The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Grilling Season is Around the Corner

This blog entry is one part celebration that warm weather and the so-called “Grilling Season” is just around the corner, and two parts rant that the “Grilling Season” even exists. Every year I get frustrated that you have to jump through hoops to grill or smoke through the winter. To those who say “Grilling Season” is around the corner, IMHO Grilling season is year round.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love living in New England. I love having 4 seasons with all their variety. Perhaps this makes me a freak of nature, but I don’t apologize for it. In the full disclosure department: There are some years I have had more than enough of either summer or winter. Despite all of the snow this year, I still hadn’t gotten to the point where I was sick of winter. I think a big part of that is because I was able to grill or smoke through the winter. One of the reasons I longed for autumn in years past was so I could get beck to enjoying some of my favorite foods of summer. Now I am able to enjoy most foods year round because I started grilling and smoking year round. The local & national merchants around here don’t make it easy though. In New England there seems to be an unwritten rule that grilling season extends from Memorial Day to Labor Day and thou shalt grill between only those days.

We are now through the worst of winter. Several weeks of warmer temperatures and rain, not snow, have reduced the 3 foot snow pack down to 4” in my back yard and 12” in the front. There are actually a few bare spots here and there too. Another sure sign spring is around the corner is spring Training is under way. What is frustrating on the one hand and encouraging on the other hand is grilling related products are starting to appear in the stores. What is now a trickle will soon be a flood. With the exception of the larger stores like Home Depot, Lowes, Sears etc. the normal cycle around here is most stores keep next to no grilling related supplies in through the winter. In late March or early April the grilling gear begins to appear in the stores. It usually peaks just before Memorial Day and are usually some great grilling related sales on Memorial Day. The stores keep a good inventory until July 4th weekend. Once again there are some more great sales in the week leading up to the July 4th weekend. But then it gets silly. Even though there are 2 and arguably 3 months of warm weather left for grilling, about a third of the stores stop getting new grilling gear in. Walk in to some of these stores in late July and you will find they are almost cleared out. Come Labor Day the remaining stores have sales which fall into two categories. The first is a giant blow out sale intended to clear out the remaining stock. This is a great time to stock up on charcoal for the winter. The other stores have sales intended to reduce inventory and then they will just let the rest of the goods sell out in the next few months. They don’t restock again until spring. The big box stores have a limited supply of grills and grill gear that is not consistent from branch to branch.

This state of affairs is rather sad. In the summer virtually every hardware, grocery, fireplace, cooking and department store has some form of charcoal and grilling gear available for sale. Come fall and into winter this changes drastically. My supermarket has all kinds of charcoal available in the summer. They carry 4 brands in various sized bags and they carry briquettes, self-lighting briquettes and lump. In the cold months they typically have about 8, count them 8, bags of the smallest sized blue bag Kingsford at an obscenely high price. My first couple winters smoking, I had to resort to these as a last choice. I had some hope for Home Depot, which last winter carried Kingsford Competition Blend All Natural Hardwood Briquettes. This winter they only had blue bag Kingsford and Kingsford Mesquite. I’ve switched to using Stubb’s from Lowes but I don’t have a full winters experience to see if they actually keep it in all winter. So I’ve resorted to trying to stocking up on 50 bags or so to get me through the winter. This is a pain in the neck because I have to clear an area in the basement and then drag 50 bags downstairs all at once. Believe me it gets old after the first 20. What is particularly frustrating is when I do buy bags in the winter the people at the register all volunteer they know folks that grill all year.

Why can’t some enterprising store keep the grill section open and well stocked year round and advertise that we are your year round grilling center? I’d bet it would attract quite a few folks. Speaking for myself I would remain a loyal customer throughout out the entire year. Now there was a store that tried this and they failed miserably. They also did it stupid. They were a 3 store local barbecue place that carried only grills, grilling supplies and outdoor furniture year round, and nothing else. I knew this was suicide and it makes me wonder what loan officer at what bank ever thought that would work in New England. The store lasted under a year, they didn’t make it out of their first winter. What I am talking about is some store that sells a variety of goods that tries to make a go of selling the grilling gear year round and make it known. Or if that isn’t feasible, make it easy for folks to order bags of charcoal in the winter and advertise this. I think enough people do this grilling thing year round, that a couple stores in an area could take advantage of the fact most stores have declared the grilling season over. It might actually get more people grilling year round if they see there is a year round source of supplies. I often wonder if it is some sort of chicken and egg thing. More folks don’t consider grilling in the winter because everywhere they go the stores have declared the season over. But the stores don’t stock items because they (incorrectly) assume no one grills in the winter. Now I don’t expect all stores to keep grilling supplies in year round, but nor do they all have to stop carrying it.

Another sign of the coming “Grilling Season” is the appearance of shiny new grills in the stores. While this is normally a promising sign of springs to Come (sorry!), the last few years I find it depressing if you actually stop to examine the grills. With the cost of stainless steel rising, you are seeing less and less of it in grills. My brother called me from Lowes late last summer where he was looking at grills. He wanted to know why the Weber grills cost so much more than the other grills. I told him to get a magnet elsewhere in the store and go back and try to attach it to the grills. The ones where the magnet didn’t stick used a good grade of stainless steel. Guess what? The only grills where the magnet didn’t stick were the Weber grills. The other ones were a low grade stainless steel that will rust. It is telling that the some of the CharBroil infra red grills on list the replacement flame cover and grill grates as the most purchased replacement part. What is wrong with this you ask? Well these models had been around only one season. A grill rusting out after one season is pretty bad. The new grills coming out have all these bells and whistles designed to separate you from your money. They are grafting cheap gimmicks onto a cheaply made grill to make you think you are getting a great bargain. Often you are not. Once you get these grills home, you soon find you don’t actually need or use these bells and whistle and the grill itself is a piece of...crap. Pardon this sidebar rant. I used to enjoy checking out the new grills come spring. Now most of them are really crappy. Every year you see how they cut more and more corners. My CG was well built for the price when I bought it. Now that CharGriller has outsourced to China, they are noticeably cheaper and the fit and finish is abysmal. Even Weber has started outsourcing some of the bolt on pieces like side tables and grates to China and you can readily tell the difference.

But all is not bad. Charcoal is starting to return to the stores. New grilling and smoking cookbooks are showing up in the book stores. Soon the specialty stores like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table will start unveiling their new grill gear for summer 2011. There will be summer cooking related classes at some of these stores. Grilling does seem to be getting more popular judging by the amount of new books and grilling tools becoming available. I just need to remember to make sure I stock up before July 4th when the stores start cutting back. But I am not bitter. The coming of the warmer weather means warming up the grill or smoker takes less time as does the cooking. In less than a month I will erect my EZ-Up shelter and will be able to stay nice and dry in the rainy weather. I will give the grills a thorough spring cleaning and put a new coat of paint on my CG’s SFB. One thing I don’t like about the winter is you can not wash down the outside of the grill. The temps are just too cold and there is nothing worse than a frozen in place grill cover. While I grill most things year round now, there are still a few things like paella which aren’t practical in the cold weather because there is a lot of time spent with the lid up. Soon the sky will be the limit.

So to wrap up my little mini rant: I am happy the warm weather is just around the corner. I’m happy it will soon be easy to make anything I want and there will be no artificial obstacles to pursuing my hobby. But on the other hand, it is frustrating to run in to these unwritten rules where “They”, whoever “They” actually are, have determined “Grilling season” has these hard limits from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I wish some store owners would think outside of the box a bit and test out carrying grill supplies year round. In addition they should publicize this so it is not a well kept secret. I’d bet they’d be surprised at the amount of folks who cook outdoors year round. Happy spring and a great grilling and smoking season to all.

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