Somewhere in the mid-1970s, Brad Holland became frustrated with his gas grill. It flared up. It burnt his food. And in general, it angered him that such a simple device could cook so poorly. For 12 years Brad worked to improve the gas grill, and in 1988 he began selling The Holland Grill.
It was unique; in fact, it went against all conventional thinking. The solution to flare-ups was simple, though many would say extreme. The Holland Grill separated the food from the burner with a solid sheet of metal. Flare-ups were impossible because fat drippings never hit the flame. However, neither did the food.
The Holland Grill required an explanation. Marketing gurus will tell you that this is a death sentence. This grill sold well for many years, but what made it so unique? The Holland Grill has a single, small, round cast-iron burn. In many models, it produced around 15,000 BTUs or less than half of comparably sized grills. The burner sits under a heavy sheet of steel that isolates it from the cooking chamber. No access to the flame means those drippings can’t catch on fire. So, no flare-ups.
The cooking grate has a diamond pattern steel surface. While durable and lightweight, but not designed to produce grill marks. Then again the Holland Grill doesn’t produce those sorts of
temperatures anyway. In fact, with the original design, the control valve is either on or off. There is no adjustment. These grills hold a consistent temperature around 350 to 375 degrees F. The perfect temperature range for baking, but not what most consumers expect from a gas grill.
The Strength of the Holland Grill
The real strength of the Holland Grill was its versatility. It cooked like an oven and a grill at the same time, with the ability to make burgers one day and lasagna the next. The Holland cooking chamber let little air flow through. A pair of vents on the top could be opened to let heat out, but food wouldn’t dry out quickly. It seemed this grill was nearly foolproof. Simply turn it on, add the food, and check back now and then.
But wait, there’s more. If you put liquid in the watertight cooking chamber below the cooking grate, it steams. Place wood chips on the metal divider sheet, and it will smolder and produce smoke. Close the top vents to hold the steam or smoke inside. Clambakes, smoked ribs, a holiday turkey, name it and this grill could do it. It was this versatility that drove its loyal fandom for nearly two decades.
Nearly 22 years ago, when I started writing about barbecue and grilling, I was told to be careful about criticizing two products, the Big Green Egg and the Holland Grill. Fans were fanatical. For both products, the loyal would gather in parks and parking lots to show off their cooking skills, swap recipes, and techniques. As you can imagine, the users of the Holland Grill were a force to be reckoned with.
Brad Holland and his family-owned business were more than a company looking to sell a grill. They took an active part in the industry. As contributors to trade shows and organizations, they promoted outdoor cooking and helped grow the market space. Holland Grill remained a mainstay at these events, cooking a wide range of food as people flocked around for samples.
At the time, Holland was the ideal small American business producing domestic grills. They deeply embedded themselves into the Mom and Pop grill stores. No big box stores sold their grills, but small local places pushed their product to anyone who walked through the door. The sales pitch always started with the same line, “Do you have a problem with flare-ups and burnt food.” For many, it was a pitch that worked.
The Problem with Durability
Unfortunately, it seemed that a properly cared for Holland Grill could last for decades. Some of the earliest models are still in use today. While customers remained loyal, they seldom needed a replacement unit. Sales growth was driven by loyal Holland fans who purchased new grills for their kids, parents, and friends. While this brought in new users, it wasn’t the kind of growth that made Holland a big company. It stayed in the family, local, and small. Ultimately, quality played a part in the death of the Holland Grill.
Times change. If you think about how the Holland Grill works you might find yourself comparing it to a Pellet Grill. Yes, Holland and Traeger came up together. But where Traeger created a niche market, Holland remained what it was, a very specialized grill for a select few who understood its merits.
Holland did have imitators. Phoenix Grills is a duplicate of the Holland Grill and is still in production today under new ownership. Fans launched an attack against Phoenix, but for a short time, there was a narrow market space for both. Phoenix went bankrupt before being acquired by Modern Home Products.
The Death of the Holland Grill
On June 14, 2019, Holland Grill closed its doors. Fans will continue to use this product, but the company is gone. It can be argued that the Holland Grill and its imitators are not traditional grills and that they functioned as a minor blip in the history of outdoor cooking. The truth is that few products in the industry have had that type of loyalty. The demise as a company has much to do with the durability of the product as it does with current market changes. Indeed, pellet grills and the need for smoke have cut into the gas grill space. However, you look at it; the loss of the Holland Grill Company is a loss to the industry.