Working on the Consumers Digest 2009 Grill Guide
Magazine out May 1, 2009
Welcome to My World - A Porch Covered with Barbecue Grills
Be sure to pick up a copy of Consumers Digest on the stands starting May 2009. The June issue features grills for 2009 along with the top picks in various grill categories ranging from full size gas to tailgate charcoal and even smokers and electric models. (And, no, I can’t just tell you what’s your best buy, because Consumers Digest hired me to cover this big project and invested in the time and supplies to do this right).
I spent the whole winter in hibernation - starting the day before Thanksgiving when I was offered the contract and running through the end of March. Since I teach, I had several weeks (or even around the clock) on research time and then late nights and weekends.
Fortunately, I live in North Carolina which is generally mild in the winter; however, there were several nights when I grilled with below freezing temperatures or with snow flakes flying. In case you didn’t know, it’s really easy to check the level of gas in your tank when the temperatures are frigid. The tank gets frost up to the gas level but no frost above. That may help in a trivia game some time.
I’m sure my neighbors all thought I’d gone nuts. In addition to being outside cooking when everyone else was bundled up indoors and out of the cold, my collection of grills on the porch grew and grew. I can just imagine someone across the road saying, “Hey honey. Look. She has another one.”
It was also quite a production when tractor trailer trucks showed up at the house. This is a small town. Folks don’t usually have freight deliveries. Also, our power and cable lines are low. Since truck drivers call ahead, I would tell them to come half way down the block and wait. Then, I’d get the stool and a broom and hold the lines up enough so the trucks could pass under. The conversation down the block on this probably went something like, “Dear me. I’m not sure what she’s doing now. But, I see her standing on a kitchen stool in the road and waving a broom around.”
Testing grills makes for some really good eating but is not so good for the waistline. I threw my scales away, but my jeans are tight. I’d estimate a 10 pound gain on this project and now have to eat grilled broccoli and tomatoes. Oh well. I like vegetables. But, I really love hand patted burgers, rib eye steaks, and smoked pork shoulders.
The grill project also involved some travel. I drove around and tested some grills including ones that cost about what you’d pay for a good used car around here. I did think I should hit medium rare when grilling on high end grills, because you always hear that city people like meat about half cooked. This turned out to be a myth, so another tip is to cook medium for everyone unless they tell you they like under or over cooked meat.
Along the way, I got to talk to all kinds of grill experts, fanatics, and fans. Some of the meetings were in person and some were electronic. I spoke with company representatives, executives at HPBA, metal experts, grill experts, salesmen, and people who own and use the various grills. I heard a lot of interesting stories and got a lot of great tips. Most people told me about a secret sauce of some type (and invariably out of a bottle).
In one case, I spoke with a man who makes the Forkula which is a fork type turner so that you don’t drop your burgers or steaks. Lee said that his brother lives in North Carolina, and I told him that my brother lives in Ohio. Ironically, Lee lives right down the road from my brother in a “mansion,” and they are friends. I called my brother, and he said that was all true including the part about the mansion. There are some stories you just can’t make up.
Going into this project, I knew a lot about grills and grilling. By the end of the project, I had about 18 inches of paper file notes plus the electronic notes and enough tidbit data in my head to be glassy eyed.
My bottom line in looking at the new 2009 grills was to cover every inch possible and from all directions. The article was written with my Mom in mind. That’s what I told my editor, Tom Williams, from the start. She is very frugal and careful with her money, and she does not abide poor craftsmanship or performance well. I wrote what I’d tell her if she wanted to buy a new grill.