New grills, gas torches help homeowners extend the summer

Outdoor living at home has become so much a part of our everyday life that entrepreneurs and established companies alike are rushing to invent new products to appeal to those who would rather spend time outdoors than indoors.

New and better ways of cooking succulent foods, lighting the night and enjoying an evening fire without smelling like a campfire are all now on the market, said Mark Johnson, president of Grassroots Energy Inc. in Wauconda.

Grassroots Energy, in business since 1978, began as an alternative heating store selling high-efficiency wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. But over the years their product lines have expanded to include gas-burning fireplaces and stoves, pellet stoves, gas logs, fireplace doors, grills, fire rings, gas torches and outdoor furniture.

Although people in northern Illinois now enjoy their outdoor spaces many months longer each year than they once did, spring and summer are still the times when they are generally in the market for outdoor items.

There are now two schools of thought when it comes to outdoor cooking, Johnson said. Some people prefer to cook on a grill at very high temperatures for a short period of time in order to sear in the juices. Others choose to cook at low, stable temperatures in a cooker for a very long period of time. Still others choose to have both types of outdoor cooking on hand, using different ones, depending on the food involved.

Grassroots Energy sells Solaire infrared grills that cook three times hotter than a typical gas grill does and can be used in all weather. These top-of-the-line grills range in price from $400 for a small one that can be used for camping or boating to $10,000 for one with all the bells and whistles, Johnson said.

They also carry the Big Green Egg, which is widely acclaimed as the original American-designed ceramic cooker. Derived from an ancient clay cooking device known as a “kamado,” this versatile cooker is fueled by natural lump charcoal and costs between $700 and $1,600.

“It is ideal for any food that you want to cook slowly like ribs, a big turkey, even pizza,” Johnson said. “This fuel dissipates very slowly so it doesn’t dry out the food and everything stays juicier. You can also adjust the heat with the air shutters on the cooker.”

There are various options for mounting the cooker, which can weigh anywhere between 100 and 250 pounds. There is a table-mounted option that allows the user to roll it around, a nest option that acts as a grill stand, and the cookers can even be made stationery through mounting in an outdoor kitchen center, like an oven, Johnson said.

Those who want to make a statement with their grill can also opt for the Rais Giseh grill, which doubles as a yard sculpture. This rust-colored steel grill looks like a skyscraper model, standing about 6-feet tall on an 18-inch square base. It costs $1,550 plus tax and shipping.

“This is a shrimp on the barby-type grill, similar to what you would find in a forest preserve,” he said. “You don’t want to use it for anything big or fancy, but it makes a fun statement in your yard, doubling as a contemporary minimalist sculpture.”

Lighting the night in a modern yard can also be an experience. Tempest torches, featuring impressive vortex flames fueled by natural gas or propane, are catching on locally, Johnson said. They come in a variety of forms from a tabletop version (retailing for $250) that serves as a conversation piece, to wall-mounted sconces and post-mounted lanterns, which can cost up to $1,600 each.

“Almost all of the ones we install locally are permanently affixed and tied into the home’s natural gas lines, but the small tabletop ones, for instance, are fueled by gel fuel and there are raised fire pit-style tempest torches that can be fueled by propane tanks hidden underneath,” Johnson said.

“Many municipalities don’t want people burning solid fuel like wood anymore. So homeowners are opting for clean-burning gas outdoor fire pits that use either outdoor gas logs or colored glass pieces arranged in troughs, often in a raised table,” he said.

Grassroots Energy will construct custom tabletop fire pits with glass pieces to the specifications of the homeowner. They recently built one, for instance, with a granite top. Components for such a fire pit cost $500, but then the structure cost varies, depending upon the materials chosen by the homeowner and the fuel chosen. It they want it tied into the home’s gas lines, for instance, the distance the pit is from the home is another factor.

Grassroots Energy’s 3,000-square-foot showroom is at 28751 N. Rand Road, Wauconda. For more information, visit or call (847) 526-5888.

The rust-colored steel Rais Giseh grill makes an artistic statement in the yard.
Tempest torches for the yard, featuring flames fueled by natural gas or propane, are catching on locally.
The Big Green Egg, a widely acclaimed ceramic cooker, can be used to slow-cook meats.
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