Beyond Charcoal: New Trends in Outdoor Cooking

Beyond Charcoal: New Trends in Outdoor Cooking

The outdoor cooking industry has continued to grow and develop over the past decade, allowing even people who live in apartments or with little outside space to enjoy outdoor cooking with a range of grills, fryers, and ovens. While charcoal and propane grills have remained staples of outdoor cooking, consumers have shown interest in much more aesthetically pleasing and technically elaborate products.

Increasingly, outdoor living means furnishing outdoor spaces with more than a simple patio and grilling set, but with a number of amenities, including cooking appliances. Thus, outdoor living continues to drive new sales of outdoor cooking equipment.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in outdoor living surged as consumer lifestyles changed. Since they were cooking more often at home (in addition to using their outdoor spaces more frequently), consumers invested in outdoor cooking equipment upgrades and additions of multiple cooking units – particularly types that allow for a variety of cooking methods – to broaden their culinary capabilities. Outdoor kitchen installations also grew during the pandemic as consumers sought to enhance the utility and style of outdoor cooking areas.

Moving Beyond Charcoal & Propane Grills

Wi-Fi connectivity, touchscreens, and temperature control features are a far cry from the basic grilling methods most people are probably familiar with. Consumers demand convenience, and manufacturers of outdoor cooking tools have met these needs with a variety of “smart” features. The consumer, industrial and individual alike, desires equipment that is easy to install, use, maintain, and clean.

Smart grills allow consumers to use their phones to monitor and control the temperature, some will even connect to other home devices like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home. While the cleaning time is most likely not much less than a regular grill, users can save at least that amount of time by using their phones to monitor cooking speeds and temperatures rather than standing over the grill all day!

Rethinking “Entry Level”: Why Investing in New Grill Masters Can Yield High Dividends

The traditional charcoal grill has been used in the United States since its invention in 1897. That’s as established as traditional as a product can get! Basic charcoal grills continue to hold a strong niche in outdoor cooking, but they should no longer be marketed as entry-level equipment for the inexperience grill master.

Many consumers looking to try grilling are hesitant to make a big investment, which could lead them to choose a basic model of charcoal grill. However, these lower priced models require some of the most advanced skill and dedication to produce a high-quality meal. Those who don’t succeed the first time or season of grilling may be tempted to exit the market entirely, seeing grilling as a hobby that requires too much time and money for the outcome.

Fryers, Ovens, Griddles…Oh, My!

It’s not just beginners who can find new and exciting upgrade options on the market. Full outdoor kitchens have become more popular and accessible in the recent years, whether they be part of new home builds or renovation projects on existing outdoor gathering spaces. Outdoor, portable ovens and fryers have made these upgrades easier than ever:

  • Griddles – Outdoor griddles can be electric or propane fueled, small or large, and portable or stationary. While they do not have the same feel or give the same flavor of charcoal or a traditional grill, they can save time, space, and energy. Some griddles are even portable for on-the-go outdoor cooking.
  • Portable convection ovens – Portable convection ovens are an alternative to grilling or open flame cooking. They work just the same as in home convection ovens, just on a smaller scale. They are easy to use and clean, though they do require access to an outlet or generator.
  • Outdoor Air fryers – Air fryers have become very popular in indoor kitchens, but outdoor air fryers are being produced to make outdoor cooking easier and healthier! They are available as extensions to add onto your grill or as standalone appliances.

As the millennial generation is buying homes and starting families, the boomer generation is reaching retirement age, meaning that both groups are likely to make new purchases in the outdoor cooking category, prompting industry growth. As companies provide more and smarter options for outdoor cooking, the industry will continue to change. To read more about outdoor cooking and other outdoor living trends, see The Freedonia Group’s Outdoor Cooking: Grills, Smokers, Fryers, & Ovens and Outdoor Furniture & Grills.

About the Author: Bethan Davis is with, where she writes, edits, and provides production assistance for The Freedonia Group and other brands.

  Consumer Goods      Industry Studies