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It’s finally here: the summer we’ve all been waiting for. The one that will usher in the New Roaring ‘20s with many, many a bang, and I’m gung-ho on getting friends (and friends of friends) together for a damn good time. And while these aestival festivals may take many forms, there’s one thing this summer lover won’t ever host without: an abbondanza of delicious food.
That’s why, in the midst of spring cleaning, I found myself in a pickle. Our gas grill, the workhorse of every summer shindig, was in dire need of replacement. Between broken knobs and busted burners, repair simply wasn’t an option. When I saw a free grill on the side of our road, I thought my luck was pretty good...until I opened the hood to find it had clearly been repurposed by some nesting natives (i.e. squirrels). At the big box stores, my luck wasn’t much better—the grills on offer looked like they’d soon end up in the same bad shape as the one I was unloading. Was the season doomed to go...unlit?
Luckily, my friend with damn good taste (TQE’s venerable Editorial Director, Scott) tipped me off to the Spark One from Spark Grills: the hi-tech, low-effort grill that looked like it just might save my summer. Crafted to harness the best of charcoal (for flavor) and gas (for ease), its designers set out to have their cake steak and eat it, too—and I was hungry to find out just how well they succeeded.
A Simplicity To Savor
From the first glance at Spark’s website to turning the final screw on the grill’s assembly, I wondered how hard it must have been to make things feel so easy, every step of the way. Turns out that practical-design approach is definitely at the heart of the company: before launching Spark, Founder Ben West spent years engineering high-efficiency wood and charcoal cookstoves for use in developing countries, and the grill that arrived at my door is the result of that long-developed experience and passion for cooking.
Here’s how it works: instead of relying on a tank of propane or a sack of loose briquettes for its fuel, Spark has engineered its own charcoal “Briq,” a single-use block that slides right into the unit for fast ignition and fine control. And talk about control—the temperature knob on the front of the grill goes from 250° to 900°, telling the internal ventilation system whether to fan the flames or cool things down with the turn of a dial. Say goodbye to the vague “1-flame, 2-flame, 3-flame” icon system of traditional gas grills—say hello to the Nest thermostat for your outdoor oven.
All this newfangled technology might sound complicated, but putting the minimalist grill together was so simple, IKEA should take notes. That’s partly thanks to Spark’s companion app, which put quick how-to videos in the palm of my hand. In no time at all, the sleek grill was standing tall, and I was excited to learn how to use the thing while firing it up for its first blaze.
Grilling By The Gradient
Day traders on Wall Street watch stock prices. Sports gamblers in Vegas watch game scores. As a new Spark Grillmaster, I now watch single-degree temperature changes with the same compulsive vigilance. The companion app puts a live feed in your hand, indicating exactly how far your grill (I named mine “Sparky”) has climbed in its journey to high heat, and man, is it hard to look away. “Current grill temp: 331°.” “Sparky is heating up to 500°.” I soon found myself cheering on my grill: “Atta boy, Sparky!”
Let me tell you: it is absolutely astounding how fast the Spark One heats up. For the inaugural ignition, I skewered some ribeyes with the grill’s extra temperature probes, which would give me internal readings on the cuts themselves (“Probe 1 Target Temp: 125°”). Before I knew it, Sparky was ready for the steaks; then it felt like I’d hardly closed the grill cover before the probes told me I’d better take ‘em off. Truth be told, I didn’t believe they could possibly be cooked enough in such a short time (even for medium-rare). But when I sliced them open on the grill’s beautiful, custom-fit bamboo cutting board, they were perfect—and the first bite sent all my doubts up in smoke.
Trial By Fire
A few nights later, a culinary-minded friend came over for another grill sesh. At first, the Spark One’s set-it-and-forget-it technology ruffled his traditionalist grilling feathers (even though he owns a sous vide). Admittedly, the app was a little glitchy, forgetting the probes’ target temps any time I pocketed my phone. But even he was soon duly impressed with Sparky’s speed as it got up to temperature and then quickly cooked our steaks, burgers, and asparagus. And they were all absolutely delicious.
That said, I still had to see whether the grill could handle more than a single meal for a single guest, or else my hot summer bashes would be quickly fizzling to the wrong kind of cool. So a recent family barbecue became the grill’s trial by fire. I decided I’d throw everything at it: whole bell peppers, asparagus, sausages and hot dogs, marinated chicken breasts and steaks—heck, even plant-based burgers. But as I fired it up with an “Everyday” Briq, I soon discovered the Spark’s one minor kryptonite, and it wasn’t anything on the menu.
It was the wind. At first, it just seemed like Sparky was taking a bit longer to get up to temperature. But any time I lifted the hood to add fresh links or remove cooked veggies, the breeze dropped the heat quickly, and I could hear Sparky’s internal fans struggling to make it rise again. Eventually they did, and we all enjoyed that first round of grilled goodies, which were packed with the same delectable charcoal flavor I’d come to expect. But since the Briq was mostly spent after that longer process, the chicken and steaks didn’t make the cut that time.
Not to worry—in the calmer evening, one “Quick” Briq was all it took for Sparky to catch its speedy stride again, bringing those juicy cuts to the table in the blink of an eye. There were hardly any leftovers, which were heartily devoured within the next day. Test complete, I can confidently say it will be far from the only time the Spark One will be providing tons of flavorful fare this summer.
5 More Reasons To Love Spark Grills:
- The brand is grilling for a greater good. For every Spark One purchased, the company provides a locally designed and manufactured cookstove to a family in Ghana, cutting down costs and reducing carbon emissions to boot.
- It’s got both beauty and brawn. The grill is just as strapping as it is sleek, built to last with a double-walled porcelain enamel shell for its kettle and sturdy steel tubes for its cart.
- You can try it for a whole summer, risk-free. Spark Grills come with a 100-day risk-free trial, so you can take your time before deciding it’s truly the One for you.
- No need for nasty lighter fluid. Spark’s charcoal Briqs are coated in an ignition formula that uses plant-based alcohol, which ignites in seconds and gets hot in minutes.
- Real expertise from real humans. From in-app recipe guides to live text and chat support, Spark provides hands-on help for fledgling grillmasters and pros alike, and their reps are top-notch.