The movement to improve outdoor space has been a long time coming. Backyards are becoming more saturated with furniture, appliances and recreational space. The well-manicured lawn as a centerpiece is being replaced with stainless steel grills, dramatic lighting, and complex landscaping. The concept is one which professionals call the "outdoor room."
"One hundred sixty billion dollars was spent [last year] on home improvements, " says Donna Myers, spokesperson for the Hearth, Patio, and Barbeque Association (HPBA). "And half of that was spent on outdoors."
According to Myers, known to her associates as the Barbeque Guru, the movement began in the early nineties, when most households began to have two working adults instead of one. As a result, weekends grew more important and the weekly ritual of getting dressed up and going out to eat after the workweek was slowly replaced by a more casual backyard soirée, rekindling those memories of fresh cut grass, the loving family, and an ideal white picket fence surrounding the yard.
Bringing back that nostalgia in the urban jungle of a city can be another thing altogether. Small houses pushed side-by-side and even smaller yards can be a difficult place to host a family of different sorts. So how do you rekindle those lost days of nostalgia inside the sometimes claustrophobic confines of the urban jungle?
Marc Friedman, co-owner of Logan Hardware in D.C. explains that most common grills use either electric, natural gas, propane, or charcoal, adding that gas grills are great for people who like to cook frequently. "It's like having an oven outside. Just flip the switch and turn it on." According to Friedman, setting up the gas grill is relatively easy. "If you already have natural gas in your place, you can have a plumber run a line out to the patio."
He suggests a Webber Genesis Gold ($549), which comes with 611 square inches of cooking space, three burners, and a patented Flavorizer bar system.
"A lot of people will complain that you get a better, more smoky flavor with charcoal," says Friedman, noting that since gas grills cook using only heat, there is no smoke to add flavor. "Flavorizer bars" can be placed over the grill surface to capture the juices from the cooking meat and add depth to the flavor. But Friedman says "seasoning" -- in which a grill's surface over time "absorbs" the flavors of the food cooked on it -- is an easier solution. "After you cook enough stuff on it you get a good grill flavor."
Friedman next points to the Char-Broil Patio Caddy electric grill ($159.99). "Works just like a gas grill. You just plug it in."
The Patio Caddy is the second generation of electric grills. The first set was convenient, but didn't heat well ("It was like cooking with my hairdryer," says HPBA's Myers). Char-Broil uses a quilted aluminum shell in the grill's upper and lower casing. The shell reflects the heat back into the grill allowing it to achieve temperatures of up to 700 degrees.
For the critics who swear real barbecuing can be done only with charcoal, Friedman points to the classically designed Webber 22-1/2" ($59.99) -- just take it onto the deck, patio, or porch, add charcoal, and light.
Those looking for a little more culinary variety from their charcoal grill should try the Big Green Egg ($499 to $649). Don Johnson, director of market research for HPBA, says people who own them swear by them. "It's like the Volkswagen of the barbecue industry," says Johnson.
The product looks exactly like...well, a big green egg. Although this is one tough egg -- made of thick ceramic, it functions as a smoker, barbecue and grill. The manufacturer claims that a twenty pound bag of charcoal should last about six months and that the Egg's cooking temperatures range from 50 degrees to 750 degrees, allowing for a wide assortment of foods to be prepared -- from meat and poultry to fish and pizza.
HPBA's Johnson says a person should check with their apartment superintendent or landlord to make sure a particular grill type is allowed.
"Obviously," he says, "the object is not to start a fire."
Well, an unwanted fire, anyway.
The Big Green Egg is available at The Woodburners Too, 6600 Arlington Blvd., in Falls Church. Call 703-241-1400. For more information, visit www.biggreenegg.com. The other grills mentioned in this article are available at Logan Hardware, 1416 P Street NW. Call 202-265-8900 or visit www.loganhardware.com.