Almost as quickly as the food vanished, $50 Von Hanson‘s gift certificates flew out the door for those who purchased a grill $599 and over. (And Warners’ Stellian dressed them up with some nice swag, too — see below.)
The deals are still hot (pardon all the bad puns), and I’m especially excited about grills this season, because I’ll actually be buying one myself. (If you have opinions, please share!)
Check out more pictures from the BBQ Expo, including grills and grilling fare, on Facebook and Flickr.
While my grilling exploits rarely exceed the pedestrian (burgers, brats, veggies), others get enviably creative with outdoor cooking recipes.
I’d love to hear what people have grilled themselves or eaten off the grill that’s a bit different. Or even a new twist on a BBQ classic.
Next weekend, April 10-11, we’re having our 4th annual BBQ Expo with grilling demos at all of our stores. From 10-4 Saturday and noon to 4 Sunday, we’ll fire up the latest gas, charcoal and smoker grills with everything from smoked sirloins to pizzas to even pineapple upside down cake. And it’s all the best you’ve ever tasted. (Trust me, because I taste a lot.)
Grilling geeks: this event’s for you. Come chew the fat with our expert grillers about recipes, techniques, tools — you name it.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Alright, your turn: what crazy fare can be found on your grill?
We Minnesotans get so excited when we get to spend time outside that doesn’t involve snow shoveling, it’s hard not to want it all when designing our three-months-out-of-the-year haven.
Be smart and think about your own entertaining and lifestyle needs when considering all the options in outdoor kitchen appliances.
The workhorse of an outdoor kitchen, gas grills’ speed and convenience work best for weeknight dinners and impromptu get-togethers. If you’re looking to do more, some brands offer innovative features such as:
Searing zone to reach high temperatures (700 degrees!) quickly to give your meat a steakhouse-quality exterior
Rear infrared burner to deliver consistent, evenly distributed heat for rotisserie cooking
Smoker boxes to fill prepackaged hickory or mesquite chips, which give foods a distinctive, smoky flavor
Side burners to prepare sauces and sides like beans or vegetables or to keep food warm until it is ready to be served
Lighting to illuminate the cooking surface for late-night grilling
As our own grilling guru Stu Glock (also our rep for Holland Grill and the Big Green Egg) says, “You have two cars. Why not two grills?”
Charcoal grills, smokers and/or cookers deliver flavor you can’t get in a gas grill — if you have hours to get it. Owners of the Big Green Egg rave about the unique flavor of their ribs, brisket and roasts they get in this ceramic cooker. Viking also makes a ceramic cooker, but with a stainless steel finish.
If you have the time to kick back and just grill, the extra time is definitely worth the flavor.
Cut down on the running back back and forth from your main kitchen. Warming drawers keep grilled food warm (and sanitary) once prepared and work great for make-ahead dishes from your main oven.
I’d probably end up throwing some towels in mine to keep them cozy after a late-night swim. Now if I only had a pool..
Arguably as important as the grill itself is beer on-demand. Aside from the convenience, an outdoor keg fridge makes an unbeatable conversation (and party) starter. DCS, Viking and Marvel make draft beer dispensers specifically for the outdoors.
Wine chiller/beverage center
If you’re more of a wine-o than a beer gal like me, you might consider storing your bottles outside, in the proper wine chiller, of course. Look for models with precise temperature controls, racks to accommodate various bottle sizes and minimum vibration.
Beverage centers, though less precise in temperature control, make a viable option for combination beer/wine/soda, etc. storage.
“But I already have a wine fridge!”
But your wine fridge is 55 degrees, remember? Even your beverage center isn’t designed to refrigerate food and condiments. Please don’t keep your barbecue meats in a beverage fridge!
If mixed drinks and soda are more your thing, maybe you’d like an ice maker. Marvel‘s and U-line‘s have UL Listed suitable for outdoor use clear ice makers that store 25-30 pounds of ice.
I might not have a pool, but living in Minnesota, you better believe I have a patio heater. Fueled by a the same kind gas tank you use for your grill, these easily extend construction season into early winter (or “fall”).
It may seem like a strange time to think about outdoor entertaining — or not. If you’re in the Midwest (or Florida, considering its recent weather), you’re probably longing for warmer days spent outside (aka going to your mental “happy place”).
Now, my happy place involves mostly grills, fridges, kegerators and warming drawers. Thankfully, one of my favorite kitchen designers/bloggers — Susan Serra, CKD, author of The Kitchen Designer — aided my call to fill in the blanks (my questions in bold) to my outdoor kitchen ideas.
Watch for “Outdoor Kitchens: Part 2,” wherein I talk about choosing outdoor kitchen appliances.
What factors should those planning an outdoor kitchen keep in mind?
Outdoor living is moving to the next level! An outdoor kitchen is just one piece of many activities that take place outdoors. When planning an outdoor kitchen, here’s what you need to consider:
Outdoor kitchen size – Are you looking forward to entertaining large groups or cooking quiet, intimate dinners? Something in between? Visualize how you will use an outdoor kitchen…the frequency of use, the conveniences required, and the type of cooking (ambitious or simple) you’d like to plan for. Will others cook along with you or will one or two be responsible for outdoor cooking? Do you need separate cooking stations for prep or meal stages? Now’s the time to dream, imagine, and visualize the flow you’d love to have in your outdoor kitchen.
Location – Consider the lay of the land. Can an existing deck be used? A terraced section? A gazebo to house a separate kitchen? Is the topography of the land level? How close to the house would you like the outdoor kitchen (watch out for heat/smoke/noise issues if an outdoor kitchen is desired to be just outside the house.) What other outdoor activities will impact on the location of the kitchen? Make a list of expected activities (including lounging) to be sure an important activity (Bocce ball anyone?) is not forgotten.
Another factor in outdoor kitchen design is the weather. The weather will play a role in the wear of outdoor kitchen surfaces and your own desire to brave the elements while cooking up a storm!
Style – Of course, this is the fun part! What is the style of your house? Of your gardens, your outdoor living space? Outdoor kitchens can be designed in any way: modern, traditional, rustic or eclectic. All elements of your outdoor room builds on one another, even as one walks into and out of the house. Be style-conscious!
Appliance needs – One of today’s No. 1 hot buttons in outdoor kitchens, an explosion of outdoor appliances, tempts us to want it all: the ice machine, the beer station, the cocktail station, cooktop burners, warming drawer and so much more! Appliances are a large part of the fun of an outdoor kitchen, but consider what is really expected to be needed and used frequently.
Weather is a chief concern when building an outdoor kitchen in Minnesota. What should we consider, and what advice do you have for people in other parts of the country?
Midwesterners often have severe weather in each direction — very hot and very cold! Is your chosen spot sheltered from heat, cold, and wind? With spring storms racing through the Midwest, and extreme temps, consider sheltered outdoor kitchen designs for people, and sun and heat exposure protections for your materials and surfaces as well.
Southerners – It’s all about shade! Consider shade cast by trees, buildings, or other structures/plantings. Note the sun’s exposure at your desired site for an outdoor kitchen. An optimum design would have the kitchen situated in a northern exposure.
What time of day will the outdoor kitchen be mostly used? In a southern climate, each meal can easily be enjoyed outdoors. The sun’s path over your desired location will either be a help or a huge hindrance.
Westerners – Of course, the weather in the western portion of the U.S. varies greatly from warm/temperate southern California to zone 5 in Colorado, so Westerners can take tips from other parts of the country.
One difference is the much lower humidity level, which is more tolerable and will allow a southern exposure in some areas that would otherwise be prohibitive in the deep South. For certain parts of the west — given a large area to work with and a beautiful, temperate climate — you have my OK (if it works for your lifestyle) to GO LARGE, as your outdoor kitchen may well be used year-round (Southerners take note!).
Easterners – The varied zones from the mid-Atlantic region to upper New England has a wide spread in temps as well. Lower to upper New England may wish to seek out western exposure (if the kitchen will be used late in the day) and southern exposure. The size of the outdoor kitchen should be seriously considered due to short outdoor seasons (mountainous Westerners take note).
What do you suggest for city-dwellers looking to create an outdoor kitchen space?
What are your true priorities for outdoor cooking? I have family members in New York City who crave the simplest tabletop grill to put on their terrace and to serve their purpose. Many who wish to grill in an urban area are passionate cooks who want the grilled taste and texture and want to cook in a healthy way. For those people, any type of grill appliance will do! For those with a larger space, or a home in an ex-urb community with a small patch of yard, consider a larger grill or even a combination grill/burner/refrigerator appliance that has it all.
Some grills have integral countertop pieces that extend. Otherwise, small tables or built-in brick columns are small but can double as counter space.
What are some trends you see happening in outdoor kitchens?
Choosing environmentally friendly materials in outdoor kitchen design is a strong movement, but one must look for durability as well. Energy efficiency in appliances is ever-progressing. Pinpoint cooking technology in appliances offers the same control as the best in-home appliances do. The style of outdoor kitchens now is a warm, soft, natural look — perhaps rustic, perhaps modern with clean lines, but connected to the style of the outdoor room in a natural, organic way.
How do you feel about including a sink or faucet into an outdoor kitchen?
Having a sink in an outdoor kitchen is one of the best elements one can design into an outdoor kitchen! The sink handles prep, cooking, entertaining and cleaning tasks and is ready for duty exactly when needed. Outdoor plumbing takes on a whole new meaning when considering where and how to plumb a sink. Do you need hot water at the sink for cleaning? Consider a small undercounter water heater. A shut-off valve is a must to drain the system before the winter. A stainless steel sink is a natural choice, but cast iron has good looks and durability. Just cover the sink to avoid a home/play area for small animals! And, stone sinks are definitely a natural!
Faucets serving multiple functions may be useful and most durable in a tall gooseneck style — perhaps in stainless steel, with a simple design to withstand the elements and keep its good looks.
Do certain metal finishes (i.e. chrome, nickel, bronze, etc.) work best outdoors?
I’m a believer in mixing metal finishes. I would not recommend mixing metal finishes with abandon, as the balance and proportion of the colors and finishes within the kitchen as a whole should be thought through.
Can you mix a black or dark brown/bronze faucet with a stainless sink? In some cases (sink surrounding a speckled granite countertop for example), YES. Look at other metal finishes such as lighting, metal furniture and other finishes for a guide.
In my view, mixed finishes make for the most natural of interior or exterior rooms. But — as with any other designed area — it has to make sense in the context of color, texture, proportion and balance.
That said, have fun experimenting and exploring your vision, definitely!
Thanksgiving cooking can be confusing. Especially for those who don’t cook often*. Here are some ways to use what you already have to make the day go a little smoother.
1. Calibrate your oven
Your oven’s temperature could be off, causing you to over- or undercook. If you still have it, check your manual for specific instructions on making sure that your oven’s 350 degrees is really 350 degrees.
Many people buy a convection oven with holiday cooking in mind, and then forget to use it! If you have true convection or settings that allow multi-rack cooking (the bake and broil element shut off after the preheat), you can put a dish on each rack without having to rotate them.
Just remember to set the temperature 25 degrees below what’s recommended for normal baking.
3. Use convection — in your microwave
If you have a convection microwave, you have a second oven. The 25-degrees-below-normal-bake-temp rule applies here, too.
4. Think beyond popcorn
Many microwaves come with a sensor you can use to automatically adjust cooking power and temperature based on the amount of moisture in the food. Try it on meat, potatoes and vegetables to save time and ensure a perfect dish. Again, check your manual for instructions of how to use your model’s specific features.
5. Make extra ice
Empty out your icemaker bin into a large, plastic bag and keep it in the freezer 24 hours before your guests arrive. By the time they do, you’ll have a bin full of ice and a cheap refill once that’s gone.
6. Turn on the oven light
The temptation to open the oven and check on your goodies is high, but the temperature won’t be if you do. The oven temperature can drop 25 degrees in just seconds, increasing cooking times and wasting energy. So keep that door shut, already!
7. Remember that meat probe? How ’bout that warming drawer?
Hopefully just reading this jogs the memory of that stuff you have but never remember to use. Many ranges now come with metal probes to stick into a turkey or ham to monitor the temperature, which should hit 180 degrees.
(Note: The probes usually come packaged next to the manual, so they’re probably waiting for you in that same junk drawer filing system where you left them.)
And, are you sure that drawer under the oven you use to store pots is only for storage? Some range models include warming drawers, which work great to keep early bird guests’ dishes ready while you finish up the bird.
8. Match pots and pans to burners
Having a tiny pot on a large burner wastes energy and a big post on a tiny burner slows cooking time. Cook smart on the stovetop to shorten cooking times and save energy/money.
9. Fire up the grill
Grilled turkey tastes great and frees up your oven for everything else. Get creative and use your grill for potatoes, biscuits and pie — and I can vouch for the deliciousness of pie made on the grill.
(Bonus tip: We all know those who don’t cook, but only grill. Now there’s no excuse to not help!)
10. Adjust your refrigerator’s shelves
Remember that shelves can be moved up and down to fit tall items like 2-liter bottles and frozen turkeys. And consider making a short shelf for platters that can’t be stacked. That way you won’t be wasting all that space above the trays.
I’d love to hear more tips if you have them. I just really like the number 10.