First, man domesticated fire. Then he started competing with his neighbors over who had the best grill.
Grillers love their gadgets — and they’re willing to spend big for them. Slightly more than 80 percent of American households own a barbecue (23 percent have two!) Last year, North Americans spent $2.2 billion on grills and smokers, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. Sales slumped during the recession, but edged back up again in 2010 and manufacturers predict a strong season this year, especially for high-end appliances. Since Memorial Day is the official start of the barbecue season, what better time to peruse some of the world’s most spectacular grills?
Sure, experts will say you don’t need a cooking surface the size of Rhode Island or infrared burners to cook delicious food. “Practically speaking, a sturdy hibachi (I like Lodge’s Sportsman model) or modest charcoal grill is all one really needs to start cooking with live-fire,” says Steven Raichlen, author of The Barbecue Bible and all-around grilling guru. “Simple gas grills — the kind that run on bottled fuel — are a good entry point, too.”
Yet some outdoor cooks are transfixed by grills that are ever bigger, hotter and fancier. The backyard arms race began after World War II, as Americans moved to the suburbs and discovered patios. In 1952, George Stephen Sr., who worked at the Weber Brothers Metal Works in Illinois, made a new kind of grill out of a metal buoy. Weber soon discovered something else: The new-fangled kettles sold like crazy even though they cost $50, compared with only $7 for the open braziers of the day. Pretty soon grills came in all shapes, sizes — selling for thousands of dollars. Australian manufacturer BeefEater took backyard bling to a new level in 2007, by coating one of its Signature Series 6 Burner LS4000s entirely in 24-carat gold.
BeefEater produced only one of the golden grills for a home show, but it’s a perfect reflection of the barbecue grill as status symbol. So for those who get a thrill from high BTUs and rotisseries powerful enough to roast a goat, here are 13 of the most extravagant, tricked-out grills we could find. We focused (somewhat arbitrarily) on moveable grills and smokers, though transporting some of them would require a trailer hitch. Certainly, you could spend more on a built-in outdoor kitchen, but that’s a different competition. Gentlemen, start your fires.