It had to happen. The first celebrity-named grill. No, the George Foreman electric pseudo-grill does not count. New in 2011 is the Chef Emeril Lagasse-badged grill which is clearly aimed at competing with the ubiquitous, but aging Weber kettle design. There don’t seem to be any brick & mortar stores carrying the Emeril yet, so we have had to gather our info on the internet.

Clearly positioned to compete with the Weber One-Touch Gold, this new design one-ups the competition with several improvements. The looks are certainly more contemporary: A porcelain-coated metallic-gray fire box, a powder-coated “heavy gauge” steel lid, and four fat tubular legs as opposed to the Weber’s three legs. Its 24″ diameter grate with 424 square inches of primary cooking area is larger than the Weber’s 397 square inches. The grate is made of electroplated steel wire, which likely means it is nickel coated. That’s how most low-cost small grill grates, including the Weber’s, are plated.

The standard grate is hinged in the center for adding more coals, a big plus and an extra cost option on the Weber. The lid is hinged, so you don’t have to put it on the ground and trip on it as with the Weber. At the base of the four legs is a wire shelf, a good place to stow your bag of charcoal. The wire shelf on the Weber base is not very useful. The ash removal system looks pretty easy. The handle you use to move it doubles as a towel rack. It also features the obligatory hood temperature indicator, which measures the air next to the thermometer, not on the grill. As always we suggest you supply your own digital grill thermometer.

The prices on the internet are about $200, about $50 more than the Weber One-Touch Gold and about $100 less than the Weber Performer, which has a work table, charcoal storage bin, and gas ignition. Of the four reviews we found by owners, one had problems with it and returned it, and two mentioned that it needs a large, oblong cover for its odd proportions. One reviewer accidentally pointed out how tight the seal is when the lid is closed: when opening the lid, the reviewer got a fireball that “singed the hairs on my arms”. That’s what happens when a smoldering fire, starved of oxygen, suddenly gets a rush of it. While I’m guessing that owner had his vents closed shut, it’s still a good indication that the seal on the closed lid is nice and tight, good for cooking, bad for arm hair. The upper damper, a dial-type with 6 apertures, is not on the top of the lid, as you’d expect, but on the left side. This helps the user control air and smoke flow somewhat.

Viking has a brand name cachet, but not in barbecue and smoker equipment, where their expensive smoker has been heavily criticized. But this looks like a winner. It has a good warranty: 2 years on the cooking grate, 5 years on the steel parts, and 5 years on all the plastic handles and parts. The painted surfaces carry a 90-day warranty. Made in China.

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