The story of the George Foreman grill starts in 1994. Contrary to what people may assume about these machines, George Foreman was not the inventor of the grill. According to an Entrepreneur article entitled “The Inventor of the George Foreman Grill Sets the Record Straight” Michael Boehm, of Batavia, Illinois, invented the grill. Boehm was the General Manager for the Chicago area offices of the U.S. division of Tsann Kuen, a Chinese company that manufactured home electronics equipment, came up with the grill idea.
The Seeds That Planted the George Foreman Grill Idea
Boehm was a man who loved to tinker, and he would go around town to hardware and appliance stores in search of any product that would lend itself to a better design. He found lots of indoor grills that ran the gamut from inexpensive no frills machines to expensive models with larger cooking surfaces and more features. Boehm saw a problem that none of the table top grills on the market then had addressed. None of the available indoor grills could cook both sides of a burger, a chicken breast or anything else at the same time.
Michael Boehm created the first prototype as an experiment. He wanted to test his theory that an angled cooking surface would fully cook meat while allowing the fat to drip off and away from the food. Boehm tested his theory by laying a cast iron baking sheet at an angle. Since the food cooked well, and the fat dripped off as he hoped it would, he proved that his idea was viable. He willingly took a chance on the possibility that his invention could turn into something useful.
Building the First Double-Surface Grill Model
Boehm’s employer, Tsann Kuen, made the earliest versions of the grill that would later bear George Foreman’s name. They called it the “Short Order Grill.” There was no large scale marketing campaign or advertising at this stage of the grill’s development. Boehm touted the benefits heäd discovered with his prototype. The grill produced great tasting food while removing excess fat by drawing it away from the cooking surface.
On January 11, 1995, Michael Boehm, and his co-inventor, Robert W. Johnson, applied for a Patent with the United States Patent Office. The patent application described the grill as a “device for cooking food stuffs”. Tsann Kuen, USA, Inc. of Pasadena was listed as the patent assignee. A little over two years after applying, the patent was approved on March 4, 1997.
The patent application described the grill as a lower angled cooking plate for which the plate was angled to the device’s horizontal plane. The upper plate opened and closed and was connected with a floating hinge. The design created a cooking chamber where fat and excess liquid drained off of the cooking surface into a holding container. Proteins would stay moist during the cooking process.
Early Promotion Efforts
Boehm didn’t have any grand advertising or marketing vision, so he did what he always did when he wanted to sell one of his employer’s products. He started with the contacts he already had in the housewares industry and tried to sell them on his invention. Ultimately, the patent owner, Tsann Kuen, approached Salton, Inc.
George Foreman’s Involvement
In an excerpt from his book “Knockout Entrepreneur”, George Foreman tells the story about how he almost passed up the best financial deal of his life. Foreman said he was approached by an attorney friend (Sam Perlmutter), who was contacted by someone else who wanted to know if Foreman would be interested in having his own brand. Everyone knew that George Foreman was a successful brand ambassador, but this time, he’d be the spokesperson for a product that would bear his name.
Foreman wanted to how much these people were willing to pay him. When he learned that there wouldn’t be any upfront money, he was less than enthusiastic. Perlmutter said he’d arrange to have the company send Foreman a sample device to try out. George forgot about the whole conversation and stashed the grill away without bothering to try it. Several months later, Perlmutter called George to ask him what he thought of the grill. Foreman had to admit that he’d forgotten about it.
But Perlmutter put him on the spot, explaining that the people who had contacted him were waiting for an answer, and he couldn’t blow them off indefinitely. Foreman was about to tell his friend that he just didn’t have the time to take on a non-paying endorsement deal, but his wife Joan overheard the conversation. She yelled to George to tell him that she’d tried the grill, and she liked it a lot. She said it did everything that Boehm said it would do.
Joan Foreman convinced her husband to try a burger she was going to make on the grill. Foreman was a known burger lover, and she was sure he’d like this burger a lot. After tasting the burger, George Foreman was impressed with the taste, and he liked the grill. He decided he’d join the venture.
When he spoke to Perimutter sometime later, he said he’d partner with the inventors. By this time, he was so thrilled with the grill that he didn’t care about the upfront money. He wanted to get enough free grills to put one or more in each of his homes and stock his training camp with grills. He wanted to give his mom one, and give grills to his friends and extended family members.
As CNBC explains, George Foreman’s deal with Salton that put his name on a tabletop appliance and its future upgrades and modifications would become what is or should be regarded as sports marketing history’s best endorsement deal. The grill and the improved models and updated designs would eventually be known as Salton’s “Lean, Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machines”.
Grill Types and Models
Salton created four categories for the George Foreman grills: Basic, Advanced, Premium, and Indoor/Outdoor Grills. Although the features and price point varies from group to group, some features are common among all grills, regardless of the group to which they belong. You can learn more about the grills from our George Foreman Grill Buyers Guide.