The Weber grill is a staple of American home cooking. Whether or not you actually own a Weber brand grill, the name is nearly ubiquitous with backyard barbecues and the concept of grilling, no matter what type of cooking method you prefer to use. Most people don't think about why they picture the company's iconic round kettle grill when they think about summer cookouts, but the answer is surprisingly simple: Weber completely revolutionized the home grilling market.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, outdoor grilling as a summer recreational activity began to gain popularity in the United States during the 1920s when people first began to move out to the suburbs, and became even more popular in the aftermath of World War II, as the middle-class suburbs expanded and Americans began eating more meat. However, as Boat Basin Cafe explains, grilling was still a difficult, imperfect process as most home or portable grills on the market essentially were open-air cookers. The wind often wreaked havoc, blowing ash and dust onto the meat, causing dinner-burning flare-ups, and blasting the cook with plumes of choking smoke. That's why the introduction of a covered, round grill from the Weber Brothers Metal Works in 1952 became a smash hit and redirected the entire company's business model.
Smithsonian Magazine further explains that George Stephen, Sr. worked at the Weber Brothers Metal Works in Chicago — the city that is still home to the grill company's signature Weber Grill Restaurant – and was frustrated with his open-air grill. Stephen, a known tinkerer, was inspired by the metal buoys the company was making for the Chicago Yacht Club. Smithsonian reports that he took one of the sawed-in-half buoys home and, with the help of a neighbor, punched air holes in the lid to keep the charcoal inside burning. And so a barbecuing legend was born!
As Boat Basin Café notes, not only did the rounded lid stop the wind from blowing the smoke and ash around and keep the grill from filling with rain water, it actually contained the smoke and gave the meat an improved, smoky flavor. Over the next few years, Stephen perfected the design and his business took off.
While nearly every other grilling company has taken cues from Weber's design, Weber is still the premiere grill brand in the U.S. with CNET calling it an extremely capable classic and Good Housekeeping naming it the Best Charcoal Grill of 2022. Although they are still considered expensive — as they were when they were introduced for a price of $29.95 (the equivalent of about $270 today) — many grill experts continue to swear by them to this day.