People who love to cook will take one look at the PK300 grill and fall in love. People who love PK grills will take one look at the PK300 and fall off their chairs.
When you think of a backyard barbecue, the PK grill may not be as much of a household name as others. This category is dominated by brands like Weber, Big Green Egg, and Traeger. But I have a suspicion that could change soon.
The new PK300 series is a makeover of the beloved Original PK grill. It maintains the original capsule shape and iconic mid-century styling. The PK grill looks more like a miniature Airstream than a grill. And just like the Airstream, it exudes style and quality.
When did PK grills get their start?
PK grills got fired up in the early 1950s when Hilton Megs of Tyler, Texas, had the vision to develop a grill and smoker that could travel with him.
The PK stands for portable kitchen.
Megs sold these cast-aluminum portable grills out of the trunk of his car across Texas and the South. His timing couldn't have been more perfect.
It was a golden era.
Soldiers had returned from WWII and were ready to hit the road, travel, and see the country. At the time, drive-in motels filled the need for lodging, but getting a decent meal on the road was less reliable.
This portable grill allowed people to cook while traveling. It would perform equally as well at a park or campsite then as it will on your patio today.
The PK grills website goes on to explain that in 1960, the company was purchased by Lewis Hamlin. Shortly thereafter, it set up headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The business gained momentum and operated for another 15 years or so. Unfortunately, a fire at the factory halted production in the mid-1970s and the brand ceased operations.
Are PK Grills Built to Last?
PK grills have always been built to last.
When the fire ravaged PK's headquarters, the only items salvageable from the ashes were the grills themselves. They were rumored to have been relatively unscathed from the fire despite the intense heat and flames.
For the next twenty years, the manufacturing of PK grills was doused. But this didn't mean the fire went out.
Grills that had sold up to the early 1970s were still being used. But what was changing was who was using them.
Moms and dads started becoming empty nesters, and eventually leveled up to being grandmothers and grandfathers. Their kids had grown up going to cookouts where food from the PK grill was a featured attraction. When those kids got older, the PK grill was there and ready for a good time.
Now with families of their own, every time they catch a whiff of freshly lit charcoal, they miss the old family functions. They miss the good times, they miss the amazing food, and they miss the family's Original PK grill.
People crave nostalgia
If you've ever asked Grandma to bring potato salad to your birthday party, you understand.
In the same way a birthday feels complete when Grandma's potato salad is there, there was a whole generation of young adults who remember the PK grill as fondly as Grandma's potato salad.
This happened to Paul James.
James is an attorney in Arkansas. In 1998, an original PK grill followed him home from a yard sale.
At this time, PK grills hadn't made a new grill in over three decades and the grill James got was probably older than that.
Without much fuss, James added some charcoal and a hunk of pork, and the PK was brought back to life after its extended furlough.
His teenage kids who thought everything was stupid were intrigued. In a suburban neighborhood where the predominating smell is freshly cut grass, neighbors followed their nostrils and stopped by to investigate the sweet smell of smoking pork. Some had never seen anything like it. Others were overcome with fond memories. Anyone who stuck around long enough got a bite of the smoked pork.
The look on their faces was all the social proof James needed. He worked out some of the legal details and purchased the PK name. PK grills would now be manufactured again some 60 years later.
One of the reasons may have to do with aluminum.
It turns out that in the '40s-'50s, the military was moving aluminum facilities to the area due to access to bauxite and other aluminum-producing raw materials.
I asked one of the only people I actually know from Arkansas about this. Fortunately, he's a huge fan of all things Arkansas and PK grills. But especially the vintage ones.
Gerald Black lives in Malvern, AR, and is always on the lookout for a vintage grill.
He told me that the first two he purchased were from a county equipment auction that had everything from doorknobs to bulldozers up for bid.
"These summer auctions are quite the social event and it can take six to eight hours to get through all the items."
That day Gerald spent most of the event sitting near the lot that included the grills so he wouldn't miss his chance.
"Maybe I'm too nostalgic, but some of these things are 60 years old. How cool is that?"
Apparently, it's very cool. Black won the auctions that day and adopted two new-to-him PK grills. The re-homing fee, 40 bucks apiece.
Gerald now has five PK grills plus a Dutchess. He was quick to point out that the Dutchess is not a PK but is from the Hamlin family of cookers.
His quiver consists of one Presidental, an original orange junior, and two classics - a single vent and a double vent.
"I appreciate that these grills are family heirlooms. I'm cooking on something that men I looked up to and respected had used and that feels good, whether I knew them or not."
What's old is new again
Since 2015, PK grills has been back in business.
The restart was kicked off by offering the Original PK grill, and people in the know went crazy for it.
This was a good thing as PK had more ideas than hours in the day. The new PK crew was determined to make the outdoor cooking experience more enjoyable.
In 2017, they introduced the PK360. It was the first new style of PK grill in over 50 years and it was worth the wait.
It's a beefy cooker, constructed entirely from aluminum. The hinges are burly and look like something built to be a moving part on a warship. Ash is now collected internally, and its pedestal stand is designed to be both sturdy and maneuverable.
Design is part of the reason the PK360 has gone on to win a Consumers Digest Best Buy award and a Platinum Best Value medal from AmazingRibs.com.
So when it was time to give the Original PK grill a makeover, PK grills didn't have to look far for inspiration.
So what's new about the PK300 grill?
For starters, the PK300 grill has more volume than the Original PK grill.
Aesthetically it's quite similar to the retro architecture of the Original PK grill. They call it "The New Original" because the differences are subtle but effective.
Like the PK360, The New Original has an interior ash containment and airflow management system.
This is a huge improvement because now ash is kept inside of the capsule where it would often fall through the vent on the original grill. For someone like me who cooks outdoors on a cedar deck, this is additional peace of mind for both safety and cleanout.
The capsule is more ergonomic. Its working height is 3 inches taller than before and the handle placement is higher on the lid, which seems to require less work to open and close.
The new design includes a new hinge system called durahinge™. Durahinge™ has a look that resembles the flaps on an airplane wing while offering more stability in both open and closed positions.
Like all PK grills, the hinge requires no tools to assemble and there are no pins or parts to lose. If the lid sits, it fits and will open and close freely.
One nice feature is that when you close the lid, small guides seat the top lid or dome into the bottom capsule in a few locations. This is convenient when closing the lid with one hand while holding a beverage in the other. I suspect it also assists with sealing the capsule in the closed position for more efficient cooking.
Does it require a gasket like a kamado grill?
When the PK300 is in the closed position, the grill seats relatively snugly. Because of this, using a gasket commonly found on Kamado and other charcoal grills isn't necessary.
You are in control of the only air that's coming or going and it's being introduced from one of the four vents.
Original PK owners will immediately notice the airflow has come full circle with round venting ports instead of the sliding vents on the Original.
I appreciate some other nuances of the PK300. Its wheels are aluminum, with a rubber coating. Slightly smaller than a salad plate, the wheels will roll smoothly across a patio and almost as well on grass.
The rolling cart has been redesigned
The stand or cart for the New Original was part of the kit I purchased, complete with a bottom and side shelf. The stand also interlocks with the grill's capsule. Although a minor detail, this is significant because of the way PK300 opens to the side.
The Original PK had the same side opening but at times felt off-balance and susceptible to unseating from its stand when in the open position.
The New Original solves this by quietly integrating a shelter-in-place order between the grill and its stand.
Will history repeat itself?
It almost always does, and this time is no exception.
Reliability is something most outdoor cooks take for granted when buying a grill. Many of today's grills found at hardware chains and box stores are borderline disposable. When they are working, you often spend more time fiddling with them than actually cooking.
There's something serenely satisfying about cooking with a grill that requires no AA batteries, no Wi-Fi connectivity, and no 110V outlet or gas bottle to worry about.
Built on a 70-year heritage, the foundation of The PK300 is strong. Predictably so.
Legacy PKGrills aficionados like Gerald Black applaud the innovation and will continue to advocate for the brand every time they invite friends over for a barbecue. Black told me he likes to purchase accessories for his cookers directly from PKGrills because he appreciates and wants to support them however he can.
For someone like me who lives two time zones away from Little Rock, Arkansas, finding a vintage PK grill close to home is just not in the cards. But at a $ 449 price point, I was probably the first Montanan to put down for the PK300.
It's a small price to invest in something that will bring me and hopefully others tons of joy for long beyond when my flames burn out.
If you're looking for some outdoor cooking gear to accessorize your cook space, check out this article on the Outdoor cooking gear you will want to use every time you fire up the grill!