Gear up!

I firmly believe that to properly exercise your creative bents, you need quality tools. I’m a guitarist and while I don’t play pro-quality, many-thousands-of-dollars guitars, the guitars I play are name brand and high quality, and play beautifully.

The same goes for cooking and grilling – it’s just very tough to get great results without quality tools. Now this all said, anyone that knows me knows that I’m a Weber devotee (with a minor dalliance into the Traeger world, see below) but I don’t think Weber is the only game in town. What I love about Weber, besides the fact that it’s a home-town Chicago-based company, is that their products, while pricy, are super high quality, well supported by the company in terms of service, parts and knowledge, and they seem to last forever.

My first exposure to Weber grills goes all the way back 50+ years ago when by grandfather had a classic Weber kettle grill – three legs, a couple of wheels, a frisbee-shaped metal ash bowl, three vents on the bottom, one on the lid. My Dad adopted that grill when he passed and I learned to grill on it, starting when I was 10 or 11 years old.

Nowadays, I’m told I have a grill obsession, but compared to what I see online in the various Facebook groups, I’m not even close to obsession territory. I have three primary Weber grills – a 3 year old Performer Kettle (Kettle mounted in a cart with work surfaces), a 15 year old propane Genesis, and a 6 year old Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker smoker. I do have two picnic sized Webers too – a “go anywhere” gas tailgate grill that I gave to my dad 37 years ago for Father’s Day, and a Smokey Joe miniature kettle that I got for free at a garage sale a few years ago. Here’s an example of a guy with a Weber grill obsession though:

In addition to my gas Weber, my charcoal Weber Kettle, and my charcoal Weber smoker (not withstanding the little guys), I have a Traeger pellet grill. Yeah, what the hell am I doing with that? Well, turns out those things really work well – and yes, in the realm of barbecuer trash talk those ARE called “the Easy Bake Oven” but gotta say, it works great. More about it below.

So, what do you REALLY need to make quality barbecue and great grilled food? If you only had space for one grill? The Weber kettle is the go-to, and there really is no substitute. Because of Weber’s fierce intellectual property department, there really aren’t competitors worth buying and it helps that a proper Weber kettle is still only about $200 for an entry level 22″ model. With a Weber kettle, you can grill hot and fast, low and slow, smoke with it, roast with it, and so much much more.

Here’s the Weber Performer I have:

Now that said, for the best all-around grill if you can only have one grill, then by all means I recommend a gas grill, and while yes, being partial to Weber here, there are quality “other brand” gas grills. What I do recommend for anyone shopping for a gas grill is to look at the structure of it – the stand/base of it should be made of strong steel, ideally powder or porcelain enamel coated to resist rust. It should have plates or deflectors in it to help keep flare ups down (NO LAVA ROCK!), and you should be able to easily adjust the flame. That said, a good gas grill, especially if you can put it right outside your kitchen door, becomes an extension of your kitchen. Out of all my grills, the usage percentages is probably close to this:

Weber gas: 70%
Traeger pellet: 15%
Weber Charcoal: 10%
Weber Smoker: 5%

This is the Weber Genesis I have – the S-320:

The gas grill at my house has always been just steps out the kitchen door, and I use it for everything under the sun. We even use it as an extra oven during Thanksgiving or to cook bacon for a big breakfast!

I use my Weber kettle primarily on the weekends when I have more time to enjoy cooking. I use it most for doing indirect cooks and for doing “whole meal” cooking – that’s when I cook the entire meal on it. I also use it for “small smokes” – a couple slabs of ribs, a small beef roast, a pork shoulder, pork loin, or a slab of salmon. And there’s nothing better than burgers on the charcoal grill, if you have the time to do the coal fire up. I’ll devote several future blog posts on various kettle techniques, including “reverse searing”, indirect roasting, cooking with a “vortex” and using your kettle as a smoker.

I absolutely LOVE my big 22″ wide, 4 1/2 feet tall Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker smoker. It’s a charcoal-fired vertical smoker that includes a water pan, two cooking levels and more. After I get it fired up and stabilized, it will hold a perfect low and slow temperature (225 degrees F) for 12 hours or more without refueling. It’s truly amazing. Again, many future posts about using it. That said, it’s big, it consumes a prodigious amount of charcoal (at least 12 lbs with each cook), it’s a pain to set up and clean up, and therefore really only gets used for big cooks – several rib slabs, a whole packer brisket (15lbs +) or two, several pork shoulders, multiple salmon slabs, etc. But there is nothing like it for both stability and authentic barbecue flavor. Many well known barbecue chefs cut their teeth on the WSM (as it’s known) and I chose to buy one after taking a BBQ class from one such chef.

Finally, there’s my Traeger pellet-fueled grill, aka the “Easy Bake Oven”. I started using Traeger grills about 10 years ago when visiting our friends that live in Alabama – pellet grills are very popular in the south and catching on fast all over the country. And with good reason – they combine electronic controls with wood burning flavor. They run on little pellets of compressed sawdust that look like rabbit food, and they electronically manage the fire by feeding the pellets into a firepot a little at a time. Now that said, they are a bit limited and you make some compromises when you use one. One compromise is heat – my Traeger, a Pro 575, is one of the higher performers but it maxes out at 500 degrees. Still hot enough to sear, but no where near the 750F for so you can see on a good gas grill or a properly fueled charcoal grill. And for smoking, they don’t give quite the smoke flavor of something fueled by charcoal and wood. I’d call the flavor “smoky” but not truly smoked. Why do I have it? Simple – I started writing the Griller’s Gold blog and well, that is all about pellet cooking. So I took my first couple of checks from that gig and bought it. And have found I use it a LOT. It is fantastic for smoky results when reverse-searing meat (more on that technique to come), and is great when you want to do a low and slow smoke but don’t feel fiddling with a charcoal fire, or the mess of the big smoker.

So, an encapsulation of my grill advice?

  1. Buy the best you can afford
  2. Weber Kettle – there is no substitute
  3. You can live without a smoker, but why?
  4. Don’t be afraid of an Easy Bake oven aka pellet grill
  5. There’s no such thing as a truly bad grill – if you’re cooking outside, it’s all good.

I leave you with this image of my Grandfather, George Covert, my mom’s dad. Grandpa George LOVED outdoor cooking especially at the New Jersey shore in the summer. And his grill of choice at the shore and at home was a tiny little cast iron hibachi. But damn if he didn’t cook some great steaks on that little dude. Proof positive that the most important thing is to just grill and to enjoy doing it.

Grill on!


One response to “Gear up!”

  1. Linda Campbell Avatar
    Linda Campbell

    Actually that hibachi I seem to remember was ours. And certainly only used “on the road”. At home he cooked over a fireplace he built. No lid no way to adjust the heat but by spreading or amassing the coals and no way to know how hot the grill was but by the old “hold your hand
    Over and count” method.


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