Depending on the generation you grew up in, when you hear “George Foreman,” you’ll either think about a legendary boxer or the grill that nearly everybody has in their kitchen. For more than twenty years, Foreman has been selling people his Lean, Mean, Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine and all its offshoots to the point that many people think Foreman invented the grill himself.
Learn the truth about the legendary George Foreman and the famous grill named after him.
George Foreman as a Boxer
George Foreman, known as “Big George,” is a retired, successful American boxing, a two-time world heavyweight champion, and an Olympic gold medalist.
Born on January 10, 1949, in Marshall, Texas, he grew up in Houston’s rough Fifth Ward district as a self-proclaimed thug. He dropped out of school in the 9th grade and ran with street gangs until he joined the Job Corps in 1965. Joining the Job Corps gave him a connection to boxing trainer Doc Broaddus, who encouraged him to apply his fighting skills to the boxing ring. He did so quickly that he won the gold medal in the heavyweight boxing division in the 1968 Olympics. Shortly afterward, he went into professional boxing.
As a heavyweight, the power that he put behind his punches made him a deadly opponent for whoever stepped in the ring with him. At 6 feet, 3 ½ inches, and 218 pounds, he was a fearsome presence in the ring who brutalized his opponents. He won 37 professional fights before earning a shot at heavyweight champion “Smokin’” Joe Frazier in 1973. Foreman was an underdog to Frazier, but he shocked the world by knocking the champ down six times over the course of two rounds and earned the heavyweight crown.
Foreman’s championship reign ended after losing to Muhammad Ali in the legendary fight “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974. Back then, Foreman had a 40-0 record, including 37 knockouts at the young age of 25. Ali employed the “rope-a-dope” technique to deflect Foreman’s punches and then turned aggressor and knocked him out in the eighth round. It was Foreman’s only defeat by knockout in his professional career. The fight has become iconic as one of the greatest bouts of all time. After that, he took a year off and won five more fights in a row before losing to Jimmy Young in 1977.
While he was still one of the best boxers in the world, Foreman shocked everyone and retired. During his retirement, he had a religious awakening and went on to become a non-denominational Christian minister.
A decade after his last fight, Foreman made a comeback at professional boxing at age 38, with an extra 50 pounds and a friendlier public persona. While he failed to impress at his first comeback win with Steve Zouski, he worked himself to a better shape and won his first 23 fights until he was eventually given the shot against heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. Though he lost to Holyfield in 1991, Foreman earned praise for going the distance.
In 1994, Foreman made history by being the oldest heavyweight champion in history at 45 years old after knocking out Michael Moorer in the 10th round. In 1997, he lost at a controversial decision to Shannon Briggs, which turned out to be his final fight. He finished with a professional record of 76 wins (68 of them by knockout) and five losses.
George Foreman and his Namesake Grill
Foreman made a decent fortune as a boxer, but in 1999, his life changed forever in a decision that became more lucrative than all his fights put together. Foreman lent his name on a line of grills that cooked food from both the top and the bottom and allowed the fat to drip to a nearby pan. The George Forman Lean, Mean, Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine became a mainstay on late-night advertising and commercials on TV. As a result, it became a hot commodity.
This health-conscious grillware is an indoor, electrically-heated grill that became a sensation throughout America. It sold over 100 million worldwide and a line that features other models and grilling accessories that can help Americans shred fat from their grilled foods. In the cycle of weight loss fads like Atkins, Foreman’s grill made eating healthier and losing pounds more attractive.
In his prime as a heavyweight fighter, Foreman won $5 million, but he made substantially more with the grill. He was paid $138 million in 1999 only for the right to use his name, excluding his endorsement earnings. Before that, he was paid about 40% of the profits on each grill sold, yielding him more than $200 million just from the endorsement until 2011.
Who Invented the George Foreman Grill?
Foreman rarely talked about how this multimillion-dollar grill idea came to be until October 2017. He claimed that right after getting knocked out by Ali, he had a hallucination that a talking piece of meat yelled at him to be grilled. So, in short, the meat made him do it.
However, that story isn’t entirely true. No matter how popular the grill might be because of his name, Foreman did not invent it or thought about the concept of the grill. When he came back to the boxing ring from retirement, he argued that his success was due to his healthy eating habits. This is why he was approached by Salton, Inc. (now Russell Hobbs, Inc.), which was then looking for a spokesperson for its fat-reducing grill. Already a familiar commercial pitchman, Foreman accepted, and the grill made him busy after leaving the ring for the second time.
The idea and invention of the George Foreman grill came about in 1994 to Michael Boehm, the real inventor of the grill. Not designed with a boxer in mind, Boehm created a patented grill designed to minimize cooking time and maximize nutrition. Upon perfecting the design, Boehm started to focus on marketing. It was then when Foreman was approached to be an endorser.
Unlike most grills, the George Foreman grill has a sloped design. Boehm said that all the 13 brands he went to pitch the product to looked at it and said, “You can’t cook on an angle.” Potential buyers were indifferent and even skeptical until Salton Inc. acquired the rights to sell the slanted, two-sided hinged grill that became the George Forman Grill.
Foreman was also not too thrilled about the product initially because it looked like a toy. Eventually, his wife Mary made him a burger on it, which convinced him to sign the endorsement agreement with Salton.
Thankfully, Boehm didn’t give up pitching his product to companies, and Foreman tried the grill. Both of them are now very rich because of the gamble they took more than 20 years ago.
Why is the George Foreman Grill Popular?
This line of grills has become a household name and a pop culture icon in America. It’s beloved especially by those who are health-conscious or those who want to be able to grill inside their kitchen. Besides its healthy, fat-reducing abilities, it was popular for several other reasons, such as:
- Reliability – Since it runs on electricity, it makes it easy to make a consistent grill indoors and wherever there’s an electrical outlet. Unlike grills that run on charcoal, propane, or natural gas, the George Foreman grill never runs out of fuel. Plus, it heats up quicker than a fired grill. If you’re looking for the best electric grills in the market, check this out.
- Low-maintenance – Unlike outdoor fired grills that need to have cooking grease cleaned off in addition to any smoky buildup, a George Foreman grill only needs to be wiped off to remove any pieces of food left behind. The sloped design allows fat and grease to flow away from the food, which not only prevents your food from becoming overly greasy but also helps the grill stay much cleaner.
- Design – The portable design and small dimensions of a George Foreman grill make it possible for the appliance to be stored in a cabinet with ease. Its sleek design also enables it to be a constant fixture on your kitchen counter without being an eyesore.