My First Grill

Hello. My name is Dean and I own a grill. I am 36 years old and this is my first grill.

In Shanghai we had a balcony and enjoyed weekend mornings and general evenings sitting outside with a cup of coffee or glass of beer or wine. Having a balcony was high on Linda’s list of features for a new apartment in Chicago. When we returned to Chicago this year, Linda was in charge of finding us a place to live. Unsurprisingly, she found a lovely, expensive apartment with a balcony and a pool. Admittedly, I provided certain parameters that limited the breadth of our search. From our floor plan, you can see the balcony off of the ‘Great Room’ in the bottom left. Until now, I did not realize we had a Great Room and I am certain I don’t know what that means.

View From a Grill
grill_view

Our new balcony presented my first opportunity to own a grill. Technically, I could have owned a grill sooner, but there would have been no place to put it. I am a novice but recognized you can’t really use a grill in the living room. We considered a grill in Shanghai, but the reality was that a practical grill was not only hard (or impossible) to find, but also beyond our linguistic abilities at that early stage in our adventure – we could generally get food but not specify even remotely how it should be cooked. Certainly we could not communicate concepts such as outdoor grill, barbecue, charcoal, gas, or fire – given China’s history of wooden buildings, fire in the home is generally considered a bad thing.

Gas or Charcoal

Charcoal. I believe food cooked on a charcoal grill tastes better so I purchased your basic, all-purpose kettle grill. There is more of a mess but I think the tradeoff is worth it. We will revisit this point again next year once the novelty has worn off.

grillI shopped around and decided on an 18 1/2 inch Webber One-Touch Kettle Grill in Black. Amazon offered both user reviews and free shipping. Surprisingly, the grill arrived overnight.

Selecting this grill required making a couple of additional decisions beyond gas versus charcoal. The first decision was size – the basic kettle comes in 18 1/2″ and 22 1/2″ configurations. Since the majority of my grilling would be for 1-2 people, the Chicago grilling season is relatively short, and the grill would be situated on a balcony, I elected to purchase the smaller of the two options. This is my only regret – I should have known better. As I have previously opined, size does matter. The cooking surface is adequate on the 18 1/2″ model, but as my grilling interests quickly become more complex, a larger grill provides more flexibility when using an indirect grilling technique.

Courtesy of Barbecue University:

Direct grilling is a hight heat method used to cook relatively small or thin pieces of meat and is what most of the world means when it talks of grilling: the food is placed and cooked directly over the fire. Typical foods that are direct grilled include steaks, chops, chicken breasts, fish fillets, vegetables, and bread.

Indirect grilling is designed to cook larger or tougher foods that would burn if direct grilled. As the name suggests, the food is placed next to, not directly over the fire. Indirect grilling is used to cook large pieces of meat, like pork shoulders and whole chickens. It’s also used to cook tough cuts of meat, like brisket and ribs, that require long, slow cooking at a low or moderate heat.

Following additional experimentation with indirect grilling, I will report back.

The second decision point was whether to buy the standard model or the ‘Gold’ model. The one-touch system is designed to make the grill easier to clean, essentially by putting large holes in the bottom of the grill so you can push charcoal ash out the bottom. In the standard model, the ash falls onto a large aluminum plate. In the Gold model, the ash falls into a ‘high capacity ash catcher’ – basically an aluminum can that you can remove to dump out the ash. Fifty-dollars seemed a bit steep for an aluminum can. In retrospect, I am indifferent between the two. The Gold model would be a bit faster and cleaner. I did not consider the wind on our 18th floor Chicago balcony – ash tends to blow off of the aluminum plate. This is probably less of a problem if you have a backyard.

I paid $65 for my 18 1/2″ standard kettle grill. The 22 1/2″ Gold model is about $140.

Accessories

I also believe that lighter fluid degrades the taste of meat cooked on a charcoal grill. The Weber owner’s manual suggests using either newspaper or a chimney fire starter to ignite your charcoal. My first attempt applied Weber’s directions to start the fire by adding newspaper under the charcoal and then lighting the newspaper. This approach successfully started the charcoal. However, the burning shards of newspaper bellowing out of the grill, off of the balcony, aimlessly but dangerously drifting in the wind towards Holy Name Cathedral 18 stories below was, for four minutes, quite terrifying. I was unable to speak, but Linda succinctly noted ‘I don’t think that is safe’ as she watched the fiasco from inside, safe from the flying embers. Fortunately, nothing obvious caught flame other than the charcoal, thank the Catholic God.

chimneyThe grill remained closed until the arrival of my Chimney Starter. One piece of newspaper. One match. Thirty to fifty briquets. First time every time. Fifteen minutes from match to meat. Limited risk of burning down the city. Little is more manly satisfying that watching the building glow of the rapidly igniting charcoal in the chimney, and marveling at the massive amount of heat it creates. Hands down, this is one of the most useful accessories that I own.

Having trouble finding a gift for a man? Two words: Chimney Starter.

No real grill master is without wood – either chips or chunks. Mine arrived from Minnesota courtesy of Northwoods Smoke – chips of Hickory, Cherry, White Oak, and Maple. After I light the chimney, I come inside, select a flavor of wood chips, and put two large handfuls in a bowl of water. I empty the charcoal onto the grill and pile the drained wood chips on top of the burning briquets prior to putting on the cooking grate. The chips will burn for 20 to 30 minutes, infusing your meat with real grill flavors.