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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Ultimate thrill: Food from grill

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

This year's must-have Father's Day gift for He Who Must Make Fire is the rotisserie grill — ideal for even grilling of odd-shaped cuts, for melting away unwanted fats and for producing meltingly tender texture because of the slow-turning, self-basting action.

Rotisserie is "one of the many ways we are pushing the envelope on grilling," said Steven Raichlen, author of "The Barbecue Bible."

Photos by Sherrie Buzby • Arizona Republic

And this gift comes in pretty much every price range — from Salton's George Foreman version and the TV-hyped Popeil, countertop appliances that sell for just over $50, to custom-built patio islands that can run to six figures. (Yes, six.) The median range for a good-sized grill with a rotisserie attachment suitable for a small turkey is from $500 to $1,000, depending on features and where you buy it.

"Rotisserie is just another phase in our love affair with grilling and one of the hottest-selling grill features," said Tony Miller, a spokesman for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association.

Some credit the supermarket rotisserie chicken for reviving interest in this device, and rotisseries are known to do a particularly good job with poultry, which is otherwise difficult to grill in its whole state because of the varying widths of the meat.

But, said Steven Raichlen, author of "The Barbecue Bible" and host of the PBS show "BBQ University," "Rotisserie is so much more than just about chicken. It's one of the many ways we are pushing the envelope on grilling. We just don't settle for the basics anymore."

Henry Young of Hawai'i Kai bought a box-shaped, two-shelf Weber grill when his family parties outgrew the old kettle style. He decided to pay the extra $100 for a rotisserie attachment just because it sounded fun. He's never looked back. We caught him on his cell while he was on vacation in Vegas and he said he was actually missing the thing: "Oh, yeah, I use 'em every weekend. I make barbecue chicken, Chinese-style roast duck, beautiful pork roast — any kine," he said. "What I like — no need stand around turning the meat. The work is before you grill; you gotta learn how to get the meat on the spit right so it won't fall off. But after that, you get it started, go talk story, come back little while, baste — that's it."

(Weber makes rotisserie attachments for its top-of-the-line Summit and Genesis gas grills; go to www.Weber.com to see models, and plug in your zip code to find a local dealer.)

A rotisserie itself is a fairly simple device composed of a small electric motor that powers a turning mechanism, a spit fitted with a pair of prongs for skewering the food and some means of anchoring the spit over the heat source. Although it's a free-standing attachment, most rotisseries are designed to be used in combination with a particular grill. The rotisserie turns the food over at slow seven rotations a minute.

Rotisseries do a particularly good job with poultry, which is otherwise difficult to grill in its whole state.
At Gemini Pool and Spa in Pearl City, prices for gas grills with rotisserie units range from $800 to as much as $7,000 for built-in islands — the hot trend, according to saleswoman Charlene Sloan. "You get what you pay for. You're making an investment and you know you're going to have this grill for quite a while," she said.

Rotisserie grills offer different features. Some units allow you to use gas to heat charcoal and/or wood chips to get a smoky flavor; some have drip pans where liquids such as wine or beer can be placed to infuse the meat; some have infrared units at the back to create a heat source from two directions.

Among rotisserie accessories are baskets that attach to the skewer to grill such unexpected selections as seafood, artichokes, chicken wings and ribs. There are two kinds: tumble and flat. The food simply tumbles inside the round basket as it turns. The flat basket works for foods such as whole fish, kebabs, or ribs, which are held securely as they turn over and over.

Lots of dads have their eyes on the latest grilling prize: stainless steel gas grill-and-cook appliances. These behemoths look as though a chunk of a professional kitchen the size of a Mini Cooper decided to take wing and land on the lanai. Every major grill manufacturer has some version of these outdoor kitchens.

In Honolulu, for one example, Costco has:

• Sure Heat Sonoma's 30-inch stainless steel gas grill with three cooking areas totalling 504 square inches, a rotisserie big enough for a couple of chickens at a time and a single side burner for $564.99.

• Grand Classic's mondo-grill with 1,140 square inches of grilling area with three separate controls, two side burners, a rotisserie big enough for a small pig, storage drawers and counter area for $1,389.99

"The New Gas Grill Gourmet" recommends you look for heavy-gauge metal that resists rust.
But be aware that you're going to need the help of all your brothers-in-law, or maybe a forklift, to get these puppies into place.

What you buy, and how much you spend, depends on what kind of grilling you plan to do, for how many people, how often and — of course — how much you can afford.

What should you look for?

In his updated classic, "the New Gas Grill Gourmet," A Cort Sinnes offers this advice:

Size counts. Look for 350 to 400 square inches of cooking surface, minimum.

Surfaces matter. Look for heavy-gauge metal that resists rust or has a rust-resistant coating. Be sure attendant parts, such as legs, wheels, support for swing-up racks, burners and such) are also rust-resistant. Invest in a high-quality, snug-fitting cover.

Too hot. More BTUs (British Thermal Units) are not necessarily better; too many can mean burning costly fuel to no good effect. For a typical-size gas grill, 20,000 to 50,000 BTUs is adequate. Ask your dealer to make a case for the grill's gas efficiency.

Features are up to you. Side burners are nice, but if your kitchen is nearby, you may not need them. Resting racks are generally inadequate; station a table nearby with a heatproof surface. Don't fall for gizmos at the expense of the above key features.

Kick the tires. Lift and lower the lid, check the stability of the legs, consider clean-up issues. Short people should check to be sure the lid doesn't brush against their arm when they lift it to the fully open position — the source of painful burns.

The Arizona Republic's Karen Fernau contributed to this report.