Up your grilling game this summer

by April Lisante
Posted 5/20/21

I know grills and smokers may seem like they are a dime a dozen, but with everyone making staycation plans and upping their yard games this summer, I wondered how they had evolved for 2021.

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Up your grilling game this summer


So I was looking for grill gadgets for this season and I thought I was ahead of the game with a Home Goods griddle pan and a scrub brush. Then I saw the Grillbot, and another food column was born.

The Grillbot is kind of like a Roomba vacuum for on top of your barbecue grill. It sits on the grill, you leave it alone, it circles around and you come back, and your grill is clean.

Of course, then I started to think, “Hey, maybe our Weber two flame burner model is kind of outdated.” Sure, it gets everything done, but what else is out there in this season when we are going to be doing literally every get-together outside?

Grilling is so much a part of our summertime repertoire here in Philly, and so much a part of our cuisine. And it is more than likely how we will cook for and entertain friends and family this summer. Outside, al fresco, food “hot off the grill” as grilling great Bobby Flay would say.

I know grills and smokers may seem like they are a dime a dozen, but with everyone making staycation plans and upping their yard games this summer, I wondered how they had evolved for 2021. Are we sticking with the Green Egg for smoking, and a standard gas grill for everything else?

It seems we are all going smart. You can order wireless thermometers online and you can soak a ton of wood chips to stick beneath your grill, or you can go full throttle with some of today’s smart grills.

At Salter’s Fireplace & Outdoor Living in Eagleville, marketing specialist John Holleger echoed those retail vibes, saying the year of WiFi and smart smoking has arrived.

“It seems like because it is a lot easier to do in their homes, the barrier of entry is not there,” Holleger said. “It is easier to do, the technology is there, and people are spending so much time at home, that it’s a lot easier than it was.”

As a local appliance dealer, Gerhard’s appliances in Glenside also knows about grills. Food Network’s local grill hero, Jack McDavid of Jack’s Firehouse in Fairmount, has been a regular there for grilling demos. This year, owner Gerry Gerhard says he is in the throes of a very early grilling season.

“Grill season came early this year,” said Gerhard, a professed die-hard who grills at least 300 times a year in his own backyard. “It typically starts around Mother’s Day, but they took off a month ago. People are thinking of a grill as an outdoor oven. The better the grill, the better you can regulate the temperature.”

The first questions to ask yourself if you are looking for a grill? How many people are you cooking for and how often do you use the grill each week? Are you the neighborhood crash house for outdoor get-togethers? Are you throwing a couple of graduation parties? You can get freaky with a grill if you use your imagination. Griddle pans and breakfast items, pizza, or even seafood in under two minutes.

Experts say a decent grill with surface area, adequate burners and good heat will run about $400. Consumer Reports, which rates grills each year, chose American Gourmet and Tylus models this year, as well as Char-Broil and Royal Gourmet, as a few of the dependable models.

But depending on how much you plan to grill and chill, this season there are a couple of interesting bonuses tacked on to some of the better models. One of the biggest trends is probes hooked to WiFi to let grillers know when foods have almost reached the optimum temperature. When the meat is almost done, your phone lets you know.  The Genesis EX335 is one example of this cool new technology. You can hook up to two probes up to your meats, and have it cook each of them to different temperatures, for those who like medium or well done.

“They are smart grills. The kids from age 25 to 40 love these,” Gerhard said. “When the meat is within five degrees of being done, it pings your phone. The only thing I haven’t made on mine is a cake. Could I? Probably yes.”

Then, there’s the smart grill that preloads and keeps automatically loading wood chips, then keeps them at the optimum temperature. The Weber Smokefire EX6 Wood Pellet Fired Grill is one example.

“The thing is now, everyone wants to smoke wood chips,” Gerhard said. “With this grill, you load it up with wood chips, start it, and it keeps filling wood chips automatically to maintain temperature.”

If you prefer a pizza oven, $3,500 will set you up with a killer version that can make pizzas in a few minutes. With something like a Lynx outdoor oven, you can make pizza outside without going all out for an outdoor kitchen or anything as drastic as that. If you decide to throw something like shrimp or scallops in there, or some breakfast meats, be prepared for an ultra-speedy finish time.

“You can take a cast iron skillet and put it in there and scallops are done in like a minute and fifteen seconds,” he said. “I do breakfast, everything outside. I can make 12 pizzas an hour. I even bought pizza boxes on Amazon.”

Yes it looks like outdoor grilling could become an obsession of sorts this summer when we’re all still stuck at home. Just ask Jeffrey Green, a regular Salter’s customer.

“It’s definitely an addiction,” Green said. “Once you get that over the fire primal thing, it’s very exciting when you cook. It’s a relief from the stress of the day. I would definitely call it an obsession.”