By Lisa Readie Mayer
While having dinner at the famous Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn, New York, Frank Hecker, a passionate home cook and director of television cooking shows in Germany, had an epiphany. As he savored the perfectly seared crust and flavorful, juicy meat, he realized it was THE BEST steak he had ever eaten in his life.
The meal set in motion a quest to replicate that sensational steak at home. When his repeated attempts on a conventional grill came up short, Hecker consulted his chef contacts and learned the secret to steak success: cooking it at 1,500° F. under a top-down-fired, infrared burner. This type of appliance – known as a Salamander – is common in commercial kitchens, but not in residential backyards. So Hecker decided to develop a steakhouse-style infrared grill suitable for a home cook.
As it happened, one of his old high-school buddies, Marc Kirwald, worked for a company that made infrared burners. As the two worked on perfecting their ceramic burner prototypes, they enlisted the help of another high-school friend, Frantz Konzen, who ran a metalworking business, to design a functional and attractive appliance to house the burner.
|Otto's O.F.B. (Over-Fired Broiler) Grill.|
Their two-year collaborative effort resulted in The Beefer, a compact, tabletop, stainless-steel cooker with a top-down-fired, infrared, ceramic burner, and a height-adjustable grilling grate. The gas-fired cookers reach the critical 1,500 degree temperatures required for searing steaks, but by positioning the grilling grid further from the burner, they can also be used to cook poultry, fish, vegetables, pizza, and even bacon, at lower temperatures.
Because of the intense infrared heat, foods cook in a fraction of the time it takes on a traditional grill – for example, a 1½-inch ribeye steak reaches medium-rare in five to seven minutes. Another benefit: Because the burner is above the food, meat drippings do not flare up, but rather, drippings are caught in a drip tray, or can season potatoes or vegetables simultaneously cooking in a tray below the meat.
Made in Germany, the propane-fired cooker (a natural gas model is in the works) is available in three models priced between $899 and $2,399: The Beefer, a 25-lb. portable unit; a double-wide Beefer XL; and the Beefer XL Chef with two separately controlled heat zones and restaurant-kitchen certification. The removable components in all models are dishwasher safe, and accessory options include a pizza stone and a burger grilling rack.
The Beefer was launched in Germany in 2013 and became an almost instant hit. After a popular German newspaper featured The Beefer in an article, the company sold 500 units in the following days.
“PayPal actually thought we were hacked, and we had to prove the sales were real,” recalls head of Beefer USA and chief Marketing officer Matthias Heidemanns. The company has built a strong fan base and enjoyed growing sales throughout Europe thanks to a large following on Instagram, YouTube, and other social media. It has earned praise from some of Europe’s top chefs, and is used in several Michelin-starred restaurants.
Heidemanns says Beefer was approached by Porsche Design Company to collaborate on a custom Porsche Beefer model sold exclusively at the automaker’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. The grills also are used in the fine-dining restaurant at the Porsche headquarters. “It was a big honor for us to be linked with a brand known for high-end luxury,” he says.
In the works is another deal with the Steak Cookoff Association. “It is a perfect tie-in because steaks always turn out on-point, tasty and juicy,” says Heidemanns.
|The Salamangrill from Twin Eagles.|
The Category Heats Up
Beefer’s success in Europe has already inspired several competitors, including Otto Wilde Grillers, and Inferno by NorthFire. Last year, all three brands introduced their products and this new category to the American barbecue marketplace at HPBExpo in Nashville.
Only the category really isn’t new in the U.S. – more like flying under the radar. Twin Eagles actually introduced the first outdoor-rated, residential Salamangrill nearly 15 years ago.
“It was one of the first products in our Twin Eagles lineup,” says Brian Eskew, who works in Sales, Marketing, and Brand Development for the company. “It came out of (company owner and founder) Dante Cantal’s early experience designing commercial restaurant appliances. He understood the performance, convenience, and benefits of a high-heat salamander broiler.
“The overhead positioning of the broiler means the food is not subject to flare-ups, and it heats up and cooks in minutes. This type of broiler is used at the best steakhouses because the intense heat is great for searing steaks, but it’s great for chicken and fish, and melting cheese on top of a dish.”
Eskew also notes that the Salamangrill, which retails for $1,599 MSP, including a cover and 13-inch pizza stone, “works fantastically as a pizza oven” and is an ideal solution for consumers who would like a pizza oven as part of their outdoor kitchen, but don’t want the hassle or heat-up times of a traditional, wood-fired, masonry oven.
“The Salamangrill can be finished with a masonry surround, so it looks like a beautiful old-world oven, but has the ease and convenience of gas,” he says. “When dealers present it like this, it sells really well.”
Eskew believes the growing field of competitors will draw fresh attention to the category, and, in turn, increase sales for all manufacturers. Each is trying to carve out its niche.
Otto Wilde Grillers started in 2015 when German engineer Otto Wilde set out to create a residential steakhouse-style grill with more user-friendly features. He built the first prototype in his garage, and then began producing the cookers and selling them online. Initially, according to daughter-in-law and company co-founder Julia Wilde, Otto and other family members – self-described as “food maniacs” – sold the grills as “a fun side project to our regular jobs.” But, when sales began to grow and the product was honored with the prestigious German Design Award, the group quit their day jobs and devoted their full attention to Otto Wilde Grillers.
The company currently offers one model, Otto’s O.F.B. (for Over-Fired Broiler), made in Germany from heavy-duty stainless steel. It fits two porterhouse steaks at a time, according to Wilde, and retails for $1,200, which includes a pizza stone.
“From what we’ve seen in Germany,” says Wilde, “the target market includes people who really like food and grilling. They are into the culinary scene and appreciate good quality. Many of our customers have several grills in their outdoor kitchens. Also, guys really like it because they like the latest gadgets. By comparison, under-fired grills cook with convection heat and the hot air can cause meat to dry out. Once you taste the difference (with an over-fired grill), you don’t want steaks cooked any other way.”
To help spread this message, the company has teamed with renowned, third-generation American butcher and meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda. “He fell in love with our product and believes it’s the best way to cook meat,” says Wilde. “He’s working with us to create a series of consumer-education videos, make media appearances and press meetings, and develop other content. It’s been a great partnership between our two family businesses.” In addition, LaFrieda has collaborated with Otto Wilde Grillers on a signature Pat LaFrieda Series grill, promoted on his website.
|Inferno by NorthFire.|
The Inferno, from Canadian-based NorthFire, is engineered in Germany, but produced in China, allowing the company to offer “the most competitively-priced infrared steak grillers on the market,” according to Sales manager Gary Pepper. “Our entry-level price point is $499.” Inferno is designed with four solid interior walls, making them easy to clean, and the entire racking system pulls out and can go in the dishwasher.
Based on customer feedback, this year the company will expand its lineup with a host of new models, including a double-wide Inferno2 ($699), and an upgraded Inferno2G ($899). Also in the works is the Inferno Go ($379), a lightweight unit with a smaller footprint, making it well suited for tailgating. In addition to propane-fueled models, NorthFire will introduce natural gas and electric-fueled versions, as well. “NorthFire’s strategy is to be market leader with the widest selection at every price point,” says Pepper.
“Our sales are increasing,” he adds. “We grew all throughout the fourth quarter during holiday gift season, but we’ve also seen consistent growth through the first quarter, too.” He says infrared steak grillers are not a replacement for a traditional grill, but are better positioned as an add-on specialty grill.
“If you’re having a big party, this may not be the best solution,” he says. But it’s your Monday-to-Friday grill to cook a couple of great, restaurant-quality steaks that are ready to eat in five minutes. This is an extremely high-temperature grill that cooks fast.
Beyond grilling enthusiasts, Pepper says the company is targeting a wide variety of other audiences, including outdoor-folks who are into camping, hunting, and fishing; tailgaters; and body builders, keto and paleo dieters who emphasize meat on their menus.
Pepper says infrared steak grillers also are popular used in tandem with trendy sous vide cooking to provide a sear after food is cooked in a sous vide water bath. To connect with these disparate audiences, Northfire has created YouTube videos, is forming partnerships with outdoor enthusiasts as spokespeople, and has promoted at events such as the NASCAR semifinals.
Why Should Retailers Carry Infrared Steak Grillers?
Eskew says an over-fired broiler should have a place in a well-appointed outdoor kitchen, alongside a traditional gas grill and other specialty appliances such as a pellet grill, charcoal grill, kamado, or smoker. “A large gas grill is great when you’re cooking for a family or entertaining,” he says. “But this type of appliance is convenient to quickly cook-up a couple of steaks or pieces of fish for two people, and the results are amazing.
“Versatility comes with having multiple appliances. This product adds another layer of flexibility and fun, and it’s a good way for retailers to sell multiple products. Consumers get wildly excited when they see all they can do in an outdoor kitchen.”
All manufacturers agree the secret to retail success for this type of product is demo-ing. “This category is new to consumers, so education is required,” says Wilde. “That makes it a great opportunity for specialty retailers, because they are best able to demonstrate the product and teach customers that a great steak requires high temperatures.”
Pepper says Northfire’s independent dealers are doing very well with the category – noting that one specialty retailer sold 50 units last year. “This is definitely a product you have to show in action – whether by YouTube videos or in-person demos. When you do, customers are motivated to buy.”
Because the category is trending so well, Pepper believes it will “populate” with even more competitors in the coming year. Specialty retailers should have over-fired infrared grillers on their radar.
|Check out this chart as an interactive diagram with great information on cuts of beef and how best to cook them at https://brobbq.com/beef-cuts-chart/. This educational content is available to readers who would like to offer the link on their social media platforms.
Illustration courtesy of BroBBQ.