Strip steaks and baby back ribs. Or the vegan-friendly take: cubed tofu and portabella caps. Then there’s pizza, kabobs, apple pie, and…yes, apple pie. Perhaps some clarification is merited. I was once like you, blissfully unaware to the contemporary world of grilling. Now I know many ways to make, well, burgers and brats, but a more adventurous soul has the opportunity to turn their backyard grill into a second kitchen without breaking the wallet or doing some serious landscaping.
On grilling, I grew up in the world of propane. The convenience and efficiency of those hand-jivin’, swing-poppin’ inventions of the 1950s still hold true. Scott Getz of Wolff Kubly Hardware believes the strength of the propane grill lies in its speed. In terms of Weber grills, a more reliable electronic starter only scratches the surface of innovation. “They also have been integrating the iGrill system, so you can have an interior temperature of the meat and the grill right on your phone,” says Scott. I, for one, have used a highly calculated measure of guesswork in ensuring my food comes out somewhere between rare and well-done. I’m happy to admit this wifi wonder might hold the edge over my less-than-precise methods.
Then there’s the world of charcoal, and few do it better than the Big Green Egg. This beauty can grill as good as any charcoal grill, but beneath a thick ceramic shell is one of the best smokers money can buy. Josh Herman of UW Provision sums it up nicely. “They’re pretty cool, man.” Speaking of cool man, this is a Wisconsin grill in more ways than one. “In Wisconsin, you can have this thing goin’ when it’s 20 below outside, and on one load of charcoal, you can have probably like a 12-hour smoke period running on this thing.” A smoker isn’t really something I’ve considered owning, but the more I see it as an industrial crockpot, the more I’m buying into the possibility.
As great as it is to have a cold-hardy grill, the Big Green Egg is also sustaining some Wisconsin jobs. Josh says, “The powder coating comes from Janesville, and all the metalwork comes from Argyle, Wisconsin.” And these monsters, the XXLARGE model weighing in at 424 pounds, come with a lifetime warranty, no questions asked. That way if it falls over on your back porch and takes out your deck railing, you’ll only have to worry about some light carpentry.
So we got our trusty propane grill for efficiency and Big Green Egg for smoking, but there’s a third type that I had no clue about: the pellet grill.
The pellet grill seems like an all-in-one machine. It smokes better than a propane grill, and it grills with consistency. For some, the fact that it’s electric may be a turn-off, but I was blown away after talking with Rene Huston of Patio Pleasures about all the functions these things have. “My husband’s done beef jerky, and, for Thanksgiving, he smoked the turkey. I like to do quick little things for the kids when I’m throwing some chicken or burgers on.” That’s everything I could ask for in a grill.
Oh, one more thing. It bakes!
That’s right, you can do pizzas on this thing, and Rene says they’re fantastic. “We’ve also done more convection-type projects, like baking. Gosh, we did these little apple-pie dumpling things for dessert.” She adds, “It’s a product that allows you to get creative.” When it comes to food, I’m not as creative as Rene, but for my small family, sometimes one oven isn’t enough depending on the meal. Just having a pellet grill on hand seems like the perfect solution to a problem I thought I’d just have to live with.
Like the Weber iGrill system, many of these grills have a wifi feature, allowing the user to save a recipe that turned out perfect and keep an eye on those grill temps. Though it’s certainly handy for grilling, I imagine there’s an added level of convenience when smoking meats and such for hours on end.
Lastly, they’re portable. Just like a propane grill, it’s light enough for you to take camping and tailgating. They also have the added benefit of making you look like you know what you’re doing, considering they look more involved than the propane and charcoal grills everyone is familiar with. You’ll just need to buy a tailgate power inverter to hook up to your battery or plug into your cigarette lighter so you can access a traditional electrical socket.
Now seems like a good time to point out that if you get a pellet grill or already own one, be sure to use 100 percent natural wood pellets. You don’t want to be burning chemicals and binders into your food. Pellets cost about the same as a bag of charcoal, and come in different varieties of tree flavors, including hickory, cherry, and oak.
When all is said and done, grilling culture is something we enjoy in Wisconsin. From the outdoors to the backyard, it doesn’t seem like there’s a wrong time to throw on a few brats or portabella mushrooms. And when it comes to what kind of grill you’re using, there’s really no wrong choice. Everyone that has a Weber swears by it, and will only buy Weber, as did their father and their father’s father. The same can be said for the Big Green Egg. And though the pellet grill is a recent trend, it’s not going to be for everybody. Grilling only comes with three rules: never insult the cook, eat what you touch, and, especially when you’re grilling in a state or county park, clean up after yourself.
Full disclosure, I own a non-Weber propane grill, and, just like everything I own, I’ll swear by it until the thing breaks.
Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor for Madison Essentials, and a writer and beer enthusiast (sometimes all at once) living in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.