Rupert Bates Spring 2021
A Canadian friend, now living in London, took me to task having leafed through the last issue of BBQ magazine. “Where’s Broil King?”
Well, the monarch of Canada is very much here in the UK, as it has been for over 20 years. But this North American giant is now parking its barbecues on British lawns in a far more demonstrable way, bringing with them a devotion to product, performance and engineering that has never wavered over three generations of Witzel family ownership.
“We are seeing a huge hunger and desire for barbecues and outdoor cooking in the UK and are building a team to feed that growth,” says Broil King operations director for Europe Nathan Wheeler.
The UK team is led by country manager Martin Carnaby, who has been in the barbecue industry for more than 20 years and has recognised a significant shift towards branded products, as outdoor cooking enthusiasts search for quality and not just convenience - and prepared to pay for it.
“Of course, fun is the overriding attraction of having a barbecue, but performance is becoming a bigger influence on choice. More people want to know how best to smoke a brisket or take a tomahawk steak off the grill that matches the quality of a top restaurant,” says Wheeler.
“BBQ has been around a long time in the UK, but it is on fire right now across products and categories. No longer is it just about rolling out a cheap barbecue once a year to burn sausages.”
Wheeler, while recognising different budgets, compares it to cars. If you have a Ferrari in the backyard, rather than a Ford, you fall in love with it and likewise a top of the range barbecue feeds the BBQ addiction.
“I am from Canada and you mention grilling any time of the year and a Canadian is always thinking outside, even if it means getting the snow boots on. You sear that steak outside, be it over gas or charcoal, as that is the only place to do it properly,” says Wheeler.
Carnaby, who joined Broil King last September, says there is also a growing trend for multiple barbecues in the garden, tailored to what you want to cook and how, with buyers doing their research and eager to learn.
This widens the interest to making the most of the ‘film set’ for your al fresco cooking, creating a more comfortable entertainment space and spending on patios, heaters and outdoor furniture as well.
There is still plenty of room to grow, fuelled by an ever-expanding repertoire of cooking shows and food influencers and Broil King is putting itself front and centre of that premium growth.
“A barbecue can be seen as a luxury purchase, but buying one is always a pleasurable experience. A kitchen appliance breaks and you are very grumpy replacing it. But nobody goes to buy a new barbecue with a frown,” says Wheeler.
Broil King is proudly North American of hue and heritage, wedded to its home territories of Canada and the US, with three factories in Ontario, Indiana and Tennessee.
Running through the business and its employees is a robust commitment to ‘build it best’ – letting the performance do the talking and word of mouth and recommendation the rest.
“We will put our products up against any other brands, having invested so much in the materials and the design to deliver the best flavours,” says Wheeler.
Broil King is therefore strategically placed to meet next-level grilling expectations. These days everyone takes a microwave in their fully fitted indoor kitchen for granted; so why not a top performing barbecue in the garden – the outdoor kitchen – too?
“It is not just the die-hard grillers and super-fans anymore. It has opened up to everyone as a great way to cook and entertain,” says Carnaby.
Even in the exalted world of professional chefs, Broil King has seen a shift in attitude. “You see a chef operating in the white heat of a commercial kitchen and there is stress. Hold that same event outdoors and a weight comes off their shoulders. We’re meant to be outside,” says Wheeler, who started at Broil King doing demonstrations, taking a van round to premium retailers, grilling steaks and extolling the virtues of the products.
“With barbecues and outside cooking you build family memories every day. A barbecue is associated not just with food and fire but having a good time.”
Onward Manufacturing Company, Broil King’s parent, was founded in Canada in 1906 by Theodore Witzel and started by producing vacumn cleaners.
During the Second World War, Onward built parts for tanks and planes. Further engineering and grilling innovation followed before, in 1984, Ted Witzel, company president and grandson of the founder, had that ‘eureka moment’ discovering that, with the right design and engineering, a gas barbecue could have the same flavour signature as any other.
“The authentic flavour you get is by vaporising the juices back into the food and having multiple points of contact and landing spots. The flavour is not coming from the fuel,” says Wheeler.
“BBQ is just that – the vaporising of juices on a hot surface and that can be done most effectively with gas, with our stainless steel ‘flav-R-Wave’ system and performance grilling technology, with even heat distribution and no heat or moisture loss.”
Wheeler’s study of food science is an example of Broil King’s attention to detail across every aspect of its barbecues and, as well as gas, the company produces both charcoal and pellet grills, covering all interests and preferences.
Broil King, selling in 52 countries and with a huge accessories range too, has total control and ownership of its manufacturing and assembly, building all its barbecues and key components in Canada and the US and with its own foundry for the metal work and castings. Steely qualities indeed.
Its barbecues range from the Porta Chef portable grill through to the Imperial, but with a laser focus on the quality of materials and precision engineering regardless of price point – a powerful fusion of feeling the weight and tasting the flavour. Because of its manufacturing autonomy, Broil King can build to order and specifically for the British market, rather than a pan-European product.
“The brand will always be positioned as premium and aspirational. There is enormous potential to grow the Broil King brand in the UK, with my aim to make Broil King the number one brand in the UK for barbecues,” says Carnaby.
The education piece is all part of the brand building too, with Broil King confident that an educated customer will buy its product and the company happy to go toe to toe, pork shoulder to pork shoulder, with its competitors, encouraging consumers to test drive and compare barbecues as they would cars.
“Whoever sells Broil King has to be passionate and knowledgeable about the product and be able to educate and engage people, telling our performance story,” says Carnaby.
Broil King is a heavyweight, but light on its feet, always innovative and proactive in the pursuit of excellence. The Witzel family mantra remains one of ‘make me the best’ putting the best steaks before the biggest margins.
Wheeler and Carnaby are men of BBQ to their boots and briskets. Broil King is proudly North American of steel and resolve, but you sense a new ‘special relationship’ with the UK is smoking nicely.
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