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Summer ignites grilling passion

rills and the Fourth of July are hot: It's one of the best ways to enjoy summer holidays, savor the outdoors and get the most out of the season's longer days.

"People are working more and longer hours and commuting, and [grilling] is their only chance to be outside," says Kelly Stieff, owner of KMI Design Associates, an interior design firm in Leesburg, Va. She is a professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID)in Northeast.

Grillers have more options when it comes to purchasing a new grill than they did three to four years ago, says Mike West, principal of BBQ Island Outdoor Products, a builder of prefabricated outdoor kitchens based in Gilbert, Ariz.

"With all of the options, who wants to cook inside?" Mr. West asks.

Grills can be free-standing on wheels or built into a larger cooking center with kitchen amenities, and they come in a variety of materials, including stainless steel, aluminum, cast porcelain, cast aluminum and cast iron, Mr. West says. Stainless steel grills range in quality; 304-grade stainless steel contains more nickel and less steel, which prevents rust, than the less expensive 400 series, he says.

Grills can be fueled by charcoal, gas or electricity, Mr. West says. Many traditionalists like to use charcoal for the flavor, but an electric grill is easier to use, and it meets the flame restrictions for many condominiums and apartments, he adds.

Opting for a grill that is reliable, durable and able to maintain a consistent cooking temperature is the best option for frequent grilling, but any grill will work for the occasional griller, says Jeff Clevand, marketing manager of Broilmaster Premium Gas Grills, based in Belleville, Ill.

"The ability for a grill to perform and to perform consistently is important," Mr. Clevand says. "If it's consistent, you can plan meals instead of second-guessing what time it might be done."

The quality of the material of the grill's exterior and of the burners is the most important consideration, says Kevin Cunningham, president and founder of Ultimate Outdoor Kitchens, a division of Geneva Partners Inc. in Geneva, Ill.

"Those are the two things that will fail faster than anything else on the grill," Mr. Cunningham says.

Burners on high-end grills are made of materials such as solid red brass or titanium stainless steel, while lower-end versions are made of stainless steel, he says.

Depending on the features selected, the price for built-in grills ranges from $750 to $4,000, Mr. West says.

"You're going to have an array of different pricing based on quality. It really depends on ... name brand and the features you want," he says.

In general, free-standing models start around $400, Ms. Stieff says.

Midrange and high-end grills offer a variety of features, such as a rotisserie burner, a convection option to cook foods evenly, an integrated smoker box with a dedicated burner, and an infrared sear zone to cook food at a high, intense heat in half the normal grilling time, Mr. West says.

Features that are popular this year are infrared technology and LED (light-emitting diode) lights for nighttime cooking, says Jennifer Wilson, spokeswoman for Lowe's Inc. home-improvement retailer, based in Mooresville, N.C.

The infrared technology is imbedded in the base of the grill underneath the cooking surface to cook meat evenly and seal in the juices, Ms. Wilson says.

"One of the great things about infrared, it's dummy-proof. You can be a dummy griller and still come out with a gourmet end product," she says.

Grillers can add some side items to their grills, such as a rotisserie charcoal pan for gas grills, a smoker box to add barbecue flavor, and a cedar plank to place on the grill surface for cooking salmon and other fish, Mr. West and Ms. Wilson say.

"Some of the higher-end grills are almost like art," Mr. West says. "They're finished nicer. There are seamless welds in the hood that give less areas for it to fail."

Once a grill has been chosen, there are a few decisions to make about location and design of the outdoor living space.

"It's a great idea to arrange furniture around the grill, because it can become the focal point of an outdoor living space," Ms. Wilson says.

Outdoor living spaces that include a grill might be located on a deck, patio, cooking island or outdoor kitchen. They may include a kitchen area with built-in refrigerator, sink and faucet, cabinetry, countertop space and drawers for storage and food warming. There also might be seating, an umbrella, a bar and a firepit or fireplace.

The optimal design for the living space is an L or U shape, says Kathleen Litchfield, president and partner of Petro Design Build in Mitchellville, Md., and an ASID member.

"It's easy. It's like in your own kitchen, where you want easy access," Ms. Litchfield says.

Drue Lawlor, principal of Education-works Inc., an interior design firm based in Dallas that produces seminars, says it is important to consider how the griller plans to cook and entertain and how often.

Otherwise, beginning grillers may get carried away and purchase a grill with features they won't use or one that does not do what they want it to do, Ms. Lawlor says.

Lighting is another consideration for optimizing a grilling space.

"Just like in the kitchen, you want to have good task lighting so people can see what they're doing," she says. "They may have all the bells and whistles on the equipment, but they can't read it."

The grilling space may need weather and sun protection, which can be provided by an overhead shade structure, such as a trellis, cabana or roof, Ms. Litchfield says.

"One thing people don't consider so much is the sun direction," she says, adding that facing the late afternoon or evening sun while grilling should be avoided.

Grill owners also should be careful to position the grill so the wind can't blow on the back of it, potentially putting out the fire, Mr. Cunningham says.

"The placement of the grill on the patio is important," he says. "Is it functional? Is it going to fit? You want the island [or patio] to be functional as well as fitted with the decor in your back yard."

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