Money to burn? Try the wi-fi-enabled smart grill

  • Article by: RONALD D. WHITE LOS ANGELES TIMES
  • Updated: March 16, 2014 - 11:02 PM

If you’re not sure when to turn the meat, just wait for a text.

Among the hundreds of gadgets, games and apps at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, few had the sizzle of James Buch’s gleaming silver hunk of hardware.

That’s because the device is a barbecue grill — one that’s Wi-Fi-enabled, voice-activated and chatty in a Siri-ish way.

“When the Lynx Smart Grill is ready for the food, it sends you a text,” said Buch, chief executive of Lynx Professional Grills. “When it’s time to flip the food, it sends you a text. When the food is ready, it sends you a text.”

The smart grill, which features an online collection of recipes that adapt to a griller’s preferences, won’t go on sale until next year. Which is good, because that gives you some time to save up. All tricked out, the concept grill is expected to retail for about $8,000, which isn’t much higher than the company’s current top-priced non-talking product.

In an industry still struggling to recover from recession-induced consumer frugality, Lynx has been keeping busy manufacturing hand-assembled grills and outdoor kitchens for cooks with lots of cash. The company has been making outdoor grills for 18 years, but lately has been on fire, reaching nearly $50 million in revenue last year.

“We had a record year for sales in 2013,” Buch said, “and we’re already heading to be 25 percent ahead of that in 2014. We’re really in acceleration mode right now.”

The outdoor cooking industry hasn’t fared nearly as well.

In 2013, 13.9 million barbecue grills and smoking cookers were shipped in North America, the worst showing in 15 years, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association.

But the affluent customer is fueling what industry watchers think is a comeback.

“Anecdotally, we are seeing some outstanding high-end market growth numbers,” said Don Johnson, director of market research for the association. “And Lynx is a very high-end grill.”

The consumer with money to burn is Lynx’s focus, with grills that cost from $1,750 to $7,700 for the most accessorized of outdoor kitchens.

“Our professional series grills are for people who are putting together a custom outdoor kitchen, where the outside has been transformed into an extension of the indoor living space,” Buch said. “This would typically be a household income north of $250,000.”

Daniel and Lisa Levin bought a Lynx grill for the 4,000-square-foot dream house they built 11 years ago in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Within the past year, the Levins added an outdoor fountain, outdoor refrigerator and fire pit. To go with it, they bought a Lynx grill that starts — without extras — around $5,100, with a 36-inch cooking surface.

“I love my Lynx,” said Daniel Levin, 49, who works in talent management and licensing for the entertainment industry. Lisa Levin is a real estate agent who considers the grill a good investment.

Lynx began 30 years ago as the Bar Equipment Corp. of America, making commercial restaurant and bar equipment, Buch said. The company was renamed Lynx in 1996, after it made its first outdoor grill for residential use and began to phase out commercial equipment. The company also sells accessories such as outdoor refrigerators and patio heaters. Lynx products can be found at chain stores such as Home Depot as well as specialty retailers.

Buch said the smart grill technology, which adds $1,200 to $1,500 in costs, could be added to other grills the company makes.

“Like any technology, it’s all about volume. The more you sell, the more affordable it becomes,” he said.

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