PITTSBURGH – If there was one bright side to this pandemic year, maybe it is this: We have returned to our kitchens.

With restaurants temporarily closed, most of us have done (and still do) a lot more cooking. More than one used their time locked up at home experimenting with unfamiliar ingredients and / or trying different cooking methods. (Remember those flour and yeast shortages caused by the sourdough bread frenzy?)

As a masked spring spanned a socially distant summer and fall, we also returned to our grills.

More than 14 million grills and smokers were sold between April 2020 and February 2021, according to The NPD Group. This was a 39% increase from the same period a year ago and boy, have we paid: we spent almost $ 5 billion on grills, smokers, camping stoves and accessories in 2020 .

Tim Hillebrand, co-owner of Don’s Appliances, is among the local retailers who have seen an increase in outdoor kitchens last year.

“The barbecue industry in general was crazy,” he said, with many manufacturers struggling to keep up with demand.

Specialty items such as smokers and pizza ovens were particularly popular, and Hillebrand said they also sell many outdoor refrigeration units and burners. “People wanted real outdoor kitchens, where in the past they just bought a grill. “

He expects a repeat performance in 2021, and not just in carnivores. Eating Well magazine saw a 51% year-over-year increase in views for grilled veggie articles and recipes.

“Americans are coming home which is a good thing because it allows us to slow down,” said Kimberly Stuteville, national sales manager for grill maker Napoleon, which saw sales increase double digits from last year. ‘last year.

A grill, she added, “brings you to your heart, your center, whether with your neighbors or your nuclear family.”

Grills with infrared cooking technology are really big, she noted, and smoke continues to be trending in all its forms, including pellet grills. Accessories like pancha pans, roasting baskets, and charcoal trays – which allow you to cook with charcoal or wood chips on a gas grill – are also increasingly popular.

Doug Satterfield, owner of Rollier’s Hardware in Mt. Lebanon, agreed that 2021 is shaping up to be a hot year for grill sales, particularly through July 4. The most popular price range is $ 500 to $ 800.

“People are still spending money to stay home instead of going on vacation,” he said. “They want to spend more time in their garden. “

So far, Rollier’s has been able to stay one step ahead. “But some companies are running out and inventory is not fast,” he noted. So if you are in the market you might want to buy as early as possible.

Rollier’s has had its best year for pizza ovens and Satterfield believes 2021 will deliver more of the same. “People want something more unique on their back patio. “

New this year is the Burch Barrel, a portable charcoal barbecue that can also be used as a fire pit or smoker. It sells for around $ 1,000.

Mike Murphy, a former investment banker who owns Carson Street Deli on the South Side, was at the forefront of outdoor pizza. He got his bright yellow Forno Bello pizza oven several years ago and has become an expert in making fine Neapolitan pies on his Edgewood patio.

He was originally going to build a pizza oven from scratch, but there were zoning issues and “I was too anxious to wait,” he says. Backyard Brick Oven has come to the rescue with a stainless steel model that can reach 1000 degrees and bake pizza in 60 seconds. It cost about $ 2,600.

“It’s surprisingly well insulated,” says Murphy. “The ark is perfect.”

Still, the name of the game when it comes to pizza, he says, isn’t the oven. It’s the dough. It can take up to four days to create some recipes.

“I think it’s fun,” says Murphy, “but I feel like some of the people who bought these wonderful ovens didn’t realize there was work to be done. “

It always starts with quality Caputo 00 flour, which is higher in protein than all-purpose flour. This gives the dough stronger gluten strands, which makes it more stretchy and elastic and results in a crispier pizza.

“Do you see the bubbles? It means the yeast is happy, ”he said on a recent Monday, as he demonstrates how to stretch a batch of dough that has fermented for three days.

His bible is “The Elements of Pizza” by Ken Forkish (Ten Speed ​​Press, $ 30). It’s also inspired by the thin, crisp, free-form pies served at Figs by Todd English in Boston.

In addition to the Neapolitan-style Margherita pizzas, Murphy creates what he calls his “Fenway Red Sox” pie. It starts out like all stellar pies with a homemade red sauce made with canned San Marzano tomatoes. Toppings include ground mild Italian sausage, caramelized onions, roasted red pepper, and tangy lemon aioli.

“And I’m a basil follower,” he jokes, referring to the garnish of fresh herbs.

Murphy says he’s always experimenting with different fermentation techniques and learning every day.

“There are a lot of steps, and you have to keep track of your time,” he says. But the rewards are many.

“You can’t make a Costco 800 degree crust, or you’ll end up with a cracker.”

RAW TOMATO SAUCE FOR PIZZA

28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes

1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Place all the ingredients in a blender and mix for about 20 seconds, until the sauce appears smooth. Be careful not to emulsify or puree; you will get too much water from the tomato.

Store in a jar for up to 7 days in the refrigerator until you are ready to make your pizza.

Makes enough sauce for 2 pizzas.

This paste takes about a day and a half from start to finish, but totally worth it. Mike Murphy bakes his Neapolitan-style pizzas at around 810 degrees in his outdoor pizza oven, but you can bake the pies in an oven at 500-550 degrees. Make sure the pizza peel or pan is well floured, otherwise it will stick.

For a traditional Margherita pizza, top the dough with the sauce, fresh mozzarella, a little grated Parmesan and fresh basil. Murphy garnishes his Fenway Red Rox pies with ground mild Italian sausage, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers and lemon aioli.

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (95 degrees)

2 3/4 teaspoons fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast

Few 4 cups of flour, preferably 00, plus more for dusting

Olive oil, to coat the pan

Put lukewarm water in a large bowl. Stir in the salt and yeast until dissolved.

Add the flour, then put your hands in it to incorporate the ingredients until there is no more dry flour left in the bottom of the bowl. Let the dough rest on the counter for about 20 minutes, uncovered.

Lightly flour a work surface, then place the dough on it. Knead the dough for 2-3 minutes, making sure that all the dry material is incorporated. Run your hand under the dough and crush it to make sure the yeast is evenly distributed. The dough should be smooth.,

Lightly coat a large bowl with olive oil. Place the dough in a bowl and cover lightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in the bowl on the work surface at room temperature for 4 hours.

After 4 hours, shape the dough into a round on a well-floured work surface, and divide it into 2 balls of dough.

Start pulling the dough into thirds and pull each part up and over the dough ball. When it is stiff, turn the ball over on its seams and place it on an unfloured part of the work surface. Firmly pull the dough towards you, sealing the bottom of the dough ball.

Place the balls on a floured baking sheet and sprinkle the top with a little flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand an additional 4 hours at room temperature.

Stick the tray in a refrigerator and let it rise for 24 to 48 hours. When you’re ready to make a pizza, take the dough out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature for about 90 minutes before shaping it.

To make a pizza, place each ball of dough on a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, then your hands to shape it into circles or squares. Top with sauce and other ingredients and bake.

1 lemon, zested and squeezed

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

Salt and ground black pepper.

Add mayonnaise, lemon juice, lemon zest, chives, garlic and mustard to a medium bowl, whisking to combine.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Store the aioli in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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