YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Stoked and Smokin': Hot Machines We Love


Statistics show that women do at least part of the barbecuing in 40% of American homes. So barbecuing isn't necessarily a guy thing.

Statistics also show that women make or influence 80% of the car-buying decisions in this country, but how many spend their spare time customizing cars or bankrupt their families to buy cool rides?


Barbecuing is one thing. Barbecue obsession is another, and, like car obsession, it's basically a guy deal. Barbecue ads will tell you all about continuous electronic ignition, 25,000-Btu cast-iron burners, porcelainized flame tamers and 16-gauge removable drip trays, but if they mention a choice of colors, it's generally just black or stainless steel.

There are expensive glamour-ride barbecues and high-tech machines with knobs and dials. There are customized classics and solid backyard kettles that can still go from 70 to 500 degrees in . . . well, quite fast enough, thank you. Barbecuing is a vroom-vroom lifestyle with loads of accessories, the grilling equivalents of roll bars, 80-spoke wheels and suicide doors. You can even get a stylish cover for your barbecue, just like the one you lovingly pull over your car to protect the finish.

As we know it in this country, barbecue grilling began in the 1920s, when Henry Ford started selling little portable hibachi-like barbecues to encourage people to go picnicking (and incidentally to drive his cars). He also invented the compressed charcoal briquette as a thrifty use for the sawdust and wood scraps left over after making Model Ts. Around the same time, Californians had taken to assembling little temporary barbecues in their backyards, using loose bricks and racks borrowed from their ovens.

After World War II, people were making barbecues out of 35- or 55-gallon oil drums and building permanent brick patio barbecues. The modern age began in the '50s when Weber introduced its sturdy and convenient kettle-shaped barbecues. In the '70s, gas-fired barbecuing became common.

Over the years since then, barbecues have diversified. At the high end, a lot of them have become, in effect, kitchen ranges intended for outdoor use (though with grilling and smoking capability). The same versatility is possible well below the high end. If you have a mid-range gas barbecue, you can usually get an accessory burner for frying or boiling. The Weber company has long publicized techniques for baking, roasting and stir-frying on their simple charcoal barbecues.

Lately, high-end barbecues have shown a taste for cooking with radiant ("infrared") heat, rather than directly over burners. Ducane introduced the concept nine years ago with its "back burner"--a horizontal rack of barbecue bricks heated by their own burner, located at the same level as the rotisserie. The pitch was that since fat dripping from the meat couldn't fall on the strip and cause flare-ups, you could just close the grill and forget about it. Of course, it also made it possible to collect any meat juices that drip out for sauce-making purposes.

Many barbecues are sold at hardware stores and supermarkets. For the more specialized models, you go to a barbecue store, which usually also sells fireplaces, mail boxes and patio furniture. Here's what you might find at some of these showrooms.


Paykel Fireplace Fixtures in Santa Monica dates back to 1921. "My dad sold the first gas barbecues in Southern California," says owner Andrea Salter. "In 1966, the first salesman tried to get him to carry them and my dad said, 'Who'd want a gas barbecue? I tell you what, if you go out and find me one customer, I'll buy two of them.'

"So the salesman went out and knocked on doors until he found one. He brought back the name, and Dad took the two barbecues, and that's how we started stocking gas barbecues."

Paykel advertises the most complete line of barbecue equipment and accessories in Southern California. Some might dispute that, but it must stock the largest range of high-end barbecues, from big names like Broilmaster, Ducane, Arkla, Sterling, Dynamic Cooking Systems, Pro Chef, Pacific Gas Specialties, Fire Magic. "We sell smaller barbecues too," says Salter. "But we do sell a lot of stainless-steel models around here because of the ocean air."

One dream barbecue for sale at Paykel is the 36-inch Jade Range Dynasty Hi Performance Smoker/Broiler, which looks a whole lot like a stainless steel restaurant range--not surprising, since Jade Range also manufactures commercial cooking equipment. Jade Range claims this baby can cook close to 400 hamburger patties an hour.

Its unique feature is the wood chip smoke-ejector system. You put pieces of hardwood in a sort of drawer heated by the gas barbecue burners. So far, this is a feature shared by some other barbecues, but here the smoke from the wood is transferred throughout the unit by a series of beveled 1/2-inch "tube ejectors."

Los Angeles Times Articles