Some people just have a knack for coming up with great products. Take Paul Hait, the inventor-entrepreneur who turned a backyard hobby of smoking meat into Pemmican, the best-selling brand of beef jerky in the United States. His current product is a revolutionary cookout grill that can be fired up as high as 1,200° F, uses 75% less fuel than a standard kettle-type barbecue, and collapses into a lightweight package. Hait got the idea for it during a camping trip in the Sierras.
It seems he was having a problem with the rain, which kept dousing his camp fire. So he tried building his fire under a pyramid of stones. The structure's shape, he found, not only kept out the rain but made cooking more efficient. Seeing an opportunity, Hait went on to develop a line of cookers around the concept of heat reflectivity. The most popular model can grill a meal for six people with 9 briquettes (as opposed to 40 for the average barbecue). The leftover ashes fall into a foil liner for easy disposal. As for flexibility, the grill, known as the Pyromid L.A.S.A.R. Cooking System, can chuff along as a smoker at 150° F or work as a searing stove at eight times that temperature.
The hard part has been getting the product to market. After a number of false starts, Pyromid Inc., based in Redmond, Ore., is only now approaching the $1-million mark in sales. Nevertheless, Hait has big plans for the little grill. He thinks it could help solve Third World environmental problems caused by deforestation in the quest for cooking fuel. "This is a 'bridge' product," he says. "It would move people like the Chinese into the twenty-first century without breaking their bank accounts."
-- Edward O. Welles