Selecting a Grill
It’s basically grilling season at lastalthough here in Muscovy the weather remains detrimental to good grilling. However, this delay shall be measured in days and the Czar, naturally, is quite excited.As grilling season kicks off, the Czar wants to remind you about a few grilling basics. If you haven’t read our long-running series on outdoor cooking basics, that a moment to do so, especially with advice on cleaning your grille and basic cooking safety practices, the pros and cons of different grills, and other cool things you can do with your grill.
In the last few months, the Czar has gotten a lot of questions from friends, neighbors, and people who lived long enough to talk regarding what type of grill to buy. Evidently, a lot must be falling to pieces right now, and while the Czar will not endorse a particular grill, he certainly has thoughts.
There’s no doubt that a good gas grill is a great investment, but prices vary and for good reasons.
Low-priced gas grills are generally pieces of junk. You know that $150 no-name-brand special you get in the seasonal wasteland aisle at the local discount grocery store? Yep, that’s the one. You might want to save up some more moneygenerally, these will prove difficult to assemble with ill-fitting parts, will be nearly impossible to clean properly, and are certain to rust apart in two years or less. And remember that a grill made with ill-fitting parts isn’t just a nuisance to assemblethey can impede your cooking by letting too much heat out (resulting in longer cooking times) or too much oxygen in (resulting in scorched food that is raw in the middle). You really owe it to yourself to save up.
Of course, with gas, you can get even more expensive. And let us tell you, it isn’t worth it. Here are the facts:
- Side burners are a waste of money. You will use them perhaps once in your life. Your indoor stove is much more efficient at cooking sauces and so forth, and don’t require a billionth of the cleaning that gas grill side burners do. You can literally cut hundreds off your grill cost by skipping this option.
- Searing ability is a waste of money. Whether they’re sear bars, sear burners, sear pins, or sear monkeys, these are ridiculous items that not only drive up the price of the grill but are totally unnecessary. Here’s the truth: you can sear food perfectly on any grill. Just turn up the heat to full blast at the start, sear your meat for 2 minutes per side, then dial down the temperature to cook the food more slowly. Those awesome grille marks are a technique, not a technology, and our posts above will show you how to do them perfectly without gimmicks.
- Infrared cooking is a newer (1980s) technology used to produce searing and grille marks, and…well, you already guessed it. You don’t need them. If you grill correctly, adjusting temperature and leaving the lid closed, you will never need them. Now, sure, if someone buys you a grill with infrared technology, you’ll enjoy it. But a requirement? Nope. And worse, many infrared grills do not work properly, utilizing cheap, hybrid technology that doesn’t produce good quality. Because it can be hard for the average grill purchaser to know whether the infrared system is real or just marketing glop, you’d best avoid them.
- Four and five burner grills are often another waste. You need three burners at a minimum if you’re doing good-sized cuts of meat: two on and one (the center burner) off. Doing burgers? Two on, one off (either left or right) so that you can transfer cooked burgers to a safe spot and to keep them hot without further (over-)cooking them. You just can’t do this with two burners. But four or five? You’re likely just using your gas up at a faster rate and spending hundreds more on the appliance. Be very reluctant to look at four or more burners unless you have a three-burner grill and just can’t cook enough food on it.
The Czar has also scoffed at the hideously priced $800 – $4,000 units as well. Some of these are really sweet appliances with massive cooking surfaces and neat features. But to be realistic, they grill no better than cheaper grills. The Czar has no problems with people who entertain a lot needing a grill that can cook twenty steaks at once, but if you’re just a backyard guy or girl who does the weekends right, save your money.
Instead, look at BTUs and cooking area. Here’s an example. You see an ad for a Char-Broil grill that’s $350. Look carefully: it’s 30,000 BTUs, which is just okay. You’d get more heat from a charcoal grill. Try to get 35,000 or higher.
And its primary cooking area is 330 square inches. The primary cooking area is the grille that actually sits over the flames, and is its length multiplied by its width for you Common Core kids. The secondary cooking areausually a mini-rack that sits above it on a second story inside the grill coveris useless for cooking (it’s supposed to be for toasting buns, keeping food warm, and so on) is often added to the primary cooking area by stores. It is highly misleading to do so: only look at the primary cooking surface area.
Char-Broil makes a $500 grill that’s 40,000 BTUs and has a 400 square inch primary cooking area. For $100 more, you can get a Weber grille that produces just as much heat with a 507-square-inch cooking area. This means you can more food for the same amount of gas usage.
You see where we are going. Don’t always look at price: make sure the grill has at least three burners, at least 35,000 BTUs, and at least 400 square inches of cooking area.
If you have choices above all that you can afford, go for it… but remember when comparing any two models that you look at the BTU output as well as the primary cooking surface.
The Czar’s own gas grill? A Weber Genesis E-310 in black (cheaper than stainless) because of Weber’s ability to resist rust.
Sadly, there’s not a lot of choice here: if you want one that will last forever, get a Weber (ideally, the one that’s 22″ across). The Kettle, Master-Touch, and Performer are all equally good.You may not have that option, and that’s okay. There’s a lot you can do with even a tiny tailgate party grill just by following smart grilling practices like cleaning it and lubricating the grille before cooking.
One other thing you can do to extended the life and power of your charcoal grill is by cleaning the ash out of it when it’s cool enough to do so. Charcoal ash is bad in three ways: first, a layer of ash on the inside of the grill body insulates the grill so that it robs you of heat. Second, ash absorbs heat, which further reduces its cooking potential. And thirdespecially thirdcool ash traps water vapor. As a result, a dirty, ashy grill will rust faster than a clean one. A grill that’s cleaned out of excess ash (it doesn’t have to be perfect) after each use will very possible last decades. The Czar’s own Weber Kettle is from the 1970s and is in excellent condition with no rust, inside or out.
If possible, bring your grill inside during the rough weather months. A grill cover is a big help, but a grill sitting in damp conditions or under snow or ice will not last as long as one protected well from severe elements.
What if you took the complexity and malarkey and misdirection of gas grills and applied it charcoal grills? Well, someone did! The world of smokers is every bit as stupid and confusing as gas grills. Of course, we can simplify things.
Be cautious when buying a smoker. Because BTUs aren’t as much a concern (you should be smoking over low heat anyway), you can relax on some of the math. But pay attention to:
- Interior volume. Smoke inexpensive smokers have enough room to smoke a ham sandwich and not much more. Look inside the unit before you buy it and decide whether you can live with that or need something bigger. The Czar likes to smoke turkeys and big old briskets, so he likes a lot of volume. But he doesn’t smoke whole hogs, so he doesn’t need a giant barrel smoker.
- Fittings. A smoker works by controlling air supply. You know what really doesn’t help? Ill-fitting parts: too many gaps lets heat out and air in, which results in hard-to-control conditions. Make sure your potential smoker is air-tight except at the firebox (intake) and vents (exhaust).
- Smoker type. Any smoker is a good one, really: a good electric smoker work work as well as a good offset, which works as well as a good water smoker, which in turn is as good as a barrel. There are benefits and risks to each, but these can be so balanced that you can pretty much be happy with any type. The Czar has used water, offset, and barrel smokers with identical results. His dacha neighbor uses a small electric smoker and can produce professional results. Another neighbor is a professional smoker who uses something that looks like a semi-tractor engine, and the food tastes just as good.
Just remember to plan what wood you want to use, what preparation your food requires, and how well you control the temperature and that’s really all you need. So much so, the Czar will let you in on a mighty secret: you can smoke on a charcoal grill. In fact, half the time, the Czar uses his Weber kettle grill and lets the water smoker sleep happily in ignorance.
Want another secret? The Czar has made completely authentic pulled pork using a gas grill. Yep: make a smoker pouch out of aluminum foil, put the wood in it, place the pouch in one end burner and keep the temperature at 225° for a few hours. The gas grill will sip gas very slowly, produce a lot of smoke, and give you a smoked food that will impress even a smoking snob. This is no shortcut, either: you can do ribs, fish, brisket, or anything you want, with completely awesome results. The Czar has done this when visiting friends, because just about any gas grill can be quickly converted to a smoker and then flipped back when done.
Or Get All Three
Okay, this part is true, too: the Czar owns one of each type of grill. For speed and precision, nothing beats a gas grill. The Czar can produce a gourmet meal with delicately grilled foods in 20 minutes with a gas grill.
But sometimes, you need that charcoal taste. There’s just something about the smell of the coals, and the sound of the fats sizzling into them, that just gets you. The taste of charcoal (without lighter fluid and with a lump of cherry or oak or both) imparts a heartiness to the meal.
And you know, on a beautiful Sunday morning, chucking on some ribs on a smoker is a treat for the eyes, nose, and ears. Watching clouds of hickory or cherry pour out of the smoker and the sweet smell of rub infusing into the meat is a perfect way to celebrate summer.
While it may mean more cleaning, the Czar willtwo or three times a yearget all three going at once. Chicken grilling over charcoal, with hot dogs, hot wings, ribs, and catfish going on the smoker, while vegetables soften to perfection on a gas grill…not a bad way to host a party.
Just buy smart. It doesn’t take much to be a smart shopper when it comes to any of these three.
Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.