A couple of weeks ago, I talked about the Kamado style grills I own and a little later I spoke about my offset pit smoker. I have several more cookers sitting around that don’t get a lot of use anymore. Most of them are nothing special, just your average plain-Jane charcoal grills. However, I’ll tell you what I think of their quality and durability. Believe it or not, I also have a propane gas grill and I’ll let you in on a couple of secrets that’ll enable your average ol’ gas grill to cook like a world smokin’ champ!
Resting in the Miners Mix World Domination Warehouse, we have a couple of charcoal grills, a Masterbuilt Pro and a Chargriller Professional. The Masterbuilt Pro is a Weber knock off of dubious quality. It looks like your typical 18” diameter Weber, more or less spherical and black. I bought it because it was inexpensive compared to a real Weber and it was lightweight which makes it nicely portable. Basically, the thing is a throw-away. It’s attached to four chrome legs, two of which have wheels so the grill can be rolled around. There’s a pretty much useless wire shelf right near the bottom of the grill. I guess it’s supposed to be for holding charcoal, but it seems to me that having your stash of flammables sitting under the grill, where hot stuff might just fall down and ignite the entire lot, including your icky lighter fluid, is not such a great idea.
I use the Masterbuilt Pro at the warehouse to cook lunches sometimes. We also take it out to play when we need to grill minor stuff at demos. The grill grate has begun to sag downward from the heat of the charcoal fires I’ve burned in it. The plastic handle on the top lid is broken. The whole thing feels cheap, but it does what I need it to do, which is hold burning briquettes and support a cooking grate for grilling. If this thing were used as my main grill, which means pretty much daily use, it would be a one-season wonder and ready for the recycling bin by Christmas, regardless of when it was first pressed into service. No point in spending a whole bunch of money on something that I expected to get dented or worse. Maybe it’ll make an OK planter soon.
The other grill at the World Domination Headquarters is the Chargriller Professional. This one looks kind of like a mini pit smoker except it lacks the firebox hanging off the end. The entire top portion is hinged and opens to reveal a 30” X 21” cooking surface, so it’s pretty large as grills go. On one end, the grill has a panel that you can knock out and it’s predrilled to accept a firebox kit that the company sells to make it into a little offset pit smoker. Mine does not have this option. There are closeable dampers on the end, down where the charcoal does its thing. The cooking grates are cast iron and the coals can be raised or lowered to control heat, both of which are nice touches. The entire grill sits on a stand of square tubing with a couple of wheels at one end for portability. The handles are wooden and the grill has wooden shelves along the front and both ends as well. Although still cheaply-constructed, this grill is made of fairly thick sheet metal and should last for quite a long time if kept out of the weather. If converted to an offset pit smoker, you’d experience the problems with heat distribution in the cook chamber that I discussed in the Offset Pit Smoker discussion. This grill is quite a bit heavier than the Masterbuilt. It requires two of us to get it up into the back of the truck, but for doing long demos, it’s pretty nice. It’s large enough to start the coals on one end, cook for while and then light the other pile of coals at the other end. By the time the one side is pretty much out of fuel, the other side is ready for grilling. The grill is large enough so that it can be set up to cook with indirect heat, which means you light the coals on one end and cook your meat at the other. That way, there are no lit coals right under the meat, which is the best way to roast larger pieces of meat such as whole chickens, ribs, or pork butts. In essence, you can actually make this grill into an offset pit smoker, without buying the firebox kit, just by cooking indirectly.
In general this grill works pretty well. It’s a nice basic charcoal grill that’s large enough to cook lots of stuff and it seems like it’ll last for at least a few years of constant use. You can close the dampers at the bottom of the charcoal chamber and also close the chimney to snuff out the charcoal so it can be used for the next cook.
Along with my Kamado and my offset pit smoker at home, I have a really old Broil-Mate propane gas grill. The grill doesn’t get much use any longer, but it cooks a few things far better than almost anything else I’ve ever used. This dinosaur is probably 25+ years old; long before all those fancy stainless steel grills became all the rage. It’s so old it still uses lava rocks that sit on a grid above the burners, and it has the cast aluminum cooking chamber. It’s nearing the end of its life; parts like burners and rock grates are almost non-existent nowadays. I may have to fabricate new burners out of iron pipe the next time I replace ‘em. It’s that old. However, this ol’ grill makes rotisserie chicken, duck, turkey, and pulled pork better than anything I’ve ever cooked on. Far better than the same stuff coming off the Kamado.
So how can a plain ol’ gas grill do such a great job? How can it impart smoke flavor? Here’s how to make your gas BBQ sing with joy as it gleefully imparts that wonderful smoke flavor to your meats! For true grilled perfection, you must have some way to cook over indirect heat which usually means at least two burners. For poultry you also really need a rotisserie. Put your meat on one side and light the burner on the other side. Use a pan of some kind under the unlit meat side to catch juices and grease; if you don’t collect it, the stuff will drip down all over the inside of your grill, then find some opening at the bottom of the grill, and then run all over your patio. Not a pretty sight and even less so when your wife sees the mess you made! Besides, that liquid stuff that just spilled is liquid gold so save all of it! If you’re doing a chicken on the rotisserie, figure on ½ to ¾ cups of drippings, for a duck count on a cup or more and with a goose figure on two cups plus. I make a foil boat to catch juices. Next thing to do is to make a foil pouch to hold your favorite smoking wood and wrap up a piece or pieces to end up with a packet about 4” diameter by 5” long or so. Up here in the mountains we have lots of almond wood which is a great wood with which to smoke just about anything. Might want to double wrap that wood packet, some aluminum foil is onion-skin thin and some is fairly heavy gage. Poke a couple of pencil-sized holes through the foil on one side and put it hole-side up over the lit burner, on top of the lava rocks, or whatever your undoubtedly fancier grill has that’s better than mine. On my grill, I start with the fire on high and it takes quite a long time, up to 40 min or more for smoke to begin coming out of the holes. Depending on how hot your grill gets, you may want to start at a lower temperature. At any rate, once the packet starts to smoke, I turn down the fire as low as it will go, start the rotisserie turning, close the lid, and let’er go. Chickens take at least 2-3 hrs, sometimes more to get to 165º F.
You’ll need to check that smoke packet every 15 min or so because if it gets too hot, the smoke will ignite and the jet of smoke will become a blow-torch jet of flame. If this happens, that beer in your hand will prove mighty useful; just try to get some of it down into those smoke holes. Once the bird is near that magical 165º F goal, remove the pack of smoke wood and turn up the heat for about 20 min or so to crisp up the skin. The wood in the smoke pack will go out and by the next day, the contents will have magically transformed into charcoal that you can then add to your charcoal grill the next time you fire up that particular cooker.
Miners Mix Poultry Rub is great on birds done this way. Sprinkle it heavily inside the bird, work your fingers around under the skin here and there and get the rub under the skin. If you have rosemary growing, a few sprigs inside the body cavity add a real nice flavor to the final result. I’ve also found that seasoning salt all by itself is a great seasoning for birds done this way. I’m not a salt-a-holic, but I sprinkle as much on as will stick, and that seems to be just about right at the end.
If you’re doing a pork butt, just rub it down with our Maynard’s Memphis Rub and put it on the grill, sans rotisserie, over the unlit side with a catch pan underneath. I try to put the fat side up because I think it bastes the meat as the grease melts off. Smoke it the same way, but it’ll take quite a bit longer. I usually smoke it for three or four hours at least, then take it off and wrap it in foil, place it in a roasting pan and finish in the oven at a low 250 º F. Be sure to use a roasting pan in the oven as well, or you’ll be living with the dog outside for the next few months. The same thing that would happen in the gas grill with chicken will happen in the oven and you’ll get a huge mess! You’ll get lots of drippings this way. Save those drippings from your pork as well!
What to do with those liquid-golden drippings? Breathe deep the heavenly smoky aroma of what’s in your container of drippings. Skim off the fat and pour it into a freezer container. It’ll be nice and orange with real smoke flavoring. The next time you make boxed au gratin potatoes or stove top stuffing, or anything else that calls for butter or margarine, substitute a gob of that smoked grease to give your side dish an unbelievably fantastic smoky flavor. The juice can be frozen as well for use in rice, gravies, sauces, or anything else that you want to enjoy smoky flavored.
One last two cents on gas grills. I’ve read some reviews on some of the stainless steel grills. There are different grades of stainless steel, some that are really stainless (and really expensive), and some that will rust out almost as quickly as regular sheet steel. From what I’ve read, there are problems with some of these grills, rusting out less than a year after purchase. Personally, I’d hate to fork over $500+ for a fancy, shiny grill and have it fall apart in a year. Do read the online reviews and make your decision based on what other people have said about the durability of the grill you’re looking at. I’m happy with my old, black, cast aluminum gas grill and I doubt that I’d even want one of those silver stainless steel grills. There’s a reason why pit smokers, the older gas grills and just about all charcoal BBQ grills are painted black. Heck all those shiny stainless grills are gonna turn all black and nasty-looking in a few months anyway, particularly if you smoke with ‘em like I just told you how to do.
The last few grills I’ve used are for the most part, just charcoal grills. Years and years ago I used to cook on a hibachi. You could find these everywhere back in the 70s and early 80s. I liked this style of cooking a great deal. These things were generally cast iron and had smallish grid surfaces that held a few briquettes above the bottom of the grill. They were fitted with brackets at the top that held the cooking grill at different levels from the fire. What made these things really cool was that there were dampers at the bottom, down below the charcoal grid, so you could control the amount of air going through the coals which means you could control the amount of heat from the fire. These things were very efficient; a few coals generated an amazing amount of heat and they cooked really well. All of the ones I used years ago were poor quality, just rough cast iron, but it would be really nice to use one today of high quality, if such a thing existed. In graduate school I used a variation of a hibachi called a Weber Go Anywhere Charcoal Grill that had the same great features. If I recall, it was about 20” X 10” or so. The coals sat on a grate that was supported off of the bottom of the grill. There were dampers along each long side that could be opened for cooking, or closed when you were finished and wanted to snuff out the coals. The grill came with a lid that was fitted with a moveable damper, so you can actually smoke a little. I remember the thing cooked really well and I liked it a great deal. After 4+ years of nearly constant use, it gave up the ghost and I gave it a decent burial; last I heard it’s now part of a Cadillac in Iowa. Weber makes a propane version of this grill, called a Go Anywhere Gas Grill that’s real easy to find and available at about all the big box stores, but if I could choose between the two, I’d opt for the charcoal version. The charcoal version is difficult to find any more, but it’s still listed on the Weber web site.
I’ve also owned a Brinkman smoker. It did OK on the stuff I cooked with it, but overall the quality was very lacking. When smoking, you need to have pretty tight tolerances to control air flow, and this thing just did not do the job very well. It also didn’t last too long; about two years if I remember correctly.
Finally, I have a home built wood-burner I cobbled together from a couple of old 5 gal propane bottles. Living up here in the hills, we have an abundance of self-pruned oak limbs laying all over the place and I wanted to make use of all this great fuel that’s freely available for the mere effort of bending over. First I made sure that the propane was all gone by leaving the valves open for many weeks. Then I wrenched off the valves and filled the tanks with water to drive out any remaining propane before cutting off the tops where they began to curve, with my cheapo 4.5” grinder. I definitely did not need a kaboom! Next, I welded the two bases together so the thing looked kind of like a 1969 Russian satellite. I don’t weld very well, but I’ve discovered that the process of welding, grinding, welding, grinding, and welding and grinding once more will solve most appearance issues quite satisfactorily. It’s only a BBQ, for heaven’s sake! Next, I laid out a door with a ruler and a Sharpie, then employed that same cheapo grinder to cut it out. The first cut was across the top. I stopped when the top was cut all the way across, then welded a piano hinge across the slice. Then I proceeded to cut the other three sides of the door so it was hinged at the top. I welded an old hammer to the door as a handle and made a cooking grid to fit inside the grill. I also welded one of the tops I’d cut off the propane tanks to the bottom of the grill, where it functions nicely as a stand. I drilled some holes into the bottom for ventilation, so the coals will stay lit, but the finished grill could use additional air via more holes. However, all in all, it’s a cool looking little grill that has seen lots and lots of use. It’s well-made, at least the propane tanks are well-made, and it should outlast me so my kids can fight over it as part of my estate sometime (a long time, I hope) down the road! Somehow, I don’t think the kids will fight over this thing though.
So that’s all the grills I own, remember, or have spent a fair bit of time standing over in the last 40 years or so. I hope you found this trip down memory lane enlightening!