The Cleaner Patio Sizzler

Firing up the grill for a cookout is as American as baseball and blue jeans. But worries about carcinogens and pressure to cut down on pollution are leading people to look for alternatives to burning charcoal.

Thermos Co.'s award-winning product, the Thermal Electric Grill, is designed to appeal to suburbanites and city dwellers for whom gas is not a reasonable option. The eye-catching grill resulted from a collaboration between engineers from Thermos in Schaumburg, Ill., and industrial designers from Fitch Inc. in Worthington, Ohio.

Team members visited consumers' houses to videotape cookouts. They saw that while people invested a lot of money in fixing up their backyards, their grills looked tacky by comparison.

The Fitch-Thermos team decided to build a grill that was clean, compact, stylish, and convenient. They took the vacuum-insulation technology Thermos was famous for and put it together with a grill the company was already working on. The team moved to prototypes very quickly. Consumers were brought in to use them, and adjustments were made. The control panel was moved from the side to the front. The tool holders were repositioned to the back and side of the table, within arm's reach but away from the cook's body.

Thermos claims that the Electric Grill barbecues as well or better than gas or charcoal, and better than any other electric grill on the market. No matter where the food is placed on the grill, it is cooked evenly. Enough grease is captured in a cup beneath the grid to give the meat a smoked flavor. A domed lid uses vacuum technology similar to a Thermos bottle to seal in the heat, moisture, and flavor. It's cool to the touch.

The grill uses half the energy of other electrics. The basic model runs $299. Souped-up versions sell for $399 to $499.