Aficionados seek top quality in grills in suburbs

Andy Workinger is not the type to embrace disposable consumer goods. That's one reason he loves Solaire Infrared Grills.

Workinger sells Solaire grills, but his personal grill is one he bought used, replaced the igniter and judges good for another 10 years.

And another thing Workinger, an owner of Grass Roots Energy in Wauconda, will tell you about quality stainless steel and aluminum grills: They are made in America, often right here in the suburbs.

In fact, some of these companies have been in business for decades or even a century, with grills evolving from traditional blacksmithing or crafting steel products for the very exacting dairy and pharmaceutical industries.

Rasmussen Iron Works Inc., which makes Solaire grills, is a family-owned business that has been around since 1907, said Diana Mayer of Northwest Metalcraft in Arlington Heights. She also likes the fact that the way the grills are designed makes it easy to replace parts.

As we have learned, quality costs money. Solaire grills start at $1,500 to $2,000 and can go up to $10,000 depending on options, Workinger said.

The Solaire Infrared Grill features a ceramic plate with thousands of little holes that not only eliminates hot spots but produces heat of 1,600 degrees, three or four times hotter than traditional gas grills, says the Wauconda merchant. That heat rapidly sears and seals your meat, then cooks it evenly throughout, typically in half the time of a regular grill.

"When you're grilling with high heat and searing, typically that prevents drying out so you get meat that's juicier and more flavorful," he said. Workinger's customers learn to cook all kinds of food on these grills, and Solaire also offers grills with combination infrared and convection burners.

Grass Roots installs grills, too, including custom masonry work.

The company also sells two brands of aluminum grills, Broilmaster and Modern Home Products of Antioch.

"They will last 30 years," Workinger said. "It's aluminum, and aluminum doesn't rust." These brands retail for $700 to $1,200.

Why are people willing to spend this much money for grills we might only use for a few months of the year here in the chilly Midwest?

Well, for one thing, the grilling season has been extended considerably, as Solaire proves with stories and photos of fans in places such as Alaska and Canada - much colder than the Chicago suburbs - grilling in the snow.

"People are not buying new homes," Workinger said. "So they're making their homes more enjoyable for themselves. They're extending their living area and building a nice patio with a fireplace and maybe a built-in grill."

And Mayer thinks people who spend more time at home these days appreciate having a good grill.

"They can get a great steak at home without spending $100 and going downtown to a steak house," she said.

And if you listen to Christopher Mordi, vice president of communications for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, "Food has become kind of a national sport."

This passion has helped Kalamazoo, whose hybrid grills start at $11,000, enjoy back-to-back record years, Mordi said.

"With the Cooking Channel and Food Network, people are much more aware of food and are more adventurous," he said. "Our customers tend to be adventurous or risk takers or just want the best and a grill that will help them do that."

The Michigan company makes hybrid grills. That means you can cook with gas or just use it to light wood or charcoal that goes into drawers beneath the cooking surface and above the gas flame.

This drawer design comes in handy if you are smoking your food.

"When you're smoking, you never want to open the hood and let the heat out," Mordi said. "With the hybrid you leave the hood down, open a drawer to check on the fuel and add more wood."

The K1000 HB costs $17,000 and boasts four cooking zones for preparing different types of food at different temperatures or moving pieces from one type of heat to another at different phases of the process. Kalamazoo also offers different grill plate designs for each type of food - meat, vegetables and fish.

Weber of Palatine is one of the many brands of grills offered at Northwest Metalcraft in Arlington.

While Weber manufactures traditional charcoal and gas grills, the company also makes electric grills, especially useful for people living in apartments or condominiums where charcoal and gas are not allowed. One of the new Weber electric grills called the Weber Q240 is priced at $329.

<b>Where you can find upscale grills on the Internet:</b>

&#376; Solaire.

&#376; Kalamazoo.

&#376; Weber.

&#376; Northwest Metalcraft.

&#376; Grass Roots Energy.

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