big departure from how Mr. Muscato grew up. “Living on a farm, produce — fresh fruits and vegetables — were a part of our lifestyle. And with an Italian background, we ate very well. Grilling, cooking and baking were part of life, and Lisa’s family was the same way,” he said. His mom and dad cooked all the time and his dad enjoyed grilling, although it wasn’t on a fancy grill. “It wasn’t uncommon to get some [local] potatoes and grill them at midnight with hot peppers,” Mr. Muscato recalled. 

For the Muscatos, weather has nothing to do with the decision of which kitchen to use: indoor or out. “We’re out there year-round. It makes no difference,” he said. Mr. Muscato, 54, who now works as an operating partner in a private equity firm, said the family uses the outdoor kitchen as least three times a week, whether it’s smoking a brisket or crisping a pizza.

Year-round flavor

While everyone agrees that the Fourth of July is the No. 1 barbecue holiday of the year — everyone including the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association as well as Weber, a leading manufacturer of grills and accessories — both groups acknowledge that outdoor cooking has become a year-round adventure. In fact, Thanksgiving is one of the most popular days of the year for grilling, according a national survey released in April by Weber. The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association reports that 60 percent of grill owners use their grills year-round.

Indeed, what used to be a summertime-only activity for most people, involving burgers and dogs over charcoal or propane, has evolved into an all-season enterprise.

Mr. Satterfield said that’‍s possible because of the quality of the devices, even the reasonably priced ones. Even in the coldest weather, a lot of grills are designed to remain hot enough to cook just about anything, he said. That’s one of the reasons Rollier’s sells grills year-round.

“The peak season is from May 1 to the Fourth of July,” he said, noting that he’ll sell more than 200 during that period. “But, it‘‍s not just a seasonal product anymore.”

Mr. Satterfield said gas grills remain slightly more popular than charcoal but charcoal is enjoying a resurgence.

“Depending on what kind of grill you want to get, you can do anything now,” Mr. Satterfield said. The smokers let you do the slow cooking required by pork butt or ribs. The Weber grills have meat-flavoring bars designed to allow a steak’s juices to drip then sizzle just long enough to create a bit of smoke that flavors the meat without allowing any flare-ups. The Big Green Egg, which looks like a big green egg, uses charcoal as the heat source but is designed to allow the temperature to be monitored and controlled.

A Weber spokeswoman said accessories allow as much creativity in the backyard as inside the house.

“To a great extent, accessories are driving the market,” said Kim Durk of Weber, which is based in a suburb of Chicago. “They allow people to do more things. We have inserts for the grill like woks, griddles, Korean barbecues. People want to use their grill for everything they can do in the kitchen.” 

While many outdoor cooks are getting more adventuresome in their food choices, the old standbys remain. The Weber survey that was released in April found that hamburgers are the most popular meat to grill, followed by hot dogs, then steak.

Ms. Durk said Weber has been tracking the nation’s grilling habits for 25 years and has found:

■ 70 percent of people in the U.S. own an outdoor barbecue grill;

■ Half of American grill owners say they prefer grilling outside over cooking indoors;

■ Top grilling holidays are Fourth of July, Labor Day, birthdays, the Super Bowl and Thanksgiving.

“The market just keeps growing and growing with no end in sight,” Ms. Durk said.

Before her company came along, the backyard barbecue pit was the place to roast marshmallows and wieners. But in 1952, George Stephen was working in a metal works and got the idea for a covered kettle barbecue. And, the Weber company was established.

“What we’ve found is that people associate grilling with an escape,” Ms. Durk said. “We don’t get the same kind of responses about cooking indoors. It seems that people find outdoor grilling to be more of an adventure.” 

 


Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or at 724-772-9180.

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