While they aren’t the most lux backyard grills on the market, Weber grills command a decent price. In fact, they always have since they were first launched in the 1950s. Marketed by its inventor George Stephen as a "barbecue kettle," the original Weber grill first sold for $29.95, the equivalent of about $270 in today’s money.
Stephen invented the original grill while working for Weber Brothers Metal Works, his father’s company. The original prototype was made from two domed buoy parts, and the unique-shaped grill Stephen created persists to this day. Weber had claimed the unique shape evenly reflects heat, making it superior. However, there isn’t much science to back up the idea that it cooks better than box-shaped grills.
At first, Stephen only sold a few of the original Weber grills, mostly using his invention to cook for family and friends. After a few design revisions and several years, the Weber grill caught on and became one of the most iconic grills in America. Today, Weber grills are highly respected by barbecue enthusiasts, but their quality comes with a moderate price tag, for which there are a few reasons.
Weber revolutionized backyard grilling
Backyard grilling as we know it started in the 1920s, coinciding with the first wave of American suburbanization. Magazines at the time were running feature articles on how to barbecue, and they described how to dig a small barbecue pit in the ground. These pits resembled 19th-century communal pit barbecues that were used on special occasions, like Fourth of July celebrations.
After a lull in backyard barbecuing during the Great Depression and World Wars, during which food was rationed, backyard grilling was back with a vengeance in post-war America. Open brazier grills became popular, but they tended to burn food while releasing clouds of ash and smoke. Looking to address these problems, Stephen developed the original Weber grill. The debut of a superior backyard grill came when the American middle-class was emerging in full force and likely looking for better modern housewares.
About the same time George Stephen was developing his classic Weber grill, Chicago Combustion Corporation (now LazyMan) launched the first line of portable gas-powered gas grills. In the 1970s, Weber joined the party and launched its first line of gas grills, which retained the original kettle design. Weber would later introduce box-shaped gas grills that incorporated premium features like push-button ignition and the company’s patented Flavorizer bars.
These grills are made with quality materials and engineering
While the classic kettle grill may have put Weber on the grilling map, its shape contributes to its price tag. In speaking with Smithsonian Magazine, the company’s chief marketing officer Mike Kempster said the shape is difficult to manufacture and requires "really, really big presses" that draw steel into the desired form.
But perhaps the best answer to the question of why Weber grills are so expensive is quality. The company says it does not skimp on quality, and only the best will do. "Over-engineered? Maybe to some," Weber admits in a promotional video.
The porcelain-enameled bowls and lids on a classic Weber grill are fired at 1600 F to withstand both the heat of burning charcoal and the long-term effects of weathering. The company’s Flavorizer bars on its gas grills are specifically engineered to direct dripping juices and grease away from the gas burners while facilitating the creation of flavor-adding smoke. The cooking grates are made from heavy-grade stainless steel or porcelain-coated cast iron to facilitate heat transfer.
The company says each grill is the result of a rigorous design process, and each grill must pass its robust quality control standards. Weber also invests heavily in research and thoroughly tests potential new features before incorporating them into a new grill design.
Weber grills earn top marks with reviewers
From professional review websites to celebrity chefs, Weber grills consistently get high marks. In its recent review of the best charcoal grills, CNET said the original Weber kettle "continues to stand the test of time." In its recent review of the best charcoal grills, Gear Patrol said the more expensive premium version of the original kettle is "the one you want" if you are going to be charcoal grilling often.
CNET rated the original kettle as its best overall charcoal grill out of the 10 grills that it tested due to the classic grill’s balance of quality and affordability. In its review of the premium version, Gear Patrol said the premium version’s ash catcher made for much easier cleanup than the standard.
These respected review sites also gave high marks to gas grills from Weber. CNET rated the Weber Genesis II E-335 the best overall gas grill of the eight grills it tested and the Genesis EPX-335 as its best-equipped model. Gear Patrol rated the Genesis E-325 as its best overall grill and the Weber Q 1200 as the best portable gas grill in its review. Weber grills aren’t just wowing Internet reviewers. Celebrity chef Ina Garten prefers charcoal grills to gas and has recommended the classic Weber grill to her viewers.
Weber grills are made in the USA
Being American-made is another major reason why Weber grills command a premium price. We are used to having very affordable consumer products made in developing countries. These products can be priced lower than goods made in the USA due to low labor costs and superior manufacturing infrastructure.
The clothing industry is probably the most glaring example of how low labor costs can be in other countries compared to the US. A recent study by Oxfam found that 99 percent of garment workers in Vietnam do not earn a living wage in Asia — calculated to be $1.90 per day. According to Payscale, the average garment worker in the US earns $13 per hour.
Additionally, the manufacturing infrastructure in other countries is more expansive than in the US. Other countries simply have better access to raw materials, bigger production facilities, and even a more sizable workforce. For example, Foxconn, the Chinese company that makes the iPhone, is estimated to employ more than 150,000 employees at just four mega-factories (via Business Insider).
Interestingly, there’s also a perception that American-made products are of higher quality, and this perception allows American manufacturers like Weber to charge a premium. In a recent Forbes op-ed, eyewear importer Scott Shapiro said American manufacturers could charge an additional 10 percent by dint of being domestic products.
Weber grills are versatile
You could just use your Weber grill to broil hot dogs, but then you wouldn’t be getting a lot of bang for your buck. From smoking meat to making smash burgers to making pizza, a classic Weber kettle grill can do a lot.
If you’re wondering how to turn your charcoal grill into a smoker, it’s actually pretty easy to do with just charcoal briquettes, a pan of water, and wood chips. The so-called ‘snake method’ starts by lining two rows of briquettes around three-fourths of the grill’s perimeter and topping them with wood chips. A pan of water is filled about three-quarters of the way and placed inside this briquette snake. Ignite one end of the snake, and the briquettes will ignite one by one, causing the wood chips above them to start smoking. The result is a low-and-slow smoking process thermoregulated by the pan of water in the middle.
Love smoky flavors in your burger, but also want a thin crusty smash burger? Using a simple flattop adaptor, it’s pretty easy to make smash burgers on a Weber charcoal grill. Just put the insert on a hot grill, let it get up to temperature, prep your ingredients, and get cooking (via View to a Grill).
Maybe you’ve also wondered how to make pizza on a grill. All it takes is a pizza stone, a pizza peel, and a bit of a learning curve. Since the grill will quickly cook the dough, be sure to cook any toppings ahead of time.