Americans seem to be choosing the “fuss” over not fussing at all as our love affair with the grill continues to grow. In fact, according to the 19th Annual Weber GrillWatch™ Survey released last year, 31 percent of American grill owners are grilling more than they used to because they are “trying to eat healthier.”

More than one-third (39 percent) of survey respondents said they are grilling leaner meats, more vegetables (38 percent), more poultry (34 percent) and more fish (22 percent) than they did a year prior to the release. Six percent are grilling more meat substitutes such as veggie burgers and tofu, and 5 percent are grilling more fruit. Women are significantly more likely than men to grill more vegetables (43 versus 33 percent) and more fruit (7 versus 4 percent).

Grilling trends upward

More than half (57 percent) of all grill owners said they grill throughout the year. Among owners of different grill types, those who use outdoor electric grills (65 percent), gas stand-ups (61 percent) and smokers most often (60 percent) are more likely to define their grilling season as year-round than charcoal grill owners at 53 percent.

For the first time, researchers asked how many hours a week Americans grill during their grilling season. While the overall average of all respondents was 4.4, one-third said they spend five or more hours grilling each week. Sixty-seven percent said they spend up to four hours. Seventy-one percent reported they fire up their grill at least once a week during their grilling season, up from 69 percent from the previous year, and 47 percent said they fire it up “at least a few times per week” compared to 43 in the previous year.

While 95 percent said they grill dinner “on a regular basis,” 37 percent said they now grill lunch on a regular basis, and 2 percent grill breakfast or brunch on a regular basis.

American grill owners also reported they entertain family or friends in their home an average of 10.7 times a year, slightly more than the non-grill owner average at 9.6 times. In addition, grill owners used their grills seven out of the 10.7 times they entertained during the year.

Although Weber GrillWatch Survey respondents said hot dogs (81 percent) and burgers (75 percent) are the easiest foods to grill, they said fish is the most challenging (44 percent) followed by shellfish (38 percent). When asked which foods they’d like to know how to cook better on the grill, respondents most often cited beef roasts (24 percent) and beef brisket (20 percent). These were followed by whole chicken and whole turkey at 19 percent each; ribs and pizza at 18 percent each; pork roast/tenderloin at 16 percent, and cakes at 14 percent.

Although most grilling experts advise against doing so, cutting into food remains the top method that Americans use to decide when to take food off of the grill (58 percent). Other popular methods include seeing “if it looks done” (44 percent), “poking it with a fork” (30 percent), and just plain “winging it” (21 percent). Twenty-two percent use the more advisable methods of timing their food (22 percent) and/or using a thermometer (19 percent).

An interesting find: Those with incomes of $100,000-plus are more apt to time their food and/or use a thermometer. Only time will tell how the recent economy will affect this informational tidbit in future surveys.

The fully cooked option

But what if you don’t have a grill at your beck and call?

Processors of fully cooked products allow grill-lovin’ consumers access to grill flavor and look without the bustle.

For example, consumers can enjoy the full-taste experience of grilled brats in 90 seconds by purchasing Sheboygan Falls, Wis.-based Johnsonville Sausage LLC’s Heat & Serve Brats. Past winner of the Consumer’s Choice Pork Award, this product is available in 20 and 45.76-ounce packages.

Advance Brands offers fully cooked, frozen Fast Classics Beef Burgers that deliver that fresh-from-the grill taste after two minutes in the microwave, and the company’s skinless chicken breasts are seared on an inline grill creating visible grill marks for Fast Fixin’ Restaurant Style Chicken Breast Slices.

“Using the inline grill over controlled flames, we sear the fat and protein, which contributes to the appearance and flavor, just as grilling at home does,” says Drew Von Seggern, senior food scientist for Advance Brands. “We have also seen the evolution of seasonings and flavors that impart their own unique flavor profile, such as hickory, cherry and applewood. These types of flavors can enhance the quality of a fully cooked product.”

The appeal of the flavor of traditional grilled meat is undeniable when you look at their success in the quick-serve restaurant business, says Chad Heinecke, brand manager for Advance Brands.

“Creating a product that combines that flavor with the convenience of the microwave — that’s the innovation,” he says.

Speaking of quick-serve restaurants on top of the convenient grilled-flavor game, the Burger King® system operates more than 11,700 restaurants in all 50 states and in 74 countries and U.S. territories worldwide. Approximately 90 percent of Burger King restaurants are owned and operated by independent franchisees, many of them family owned operations that have been in business for decades. In 2008, Fortune magazine ranked Burger King Corp. among America’s 1,000 largest corporations and Ad Week named it one of the top three industry-changing advertisers within the past three decades.

How do they do it? Marketing and a tireless appeal to consumer’s desire for that flame-grilled taste in a convenient format.

In fiscal 2008, the company revealed a new concept — the Whopper Bar™. Focused on serving up America’s favorite hamburger, its signature Whopper® sandwich, the Whopper Bar restaurant is designed to reach new guests in unique locales, with the first one expected to debut this year at Universal Studios Florida®. Others will soon follow on college campuses, cruise ships and casinos, just to name a few. The company says its Have It Your Way® technologies continue to set it apart. They include the new versatile flexible broiler that enables Burger King to offer more innovative products never before available in the fast-food hamburger restaurant space.

On board with R&D

According to Mintel, a leading market research company located in Chicago, Americans spend millions upon millions each year on outdoor grills and accessories. That said, the grilling-food category is ripe for innovation in flavors and preparation techniques.

Authentic grilled flavor is offered to processors by many ingredient manufacturers that deliver that charbroiled, savory and smoky notes associated with food cooked over a charcoal grill. Often available in liquid or spray-dried form and easily incorporated into product formulations eliminating the grilling step, the flavoring technique can be used to season meats, ready-to-eat entrees, sauces, gravies, broths, dressings, soups, snacks and side dishes.

According to Gourmet Retailer magazine, innovations in smoked wood flavoring, sauces and rubs are all heating up restaurant grills, and according to Mintel Menu Insights, a resource that tracks national restaurant trends, these innovations can be seen across dining types from fast food to fine dining. According to these insights, the wood species traditionally used in restaurant grilling are mesquite, cedar, hickory, applewood and pecan wood. Hickory is said to lead the way in this category, especially in the South. Applewood is known for its sweet, mild flavor, and it is used primarily in pork and game dishes. Pecan wood is gaining popularity in the Southwest; its flavor is mild and similar to hickory.Brighter tastes and innovative grilling flavors are providing more versatility on national menus. As more woods and flavors are introduced into the grilling mix, chefs are able to experiment with new combinations and accents. This evolution of new tastes makes grilling one of the most popular flavor preparations on restaurant menus.

The Weber acumen

Downcast griller invents backyard mainstay.

More than 50 years ago, after he became frustrated with the uneven and uncontrollable flame of open brazier grilling at his Mount Prospect, Ill., home, determined backyard griller George Stephen Sr. set out to build a better grill that would protect his precious steaks from the wind and possible downpours — while sealing in a tasty smoked flavor.

At the Weber Brothers Metal Works where he was employed, Stephen ingeniously cut a metal buoy in half and fashioned a dome shaped grill with a rounded lid — and the classic original Weber kettle grill was born. His invention quickly gained a loyal audience and ultimately became a prominent symbol of Americana.

Weber-Stephen Products Co., headquartered in Palatine, Ill., is the premier manufacturer of barbecue grills, grilling accessories and other outdoor room products. In 1952, Stephen designed the Weber® kettle with a lid that allows outdoor cooks to grill in all kinds of weather. A family-owned business for more than 50 years, Weber has grown to be a leading exporter of outdoor grills worldwide. Weber barbecues are available at select home centers, hardware stores, department stores, patio stores and other retail outlets. Weber has the strongest consumer outreach program in the industry with its Weber Grill-LineSM (1-800-GRILL-OUT®) and a content-rich Web site with grilling tips, techniques, and original Weber recipes at®.

Bringing the outdoors indoors

Consequently, the Weber Grill Restaurant is the result of more than 50 years of classic outdoor grilling — from the people who invented the Weber Charcoal Kettle Grill.The first Weber Grill Restaurant was established in 1989 in Wheeling, Ill., to build on the grilling popularity and successes of Weber grills. Restaurant founders wanted to show grillers that they can grill more than hot dogs and burgers on a Weber grills thanks to their superior design. Whether an avid backyard griller who wants to let someone else do the grilling for a night, or a Weber aficionado just wanting to enjoy great grilled food, the Weber Grill Restaurant says it more than answers the call.

The restaurant’s unique open kitchens add to the excitement at the restaurant. Guests can watch chefs prepare their meals over an open flame on larger-than-life authentic Weber Grills — all indoors.