Let me tell you about my nemesis, Victor. Victor, who has a bigger backyard, a taller climbing wall for his kids, greener grass… Victor. He’s the worst. I don’t even want to talk about our Strava times.
If there’s one situation where I have Victor beat, however, it’s the domain of barbecue. Not to brag, but I’ve thrown down in barbecue competitions. I’ve got my own secret sauce. I’m from the South: Cooking meat over an open flame while drinking cheap beer is what we do. It’s in this arena where I reign supreme over Victor. Or so I thought.
One day recently I went to Victor’s house for a backyard party, and the man was cooking a goat. A whole goat. Underground. In a hole he dug himself. And it was… delicious. I piled my portion on a paper plate next to a slice of humble pie and, as I ate, pondered the lesson here: It’s best not to get hung up on one method. In the spirit of besting your nemesis or neighbors, here are five alternatives to the standard grill.
Great for: Exceptional pulled pork and beef brisket
The smoker is the grill’s older, more thoughtful brother. It cooks meat slowly with indirect heat while endowing said meat with smoky goodness. It takes patience to smoke—24 hours’ worth, at times—but the result is succulent, fall-off-the-bone barbecue. The Weber Smokey Mountain (aka “the bullet”) ($200) is probably all you need for the occasional backyard barbecue ($300), but the Komodo Kamado Big Bad 32 ($5,900) is what you want. Based on traditional Indonesian smokers, the Big Bad is a ceramic grill and smoker with auto temp control and 12 square feet of grilling surface. And it’s just plain beautiful. It’s also $5,900.
The Solar Stove
Great for: Potlucks in the park
Scientific fact: The sun is hot. Like super hot. The masterminds behind GoSun have harnessed the power of the sun with their new line of portable solar stoves. The backpacker-friendly GoSun Sport ($249) looks like something that will be on the ship that finally takes us to populate Mars and cooks a meal in less than 20 minutes. The newer and larger GoSun Grill—the centerpiece of a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign—has the same futuristic design but the ability to cook larger meals just as fast. And the battery allows you to cook in the shade or at night.
The Smaller, Better Pizza Oven
Great for: Backyard pizza parties
For those who dig the feel of a backyard food-centric party but are burnt out on burgers, here is your solution. The Kalamazoo Artisan Fire Pizza Oven ($6,895) takes everything you love about brick-oven pizza and crams it into a beautiful, portable, stainless-steel box. The gas-fed open flame mimics the heat dynamics at play in a traditional brick oven and has the fine-tuning capabilities and responsiveness of a gas grill. (You just turn a knob.) You can get this oven up to baking temperature in 20 minutes. Plus, there’s no masonry involved.
The Spit Rotisserie
Great for: Cooking whole animals (goat, pig, lamb, etc.) and upstaging Victor
Does it get any more primal than slowly rotating an entire pig skewered on a stick over an open flame? PigOut Roasters ($1,490) melds the ancient art of spit rotisserie and modern ingenuity in its BBQ Rotisserie. It’s a motorized, slow-spinning, stainless-steel skewer propped up with adjustable tripods that rest on either side of your wood fire. You can cook a whole hog (up to 150 pounds) on this thing. Or a family of giant summer squash. It’s your call.
The Pit Oven
Great for: Getting in touch with your inner paleo
This is the “get your hands dirty” version of grilling that everyone should do at least once in their lives. All you need is a shovel, some rocks, tinfoil, and something to cook. Follow these easy steps for best results:
1. Dig a hole at least two feet long, one foot deep, and one foot wide (or bigger, depending on the size of your dinner).
2. Line the hole with softball-sized stones (basalt works great).
3. Burn a fire in the pit to preheat those rocks (you can also cheat and use charcoal).
4. Drizzle some water on the rocks. They’ll sizzle when they’re oven ready.
5. Wrap your meat—back in the day, folks used banana leaves, you should double-wrap in tinfoil—and drop it on the rocks.
6. Cover the hole with dirt and wait a couple of hours, then unearth and enjoy.
7. Send a snapshot to Victor.