Gone grillin'

Barbecue about more than just good food

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Perhaps it's the lure of a tasty burger or the smell that screams summertime. Whatever the reason, grilling is a popular summer pastime with appeal that lasts through a winter snowstorm.

Grilling, smoking and roasting also are about the love of the grill and the pride that comes with getting it done right.

Alan Webber has invested more than 500 hours building his grilling machine. The grill, which he named Barbie, was the "other woman" for nearly a year and a half. It can produce a roasted pig, rotisserie chicken or the hot dogs and hamburgers that are a must for family cookouts.

No matter what the function, grilling is all about the satisfied smile of those who partake.

"It's fun being with people, and you're outside," Webber said. "There's a pride thing, too. You want to see people's faces when they taste your food."

Webber takes almost as much pride in displaying his grill as he does cooking with it.

"I'll say 'Honey, I'm going to wash the barbecue,' and then I'll make about four laps around town because people like to look at it," he said. "There's nothing else like it out there."

There's also a cave-man appeal to cooking outside and providing for the family.

"It's the animal in us. It's in our roots," said Craig resident Bill Johnston. "There is nothing more satisfying to a manly man than fire-cooked meat."

And one thing is certain, wherever there's barbecue, there's always a crowd.

"There is something to be said for where we come from," Johnston said. "It's the old hunter-gatherer thing -- outside the cave where there is fire, there will be men cooking."

Johnston cooks outside using his smoker, roaster or grill three to four times a week in the summer and once or twice a week in the winter. With the advent of higher quality grills, cooking outside is becoming a more frequent occasion.

Retired Craig resident Gary Peer does most of the cooking at his home and uses his Traeger grill several times a week and can easily make an entire meal on the grill.

"All you do is flip a switch," Peer said. "I could make it through a whole week quite easily cooking entire meals on the grill." For Peer, it's the grill that makes the difference.

"This grill cooks steaks just as good if not better than Outback Steakhouse," he said.

Some of Peer's favorite dishes include grilled salmon, drunken chicken and Dot's potatoes.

Entertainment is another popular reason for grilling parties.

"I suppose for some people this is a passion," said J.B. Chapman, president of Nanaco Outdoors LLC. "For us, we enjoy having more parties now. You love it when people say we had a kickin' party over at their house, and you wouldn't believe how great the food was."

If you're invited to the Chapmans, you'll likely dine on everything from chicken and pork to brisket and halibut.

"We grill three to five nights a week summer and winter," Chapman said. "We think it's quicker because we enjoy doing it, and it's not such a mess indoors, so cooking doesn't seem like such a chore."

Chapman even revealed his newest grilling secret. When cooking drunken chicken, try using rootbeer for a sweeter, more unique flavor.

The environment that grilling induces is key to the best experience, but it also offers a healthy alternative to everyday cooking.

"People tend to use leaner cuts of meat, and they are more likely to cook vegetables," said Moffat County Extension director Elisa Shackelton. "When people are cooking in the kitchen, they tend to forget the vegetables, but you can grill corn, zucchini, asparagus -- just about anything."

Traeger grills offer a different style of cooking that doesn't allow hot greases or food particles to touch the flame, which alleviates the potential for unhealthy gases to be cooked into grilled foods.

"Grilling gets your juices flowing, and it makes people hungry. It's a summer tradition," Shackelton said. "And, it tends to be a place where men feel comfortable cooking, so everyone gets involved."

People tend to try new things and eat more healthy fare when grilling because of the variety of foods that can be cooked.

"Pizzas are becoming very popular," Shackelton said. "Items using more breads are popular and more healthy than a traditional style of cooking."

Locally owned Nanaco Outdoors LLC sells Traeger brand wood-pellet grills that offer an alternative to charcoal or gas grills.

"A lot of people's frustration over the years has been that meat isn't cooked consistently -- done in the middle, burned on the outside," Chapman said. "It's a convection-style of cooking. Grease never hits flame, so nothing ever burns and everything cooks evenly through."

Chapman touts the ability of Traeger grills to slow-cook as well as grilling.

"You have a barbecue grill, an oven, a smoker and a slow cooker all in one," he said, "which makes it unique."

Gas and charcoal grills are still an old favorite for Moffat County residents, and MJK Sales, Feed and Ace Hardware sells grills year-round.

"People are buying more of the higher line grills today because they do much more grilling," said Mike Pappalardl, MJK buyer and manager. "They seem to be cooking more all year long than they did before."

MJK specializes in Webber grills that range from $79 charcoal grills to $1,000-plus gas grills, and many new features make the grill a one-stop cooking appliance.

"These days, grills come with side burners and rotisseries, so you can cook an entire meal using the grill," Pappalardl said.

When choosing a grill, Chapman reminds consumers that it is as important to research a grill like you would any other appliance.

"To have a good grill that's going to last you, it's not unheard of for people to spend $1,000 to $1,500," Chapman said. "It's important to do your research before you buy."

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