Avant-garde grills come out of back yard and into spotlight

When you think of a barbecue grill or smoker, you think of a circular or rectangular shape on a stand. Right? Think a
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010


When you think of a barbecue grill or smoker, you think of a circular or rectangular shape on a stand. Right?

Think again.

The mustard-yellow Marvelous Mobile Modular Hot Dog Grill looks more like a drum kit than a barbecue grill.

The Whistling Piglet smoker has an attached keyboard and calliope pipes.

Avant-garde grills -- or "art cookers" -- made by metal smiths are on view in "Meat Meet Metal: Art Cookers 08" through Nov. 2 at the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis, Tenn.

"I think it's something that's easy to relate to," said Carissa Hussong, museum director. "Everybody has a cooker, but they're not necessarily as special as the ones these artists have created. It makes art fun and playful in a very inviting way."

Inspired by the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, former museum director James Wallace came up with the art-cooker idea in 1996. "When you get a bunch of metals people together and they've got all kinds of technical capability and they all like to cook and eat and carry on anyway -- see what happens," he said.

The first event, "Pig Iron: Iron Cookers," was organized by Richard Dennis, LeeAnn Mitchell and Jim Buonaccorsi.

The art cookers couldn't just be works of art. "We decided part of the rules were they had to sort-of kind-of function. And in order to do that, we wanted everybody to have a recipe. We got one for Barbecued Jell-O."

Michael Rossi from Rochester Hills, Mich., created the Marvelous Mobile Modular Hot Dog Grill. "Everything started out as flat or straight bar material in single dimension and I created everything," Rossi said. "I would say that it's as if Jean Prouve (20th-century French modernist designer) and Dr. Seuss had a blacksmith love child -- which is what I was kind of shooting for."

Pointing out various parts of the grill, Rossi said, "This is an auxiliary charcoal storage unit at the bottom here. And the other side is just for general storage of everything else you could need."

His cooker is designed for cooking Chicago-style Char-Dogs. "You've got an all-beef frank. You want to char them a little bit. You don't want them to go out (unless they've) been blackened a little bit. Then you've got diced onions, tomatoes, dill pickle spears, sport chili peppers, stone ground mustard, sweet relish and -- most important -- celery salt."

What are the advantages of his grill as opposed to a store-bought model? "First off, it's much more heavy-duty. It's going to last a lot longer because I've used greater thicknesses for everything. I'm not as concerned with cost as Weber or any of the big companies.

"The other advantage would just be that it's fun. It's whimsical. And it's not boringly painted black."

Durant Thompson's contribution is a smoker and picnic table with benches built into a vintage truck body. "It used to be a late-'40s Chevy pickup truck," Thompson said. "I found it in an old farmyard in Taylor, Mississippi, chopped it up a little bit, moved the cab back, put the picnic table in it and added some barbecue parts."

He wanted his cooker to have a rustic feel, so he used the pickup truck. "They're like rusting, rotting antiques. I wanted to bring it out of the field."

Thompson likes viewers to interact with his art. People can "come cook and eat at the same time."

The Whistling Piglet resembles a conventional smoker except it has organlike pipes on top and a keyboard on the side. Mark Jeffrey, Josh Avery, Tom King, John Kuisma and Lucas Winters from Toronto created it.

The keyboard is independent of the smoker, Jeffrey said. "We would have really liked it to be sort of mono-powered, but the act of smoking, (there would be) too much grease, too much fat floating around," he said. "It would clog up all the valves and pipes. It wouldn't work."

Instead of a grill for cooking meat, Remy Hanemann built a contraption for cooking gumbo.

The Gumbola was based on a cupola, which is used to melt metal for pouring into frames used to make molds. The gumbo is cooked in the Gumbola and then is poured into frames containing soup bowls.

Noah Kirby and Alison Ouellette-Kirby are the "Meat Meet Metal: Art Cookers 08" curators.

The couple participated in the second show, "Art Cookers 2000." They wanted their cooker to complement the museum, which is part of an 1880s Merchant Marine hospital.

"You're in a military place on the bluff," Noah said. "There was a Civil War battlement right across the street. So, we made a cannon and smoked a turkey in it. And launched it out of the cannon and caught it in a big platter. It was called 'Turkey Shoot.' "