If you really want to find out about the latest barbecue and grilling gear, you have to go to the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association's national trade show out in Reno , NV . We asked Bill and Cheryl Jamison, intrepid world travelers and authors of the James Beard Award-winning The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking & Entertaining, to share some of their favorite finds this year with readers.
Epi-log: What were the new trends that stood out at the show?
Bill & Cheryl Jamison: Probably the biggest thing was the strong emergence of pizza. There have been outdoor pizza ovens for the backyard for a number of years, but now it seems everyone has one. Some were wood burning, some gas powered. Some brick-lined, some metal-lined. Chicago Brick Oven unveiled several licensed Mario Batali's pizza ovens that will heat up in about 30 minutes, much faster than traditional models. Unlike a grill, pizza ovens are not going to do a lot other than pizza and bread really well, and with prices that start in the low $2000s, they are a pretty expensive addition to your backyard. You have to really like pizza, crave it every night, to make it a good value.
Epi: What was the most useful innovation you came across?
B & C Jamison: The patent on infra-red technology ran out about three years ago, so now everyone is making use of it to create a higher level of heat. The Salamangrill uses infra-red heat on the top, creating a sort of high-heat broiler that is incredibly versatile. Designed as a full grill, it will also do great with pizzas. You can adjust the level of the cooking grate, ratcheting it down, away from the infra-red burner when you want a lower heat.
We are pretty well outfitted already, but if we hadn't just acquired a Salaman Grill, this would be the one thing we would want to take home.
Epi: Any particularly good values to be had this year?
B & C Jamison: There are some great, affordable tools out there from quality manufacturers. Cuisinart has a new line of well-designed grilling utensils, everything from tongs to a wok, that are balanced better than most of these things. The world is full of grill tools that are too large, too clunky, too heavy&people imagine they are manly, but even if you're 6 foot 6 inches they are impractical and unwieldy. Ultimately, it is better to have a set of well-sized, balanced tools.
The Masterbuilt Electric Turkey Fryers are also good value as they are quite versatile and will fry up a 14-pound turkey or boil/steam up to 10 pounds of crab legs and shrimp. They will work both indoors and outdoors and are very easy and safe compared with many gas models.
For a lot of people in apartments and condos there is a prohibition against live fire and gas grills. Electri-Chef is one of the only brands of electric grills that gets a really high heat. We liked the new Safire model (pictured): The compact grill was well-engineered, versatile, and perfect for the tabletop.
Epi: What was the silliest thing you saw?
B & C Jamison: The thing that is most frustrating at the show is that there are so many gas grill manufacturers who don't understand grilling and just want to sell you an outdoor oven. They will focus on the size, the sleekness of the steel box it comes in. They will immediately hit you with the BTUs of the grill, but you have to understand that it's not relevant to how much heat you can actually get in a certain place.
Also, the number of elaborate beer taps and kegarators (aka beer refrigerators) was surprising: The price points are quite high and the devices seem more than a little gimmicky.
If you're looking for grilling and barbecue basics, check out our Essential Grilling Equipment Guide. Click here for recipes, techniques, and everything you need to get fired up for the season.
by Heather Tyree
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