Sunday, January 15, 2012

Reflections on 2011

This was a big year for smoking and grilling. Late 2010 year I bought a Weber Smoky Mountain and gave myself a big step up in the smoking department. Before the end of the year I added a mini-WSM to the mix and turned into a smoking fiend.  This year I almost literally went hog wild. Add to that beef, lamb and fish. Throw in some fowl as well.

Let's start with equipment.
  • I got tired of not having sufficient work surface by my grill so I found an older Weber Platinum. That's a 22 ½" kettle similar to a Gold and with a plastic table mounted on a cart. It's very similar to a modern day Performer but without the charcoal bin or propane starter. It works great as a kettle or simply to roll next to whatever smoker I'm using. Here it is - not a very good picture - with the Magic Grate.

  • I resurrected the old Coleman Powerhouse 25 propane grill. The thin grate troubled me so I dug up one of the cast iron grates that was in our yard when we moved in in '87. It was a little short but fit perfectly front to back. I wire brushed the rust off it (angle grinder == awesome tool!) and put it into service.  Unfortunately Powerhouse adequately describes its performance. It is way too hot to be useful for most cooking needs. It did have the saving grace that it has a glass front so you can watch what's cooking and it has a side burner. The side burner is ideal for lighting charcoal in a Weber chimney. I started watching Craigslist for a more suitable Weber gasser.
  • My first Weber gasser is a Weber Genesis Silver A. I paid $30 for it without tank, cover or good flavorizers or grate. Nevertheless, I considered it a decent deal though I would do better in the future. My first need (aside from a propane tank) was a set of flavorizer bars. I was lucky to find a set of stainless flavorizers listed on the East Coast by a seller willing to ship. I bought this set for $31 shipped. They were actually for a larger model but were easy to fit with the help of a cutoff wheel on my angle grinder. The other need for this grill was a decent grate. I checked and found that the CI grate I had put in the Coleman also fit the Silver A. It didn't sit on the ledge that's supposed to support the grate but rather sits on the flavorizer bars. because the bars for the grate are about ¾" tall this seems to work well. the grate is probably less than an inch lower than the factory grate.  An interesting thing about this grate is that fits a lot of things which leads into another noteworthy piece of grilling equipment.

  • My Magic Grate. When we moved to Winfield in '87 we found a small pile of cast iron grates in the back yard, probably used in a fire pit the previous owners had back there. I hadn't done much with them until I wanted to upgrade the Coleman with a decent grate. I was pleased to find it fit the Coleman with only small gaps in coverage at each end. When I got my Silver A, it was badly in need of a grate as well. I test fit the CI grate and found it fit with about 2" gap at each end. There were additional grates so I grabbed a broken one and cut it to fit (using the cutoff wheel on the angle grinder.) I cleaned both grates up and seasoned them. I love them. There's nothing like a massive cast iron grate to soak up heat and produce a great sear on meat, fish and vegetables. Based on the results I was getting with cast iron on this gasser, I looked into a CI grate for my charcoal grill. =8-O  (<= Sticker shock.) They're available but not cheap. However... I test fit the CI grate in a 22 ½ Weber kettle and was very pleased to find that it was a perfect fit. Corner to corner it just makes it into the kettle sitting on top of the regular grate. If I align it with the long edges parallel to the hinged sections of the grate, I can open them up, though there is slight interference. In my judgement, it is a perfect fit. The only drawback is that it sits a further ¾" away from the coals, but this can be overcome by loading a bit more charcoal. Another useful aspect of this grate is that the spacing vs. the width of the bars is about equal. I think of that as duty cycle. That gives me lots of hot cast iron in contact with the food and results in great grill marks.

  • Weber Genesis Silver B. It pays to watch Craigslist. I picked this up for free. As a bonus it had been upgraded to include stainless flavorizers and factory grate. The grate is stamped metal so it's not as nice as my magic CI grate, but it should last a long time. I cleaned it up, bought a cover that fit and eventually wound up selling it when I came across a newer Gold B for $40. I kind of hated to see it go as it was a merfect match to my Silver A, but between it and the Gold B, the enclosed cabinet moved me toward the Gold B.

  • Weber Q-220. This one was listed on Craigslist as "not working" but in fact it did. However I'm not sure it's getting as hot as it should. I might have to replace the regulator. But for $30 and including the stationary cart, It's a deal and gives me a portable propane grill.


  • Weber Genesis Gold B. This came up on Craigslist (with tank and cover) for $40. I bit and snagged it. It's very similar to the Silver B except it came from the factory with stainless flavorizers and grate and has the extra work space and enclosed cabinet. It also has a liner in the hood which provides some insulation. (Both Silver A and B have a porcelain coated single layer hood.) The tank came with the valve jammed open. I disclosed this to the store when I asked if I could exchanged it and they had no problem with it. 
  • Lodge Logic Sportsman Grill. This is a hibachi made of cast iron. Along with my magic grate, this provides another cast iron grate for grilling. It has a fire grate and air shutter that admits air below the fire and provides reasonable heat control. The cooking grate itself has a fairly high duty cycle and like my Magic Grate is good for grilling stuff like asparagus that tends to want to slip through the grates. It's a perfect size to roast four red peppers to make fire roasted red pepper dip. It's also good for burgers, steaks and chops and satay. Though the grill has no lid, I can close the air shutter and put heavy duty foil between the bucket and top grate to suffocate the coals.

That's about it for major equipment this year. I'm still on the lookout fora modern 26 ¾" Weber Gold that I can build into an island with a burner for starting charcoal and otherwise cooking out of doors.

All of this equipment means nothing unless I use it to make something. Some of my highlights this year are:
  • Beef back ribs. This was probably the best new thing I tried this year. I cook them on a kettle, indirect at about 275° F for about 3 hours seasoned only with cracked pepper and salt.They're great! (big, greasy, tasty. :) )
  • Beef brisket. I finally got around to trying a brisket this year. I did them using Raichlen's coffee rub abd was very happy with the results.
  • Atomic Buffalo Turds (ABTs.) These are lovely. The only difficulty is getting hot enough JalapeƱos. Most are so mild these days. :(
  • Lamb chops. We got some of these from the kids and I grilled them on the Sportsman. Some garlic, rosemary and pepper and keep them rare and they're terrific!
  • Bananas. I grilled some bananas with caramel/coconut milk glaze and they're pretty good if a bit sticky. Best served with vanilla ice cream.
  • Blackened (sort of) fish. I did both walleye and bluegill seasoned with blackening spices on a cast iron grill over charcoal and propane. They come out really good. (This is not true blackening which is a different process but the seasonings work well for grilling.) 
  • Salmon smoked with cherry. I discovered just how good salmon can be when smoked with some cherry wood. Cherry really does work well for fish.
  • Roasted red peppers dip. This is sort of like hummus made with red peppers that are roasted directly on the coals. It's another recipe I got from Raichlen and when these peppers were 99¢/lb in late summer, we made a lot of these.
Special recognition goes out to Steven Raichlen who's Primal Grill provide inspiration and recipes for many of the new things I made this year.

For 2012 - what can I add to my repertoire? One thing I want to roast/smoke a beef rib roast (AKA prime rib.) Something else I want to explore is duck as we have two in the freezer thanks to our son who raised them. 

A little smoke

Cindy bought a single rack of baby back (pork) ribs from a co-worker. That's a 3.42 lb rack. It looks like I'll inaugurate the 2012 smoking season with a pop instead of a bang. I'm just going to smoke the one rack in the mini. In addition to the ribs, I'm going to bake 4 small potatoes. I've got them wrapped in foil with some peanut oil. I had originally planned to put them directly on the coals but I had forgotten about the lack of clearance between water bowl and coals. (In fact the water bowl is sitting directly on the coals until they burn down a bit. I'll just arrange them around the ribs and later on I can put them on the coals.

For seasoning I crushed some rosemary, black pepper and coriander and added adobo powder, ancho powder, rubbed sage and a little cumin. In these dry ingredients I crushed four cloves of garlic and mixed  in peanut oil to make a slurry that I rubbed on the ribs. The ribs were cut in half in order to fit the 14" grate from the mini-WSM.

Weather right now is 28° F, light wind at 9:00 mph and skies clear.

For smoking I'm using what's left of the Coshell briquettes from a previous smoke and some good old BK Blue. For smoking woods I'm going with hickory, maple, apple and oak.

Lit coals on a modified Minion lay at about 1:10.

timetemp comment
1:10 PM
Lit recycled Coshell coals on the MM lay. All vents wide open.
Ribs go on - spuds barely fit around the edge!
1:46262°/Temp recovering a bit too fast so I'm going to close the bottom vent to about half.
2:46258°/I peeked. ribs are cooking but not starting to pull back. Still not enough room on the coals for the spuds.
4:00262°/180°Peeked again. The meat is just starting to pull back on the ribs. I put the spuds on the coals and one felt done but not the others. I'll need to take them off in about 20 minutes.
4:21252°/150°Spuds off - meat not yet done by the 'poke test.' Thicker parts of the ribs have not yet started to pull back and present resistance to poking. I should probably take the smaller piece off soon.
4:44292°/I need to get the smaller piece off and close the bottom vent a bit a bit more. When I picked up the smaller rack from one end, it broke in half. Done! The larger half remains on the cooker.
5:30283°/155°Took the larger end of the ribs off and closed up the vents.

(grate/dome) => Grate temp is the reading form a Maverick-73 probe near the edge of the top grate. Dome is a dial thermometer mounted in the lid. Due to a short probe on the dial, it reads way low.

They came out great!