By Geoff Meeker
August 4, 2014 – I’ve written about barbecues several times in recent years, the last time in November 2013 when I expressed disappointment with the Nexgrill portable. It functioned okay but required constant watching due to flareups caused by the scant distance between cooking grid and burner.
I have owned a number of grills priced from $120 to $500 and they all developed problems within a year or so. I got to wondering: does it really matter how much we spend on a barbecue? Will an expensive unit last appreciably longer than a cheap one in our harsh climate?
I decided it was time to find out. Five weeks ago, I took the beef by the horns and purchased a new Napoleon Prestige 500 propane grill ($1400 at Venture Vacuum).
Yes, that’s a lot of change. But I was sold first and foremost by the warranty, which is really quite impressive. The stainless steel body components have a lifetime warranty (the nearest competitor offers 25 years) and the stainless steel tube burners have a 10-year warranty, plus an additional five in which the parts can be purchased for half price. According to Napoleon, their warranties meet or beat those of the competition.
I have seen two barbecue drums actually disintegrate and most have required a new burner every year, so this warranty offers substantial peace of mind.
Also, the barbecue has an infrared side burner, something I have written about previously but never seen in action.
As well, it didn’t hurt that the company offered a free accessories promotion at time of purchase, including a pizza stone and cutter, cast iron charcoal pan and smoker, a wooden cutting board with stainless steel bowls, and a three-piece set of utensils. On top of that, the rotisserie and motor are included as standard equipment.
Finally, the product is made in Barrie, Ontario and it’s nice to support a Canadian manufacturer.
So, what is this infrared side burner all about? In a nutshell, the propane is fired through a ceramic plate with small holes that concentrate the flame, making for a much hotter fire while consuming less fuel. Infrared is used mainly to sear steaks and other cuts of meat before moving them to the main burner, creating that restaurant-style taste on the outside while sealing the juices inside.
The side burner can also be used for boiling and frying, an important detail as winter approaches and we ponder the possibility of another Dark NL (whether caused by storms, fires, neglected equipment or errant crows). I do intend to use the barbecue year-round (I purchased a fitted cover for $40) and in the event of a blackout it will do nicely as an outdoor kitchen.
I have used the infrared burner several times to sear steak but there is definitely a learning curve attached to this. Most came out fine but at least one steak was so badly burned on the outside that it was ruined. There are three factors to consider when using infrared – cooking time, the changeable height of the grill, and the level of gas used on the adjustable controller. I know that the feature works and the results can be spectacular – I just need to fine-tune the process.
There is also a rear rotisserie burner that puts out a lot of heat – so much that you need to use it with care. I almost ruined two whole chickens by setting the rear burner on high and leaving it for five minutes. When I lifted the lid, the birds had been severely tanned. I salvaged supper by turning the burner way down and cooking more slowly but, again, there’s that learning curve.
The ignition system for the four main burners is impressive indeed. I’ve never seen anything like it. Most self-lighting burners send out that clicking little spark when you turn the gas on. Not this baby. It has a small pre-burner that shoots a small flame across the main burner, lighting it reliably every time – even in wind. How long it lasts is another question, but it’s something I’ll be watching closely.
Speaking of wind, this is the first barbecue I’ve seen that is impervious to it. It has a back wall so that heat doesn’t get sucked out through the hinge area. It is vented, of course, but baffled so nicely that air can get in and smoke can escape without winds putting out the fire or sucking out the heat. In a breezy place like Newfoundland, this is a small miracle.
My first impressions of the barbecue are quite favourable. However, I have not had an opportunity to use all the features, let alone use them properly. I have still to try the charcoal insert and smoker tray, and haven’t barbecued a whole turkey yet. And I intend to purchase some optional accessories that further enhance the grilling process.
I will provide an update once I’ve come to know the Napoleon better, and will keep a close eye on its performance – and perseverance – through our brutal winters.