By ALLEN SALKIN
A KALAMAZOO grill can suck a standard tank of propane dry in two and a half hours. Not that backyard grill-users would want to crank every burner simultaneously and reach the full 154,000 B.T.U. capacity of this $11,290, six-and-a-half-foot-wide brute. But, as with a Porsche that can go 175 miles an hour on the autobahn, some owners find it sweet to know they've got that kind of juice under the hood.
"Our gas line had to be doubled in capacity from the house," said Connie Dove of York, Me. She and her husband, Mo Houde, took delivery last year of a Kalamazoo Bread Breaker Two Dual-Fuel grill with an infrared rotisserie cradle system and a side burner.
They hooked the 600-pound stainless steel hulk into their home's main propane supply, choosing not to mess with standard tanks, which each hold only four gallons of fuel. That's enough to allow a typical backyard grill to run at maximum for 15 hours, according to the Propane Education and Research Council in Washington.
"It is very, very powerful," Ms. Dove said. "A turkey you can have in an hour and a half."
The Bread Breaker, which has a temperature gauge that reaches 1,000 degrees, is one of an increasingly popular breed of supergrills that are becoming backyard status symbols, as Americans, mostly of the male variety, peacock with an object that harks back to the earliest days of human existence.
As Memorial Day marks the official beginning of grilling season, many men will find themselves almost genetically drawn to throwing hunks of raw meat onto a fire and poking them with tongs. It's a pull that some will spend almost any amount of money to satisfy, said Pantelis A. Georgiadis, the owner of Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, the grill manufacturer based in Michigan. "There is a market segment we call the 'man cook with fire' types," he said.
When Daniel Conrad, a lawyer, moved to Dallas four years ago from Pittsburgh to join the woman who would become his wife, his parents bought him a small Weber grill. "It wasn't big enough for my ego," Mr. Conrad, 34, said. "So I got this giant enormous Weber grill."
Now, he rushes home to his wife — and to his baby, a Weber Summit Gold D6, to slow-cook ribs or experiment with smoking turkeys. "Grilling has become my creative outlet," Mr. Conrad said. "The only two extravagances I have in my life are my car and my grill." He drives a Mercedes.
And like luxury car owners, many people who splurge on a grill that can simmer, bake and fry are looking to impress.
Last fall, Dave and Allison Petrullo of Commack, N.Y., installed a custom-built Cal Spas grill on their patio with an outdoor refrigerator. They spent more than $100,000 renovating their backyard with a new synthetic deck, masonry, a whirlpool and a pool waterfall, so $6,500 more for Mr. Petrullo to have a brick sanctuary with a Cal Spas grill as its central altar seemed like nothing. "I told him to just go for it," Ms. Petrullo said. "And get your dream barbecue."
Though they have actually cooked on the grill only three times since they installed it, it has been a hit with Mr. Petrullo's friends, who congregate around it at parties and give it a going-over like a pack of high school boys around a Corvette, Ms. Petrullo said. "They like to lift up the hood and play with the knobs," she said. "They open the doors underneath, and they open the fridge next to it to check it out."
The high-end grill market, which generally refers to any grill that costs more than $1,000, started quietly in 1990 when Dynamic Cooking Systems, a company based in California, introduced the DCS Professional Grill. The 48-inch-wide $5,000 appliance, which included H-shaped cast-iron commercial-quality burners, a heavy-duty side-burner and more B.T.U.'s per square inch than any other grill then on the market, was adopted by a few deep-pocketed souls on the grilling vanguard.
But those in the grill industry say the market did not begin to take off until the last half-decade, when homeowners in the West and the South began building increasingly elaborate outdoor areas with brick kitchen islands and ornate all-weather furniture.
"You had the ultrarich people who were buying high-end grills," said Dan Darche, sales manager for Masda Corporation, an outdoor home furnishings distributor based in Whippany, N.J. "But for the more normal families, the concept started to take off abut five or six years ago, and it's been increasing ever since."
Now the high-end grill market accounts for 3 to 4 percent of the 14.5 million grills sold last year, said Don Johnson, the director of market research for the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, the grill industry trade group. It includes about a dozen players.
Viking has its Ultra-Premium line of grills starting around $2,500, which, among other doodads, have adjustable chrome-plated warming racks and stainless steel "flavor-generator plates" that, according to product literature, "catch drippings, generate smoke, minimize flare-ups and allow for better heat control."
Weber, the grill maker founded in Mount Prospect, Ill., in 1952, is refining its most expensive grill, the $2,200 Summit Platinum D6, in response to buyers who want more bells and whistles, said Brooke Jones, a Weber product manager. "They are looking for stainless steel grills and more accessories like rotisseries, warmer drawers, side burners and hand lights," she said.
Lynx, another high-end maker, sells a model with a 54-inch-wide cooking surface (one inch longer than Viking's biggest) for $6,500; it is equipped with dual halogen grill surface lights and red brass burners. The Twin Eagles Pinnacle Grill Series features dual-ring sealed burners and black-stripes across the starkly modern stainless steel silhouette of its base for a "museum-style look," a sales brochure effuses.
But the Queen Mary 2 of outdoor cooking is the $35,000 Talos Outdoor Cooking Suite sold by Frontgate, a luxury goods catalog retailer. The sprawling stainless steel temple features a searing station with a restaurant-style griddle, a hardwood cutting board, two side burners to heat sauces, a warming drawer, 3/8-inch-thick cooking grates, a 16,000-B.T.U. ceramic infrared rotisserie, a bartender module with a sink and a nine-volt electronic ignition system. The company doesn't release specific sales data, but a spokeswoman, Amy Crowley, said that fewer than 50 have been sold.
Some of the new top-of-the-line grills are hybrids, with interchangeable heating drawers that allow cooks to use gas, charcoal or wood for barbecuing. (Barbecuing, which usually involves indirect heat, long cooking times and wood smoke, is different from grilling, which simply means cooking on a grill.)
Many of these grills can reach temperatures of 2,000 degrees — hot enough to melt brass — if used improperly, but grill manufacturers say temperatures should stay under a safe 1,000 degrees (which can melt lead).
"If you load it up with charcoal and light 100,000 B.T.U.'s of propane under it, you're going to have a 2,000-degree fire going," said Russ Faulk, director of marketing for Kalamazoo. "It's not going to lead to cooking success." In addition to the owner's manual, Kalamazoo tries to give in-person training to new grill owners, as do most of the other high-end manufacturers.
But for those who want to stay on top of cooking technology, there is no such thing as too much power; grills have become an extension of their constantly updated kitchens. Describing the family's indoor appliances, Ms. Dove in Maine said: "Our stove is a Frigidaire Profile series with five burners, and we have a Miele wok burner and a Thermador downdraft system. The grill is something that has the glamour of the indoor kitchen."
During summer months her family uses the grill, which they have named Bertha, three to four times a week, but even in winter the short path from the house to the grill is kept shoveled and the grill is fired up at least twice a week. "When you look outside and she's covered up with a grill cover," Ms. Dove said, "she looks like a monster."
Devotees of expensive grills speak of being able to cook multiple dishes at once for large crowds and rave about exacting temperature control. "Because it's so big, you can do things you wouldn't do on a normal grill," Mr. Conrad of Dallas said. "You can cook ribs slowly by putting them on the side of the grill away from the heat. Practically speaking it's fantastic."
Those in the grill business also want to sell buyers on the idea that these grills can do more than just grill. Fireplace Patio Shoppe in Eastchester, N.Y., regularly brings in a chef for cooking demonstrations on a $6,600 Fire Magic Monarch Magnum, which, with the hood down, can flawlessly maintain a temperature of 350 degrees. "He actually cooks a pie," the owner, Darin Del Gardo, said. "Usually apple crumb."
A new breed of grill cuisine is rising along with grill prices. A new book, "Weeknight Grilling With the BBQ Queens" (Harvard Common Press), includes recipes for Blistered Whole Squash, Peppers, and Scallions with Goat Cheese, and Stir-Grilled Spaghetti with Meat Sauce and a Kiss of Smoke.
Still, according to research by the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, hot dogs, burgers, steaks, and chicken are by far the most commonly prepared foods on outdoor grills. As A. Cort Sinnes, author of "The Grilling Book" (Aris Books, 1985), put it, "The way most grills get used, even the expensive ones, is you turn it on, you cook some chicken breasts, and you turn it off."
But does anyone really need to spend thousands of dollars to do that? No, said Chris Schlesinger, chef and owner of the East Coast Grill in Cambridge, Mass., and the author of books about grilling. "Give me two bricks and an oven rack and some wood, and I'll cook you a better steak than any expensive gas grill, hands down," he said. "It might look good in your garden, it might be more convenient, it might impress your friends, but it's not going to cook you a better steak."