Getting to the meat of what Canadians think of grilling

With a federal election expected in October, Canadian politicians are currently participating in what is affectionately known as the “barbecue circuit.” For the next few weeks, community events will almost certainly feature Members of Parliament, as well as the contenders who aspire to take their place in the House of Commons once voters are able to cast their ballots.

In the backyards of the nation, a different grilling spectacle emerges when the snow and rain give way to the precious summer months. Canadians begin to prepare and enjoy more meals outdoors, and have a unique chance to share good times with friends and family as the days become longer and hotter. But, as is the case with many other facets of Canadian life, grilling is not immune to gender, age and regional differences.

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In a survey conducted by Research Co. earlier this month, almost two thirds of Canadians (65%) say they own a barbecue or outdoor grill—a number that fluctuates from a high of 74% in Atlantic Canada to a low of 61% in Quebec.

Home barbecue owners can be categorized into four different groups. First, there are the “apathetic”. Almost one-in-ten owners (9%) say they do not prepare any meals at home for themselves and their family during the summer using the barbecue or outdoor grill. The proportion of people who possess the current tools but choose not to use them reaches 12% among those aged 55 and over, 14% in Atlantic Canada and 20% among those of South Asian descent.

A second group can be labelled as “opportunistic”. They will rely on the barbecue or outdoor grill one to three times a week for meals at home. Just over three-in-five owners (62%) fit this description, including 73% of British Columbians and 67% of those of European descent.

The third group is “enthusiastic”. These 22% of barbecue or outdoor grill owners fire it up four to six times a week. This includes 27% of those aged 18-to-34 and 27% of Ontarians.

Finally, there is the “overpowering” group. For 7% of owners, every summertime meal requires the barbecue or outdoor grill. Men are almost twice as likely to belong to this group (9%, compared to 5% of women). Quebec, at 11%, has the highest proportion of “overpowering” owners across the country.

When barbecue or outdoor grill owners are asked about their favourite food to grill, two offerings rank way ahead of all others: steak (43%) and hamburgers (31%). No other component reaches double digits, including summertime staples such as ribs (9%) and sausages or hot dogs (7%).

What we prefer to grill is yet another issue where affordability appears to be leading to generational quarrel. Steak is the top choice for those aged 55 and over (47%), but drops to 44% among those aged 35-to-54 and to 34% among those aged 18-to-34 (34%). Conversely, Millennials are more likely to enjoy grilling hamburgers (34%) than Generation X (30%) and Baby Boomers (29%).

Some of the regional fluctuations are not shocking. British Columbia, for instance, has the highest proportion of owners who say their favourite food to grill is fish and seafood (6%). In Alberta, steak as a favourite food is the highest in Canada, at 50%

But there are some findings that challenge our preconceived notions about specific areas. Atlantic Canadians have the highest affinity for ribs (12%) and are tied for the lowest for fish and seafood (1%, the same level observed in the Prairies). Nobody in Quebec selected chicken as a favourite food to grill.

Lastly, we should focus on hygiene. The vast majority of owners (65%) claim to clean their barbecue or outdoor grill “after each use” during the summer, while one third (32%) do this “a few times” and only 3% admit to “never” doing any cleaning.

Men are slightly more likely than women to clean the barbecue or outdoor grill after each use (67% to 62%). On the question of generations, we observe a high of 76% among those aged 55 and over who clean the grill after each use. The proportion drops to 60% among those aged 35-to-54 and 55% among those aged 18-to-34.

So, when the next barbecue invitation arrives, it is useful to ponder what you might encounter. If your host is a Baby Boomer, the chances of enjoying steak on a recently cleaned grill improve dramatically. A Millennial is more likely to go the hamburger route, and leave the cleaning brushes indoors. Once again, Generation X is caught in the middle.

Results are based on an online study conducted from July 6 to July 9, 2019, among1,000 adults in Canada. . The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error—which measures sample variability—is +/- 3.1 percentage points, nineteen times out of twenty.

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