I would be remiss if I allowed the year to pass without noting that 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the venerable Weber Genesis gas grill.
Earlier this year, Weber published a lengthy blog post documenting the process of how the Genesis came to be. It’s a fascinating read that explains how executives responded to competitive pressures and customer demands to design a gas grill that far exceeded anything on the market when it came out in 1985—including its $400 price tag.
“I think it was more or less survival. You could feel the ground shift underneath you, so we knew that we had to be in the gas business, but we had to be in it in a Weber way where consumers would have a great experience.
“We said, ‘We’re gonna make a really great gas barbecue that’s worthy of the Weber name and whatever it sells for – that’s what it sells for.’”
Weber Global Chief Marketing Officer
You don’t find full-service butcher shops around much anymore, but there’s one about 40 miles from my house that sells fresh and smoked meats, sausages, bacon and fish at retail to the public, and butchers animals for ranchers and wild game for hunters. They have a deli counter where you can get a tasty tri-tip sandwich. Best of all, they sell pellet grills in front of the shop, so you know they’re legit.
One of the things this butcher shop is known for is their ready-to-grill marinated meats. A while back, I dropped in and without thinking about it too much bought a bag of marinated skirt steak.
Lesson #1: I Paid (A Lot) For Convenience
This package of marinated skirt steak weighs 4.32 pounds and sells for $10.50 per pound. I get it. I’m paying a premium price for convenience. Take it home and put it straight on the grill. But just for fun, let’s break it down a bit more.
Here’s how much liquid was left in the bag after I removed the skirt steak. It’s almost 20 fluid ounces—2-1/2 cups. Now, to be fair, some of that liquid is meat juices. Let’s be generous and subtract 20% for meat juices. That leaves 16 fluid ounces of actual marinade.
What does a fluid ounce of this marinade weigh? I don’t know because I didn’t weigh it at the time, but I weighed a similar marinade and it weighs about 1.5 ounces per fluid ounce. So 16 fluid ounces of marinade weighs about 24 ounces or 1-1/2 pounds. At $10.50 per pound, I paid $15.75 for the marinade in the measuring cup.
How does that compare to supermarket marinade? A 16 fluid ounce bottle of marinade at an expensive grocery store might cost $5.99. That’s the equivalent of about $4.00 per pound.
I paid almost four times the price for marinade in the pre-marinated meat than if I had used an expensive supermarket marinade.
Lesson #2: I Got Unevenly Marinated Meat
The skirt steak came out of the package as one long piece of meat. I cut it into the pieces shown here and patted them dry with paper towels.
Notice those bright red patches? Those are areas where the meat was folded over on itself and the marinade could not reach the meat. The result was uneven marination.
When you let someone else do the marinating for you, you have no control over how they do it. When you do it yourself, you can take steps to ensure that the meat is evenly marinated.
Lesson #3: Marinades Don’t Penetrate Deeply
Look at the cut end of this piece of skirt steak. It can’t be more than 1/2 inch thick at most. Who knows how many hours the meat was marinating before I bought it. And skirt steak is not exactly a tight-grained piece of meat. Yet the marinade barely penetrated the surface.
This illustrates and confirms the findings of experts like Cook’s Illustrated magazine that marinades do not deeply penetrate most meats—they only affect the surface and just below the surface.
Lesson #4: It Tasted Great
It cost a lot. It wasn’t evenly marinated. It wasn’t deeply marinated. So how did it turn out? It tasted great.
I grilled the pieces over medium-high heat to medium doneness. The meat was moist and juicy, a bit fatty like a good skirt steak should be, with some crispy edges that were to die for. As for the Asian marinade, it was really delicious and added some good heat.
To be clear, I had absolutely no issues with the quality of this meat or marinade. But will I buy it again? No, because I’m a cheapskate.
Here’s the bottom line: It pays—literally—to consider the real price of convenience before buying pre-marinated meat. Marinating meat is easy to do at home, and you’ll save a ton of money.
If you’re looking for a good book on marinades, consider this new one from “Dr. BBQ” Ray Lampe.
In my book, there’s nothing better than a refreshing glass of iced tea to go with food coming out of my Weber gas grill.
My favorite iced tea comes from China Mist and the variety is called Fiesta Fria. It’s described as “a deliciously fruity blend of fine black tea infused with a jolt of strawberry and herbs”. I buy it as loose tea in 24 3/4-ounce packages for $28.50. Each package makes 3 quarts of tea in the Mr. Coffee Iced Tea Maker.
If you want to try a smaller quantity, Fiesta Fria is also available in 4 1/2-ounce tea bags for $5.99, each bag making 2 quarts of tea.
I’ve served this iced tea to a lot of people and everyone loves it. Give it a try, I think you’ll like it too!
I recently learned that much of Weber’s new product design is being done by a Chicago-based firm named CHOi Design. As is the case with most design agencies, they like to tout customer success stories on their website. If you visit CHOi Design’s site, you can see some examples of Weber product designs they’ve done for:
In 2001, grilling was more popular than ever. According to the Barbecue Industry Association, over 15 million grills were sold in America the previous year, up 32% from 1997. About 75% of households owned a grill, and over 50% used them all year long. The most popular book at the time was How to Grill by Steven Raichlen.
The Dot Com Bubble had burst in 1999 and the Housing Bubble was just starting to build in 2001. Homeowners were upgrading their kitchens with high-end commercial appliances. Appliance manufacturers like Viking and Jenn-Air started bringing expensive luxury gas grills to market around this time.
How did Weber respond? By creating an entirely new brand called Vieluxe. Vieluxe luxury grills were available in 44″ and 56″ models with suggested retail prices of $6,000 and $8,000 respectively. And quite noticeably, they did not carry the Weber name or logo.
Vieluxe: The Luxury of Life
The brand name Vieluxe was a combination of the French words “Vie” meaning life and “Luxe” meaning luxury. The tagline “The Luxury of Life” and the theme of luxury were prominent in the advertising of these grills. Brochures featured images of beautiful people in beautiful places enjoying the good life with Vieluxe.
In a 2003 Weber press release, Vieluxe Brand Manager Shaun Chinsky said, “Vieluxe grills are painstakingly handmade using only the finest materials. From the welder’s arc to the polisher’s cloth, no detail is overlooked.” In a 2004 interview with GenieKnows.com, Chinsky was quoted as saying that Vieluxe “is like our Lexus”.
Vieluxe Features & Specs
Vieluxe grills were built to the highest standards of quality, featuring a welded chassis of 16-gauge stainless steel 304 tubing. They included a commercial-grade thermometer in the hood, heavy-duty 3/8″ welded stainless steel rod cooking grates, stainless steel Flavorizer bars, a rotisserie with infrared burner, a fold-away warming rack, and a funnel-shaped drip pan that directed drippings into a Teflon-coated catch pan for easy cleaning.
At a time when other Weber gas grills had the propane tank hanging on the outside of the grill, Vieluxe hid the tank inside a cabinet with “swing-out easy-change tank support”. Vieluxe was the first grill made by Weber to use continuous-spark electronic igniters powered by AA batteries.
Two unique patented features included a stainless steel work surface that “glides open on a steel rail and ball bearing assembly” to reveal two 14,000 BTU side burners and the Integrated Smoker System “with ported flues that disperse wood smoke evenly across the cooking surface, powered by a dedicated 8,000 BTU/hour burner.”
Vieluxe 360201 44″ Specifications
Dimensions: 65″ W x 33″ D x 50″ H
Weight: 370 lbs.
Cooking surface: 432 sq. in.
Warming rack: 117 sq. in., expandable to 247 sq. in.
4 primary burners 50,000 total BTU/hr (12,500 BTU each)
Smoker burner: 8,000 BTU/hr
Infrared rotisserie burner: 10,000 BTU/hr
2 side burners: 14,000 BTU/hr each burner
Rotisserie: 2 spit forks
Vieluxe 370201 56″ Specifications
Dimensions: 77″ W x 33″ D x 50″ H
Weight: 440 lbs.
Cooking surface: 648 sq. in.
Warming rack: 171 sq. in., expandable to 361 sq. in.
6 primary burners 75,000 total BTU/hr (12,500 BTU each)
Smoker burner: 8,000 BTU/hr
Infrared rotisserie burner: 15,000 BTU/hr
2 side burners: 14,000 BTU/hr each burner
Rotisserie: 4 spit forks
Ownership Is More Like Membership
Grill owners were entitled to the Vieluxe Concierge personal service program consisting of:
Complimentary Spring grill tune-up for the first 3 years.
Dedicated 24-hour customer care line to answer grilling questions.
Limited lifetime warranty.
As the brochure said, “With Vieluxe, ownership is more like membership.”
Luxury Hits The Chopping Block
Vieluxe grills were sold from 2001-2005 and then discontinued, presumably due to poor sales.
In 2006, a Weber insider told The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board that the key factor to the demise of Vieluxe was the high cost of hand fabrication. In 2005, Weber Summit Platinum stainless steel grills could be manufactured using the same tooling as the Summit Gold but at a fraction of the cost of Vieluxe. Not that these were comparable grills in any way, but time shows us that people voted with their wallets. Weber Summit grills are still with us today and Vieluxe is but a distant memory.
It’s too late to buy a new Vieluxe grill and it’s unlikely you’ll ever find one used. But you can still enjoy its luxurious brochure. Here’s to champagne wishes and caviar dreams!
We’ve tasted all the hot dogs we’re going to taste for 2014…five divisions covering 16 all-beef dogs. If you’ve missed any of our taste tests, you can go back to the first installment for details on how we selected and judged the hot dogs and read details from each division taste-off.
Last time, Kirkland Signature beat Bar-S and Armour to take the win in the fifth and final Stray Dog Division. To wrap-up the taste-off, let’s summarize the results across all of the hot dogs we tasted and provide some closing comments.
Ball Park Deli Style
Open Nature Uncured
Oscar Mayer Selects Angus Uncured
Applegate The Great Organic Uncured
Ball Park Angus
Applegate The Great Organic Stadium
It turns out that the basic Oscar Mayer beef frank is the big winner, scoring higher than all other hot dogs in the taste test. And at $2.98 a package, they were among the least expensive hot dogs in the pack.
Here’s what we learned from tasting these 16 varieties of tube steak.
There are a lot of decent all-beef hot dogs out there. While there were a few stand-outs and a few bad dogs, most were decent with above average or very good scores. Personally, having tasted all these hot dogs, I would stick to the ones with scores of 60 or higher.
Appearance before grilling is not a good predictor of a tasty hot dog. While this was not part of our judging criteria, it’s interesting to note that some of the hot dogs that looked great before grilling did not taste great after grilling, and some of the more pale hot dogs grilled up beautifully and tasted very good.
Price is not a good predictor of a tasty hot dog. Some of the highest-rated dogs in our taste tests were among the least expensive. This may have to do with mass production and high sales volume for popular brands like Oscar Mayer and Kirkland Signature that drives the price down for a good quality hot dog.
Uncured non-organic hot dogs taste good. We got good results from the two hot dogs tasted in the Almost Organic Division that were cured using the sodium nitrate that occurs naturally in celery juice or celery powder.
Organic hot dogs were not superior. Highest-scoring Applegate The Great Organic Uncured was an expensive hot dog that finished 7th overall in the rankings. If buying organic hot dogs, do so for reasons other than taste.
There are taste differences between varieties within the same brand. We tasted three varieties of Ball Park hot dogs—regular, Angus, and Deli Style—and there were discernible differences in taste. In the case of Ball Park, the more expensive Angus and Deli Style dogs proved better than the regular variety. In the case of Applegate, the Stadium variety did not taste as good as the regular variety. In the case of Oscar Mayer, the regular variety tasted better than the Selects Angus variety.
Condiments level the playing field. Eating hot dogs on buns with condiments was not part of the judging, but we ate a lot of them that way after testing. Many of the subtleties you taste when eating a hot dog plain are lost when you wrap it in bread and smother it with condiments.
We’re tired of eating hot dogs. After tasting so many dogs in five rounds of testing, we’re ready for a break.
Thank you for joining us on this hot dog journey! Special thanks to everyone that provided comments and suggestions for hot dogs we should test in the future. Hopefully we’ll get to your favorite in 2015. We’ll broaden the tasting criteria to include dogs in natural casings, big 1/4 pound dogs, and some of the seasoned franks coming to market these days.
Now go eat some hot dogs and enjoy the rest of your summer!
This is the fifth and final round of our summer hot dog taste-off for 2014. If this is your first visit to the taste-off, make sure to read the first installment for details on how we’re selecting and judging the hot dogs.
Last time, Applegate The Great Organic Uncured beat three rivals quite easily in the Organic Division. This time, we taste three mutts that did not fit easily into our previous division contests.
The Stray Dog Division
The entries in this division include:
Bar-S (Sigma): $4.99
Armour (Armour-Eckrich): $2.79
Kirkland Signature (Costco): $10.99
Bar-S claims to be the #1 best-selling hot dog brand in America. The most popular varieties found in supermarkets in San Jose, California were chicken/pork/beef and chicken/pork, but we kept shopping and eventually found an all-beef variety for our taste test. At $4.99, it was a bit pricey compared to better-known brands like Oscar Mayer and Ball Park.
Armour is an iconic American brand, and those of a certain age will remember the famous jingle about Armour being “the dog kids love to bite”. We searched high and low for this dog and finally found it hiding in a Mexican supermarket. The hot dog itself was on the small side, weighing in at just 1.5 ounces. This is 1/2 ounce short of the 2 ounce criteria we established for hot dogs in the taste-off, but the judges granted a waiver to this classic dog so we could taste it in the competition. At $2.79, Armour was one of the less expensive dogs in the taste-off.
Finally, Kirkland Signature is a popular hot dog brand sold at Costco. Not to be confused with the 1/4 pound version sold in the food court, this is a standard length, 2 ounce hot dog that comes 12 to a package, 3 packages in a bundle. We had to buy 36 hot dogs just to taste 2 samples! However, at $10.99 for 72 ounces of meat, Kirkland Signature represents the best dollar value of all hot dogs in our taste-off.
(Note that in these photos, the hot dogs are always shown in the order listed above.)
The hot dogs were grilled together and served to the judges.
Once the hot dogs were grilled but not overly cooked, they were brought indoors and immediately judged on appearance, then sampled and judged on taste and tenderness/texture.
Kirkland Signature swept the warehouse floor with both of its rivals, beating Bar-S by 4 points and biting Armour by 12.6 points. With it’s sub-50 point score, Armour is sent to the doghouse as our second-lowest-scoring hot dog in all five rounds of taste testing.
Here are the weighted scores:
Kirkland Signature: 61.12
Judges’ Comment Cards
Bar-S: Pale color, above average taste, decent texture
Armour: Very good appearance, odd baloney-like taste, bland, too soft, virtually no texture
Kirkland Signature: Excellent color and sheen, good smoke and spice flavor, snappy texture, hard bits in sample for one judge
So Kirkland Signature wins big in our final round of the TVWGG Hot Dog Taste-Off! Next week we’ll summarize our findings across all 16 entries and offer some closing comments about the hot dogs we tasted.