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Ultimate summer cookout
If you have money to burn, you can have yourself a pretty hot grilling experience.
July 15, 2005: 2:22 PM EDT
By Gordon T. Anderson, CNN/Money staff writer
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Summertime brings out my inner Walter Mitty.

In the ninth inning at the Stadium, I imagine that Joe Torre's right hand is outstretched for me, not Mariano Rivera, to come in and close out a win.

When surf's up, I pretend I'm riding a 50-foot wave in Hawaii, though I'm really just boogey-boarding at the Jersey shore.

And as I put the burgers on, I picture myself as the pit master of a grill that's considerably more elaborate than my simple Weber kettle.

You know the kind: One of those space-age cooking contraptions, forged of stainless steel and cast iron, capable of firing 1,000 degrees of flaming heat at a T-bone. One with multiple, wide grill surfaces, a rotisserie oven and a smoker to boot.

As it happens, there are plenty of manufacturers who sell such beauties.

In fact, high-end grills -- those costing $1,000 to $5,000 -- now account for as much as 15 percent of the industry's total revenue, one trade group estimates. And the fastest growing category of grills are in the price rung just below that, the $400 to $800 segment.

Fortunately, Manhattan apartment life prevents me from even considering such an upgrade to my outdoor cooking center. There's simply no room on the fire escape.

Out there in suburban America, however, you might have more space. If you do, let this be your guide to the ultimate summer cookout -- when money is no object.

Taste versus power

Charcoal, preferably made from actual wood, is the correct combustible when using flame and smoke to cook.

Those poor souls with gas grills defend them by citing ease of use, or quick cleaning or the preciseness of their heating capacity. But nobody has ever claimed that food grilled over a gas flame actually tastes better than charcoal.

Of course, gas grills do have one advantage: they can be souped up to be faster than a speeding bullet, and more powerful than a locomotive.

Viking, whose industrial-grade indoor stoves and ranges are creme de la creme, makes some pretty snazzy outdoor equipment, too.

At the top of its line is the Ultra Premium Gas Grill. It's made of heavy-duty stainless steel, and can generate as much as 32,000 BTUs of heat. That's the barbecue equivalent of a nuclear blast -- about what you'd expect from a unit costing upwards of $5,000.

(Click here to read more about the grills, food and gadgets for a feast.)

Still, it's gas, and I'm a purist. Here's an alternative: the Weber Performer. It uses old-fashioned charcoal to cook your food, but gets the fire started with a propane booster. Plus, the Performer's only about $300.

With all that extra cash, you could buy some food. (After all, no cookout is complete without it.) Find a local source for the corn and watermelon, but for meat turn to Lobels.com, the Web site of one of New York City's finest butchers.

Their porterhouse frequently lands atop blind taste-test rankings of the best mail-order steaks, but you might want to consider some of the more unusual items on the Lobels menu.

American Wagyu beef, for example. That's the domestic version of the most pampered cows in the world, the Japanese breed that becomes Kobe beef. It's densely marbled and astonishingly tender.

Or, you could try a Heritage breed. Raised in small herds grazing open pastures, Heritage steers and pigs become beef and pork with intense, rich flavors you won't taste in meat raised by corporate cattlemen.

To wash your food down, find some Dogfish Head beer, from Delaware. I've mentioned the brand a few times in this column, because they make so many quality brews.

Dogfish Head's 60-Minute IPA is a great summertime ale with plenty of body and a spicy, well-hopped bite. If you can't find it, check out one of the other great beers listed here.

Finally, you'll need some equipment to cook with. If you spring for the Viking grill, the company will throw in an excellent 5-piece tool set, which retails for about $150 on its own.

If you don't happen to buy the Viking, you might splurge for deluxe cookware maker All-Clad's sturdy, beautiful stainless steel tools, about $100 for a 4-piece set.

The Good Life is a weekly column that chronicles products, people and trends in luxury consumer goods, travel, and fine food and drink. Write to: goodlife@money.com.  Top of page

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