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Published: Sunday, 7/23/2006

Customized gas grills, pizza ovens, and deep fryers aren't just for indoors anymore

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Rudy and Michellle Strom cook on the TEC grill on their patio. Rudy and Michellle Strom cook on the TEC grill on their patio.
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Rudy and Michelle Strom of Holland can cook a 5-pound boneless prime rib in less than an hour thanks to their outdoor TEC Infra Red gas grill and rotisserie. With three separate high-intensity Infa-Red burners on their built in model, they used two of the burners to cook the beef.

The heat from the third burner was directed at a cast iron frying pan filled with a foil packet of cheesy potatoes. She also made a tossed salad with homemade parmesan salad dressing and strawberry mousse in chocolate cups for dessert served at the patio table.

The couple had their grill placed in a base built by the Colorado Co. of Utah, ordered through Myers Hearth & Casual in Toledo. "We wanted to be sure it can withstand Ohio winters," says Mrs. Strom. The ceramic top and stucco facade neatly encase a refrigerator, a storage unit, rope lighting, and a tiered table top with seating for two. An 11-foot-wide umbrella covers the unit.

"We were old-school people," she says. "We were charcoal grill people. We went up five notches when we got this TEC grill last summer. I even have a deep fryer that I can cook fried chicken and french fries in over the burner. We can even stir-fry."

"You can cook everything outside, you can do inside," says Mr. Strom, who had a gas line installed to the grill. He uses the grill throughout the winter. "As soon as you light the grill, it's hot right away."

TEC grills, with a ceramic infrared plate, start at $2,000, with the optional built-in unit about $4,000. There's a variety of optional designs for the base starting at $2,000 and going up to $5,000 for the built-in bar, and higher.

The Stroms estimate they have invested $9,700 in their grilling center.

The conveniences of a larger grill with easily controlled heat, temperature gauge, and multiple cooking units enhances the final product and the fun for the barbecue buff.

Chip Marlowe prepares to serve pizza baked in the family's pizza oven in Monclova Township. Helping to add toppings are, from left in foreground, T.J. Lee, 10; Mackenzie Marlowe, 3; and Gabby Lee, 7, and in background, Heather Marlowe and the Marlowes' son, Charlie, 8 months. Chip Marlowe prepares to serve pizza baked in the family's pizza oven in Monclova Township. Helping to add toppings are, from left in foreground, T.J. Lee, 10; Mackenzie Marlowe, 3; and Gabby Lee, 7, and in background, Heather Marlowe and the Marlowes' son, Charlie, 8 months.
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TEC Infra Red is said to cut the cooking time in half, eliminate hot spots in the food, prevent flare-ups, and eliminate dried-out meat.

Vermont Castings is another line of high-end natural gas and propane grills that Joe Schroeder sells at Myers. These grills, ranging in price from $599 to $1,549, have a stainless steel hood and porcelain coated cooking grids. They are known for heat retention under the hood (good for baking), even cooking, and have a rotisserie and a night light.

Many people who buy high-end grills tend to use natural gas. "The amount of propane necessary to operate the high-end grill would mean you need to change the propane tank more frequently," says Mr. Schroeder.

With these high-powered grills, "You stay by your grill," says Mr. Schroeder. "There's intense heat to sear in the juices and then you turn it down. There's an art to this."

At Overhead Door Co. of Toledo, high-end grills include the TEC Infra Red gas grill and the Broilmaster Premium Gas Grills, which are customized. "You build your own Broilmaster grill by selecting the grill head, the mounting, the side shelves, the front shelf, and other features," says salesman Sarah Godfrey. "There's no flare-ups, no briquets. Chicken cooks faster. It's a hotter surface. You may turn down the burner and cook at a slower rate."

Jim Woda of Temperance has bought two Broilmaster grills. "I sunk [the first] in cement and then I moved," he says. "So I bought a second one and went bigger and bought a smoker shutter for ribs. You can even bake with this." He doesn't like propane so he's added a natural gas line. He estimates he has about $1,700 invested in the grill.

"It looks perfect. It's stainless steel. The heat is consistent. There's a rotisserie. I can make enough chicken to use for lunches through the week," he says. He estimates he can cook a whole chicken in two hours.

Jeff Mohlman of Lambertville has had the TEC stainless steel grill for two years. He finally spent $3,000 for the Sterling II model "after lusting after it for years," he says. "It has two burners. I can cook an inch-thick strip steak to medium rare in four minutes."

"My friend said, 'Jeff, what's your hurry?' " says Mr. Mohlman, who estimates he cooks out five nights a week. He cooks fish with vegetables, skewers, and hamburgers. Half-inch-thick slices of onion on a skewer cook in three minutes per side. He cooks bacon and sausage on the grill for breakfast.

The grill is on the deck with a gas line. "No more chasing containers," he says about the propane gas cylinders that empty too soon.

Chip and Heather Marlowe of Monclova Township designed their pizza oven and grill center for the home patio. It's become a neighborhood gathering place where adults and their children customize pizza and bake it in a wood-fired oven. Even 3-year-old daughter Mackenzie can sprinkle toppings on pre-baked pizza dough while her mother holds 8-month-old Charlie and supervises.

The project began when the Marlowes bought a commercial restaurant grill at a garage sale. "It came with a pizza stone and a big pizza paddle," says Mr. Marlowe. "I didn't think I would use it as much as we do. We spend so much time on our patio. We love to cook. Our neighbors stop by and visit."

He went to The Andersons metal fabrication shop to do the custom metal work for the 24-by-28-inch fire box and a chimney for smoke. The shop also made a top for the grill. Then Remy and Matt Genot of Dreamscapes by Genot bricked the pizza oven and also bricked around the grill, which is powered by a gas line from the house.

The pizza oven is fueled by wood logs. "You can control the temperature with the number of logs," says Mr. Marlowe, who uses hickory for a smoked flavor or cherry or apple woods. "I'm flying solo," he says about his outdoor project, which he estimates has cost about $5,000.

Pizzas cook in 6 to 8 minutes using a pre-baked crust. "I haven't got it down to a science," he says. The couple supplies a bowl of corn flour by mixing grits and all-purpose flour to put on the bottom of the dough before it goes into the oven. Then Mackenzie can slather Mid's tomato sauce across the bottom and top with mozzarella and pepperoni. The adults make their style of pizzas with tender spinach leaves, sauteed onion, a little red pepper flakes, and fresh mozzarella. When the pizzas are done, Mrs. Marlowe cuts the pizza with the kitchen scissors.

"We are out here all the time," says Mr. Marlowe about their patio. With the pizza oven directed toward the patio table, heat is provided as the weather gets cooler. In the fall with their friends and family, they cook hot dogs and roast marshmallows and serve a glass of wine or margaritas.

"We designed this for fun," says Mr. Marlowe. "It's been nothing but pure joy."

Contact Kathie Smith at: food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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