Charcoal Grill Filter
December 18, 2011 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Buying a charcaol grill. What should I consider as I make my decision about which to buy? Also, I know that there are related questions on AskMeFi, none exactly like mine AND they are dated and closed, so I am hoping for new eyes.

So I have conquered the realm of the gas grill. Now I am ready to try my new jedi skills on a charcoal grill. What kind should I buy? What tips do you have for a new coal-griller? Besides the burgers/steaks/dogs, I would particularly like to do the "low and slow" grilling that many other grill pros have told me about, like smoking a boston butt or pork shoulder once in awhile. And I would like to to make most tender ribs possible. So that is a start. Any thoughts, grillers? Although you may give tips, feel free to also show me a grill that you recommend via links. Anything would be helpful.

BTW, I am asking in December because I have heard that many grills may be on sale during the cold weather season.
posted by boots77 to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I posit that it's easier/better to have a dedicated smoker pull grilling duty rather than the other way around. Smoking with charcoal is also a more marked improvement over gas than grilling with charcoal, IMO.

Since you don't mention a price range, I'll go ahead and introduce you to your new best friend, the Weber Smokey Mountain. Be sure to also check out one of the most comprehensive BBQ sites online, the Virtual Weber Bullet.

If that seems like a bit much, you really can't go wrong with the classic Weber kettle grill. Be sure to get a chimney starter.
posted by supercres at 9:27 AM on December 18, 2011

I agree with supercres about going with Weber and getting a chimney starter. Don't cheap out, a $30 full-size grill won't last one season.
posted by ghharr at 10:18 AM on December 18, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, guys! Although I will read any other comments, I am almost sold in the griller that supercres recommended. The reviews are excellent, and I salivating for this thing already. Quick question: have you tried using this in cold weather? I mean I know it will throw off your temps, but after it runs awhile, how much does it matter? Any experience with this particular smoker? Also, would you recommend a chimney starter with Weber Smokey Mountain or just with the cheaper model?
posted by boots77 at 10:24 AM on December 18, 2011

If you can spend a few more bucks, I highly recommend a Big Green Egg. It's a ceramic, kamado-style cooker. More expensive than a Weber, but worth it.

The main advantage of the Big Green Egg is the versatility. You can do low-and-slow cooks (I make 24-hour pork shoulders), but you can also do high-temperature cooking, e.g. up to 1000F. That lets you sear steaks, and you can make brick-oven style pizzas with the super light and crispy crust you can only get at 800+ temps. And obviously, you can do everything in between.

As far as cold temps, the Big Green Egg is a champ. The ceramic shell is a much more efficient insulator, so it keeps the heat in and the cold out.

BTW, regardless of what cooker you go with, dump the charcoal briquets, and go with lump. It's a bit pricier, but it burns longer, hotter, and cleaner. More importantly, it tastes better.
posted by mikeand1 at 10:39 AM on December 18, 2011

I bought a Weber Performer for the mother-in-law and have been very satisfied with it the times I've cooked on it. The two advantages I noticed: The performer has a work surface to one side so you can set your set things down while you're getting your fire where you want it. Secondly, while it burns charcoal, it's ignited by gas. The gas ignition ensures that you're up and going in about three minutes, with no chance of your chimney not catching or other problems like that.
On preview: seconding the use of lump charcoal, for the reasons outlined.
posted by Gilbert at 10:42 AM on December 18, 2011

Adding a few pics to whet your appetite for the Big Green Egg:

Searing 2-inch NY Strip at about 900F

Pizza hot off the grill

You can't really do that on a Weber. I mean, you can do it at lower temperatures, but it isn't nearly the same.
posted by mikeand1 at 10:47 AM on December 18, 2011

Response by poster: I hear what are saying about the cold temps, mikeand1. I like a heavier grill generally (I have a ceramic lid with my gas grill now). And versatility is good as long as it doesn't sacrifice the main point, which is the meat. BTW, does the outside of your ribs get too dry in this? Are they moist inside and out? Thanks. I will have to also check out a few reviews from other users, but that pizza looks good enough to eat off the computer screen.
posted by boots77 at 11:26 AM on December 18, 2011

Meat (including ribs) stays totally moist in the Big Green Egg. Much more so than a Weber.

The reason is that a greater proportion of the heat is radiant heat -- that is, much of the heat gets stored up in the ceramic and radiates back into the Egg. That means you don't need to create as much heat through burning the charcoal/lump, which is a much dryer heat.

One of my favorite things to cook on the Egg is barbecue chicken, for exactly this reason. The chicken comes out amazingly moist. Last year I even did a 20-lb turkey on the Egg. Same thing -- perfectly tender, moist meat.

The other thing you can do to make meat moist (and you can probably do this on certain types of Webers) is to put a pan of water or other liquid (e.g. cider or apple juice for pork) right under the grill (e.g. above the fire -- you need a second level to do this). (See the pic of the turkey, noting the pan underneath.)

Here's a pork shoulder I slow-cooked four about 20 hours. See how it's coming apart? This thing was so tender that it started falling apart when I lifted it off the grill!
posted by mikeand1 at 11:39 AM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I definitely agree with mikeand1 on the Big Green Egg- my boyfriend has a BGE and the range of stuff we've made on it is pretty amazing (and has yet to come out anything other than delicious). There are some neat gadgets that can go with it to maintain a pretty exact temp on long smokes, depending on how much you like data.

We smoked (I think) a pork shoulder and the bone slid out as I tried to start shredding it. Totally falling apart.
posted by brilliantine at 1:06 PM on December 18, 2011

One more tip for you: Get a really good instant digital thermometer. I'm a big fan of the Thermapen. It's not cheap, but it too is worth the money.

Then find a meat temperature chart, get in the habit of using it, and your meat/fish will always be cooked to the perfect temperature. That right there is more than half the secret to getting perfectly grilled food.
posted by mikeand1 at 1:26 PM on December 18, 2011

another important BGE tip

get the large or XL.

I have a M and find it's not ideal trying to deal with space issues or logistics when manipulating things over a 900º heat source. In addition, the larger capacity of the L makes it much easier to get a high temp. on the M you really have to fill the entire box up.
posted by Señor Pantalones at 2:31 PM on December 18, 2011

Do note that the BGE is much, much more expensive than the WSM once you get to the models with comparable cooking area. I considered the BGE, but bought exactly the setup recommended in the first comment here (WSM+starter) for a few reasons. (Price was at the top of the list, but it's also easier to move/clean, not so fragile, and it's a bit easier to manage the temperature in the WSM.) It works incredibly well, and unless you need the high-temperature cooking from the BGE I think you may not get much benefit relative to the added cost.

Cooking in the cold isn't a problem, you'll just need to allow more airflow than you would on warmer days. You'll never have trouble keeping a smoker above 215-230, the tough part is keeping it from going hotter. You can cook in the snow if you're so inclined.

Also, for smoking, go with Kingsford briquettes, not lump charcoal. You want as much predictability as possible from your fuel source. Lump charcoal's nice for grilling though.

Other nice things to have:
-Probe thermometer w/separate probes for smoker temp. & meat temp. (I have one with a wireless base station and receiver; it's very nice on cold/rainy days not to have to leave the house to check on things. It works everywhere in my house and cost about $60, money well spent.)
- Welding gloves to handle the charcoal starter.

All this is just IMO, and you'll be happy with either of the options discussed here. The Virtual Weber Bullet site linked above is an excellent resource.

You can also get a computer-controlled module that'll monitor the smoker temperature and set airflow to maintain a certain temperature. Part of me feels like this would be a ridiculous purchase, but I still want one.
posted by ethand at 9:19 PM on December 18, 2011

I bought my boyfriend this cheap, off-brand smoker from Lowes for his birthday along with a Weber kettle grill to have dedicated tools for smoking and grilling. The smoker was a bit of an impulse purchase but it's performed like a champ, smoking pork shoulder, butterflied chicken, moist brisket, etc. (and I consider myself a pretty hardcore barbecue connoisseur). It's really much more about the patience and practice to learn to build a steady fire than anything else.

I'm guessing that the cheap smoker will probably start showing its age after 2-3 seasons, at which point we'll replace it with a WSM. But spending $60 instead of $250 on an experimental toy was absolutely the right decision.
posted by psycheslamp at 11:36 PM on December 18, 2011

I've got a (since discontinued, evidently) Coleman smoker, and I love it. Someday, I'll probably end up getting a WSM, since I've heard such good things about them. I'd definitely go for a smoker if you're at all interested in low and slow. There is just so much out there for you to try out. Burgers are great and all, but pulled pork? Smoked and chopped chicken? Ribs? You can do work around a with a kettle grill, but that's all they are, work arounds.

As for cold weather, yes, they are more temperamental in the cold, requiring more attention, but on the other hand, you can start to explore cold smoking, which is just all kinds of awesome. Making your own smoked salmon? Smoked scallops? Put a couple pounds of ice in the water dish, and the smallest fire possible in the dead of winter, and you'll be able to smoke around 50 degrees F.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:50 AM on December 19, 2011

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