Thrilla on the Grilla

Here comes summer and it’s time to get your grill on. This year’s hot trends include flat plate grilling, high-end buns, layering, non-meat grilling, and sauces and spices that take old favourites and present them in new and exciting ways.

All fired up

There’s nothing like cooking over live fire to really ignite the taste buds, says RockWood Urban Grill corporate chef Lloyd Frank. “It brings out the natural flavours of anything you put on that broiler. We choose triple-A steaks, fresh salmon, and top quality ingredients, and when you throw them on that fire, it’s amazing what it does.”

Stu Rathwell, president of Rock Creek Tap & Grill and RockWood Urban Grill, says they devised the concept around the wood-burning grill. “It’s an open grill design we sourced from Texas just like a barbecue or an open fire pit with a grate over it.”

The concept has been a big hit with customers at their locations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and soon Alberta looking for comfortable dining with home-cooked flair. “Our guests want a casual and friendly experience with the absolute best quality taken to a higher level than they would get on their backyard barbecue,” Rathwell says.

Different wood burns at different temperatures – be it hickory, oak or maple – and affects the flavour profiles of the various proteins and vegetables, Chef Frank says. “We still tweak it a little bit here and there to get the optimum temperature and burning time. You don’t want it to go to amber too quick, otherwise you lose your flavour.”

Brisket is a big trend this year, and Rock Creek and RockWood smoke their own, along with chicken wings, pork ribs, cheddar and garlic, and then finish them on the broiler. Customers love their beef brisket sliders with peanut butter bacon chili jam, and also their smoked brisket grilled cheese. Comfort food meets the grill!

thrilla grilla 2Big on burgers

Nearly four in 10 Canadians eat at least one burger a week, and men eat even more burgers than women, according to data from Weston Bakeries, which studies burger-lovers’ habits.

Here’s what really turns on burger lovers looking for a premium burger experience:

  • The patty (63%)
  • The bun (21%)
  • Toppings (6%)
  • Seasonings/spices (5%)
  • Condiments and cheese (3% each)

For many Canadians, a burger is naked without cheese. Not surprisingly, cheddar is the cheese champion at 47%, followed by mozzarella at 35%, Swiss at 33%, and Monterey Jack at 25%. Sliced is chosen by 63% and shredded by 17%.

And to top it off...

Meat-topped burgers are trending…and going beyond bacon. Beef burgers are getting piled high with pulled pork, ham and beef brisket for a really meaty experience. They’re marketed as an indulgent, and ultra-savoury meat-on-meat combination.


Most Canadians like it simple and classic when it comes to buns, however new and exciting formulations are adding abundant new bun-opportunities. Here’s what Canadians traditionally look for:

  • Sesame seed buns (31%)
  • Cheese buns (22%)
  • Garlic bread buns (19%)
  • Onion buns (18%)
  • Whole wheat and multigrain buns (16%)

Innovation is certainly coming to buns. According to Technomic, which collects data from the Top 500 restaurant chains, the fastest growing buns are potato buns, sesame seed buns, and brioche. Even ciabatta buns are beginning to have their moment on the grill.

Beef still reigns as burger king followed by chicken, fish and turkey. Eight out of 10 prefer a grilled beef patty. But new grill contenders are ready to take their place. Think seafood skewers and grilled fish.

thrilla grilla 3Say Plancha!

Even the method of grilling is changing. As McCormick’s noted in its 2017 Flavour Forecast, “plancha,” or flat-out grilling, is coming on strong with grill-happy diners. Hailing from Spain, France’s Basque region as well as Mexico, the plancha (a thick, flat slab of cast iron) creates a sizzling, smoky sear and flavour crust. Plancha can easily be used with meats, seafood and vegetables, paired with bold sauces, rubs and glazes.

Spice thrills

Salt and pepper remain the most popular seasonings, however garlic salt, Worcestershire, peppercorn, and Cajun flavours are all gaining in popularity.

Diners love barbecue, and that’s helping to propel burnt, charred and toasted flavours, Technomic reports. Smoky flavours are no longer limited to just meats and cheese but are also being paired with contrasting flavours such as sweet and spicy to add complexity. The espelette pepper, originating from the Basque region of France, helps deliver that smoky, sweet and mildly hot flavour that makes plancha-grilled food an exciting new trend.

The fastest growing condiments are chipotle aioli, garlic mayonnaise, honey, marmalade and jam, especially savoury flavours like bacon jam and pepper marmalade.