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BBQ Season Goes High-Tech And Touchless

In Sydney, Australia in early May, one man carrying COVID-19 unwittingly triggered a media panic as he traversed that great city in search of … grilling supplies. As in, backyard BBQ.

Being referred to locally as Sydney’s “patient zero,” the guy visited an impressive number of barbeque boutiques — and at least one prime butcher shop — paying with touchless QR codes as he went, evidently unaware of his condition. Contact tracing is now underway. We expect he’ll experience “grilling” of a different sort from New South Wales health officials.

Much is learned from such cases, but we’re not here to talk about any of that. We’re here to talk about something more pressing: having a great holiday BBQ — pandemic be damned.

Some folks are already taking things to extremes. In evidence, we present the touchless, floating hotdog cooker. First reported by Gizmodo, the YouTube channel “NightHawkInLight” introduced viewers to its levitating hot dog cooker, which must be seen to be believed.

Suffice to say, it’s clever and safe and produces maybe one frankfurter every 15 minutes. Cousins you should never have invited will destroy the patio furniture unless 2021 grill masters can scale up hands-free burger production to (ahem) “meat” demand. We just want to help.

Of Hovering Hot Dogs and Grilling Apps

First, let’s look at some numbers and get our BBQ bearings.

Per research by NPD Group, over 14 million grills and smokers were sold between April 2020 and February 2021 — “up 39 percent in dollar sales during the pandemic, compared to the same period a year ago.” Peak grilling sales season (April to June) accounted for 43 percent of those sales, but it stretched into the second half of 2020 “with dollar growth in excess of 50 percent.”

NPD found that October and November “had stronger year-over-year sales growth than the 58 percent dollar increase seen in May 2020.”

That was during lockdowns and before vaccines. What about this year, starting with Memorial Day weekend festivities? As NPD home industry advisor Joe Derochowski recently said, “Consumers have turned pandemic-driven boredom into an opportunity to experiment with cooking, and the wide range of grilling and outdoor cooking options are helping them do it.”

Do tell, Joe. What are these outdoor cooking options? Just do not say “hovering hot dogs.”

Let’s start with handling the steak to see if it’s cooked. Rather than jab a thermometer in there every few minutes, fiddling with the meat and making guests edgy, try the Weber iGrill Mini — an idea we picked up from PC Mag. The Weber iGrill Mini is touchless, using a temperature probe that reads out on a smartphone app. Now that’s innovation. PC Mag also tipped us off to the Grillbot Automatic Grill Cleaning Robot, which they cleverly characterize as “essentially a Roomba for your barbecue.” Again, touchless. Anything to get that gunk off the grill.

Guests may also be put at ease if the chef wears Artisan Griller Insulated Cooking Gloves, something we saw while perusing Not only do they protect spatula-wielders from burns, but they also afford an extra layer of “touch” protection (pairs well with pandemic paranoia).

A ‘Meaty’ Memorial Day, No Matter What

So with the BBQ gear thing more or less handled, what are we eating?

The good people at Good Housekeeping recently touted the 11 best veggie and vegan burgers for BBQ season — if your idea of grilled perfection began life as a plant.

As Seth Goldman, chair of the board for Beyond Meat, recently told PYMNTS, “My family, being vegan, we used to joke, we’re not rabbits. We don’t want to just have salad and pasta for dinner. We want to have protein, and something delicious, and I think that’s going to be the expectation … It’s not just that 1 percent of consumers who are looking for it now.”

We’re down with the plant-based burger, which will one day surely win the world-famous Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest held earlier this month. Attendees were masked, socially distanced, observed capacity limits (even in the judge’s tent), wore color-coded wristbands with designated times and had access to sanitizing stations, organizers said. Not exactly a wild time, but be patient.

The group is holding its annual Great American River Run event “from the banks of the Mississippi River to the streets of Downtown Memphis” on Saturday (May 29). Will there be leftovers at the finish line? We heard the winners from the “pork division” are amazing.

Given that Friday (May 28) was National Hamburger Day, it’s all falling into place for that worry-free Memorial Day cookout, Father’s Day firepit or Fourth of July wingding you’ve been dreaming about. Grilling is back big-time, because it never stopped. That’s America for you.

Have a safe (and savory) Memorial Day.

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