If the lawn and garden department of Wilmes Do it Best Hardware wasn’t busy enough selling lawnmowers, manager Mike Wilmes expects the South Sioux City shop will likely see an increased interest in home grilling units and accessories by Memorial Day weekend.
Now that the Siouxland weather has begun to settle (please, no more snow), locals have an itch to fire up their grills for after-work barbecue feasts or for a platter of charred hot dogs and brats to go along with homemade potato salad and cold beers.
That’s the life of a grill master, folks. Sounds pretty neat doesn’t it? Well, for us ramen noodle-gobblin’ Weekender writers, the art of grilling is a bit of a mystery. As much as we’d like to say we’re experts in this particular field, we cannot stray away from the truth: we have absolutely no idea how to cook on a grill, much less which type of grill we would want if we decided to buckle down and purchase a unit before summer hits.
That’s where Wilmes comes in.
“A lot of people that come to us, they’re tired of junk,” said Wilmes. “They want to know what makes this grill better [than that grill].”
Who ought to know better, right?
KNOW THE TYPES OF GRILLS
According to the shop’s manager, there are three predominant types of grills: charcoal, gas (both propane and natural) and pellet grills. The latter, Wilmes said, uses compressed wood pellets that both fuel the grill’s flame and infuse the meats and vegetables with flavorful smoke.
“There are various ‘flavors’ of wood that provide different tastes for different meats,” said Wilmes, motioning to stacked bags of wood pellets marked with their respected flavors – maple, hickory, oak, apple and the like. “There are also blends. But that’s the newest and fastest growing grilling right now. There is more interest in pellet grills right now.”
Despite the sudden rush in popularity in pellet grills, Wilmes said gas grills are still, by far, the most common. Both efficient and convenient, gas grills are easier to set up than their charcoal counterparts. But Wilmes still has customers who prefer the tastes and flavor profiles of food made on a charcoal grill.
“There are different kinds of meats they like better on a charcoal grill – mainly lots of poultry,” he said.
NOTE YOUR SURFACE AREA
When Wilmes was showing me around the lawn and garden department, we came across what I thought was a heavy duty gas grill – I believe the word I used to describe it was “massive.” To which Wilmes sort of chuckled and said, “You say ‘massive,’ but right now that’s kind of the standard size.”
Really? But from the looks of the Weber-brand unit, I could fit an entire meal or two on large cookie grate. Wilmes informed me that was the point. In fact, more customers are seeking grills able to cook entire meals all in one sitting. Which means there are even bigger grills than that “massive,” standard-sized unit Wilmes had me look at.
“You’re starting to see more and more people cook an entire meal on the grill,” he said. “You can cook your meat on here. Sweet corn on a grill is very popular on here. They leave it right on the husks, but if you’re going to do that you’re going to need a big area.”
FIND A GRILL TO KEEP
Wilmes owns a Traeger-brand pellet grill and a Weber-brand gas grill at home. The latter, he said, is probably about 15 years old and works just as well as it did the day he bought it new.
“I think I’ve put one set of flavor bars in it,” Wilmes said. “They take a pretty good beating, but it still has the original grates.”
Which is perfect when Wilmes wants to sear fish right on top of the grill or cook salmon on cedar planks. The manager remembered a customer he helped awhile back. A woman stopped by the shop looking for a grill to purchase but didn’t want to spend too much money.
“She was leaning on one of the Webers when she was talking,” Wilmes recalled. “She said, ‘I’m so sick of spending $150 for three years and then I spend another $150 for three years. Haven’t you got anything that won’t do that?’ I said, yeah, you’re leaning on it.”
Wilmes said she ended up buying the grill and expects she still uses it. That was 15 years ago. Knowing which grill is going to stand the test of time takes a bit of research. So doing homework or asking around will likely help a final purchase. Wilmes said a good way to decide is to find a grill that has ways in which customers can purchase parts for repairs.
"The best advice I can give to somebody is if you're going to spend your hard-earned money on a grill, find a grill that you can get parts for," he said. "It's always been frustrating when someone comes in with a grill they got somewhere and they can't find burners and can't find grates for it. It's kind of a shame to be a disposable society."