It isn’t a good deal until the blue wrapper is off.

May 11, 2008

This Mother’s Day the time had come for a decent barbecue. Mom had always resisted the things because my dad didn’t like charred food, and taking the unit apart and storing it inside each night was too much work. I determined to put one in place which would connect to the house propane line and be durable enough to survive outside for several seasons without protection from the elements.

I wasted a half-day negotiating for a used Weber in Ottawa, “a steal at $750.” Then Bet suggested for the tenth time: “You should be able to find a new one in town for less than that.” On Friday evening I set out to gain an education in gas barbecues and find an acceptable deal.

On my first stop I ran into a young man who obviously knows his gas grills. I looked at the gleaming Weber at the front of the store, but he seemed to think it was a bit rich for my blood. He directed me halfway back to a row of plain, Ontario-built models. He told me he owns one of these and finds it great for all of his outdoor cooking needs.

I looked to the gleaming monster beside it. He dismissed it as a cheap knockoff and wouldn’t tell me any more about it. He then moved down to the lesser grills and explained how they will cook, but won’t last nearly as long as the one he had chosen for me.  I thanked him. It was closing time in his store, and I had a lot to learn yet. This guy knew his stuff; I’ll give him that.

Next stop was a large department store. I briefly looked at a myriad of huge grills with laughably low prices and lurid product names.

At the farmer’s store I encountered only two models. Ah, limited choices. Good. A shiny one had many bells and whistles. The other one, an Ontario-made model, seemed very plain but had the same price. I couldn’t find anyone in the store, so I headed on.

The Tire place displayed a bewildering variety of grills under a generic name. Two models in my range were priced identically, had similar features, yet looked as though they had been built on different continents. I managed to corner a clerk, who promptly radioed for help. After this process repeated two more times, I got to talk to a manager who obviously knew nothing about the grills. Maybe Friday evening is not the time to shop.

My next department store stop had the predictable array of Asian knockoffs, though one smaller model looked pretty nice. Three clerks into the depth chart and I found one who actually owns one of the grills. All she could tell me about it was that it works well, and she has had it for four years. I added this model to my short list and dashed home to watch a hockey game.

Saturday morning dawned with the realization that I still didn’t have a grill for Mother’s Day dinner, and was more confused than ever. So I asked Google, which promptly turned me over to an assortment of discussion groups devoted to gas grills.

The first thing I learned was that everyone dismissed the imports as cheap throw-aways. The same five brand names kept coming up as quality products. The choices were narrowing down, but time was running out.

This time I found an alert clerk at the farm store, so I peppered her with questions. The brand-name grill turned out to be an orphan which had been around since the store opened. I tossed a low-ball offer. She countered. I offered a more reasonable number which she took to her manager. After a delay she came back, acting a bit frazzled from the battle, but told me the deal had gone through. I wheeled it out to the parking lot, missing drip tray and all.

Once Bet caught and prevented me from firing up the grill with the parts bag still inside, things went well until she tried to remove that blue film which covered the stainless steel parts. She came back into the house looking for a chisel and I figured we had a problem. The blue film simply wouldn’t let go of the metal underneath.

WD40 and varsol didn’t work. Google located a lady in Texas who had faced the same problem. Turns out household ammonia releases the adhesive in the film. I put on my charcoal fume mask and spent an hour scrubbing. Next time I’ll buy a new grill from the guy who knows his job.

Then I accidentally located another little item on the Net. Consumer’s Reports has failed only one barbecue in the last five years. Guess which one melted during its test, dripping molten metal down onto the tank below? Mine, the orphan grill at the farm store. So much for my vaunted research skills. At least the company website makes it easy to order replacement parts online to get the unit up to spec.

Even though the steaks were fine at dinner, it isn’t a good deal if the grill melts when you light it.

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