Going into this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, pretty much everyone knew we’d be deluged with artificial intelligence announcements and products. But no one saw grills being this big at the show.
Traditionally the barbecue has not been an especially high-tech affair. Steaks are seared. Burgers are flipped. And briskets are cooked low and slow (no exceptions). But the advent of pellet grills, such as Pit Boss or Traeger, has sparked something of a revolution among grill makers.
This year’s CES saw more than a half dozen high-tech grills on display, as manufacturers look to transform the market. Traditionalists might scoff at some of the products, but grill makers see big dollar potential. The outdoor cooking industry had sales of $6.1 billion in 2021 (the most recent figures available), a 14% increase over the prior year, according to Research and Markets.
Demand for electric grills, in particular, is on the rise.
There were plenty to choose from in Las Vegas this year, none, perhaps, more high-profile than GE’s Profile Smart Indoor Smoker. The countertop device is meant for your kitchen, not the patio. But using what it calls “active smoke filtration,” it aims to re-create the outdoor smokiness, without making your house a hazy, smelly mess.
Making it fit on a counter meant reducing the size of the cooking surface, though: You’ll have to cut racks of ribs in half, and fitting a brisket in this device will take an engineering degree. A decent-size pork butt fills up a grill rack entirely. But the idea of a barbecue slow cooker holds some appeal. It’s available now for $999.
[Photo: courtesy Masterbuilt Gravity XT]
Other companies are eschewing pellets and focusing solely on electricity. Startup Current will release its Backyard Model G in February for $899. The all-electric grill can reach temperatures of 150 degrees higher than a gas grill and also boasts a self-cleaning feature. This isn’t a model that most cooks would opt for if they’re thinking about smoking a brisket or ribs.
If speed is the priority, there’s always the Seergrills Perfecta, which purports to use AI to cook a burger or steak in less than two minutes. Thanks to its vertical infrared burners, there’s no flipping required. And built-in temperature sensors recognize when the food has reached your preferred temperature (rare, medium, or well), then shuts down the heat. Time is money, though. Seergrills expects to launch the Perfecta by the end of the year with an eye-popping price of $3,500.
Even with all the focus on electric grills, there are also new options for people who prefer to cook with charcoal or wood chunks. Masterbuilt and Kamado Joe, two very familiar names in the grilling world, both made their CES debuts this year. Parent company Middleby Outdoor had three products on display. The Kamado Joe Konnected is a $1,699 digital charcoal grill and smoker that lets you set your preferred temperature (taking away the sometimes onerous task of constantly monitoring the barbecue so that your food cooks as desired) and start the fire with the press of a button.
The Masterbuilt Gravity XT ($1,499, due in April), meanwhile, boasts a whopping 1,260 inches of cooking space (compared to 250 inches or so on a standard 18-inch Kamado) and a new gravity-fed charcoal system that provides indirect heat via a fan and digital controller. Like the Konnected, it maintains the optimal temperature electronically, without the need for monitoring.
The Masterbuilt AutoIgnite Series 545 is a $499 entry-level grill due in February that is meant to help gas-grill cookers transition to charcoal by allowing them to get the fire going with push-button ease.
Outdoor cooking has relatively simple roots. Fire + food = meal. But the growth of technology in grills not only makes these legitimate tech gadgets, it also makes tasks that might have once been intimidating to suburban wannabe pitmasters a lot more manageable.