Will Vail Valley man change the way we grill?
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Inspiration isn’t always born of necessity. Sometimes it’s born out of frustration.Jan Strauch, owner of Overland & Express Travel, is a foodie. He grew up in a family business with a commercial kitchen and has spent much of his life tinkering with recipes and ingredients. A few years ago, he’d finally had enough of his backyard grill. Like most of us, Strauch has had too many moments when a carefully marinated piece of meat turned into a crunchy piece of charcoal because he couldn’t control the flare-ups. “I decided to act on the fact my outdoor grill didn’t work very well,” Strauch said.Mechanically inclined, and a mechanical engineer by education, Strauch started thinking, then drawing. After a little bit of both, Strauch thought he might have a solution to the flare-ups that have plagued every open-fire cook since roughly meat and fire were first married millennia ago. He thought he might be on to something unique, so he started searching to see if anyone else had marketed – or, more to the point, patented – the idea. His Google search came up empty, which prompted more tinkering, as well as some conversations with patent attorneys.Strauch also built a small-scale cardboard model of what he’d been drawing and showed it to his wife, Deborah, who smiled and nodded in an “oh, that’s nice” way.
Then, one Saturday, the tinkering went full scale.”He told me ‘I’m going to Home Depot,'” Deborah Strauch said. “Then I didn’t see much of him until he came up with this thing Sunday night.”Strauch had come home with some sheet metal and other supplies and started turning his cardboard model into a full-sized idea.Strauch loaded his creation with charcoal, and the family had its first meal on the new grill that night.”He told me, ‘I hope the salad’s ready because the steaks are done,'” Deborah said. That’s when the one-home field tests began.Over the next couple of years, the Strauchs experimented with temperatures, recipes and meals, often using friends and relatives as test subjects.”We probably had 60 to 80 people over,” Strauch said. “We’d have them fill out survey cards. Sure, there was some wine served, but I think most people really liked it.”Between the test meals and patent searches, Strauch was encouraged enough to submit paperwork for a “provisional” patent. That patent is basically an “I was here first” legal document and gives an inventor a year to further prove his concept and come up with more detailed drawings and plans.At the moment, the U.S. Patent Office is evaluating Strauch’s application for a “utility” patent. If that’s awarded, Strauch will have 17 years of exclusive rights to his invention.
And Strauch fully intends to use those rights. Looking into the details of the grill market, he learned that about $3 billion worth of grills are sold every year in the United States. All operate on the same principle.With a big market and a unique design, Strauch doesn’t want to license his invention to Weber, Char-Broil or any other company. He wants to bring it to market himself. The box now on his promotional materials will have to be re-designed – Strauch believes something unique should have a unique look – but the still-secret cooking mechanism will be the same.And, Deborah said, this could be a great opportunity to find an American manufacturer for the charless grill.”There’s a lot of unused manufacturing capacity out there right now,” she said. “And there are investors with money they want to put to use.”Then there’s what the Strauchs believe is their ace in the hole – health.Recent studies indicate that charred food can contain potentially carcinogenic chemicals.”Ingesting hydrocarbons isn’t good for you,” Strauch said. “I think this could reduce carcinogens by at least 85 percent.”While the charless grill is Strauch’s main focus these days, his inventive fires have been fanned. Not long ago, he designed a new kind of plate that will help meat stay warm while it rests, called a “meat tender.” And he’s considering dusting off and improving an electric sandwich maker he designed in the 1980s.”It’s all been very energizing,” Deborah said. “It’s a little scary, but things seem to be coming together at the right time and pace.”