Labor Day weekend marks not just the big last hurrah of summer, but the symbolic close of cookout season—“cookout” in this case meaning a sociable get-together where the grill is the spiritual centerpiece. Outdoor grilling as a cooking method, meanwhile, is beloved enough nowadays that it’s a three-season activity for many, and a year-round one for the most hardcore devotees.
Though a top-of-the-line grill is not a requirement for a perfectly medium-rare steak with just the right amount of char, the grilling lifestyle is especially appealing to gearheads. Fancy and expensive equipment alone does not a pitmaster make, though it certainly can’t hurt.
We consider here a variety of grills whose price tags may be out of reach for many, because it’s fun to daydream. They combine luxurious appearance with luxurious names (Napoleon! Saber!) and seem a much more fitting final destination for those thick-cut veal chops than the rickety and rusty gas grill I found next to a trash can in my neighborhood a few years ago. That grill became mine, and it worked fine, and the veal chops were fantastic, but there’s no doubt that a foxy grill can fuel enthusiasm for outdoor cooking like nothing else. Summer, we send you off into the sunset, but our grills? They’re not getting put away for the season.
Sleek, sturdy, and simple, this is the grill for classy architects to buy. Danish-made (“Our grills reflect the Danish tradition of gathering around an outdoor fire with family and friends while enjoying the serenity of nature,” states their site) with appealing Scandinavian design, the Dancook charcoal grill features a patented liner to collect grease and ash.
Known to aficionados as a PK, a Portable Kitchen grill is an American classic. Just as there are PC and Mac people, there are Weber people and PK people. There may be more Weber people out there, but PK people are especially passionate in their devotion. The convection heat of its cast aluminum body and its simple but attractive design distinguish the PK. Made in Little Rock, Arkansas, rust-proof PK grills last for decades; the one I use is nearly 40 years old, once belonged to my parents, and bears the loving patina of many a boozy backyard fête.
While it may resemble a stainless-steel copy machine, the Saber Edge is enabled with Wi-Fi so it can alrt you via your smartphone when the grill’s achieved the temperature you want. The LED display offers information on temperature and fuel level at a glance, and the optional ceramic glass lid lets you check on the progress of what you’re cooking without even opening the grill.
A Canadian company, Napoleon enjoys a solid reputation among many grill-centric websites. This model is for those who like features galore, including a tray to easily hold wood chips for smoking, wave-shaped stainless steel cooking grids, interior lights and illuminated knobs for easy night grilling, an integrated ice bucket to chill drinks, and a powerful infrared rear burner.
Founded in Atlanta in 1974, Big Green Egg shares it fundamental design with ancient clay cooking vessels found in China and Japan. Sold through dealers exclusively, Big Green Eggs have sturdy ceramic cooking chambers that don’t heat up as much on the exterior as grills with metal bodies. This puppy, the largest model they make and via special order only, weighs 400 pounds and is perhaps best suited for an affluent person who hosts annual extended family reunions and needs enough surface area to grill four dozen burgers at once. Worry not, mortals—Big Green Eggs come in plenty more manageable sizes.
If its shape reminds you of Big Green Egg’s, that’s because it’s also based on the centuries-old design of Japanese Kamado grills. Komodo Kamado is different in that, according to its website, its body is “a multi-layer design with a dense, durable hot face jacketed with a vermiculite and aerogel insulating outer layer” to optimize temperature containment. Feel-good bells and whistles include a lid that opens at the pull of a trigger and a luxe tiled surface that lends the Komodo Kamado a sculptural look.
For those who prefer a little boat with their grill, here’s a donut-shaped vessel that will loudly advertise to all passers-by what a pompous dork you are. Oh, wait, these are supposed to be grills to dream about…so, know that the target market for the German-made barbecue grill boat is not individuals, but resorts. Imagine staying at a ritzy lakeside resort and having access to a grill boat for the day. Now it doesn’t seem as dorky. The grill that’s the centerpiece of this monstrosity is a Swiss OUTDOORCHEF, which the website Amazingribs.com refers to as “the European Weber.”
Grilling starts with flames, and to have flames, all you need to do is make a fire.
The Argentine chef Francis Mallmann ascended to fame after embracing the improvisational, elemental nature of cooking over an open fire in a manner that’s both uniquely South American and universal. The author of Seven Fires and the more recent Mallmann on Fire, Mallmann is an inspiring advocate for just getting the hell out there and building a fire. Sure, he has a staff of disciples to assist him in lugging a dozen lamb carcasses to scenic Patagonian vistas for his fiery al fresco feasts, but the principle remains intact: cooking this way is accessible. It’s about the approach, not the number of auxiliary infrared burners. That’s the dream and the essence of grilling. You can buy his book for $22.45, but if the library has it, you can check it out for $0.
Sara Bir is Paste’s food editor. She’s cool with gas or charcoal.
Main image via pkgrills.com