What has a 42-inch plasma screen television, two waterfalls and can cook 40 hamburgers all at once?
No, it's not a Burger King in Beverly Hills -- it's the U-9000 Ultimate Outdoor Kitchen and Entertainment Center from Cal Flame, a gigantic barbeque unit that comes with seating for six, a built-in refrigerator and enough stainless steel to make star chef Emeril Lagasse weep with joy. Of course, at more than $30,000, the U-9000's price tag could make him weep as well.
Pedestrian propane and cheapo charcoal grills continue to dominate America's backyards, but there is a growing trend toward super-sized stainless steel outdoor kitchens, like the U-9000. While 83% of grills sold in America cost less than $300, according to research from the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association -- 15% sold for more than $800 and manufacturers are moving to fill the upscale niche.
"We've seen double-digit growth in the premium segment over the last two years," said Kelly McAllister, spokesperson for the HPBA. "People are paying more attention to outdoor areas, making them more like indoor areas and an extension of the home. We've gone beyond simply nesting. We're hiving."
The rise of renovation-themed television shows like
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
are exposing outsized offerings to new audiences, too. A recent survey of 1,000 grill owners, by Weber, revealed that nearly half of the respondents had an outdoor room or furnished patio. Last year, Americans spent nearly $3 billion on barbeques and related equipment, a number that is expected to grow, as baby boomers and retirees begin outfitting their second homes.
The benefits of an outdoor room stretch beyond the joys of care-free cookouts -- early signs show they can also add value to your home. If a homeowner were to add a permanent outdoor kitchen, such an expense can be wrapped into the mortgage and is included in the appraisal value of the home.
"A lot of this is relatively new, so there haven't been any university studies on this yet, but we were told the products should appraise at a one-to-one value," said Ross Johnson, of Hearth and Home Products, a manufacturer of outdoor products. "If you put in a $10,000 outdoor room, your home should appraise for $10,000 more, because it's considered a fixture in your home."
With Memorial Day slightly about a week away, there's still time to get a gleaming grill -- even the largest units can be delivered and assembled on site in less than 24 hours. Here's a look at some of the season's best offerings.
The Backyard Sports Bar
If the U-9000 isn't sporty enough, the folks at Cal Flame have another outdoor kitchen aimed at pennant-waving gourmands. The Cal Flame 3000 Gourmet Sports Bar and Grill has everything you'd find at the local watering hole, with a pair of 17-inch flat screen televisions, six-speaker surround sound system, a 400-watt amplifier and a DVD/CD player.
But with a price tag that runs close to $30,000, Cal Flame's sports bar is more of a choose-your-own-adventure than a one-size-fits-all product. Virtually every square inch of the unit, which is about 14 feet by 7 feet, can be customized to user specifications. Options include beer taps, retractable awnings, a juice bar, two refrigerator styles, crown moldings, mood lighting and even a spice rack.
like the sports bar are more expensive because the price includes all of the building materials," said McAllister. "They also can be designed with all kinds of different tiles and options so you can really make a statement with your design. And then, of course, the neighbors will want one, too."
Indeed, it probably helps to think of Cal Flame's sports bar as a home addition instead of a mere grill. Cal Flame offers five finishing styles in brick, stone, stucco, tile and rock to ensure that each and every one sold is a truly one-of-a-kind item. With such a hefty price tag, Cal Flames outdoor kitchens are built from rustproof stainless steel and quality building materials, then shipped assembled, making set up a snap.
The Infrared Igniter
Industrial kitchens provide the inspiration for cookware that the rest of us end up using, like the stainless steel refrigerators that are en vogue these days. The backyard is no different. This year's hottest trend is the infrared grill, which produces the same intense heat professionals use to sear steaks to perfection.
Star Manufacturing has a deluxe 48-inch combination grill for $7,500 that includes one infrared burner and two conventional gas burners, enabling cooks to char the outside of the steak at a high temperature, then finish it off the old fashioned way. The entire unit is crafted from stainless steel and has a built-in smoker and a chain-driven rotisserie cooker that's strong enough to handle a 50-pound pig.
With so many different ways to cook in one unit, the novice chef may be concerned that his food will end up bloody or burned to a crisp. But Star Manufacturing idiot-proofs the cooking process with an electronic data pod that tracks a variety of temperatures within the unit.
"The data pod has a digital timer and a grill temperature button that will show the temperature inside the grill," said Eiron Scheetz, spokesperson for the company. "It also has a meat thermometer so you can check the temperature of your food. You can see if your steak is medium rare without having to cut into it. Now I don't have to guess when my pork tenderloin is done."
The Condo Cooker
Urban dwellers are often out of luck when it comes to barbeque season, because most condos, co-ops and landlords will not allow tenants to use gas or charcoal grills. But electric grills, which don't have an open flame, are perfectly fine and can offer a similar experience as their more popular counterparts.
The biggest drawback on the electric grill is the lack of sizzle. Cheap models cook like glorified microwaves and don't reach the scorching temperatures that flames provide, leaving steaks cooked but not crisp. The $700 Cherokee electric grill from TEC Infra-Red neatly sidesteps this common problem, using infrared technology to provide one of the hottest cooking surfaces in the entire product segment.
"Most electric grills have the same kind of element you have on the electric range in the house, but what happens is you lose 30% to 40% of the heat through the bottom of the grill," said Johnny Johnson, spokesperson for the company. "What we did was literally bury the heating element and reflect 100% of the heat waves up at the food. We don't lose any heat."
In fact, with all of the heat directed up and away from the unit, the bottom of the Cherokee remains cool enough to be used on a picnic table. Covered in stainless steel, the Cherokee is a hefty 48 pounds, light enough to make it onto the terrace attached to a condo, but not quite portable unless you pony up another $200 for the cart.
The Portable Powerhouse
If spending thousands of dollars isn't your style, Weber has a diminutive offering with an affordable price tag that's rapidly becoming a cult item among the Hollywood elite. The Weber Q portable gas grill costs just $200, weighs 41 pounds, runs on a propane tank and has enough grill space to cook 10 king-size strip steaks.
The sleek unit has a porcelain enameled cast iron cooking surface and is crafted from aluminum, looking more like a George Foreman grill than the rusty hibachi in the garage.
With its good looks, the Weber Q is slowly developing a following among A-listers. It was shown at the American Music Awards and New York's TriBeCa film festival last year. In February, Weber gave the Q grill away in gift baskets to Michael Douglas, Renee Zellweger and other celebrities who attended the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The company claims that Ashton Kutcher is a fan.
With the high-dome lid, the Weber Q is big enough to cook a whole chicken and is durable enough to be used as a standalone grill with the purchase of Weber's $50 rolling cart accessory. And for those who are looking for an even smaller version, Weber now offers a downsized model called the Baby Q, which weighs six pounds less that its larger counterpart, cooks at least four burgers and costs $150.