The traditions of summer are many, but few satisfy the senses the way barbecuing does. Even before the eyes catch a glimpse of the grill, the nose has taken in the aroma of the food over the fire. The sense of taste, of course, is waiting in the wings.
It's great to be a perennial guest at barbecue get-togethers, where all one needs to bring to the party is a side dish and maybe a slab of meat. But perhaps you have decided to branch out and play host this summer.
In that case, you will need a few additional items: a "Kiss Me, I'm the Cook" apron, tongs and, yes, a barbecue.
If you are planning to purchase your first barbecue, there are some things to consider.
"The two main questions I ask [customers] are how many people do you normally cook for--that predicates the size of the grill--and what do you like to cook," said Stuart McDonald, manager of Barbeques Galore in Oxnard. "If you're somebody who does a couple of hamburgers, steaks or pieces of chicken, you don't want to walk out with a barbecue 4 feet wide."
Once shoppers decide on a size, they need to choose between charcoal and gas grills. Charcoal grills are slower and messier but have the reputation of producing more flavorful dishes--though McDonald said that isn't necessarily the case. Gas grills, which operate on natural gas or propane, are faster and require no extraordinary cleanup.
Of the charcoal set, McDonald said, the options range from the $8 beach hibachi up to 18- and 22-inch Weber grills priced at $55 to $400. Prices among the Weber models vary with size, durability and features.
At Barbeques Galore, the Webers come in standard, medium and deluxe models. The standard unit, in black only, is a basic no-frills grill. The mid-range model comes in several colors, features flip-up sides to allow for cooking on indirect heat and works on a one-touch system. The top-of-the-line Weber comes in different colors and offers several features, including a gauge to monitor internal temperature and an ash catcher.
As for gas, the type of barbecuing should determine the grill purchased. At Barbeques Galore the gas grills, which operate on natural gas hookups or propane tanks, run from about $100 for a simple grill up to about $6,000 for outdoor kitchens. The outdoor kitchens can come with stainless steel grills, side burners, sinks and masonry stands.
For gas grills, McDonald recommends dual-burner units that allow for one side to be heated while the other is cool. When comparing products, check out the BTU (British thermal units) rating. The higher the number, the faster the grill will reach a given level of heat.
"A good-size family grill price point is anywhere from $150 to $339--that's where the bulk of our sales are," McDonald said. "Price is determined by size, quality, warranty and [availability of] backup service."
McDonald said he has seen an increase in sales of gas grills priced from $350 to $700.
"That's where you get away from a cast-aluminum box to a porcelain or steel type of unit, multiburner, with folding shelves, temperature gauges, cast-iron burners, cast-iron grills. They're sturdier, better built."
Before buying a barbecue, McDonald said, it's important to anticipate how adventurous your barbecuing may get in the future. Check to see if the grill has attachments for griddle plate and rotisserie cooking if that's where you think you'll be headed.
Barbeques Galore features Fiesta, Broil King and Broil-Mate gas grills. Other popular brands found at mass retailers include Sunbeam, Coleman and Char-Broil.
Dan Hancock, a repairman at the Zender's store in Thousand Oaks, said the patio and barbecue shop has seen a huge increase in sales of masonry barbecues for outdoor kitchen-style gas barbecues. He said they start at about $740.
"If you don't want masonry, you can go the prefab route," he said. "With a prefab cabinet made out of a noncombustible material you can get away for $500."
Hancock said Zender's carries barbecues from a range of manufacturers, but he recommended two in particular--Ducane and Pacific Gas Specialties.
"If you can afford it, we'll get you into PGS," he said. "They have lifetime warranties on the grill, battery-powered igniters, 10-year warranties on the burners."
The barbecues, Hancock said, are large enough to cook about 10 hamburgers. They start at about $600 with an average of about $700. They are equipped to add features such as side burners, rear burners and rotisseries.
Ducane gas grills, with five-year warranties, go for about $440 to $1,200 for a stainless steel unit at Zender's.
For charcoal grills, Zender's carries several brands including Kingsford and Weber, ranging from $99 to about $300.
"A lot of people just aren't going to step away from the Weber," Hancock said. "Most people, even if they've got gas, will fire up a charcoal on weekends. If you've got the time, it's great to use charcoal."
Leo Smith can be reached at 653-7570 or by fax at 653-7576.