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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Essentials for Grillin and Chillin

I have talked about a number of things that I have grilled/smoked/BBQ’d in the past. But I want to address some of the necessities around the grill. Can someone produce fantastic Q without these things? Absolutely. Does Tiger Woods need custom fit, ridiculously expensive, golf clubs to be a great golfer? Could he grab a set of clubs off the shelf at Wal Mart and shoot under par? Probably. I am not saying I am the Tiger Woods of the grill, because I’m still the equivalent of a guy shooting 100 on 18 holes!?!? These are the tools that I use to make my Grillin and Chillin experience a better experience.

First off you need a grill. That is an entirely other discussion. Charcoal vs. Gas. Smoker vs. Non Smoker. If a Smoker, Vertical vs. Horizontal vs. Closet Smoker. Porcelain vs. Metal. I will go into this with another post. And I would guess that the vast majority of people that are coming to this site already have a grill.

Let’s start from the beginning. In order to Grill/Smoke/BBQ, one needs a heat source. Each of these methods will require a different amount and intensity of heat but they all need heat. If you have a gas grill this is provided with the flip of a switch. For most of the rest some sort of charcoal is used. This can be in the form of standard fluid lit charcoal, match light charcoal, premium briquettes, cheap briquettes and lump charcoal. One could also simply use chunks of hard wood to grill but that gets expensive fast. What do I use? Cheapest Briquette I can find and a Chimney Starter:

With a Chimney Starter I dump in charcoal, put some newspaper in the bottom and light. 20 minutes later I have red hot coals. Considering it is December and here in St. Louis it has been really windy getting that paper lit can be a PITA for many people. Not for me. I bought one of these to light the paper:

This thing does a couple of things that are very helpful. First, it is not affected by the wind. I can get that torch going in a Hurricane. Second, it really makes my inner pyro happy!?!? I bought this thing at Home Depot for $12 with the can of fuel. New fuel cans are about $3 and last almost a year. It’s also great for lighting the outdoor fire pit. And yes I realize that is overkill, but that’s not the first time I’ve been accused of that!?!

Now that the paper is lit we have 20 minutes to prep the grill and the food. If the plan is to smoke some meat then some smoke wood is required. I am fond of the fruit woods – Apple and Cherry – but I have been known to use all kinds of smoke wood from Hickory, to Apricot, to Mesquite, to Oak. Right now I have Apple, Apricot and Cherry chunks:
When smoking small batches like a couple of slabs, a whole chicken or a turkey breast I use my Weber One Touch Gold. I have already discussed how I turned that grill into a smoker in another post. The gist is that one needs charcoal baskets to keep the heat away from the meat:
And a grill grate that folds up on each side helps a great deal in adding charcoal and smoke wood:Without the flaps you will need to lift up a very hot piece of metal that has meat on top of it. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

While the charcoal is lighting let’s prep the food. I use a lot of spices in my grilling and do a variety of rubs which is a whole other thread in itself. But no matter what spices you use, Penzey’s is the way to go:

Speaking of necessities for rubs. Have you ever made a sweet rub or BBQ sauce with brown sugar only to have the sugar burn and blacken well before the meat is done leaving you with a burnt outside and an underdone inside? There is a solution. Turbinado Sugar or Sugar in the Raw. This stuff has a much higher smoke point and will not burn nearly as brown sugar. This is a must have for any Pit Master:

Another necessity would be a really good knife or two. I am partial to the Kershaw Shun Classic Series. The knives are ridiculously expensive but are well worth it. The two I use the most are the 10 inch Chef:

And the 6.5 inch Santoku:

The Chef is great for slicing, particularly large cuts of meat such as the Spiral Cut Pork Loin I showed in another thread while the Santoku is great for dicing, mincing, chiffinading, and juilianning.

Now that the food is ready to go on the grill, one needs an implement to get it to the grill and manipulate it once on the grill. I highly recommend tongs. A grill fork is a bad idea for just about any meat. There are all manner of tongs out there. My favorites are the Good Grips Tongs seen here:

I’ve tried many types and these to me are the very best. If anyone knows of any better, please let me know. I want to try them.

Now that the meat is on the grill, we need to make sure the temperature is what we need it to be. If we are just grilling steaks that temp is as hot as you can get it. But for smoking and BBQing that temp needs to be within a specific range. For smoking I like to keep the temp between 200 and 250 with 225 being pretty ideal. For BBQing I want to keep the temp around 275-300. My smoker has a built in thermometer but the temps in the cooking chamber can very greatly in a horizontal smoker. I like to put an extra thermometer near the heat source to know what the temp is for the meat closest to the heat. That way I can make sure that the meat in that area doesn’t get burned or overcooked. While my thermometer is not wireless like this one, I plan on getting this one after the Holidays:
The one above is wireless and would allow me to leave the grill for extended periods of time. An alarm will tell me if it is too hot or too cold. Some ribs I did recently were overcooked because a temperature spike to something like 280 overcooked them because I was inside. If I had this wireless thermometer that wouldn’t have happened.

Now that we have addressed some key items for the Grillin part of Grillin and Chillin, let’s discuss the later. Here are two things I need to satisfy the latter:

You may want to check back to this post periodically. As I find more grilling essentials I will add them here.

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