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Archive for the ‘Equipment’ Category

The Mr. Grill brush, and a similar, dirt-cheap one I found at the drugstore.

The Mr. Grill brush, and a similar, dirt-cheap one I found at the drugstore.

I admit there are nastier things than a crud-covered grill. Like anything found under my daughter’s bed, for instance. Was that cheese … or meat?

But given we tend to cook meals on our grills and not under the beds of our children, it’s a fairly crucial thing to keep our grates clean. (One quick tip: I will on occasion take the whole grill grate, put it in my oven, and set the oven to CLEAN. The grill comes out good as new.)

Mr. Grill must have seen too many disgusting pictures of my grate, because they were kind enough to send me their super-deluxe grill brush in exchange for “an honest review posted on your blog.” My new friend Rizzi asked me to say this:

Mr Grill’s grill brush features brass bristles and a solid oak handle.

Check! I can confirm that it does. Although, I confess, I wouldn’t know oak from birch. Or maple. Or anything Ikea might sell as flooring.

Anyway, since we are a barbecue of science – more specifically, shoddy science –we put on our lab coats and put Mr. Grill’s brassy brush to the test.

The first step of course was to cook chicken wings. While delicious, wings make a horrifying mess on the grill grate. (On a separate note, I made a pretty terrible batch of wings. Right after shoddy science, we believe in honesty here at Blue State BBQ, and if/when we make crap wings, note we are willing to admit it.)

To test the Mr. Grill brush, which Amazon is currently selling for about twelve bucks, I purchased a very similar looking brush at Walgreens for $1.99 so we could compare. Was it really better? Or just super duper shiny?

I did two tests.

For Test One, I applied 10 (and only 10) firm strokes against the dirty grill grate with each brush, and compared the results. I’m sorry to report that the cheap-o grill brush, which I found between folding picnic chairs and bug repelling Tiki torches at Walgreens actually did a better job. I was really rooting for those sparkly brass bristles.

For Test Two, I decided not to count strokes, and just clean as I normally would, scrubbing until the grate was as clean as it was going to get. I’d say I put in equal effort and got equal results. As much as I’d like to, because I really like free stuff, I can’t say the Mr. Grill brush was any better than the other.

Good, yes. Better? Well...

Good, yes. Better? Well…

So it seems to me the main reasons to buy the Mr. Grill brush are 1) it’s definitely nicer looking, with its long oaken handle, and glistening gold brush, as if it were forged by Elves, and 2) just holding it, you can tell it’s a better made, presumably longer lasting piece of equipment. I’m guessing I’ll still have the thing next year, which is more than I can say for any grill brush I’ve ever owned. (I usually find them rusty, corroded and half buried in dirt in my garden somewhere.)

I would bet that I’d go through a few of those inexpensive brushes before the Mr. Grill brush shows any wear at all. But that’s what we call a long-term study, and you know what that means! I’m just going to have to barbecue more, and more, and more….

Thanks again Mr. Grill. I like your brush. It remains to be seen if I like it for 5 times the price.

Meanwhile, don’t forget my tip about putting the grate in your self-cleaning oven.

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Primo Thermometer Fail

I was wondering why my new Primo barbecue seemed to be cooking hot.  Well, mystery solved.

 

 

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Ready for winter.

Ready for winter.

One thing you usually don’t get in November in Seattle: Dry spells.  Which explains why my practically perfect Primo Barbecue table, which came unfinished, started to develop black and green spots of the mold and mildew ilk.

My custom-fitting heavy duty rain cover seemed to be of no real use against the rot. (Swamp Thing fans, you know what I’m talking about.)

Well, I don’t know about you, but I prefer that my food stays at least three cows lengths away from any icky black goo. So I bought sandpaper, stain and a big can of urethane and waited — and waited — about 6 weeks — for two dry days in a row.

And finally, here it is! Looks great, and now we’ll see what 4 coats of ethyl ester of carbamic acid can do against the Northwest elements.

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It’s been a while since I’ve used one of these. But I’m on an extended road trip, and what? I’m supposed to use an oven? Broil? No, no I will not.

In my day, we used old tin cans and fish hooks, and WE LIKED IT. Kids these days….

I picked this little beauty up at the local Ralph’s for just over $14, it took about 15 minutes to assemble, and about 15 minutes to light. Last time I used anything like this, I was probably skipping class, drinking a warm can of Wisconsin beer, and over-cooking a boneless chicken breast I peeled off some slimy Styro-foam tray from the local grocery store. 

I seem to recall using a lot of Open Pit barbecue sauce, too.  Oy. 

I have to say, mini grills have come a long way since my college days. It had two lower air vents, an upper vent, a hinge, and charcoal grate. I was really impressed.

Anyway, we grilled Kalbi over hot lump charcoal, and it was excellent.

Here’s the marinade, in which we soaked flattened flank overnight. You’re supposed to use short ribs, but the flank costs less than half as much, and I was feeling thrifty, given the piece-of-crap grill I just purchased.

  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup mirin (rice wine)
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 small Asian pear, peeled and finely grated
  • 4 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced (optional)

Fresh off the tiny little grill.

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Kamado Corporation gets an "F" grade from the Better Business Bureau.

I’ve had a Kamado (from  Kamado.com) for almost seven years, and while it’s been a great piece of equipment for me, the horror stories about this particular company just keep coming.

Keep in mind, “Kamado” is a type of cooker, and not synonymous with Kamado.com.  But that is where I purchased mine, where a handful of other people I know purchased theirs and where, increasingly, other people have tried to purchase one only to run into a whole drip pan full of trouble.

There’s actually an entire forum dedicated to stories about how unreliable and deceitful the Kamado company can be.  Yeesh. Here’s a friend of mine talking about his experience:

So, while I have made tons of great barbecue on my Kamado from that supplier, I just can’t recommend them anymore. There are just so many angry testimonials you can hear before suggesting there are other ceramic cookers to choose from.

Here are a few places to look.

Big Green Egg

Komodo Kamado

Primo Grill

Grill Dome

…. And I’m sure there are others. Send me links, and I’ll add them.

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Gasp! What am I going to do now?

There I am, walking through Lowe’s – the mega-hardware store. This is the sort of place I go to for moth traps, extension cords, and fungicide.  It’s precisely the sort of place that I’ve traditionally mocked for having those giant, Cylon-crafted barbecues that are too big, cost too much, burn your food, and look hideous sitting on your back deck.

When Costco started carrying the Big Green Egg, THAT I sort of understood. At least Costco requires a membership, and while Costco is certainly a super-mega-mart, it’s also the sort of place that carries weird stuff.  Like, salad bowls shaped like tiger heads or party centerpieces made from Kirkland brand sweet potato chips.

But Lowes? No way! Still, there it was … a Bayou Classic ceramic cooker, for $699.  

I still think the Kamado I use is bigger and nicer looking than either of the other two.  But I have to say, the Bayou is a notch more attractive than the BGE.  And at least at Lowe’s when you buy the thing, you get to take it  home, vs. waiting a year for Kamado to deliver.

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I remember when I first saw my Kamado, I got this “oh crap, what now” feeling. Gas grills were turn it on, turn it up, you’re done.  This in comparison seemed like some sort of 600 pound, brain teasing, sci-fi  space pod that might require NASA training to use.

I’ve noticed in the Blue State BBQ search logs that I’m not the only one who gets that feeling.  “How to use a Kamado” is fairly common question. 

Well, relax.  A Kamado is actually really easy. And believe it or not, you’re way less likely to ruin your food.

How a Kamado works – It’s all about oxygen

The Kamado is a simple machine.  Air flows in through the bottom, over the coals, and out the top.  The more air the coals get, the hotter they become.   But starve the coals of oxygen, and they cool down and burn for a very, very long time. 

You regulate air flow by using both the vent (left) and the damper (right). Note, in this photo, both are "very open." My Kamado would get to 500 degrees or so with this much air flow.

So, using a Kamado is really just about managing the amount of air flow, and it’s easy.   There’s a vent at the bottom. There’s another vent (or ‘damper’) at the top.  You either open the vents a lot for hot, or just a sliver for a slow cook.

Every other option is just steps in-between. And you can generally get the Kamado to within a few degrees of any target temperature.  (By the way, did you remember to buy a thermometer from Kamado?)

Oh, and when you’re done cooking, close both vents entirely. This cuts off all the oxygen, and in a short while, your fire is kaput.

What to do when you first get your Kamado

The first thing you need to do is buy some quality lump charcoal, start a low heat fire, and cure the cooking chamber.  I remember hearing that and thinking, oh great, what a pain. I never had to cure a gas grill!

So, let me say this differently.  The first thing you need to do when you get your Kamado is buy some quality lump charcoal, and slow cook a delicious pork butt.   Doesn’t that sound better?

Curing just means you need a slow, cool burn in the Kamado for about 24 hours to prep the clay for a long, healthy life.  That doesn’t mean you can’t cook a pork shoulder on the grill while doing so.  So follow the instructions here – but make sure you keep the temperature at 200 degrees, and not hotter. Do that, and ta-da, your Kamado is cured.

Lighting the grill

Open up your bottom vent widely. Open the damper widely.  You want maximum air flow.

Take your lump charcoal and make a pile on one side of the grill basin.  There aren’t that many recipes that require direct heat. More times than not, piling your coals on one side of the grill allows you to put your food on the other side, and avoid direct heat. 

You don’t need a basin full of charcoal.  Usually a shoe-box sized pile is plenty.  If I’m doing a really long cook, or per the above, curing the grill, you’ll definitely need more than that.  I’m just saying, don’t feel like you have to ‘fill up’ your Kamado with charcoal.  A modest sized pile is sufficient for most recipes.

This is a snip from my post about Charcoal on how to light the fire:

The way it lights: Not with a single match, to which I respond, so what? Lump charcoal is easy to light with a little help from sawdust bricks (e.g. Duraflame Firestart), which you can get at almost any grocery store these days.  These bricks are hunks of sawdust held together by a flammable wax, and are more eco-friendly than lighter fluid.  Tear 2 or 3 pieces off, place them strategically in your pile of charcoal, and sure, with a single match, you can light them. You’ll have a hot fire in about 30 minutes. In a hurry? Tear off 5 or 6 pieces instead.  Two weeks ago, I cooked chicken wings at 450 degrees, and I was able to get the grill to that temperature in about 15 minutes. No gas, no lighter fluid, and no loathsome briquettes.

While the coals are trying to get hot, go ahead and leave the lid of the Kamado completely open. You want as much air helping the process as much as possible.  But then close the lid for a good 3 to 5 minutes to check your temperature.

Getting the Temperature you want

The first tip here is to get the coals hotter than you need them to be, then cool them down.

So, for example, if you’re going to slow cook a pork butt at 200 degrees, get your Kamado up to about 300 (by allowing plenty of air flow), then close the top and bottom vents to where they’re practically sealed shut and watch the temperature drop.  Only the slightest amount of air needs to trickle through for a 200 degree cook.

How open or closed your vents need to be will depend a lot on the charcoal you’re using.  That’s why I recommend finding a brand of lump you like, then sticking with it, so you don’t have to re-learn how to adjust your air flow every time.

The second tip is one someone first told me when I got my grill.  The bottom vent tends to adjust temperatures by 10 degrees or more with each slight adjustment, whereas the damper on top tends to adjust temperatures by 5 degrees or less with each turn.

I’m not sure, to be perfectly honest. But the tip does make a good point: The bottom vent makes big changes happen, top vent makes smaller changes happen. So, first use the bottom vent to get close to your temperature, then the damper on top to get it to just where you want it.

Cooking

There’s not a lot to say here, other than keep the lid closed as much as possible, unless you’re instructed to do otherwise.  The biggest benefit of the Kamado is that the tight temperature control, plus the kiln-like atmosphere keeps the moisture in your food, and prevents unwanted flare ups.  Every time you open the lid, you chip away a little at that benefit.  So, keep it closed unless you’ve got work to do.

Being safe

Not much to know beyond using common sense.  But, one very important tip:

ALWAYS open your Kamado lid SLOWLY. Especially with hot cooks. Remember, cooking with the Kamado is essentially an exercise in oxygen starvation.  So, when you open that lid, there’s a risk of a bunch of hungry hot coals flaring up. WHOOSH! A fire eruption that can burn your eyebrows off.

By opening the lid slowly, religiously, you will never have that problem.

Cleaning

The ashes….

The good news is that the efficient burns in a Kamado, in combination with quality lump charcoal, you’re not going to generate nearly as much ash as a kettle grill.  You’ll be surprised how infrequently you need to remove ashes, if you use quality charcoal. The bad news, there is ash, it does pile up and that restricts air flow. So, eventually you’ll need to clean it out, and it’s a pain.

You either need to get the ash out through the lower vent, which requires a skinny trowel and a lot of patience. Or, you need to get the ash out through the basin, which means you have to take out any left over coals, and that’s a dirty, annoying job.

One person tells me they use a shop vac.  I haven’t tried that, but it sounds like a nice solution.

The damper….

So, I had to learn this the hard way.  The upper damper is really just like a giant screw. There’s a threaded post that runs into the Kamado lid. Turns out, this bugger needs to be cleaned every now and then, or it will get stuck. Like, you’ll need to remove it with a blow torch stuck (not kidding).  So, at least once or twice a summer, you’ll want to unscrew the damper completely, and clean off the threaded peg.  I have also started lubricating it, before putting it back.

The outside of the Kamado….

It’s just ceramic tile, so I just use an all purpose kitchen cleaner.

The inside of the cooking chamber….

The chamber does get blackened with soot, and will stay that way. So don’t expect that the cream colored clay you see when you first get the grill is something you’ll ever see again after the first few cooks.  However, I sometimes get a little freaked out by some of the grime that builds up.

So every now and then, to clean both the inside and the grill grate, I’ll torch the thing with really high temperatures. After I’m done cooking a meal, instead of closing off the grill, I’ll open the vents completely, and let the Kamado get up to 500 or even 600 degrees, and let it burn with the lid closed until the coals are gone. Anything creepy at 600 degrees for an hour or two seems to disintegrate.  I have no idea if this is necessary, but I know it makes me feel better. 

One last tip

I didn’t care for the clay air sieve at the bottom of the Kamado basin. I’m referring to the round, clay disc that separates the cooking basin (where you put the coals) and the ash pit below.  The Kamado provides this custom fit item, that’s made from clay, and it has a dozen or so holes in it to allow air to pass through.

I found that the air flow was too restrictive, because the holes tended to get clogged with ash or small bits of lump charcoal.

I removed mine, and put in cheap, small, wire grill grate that I bought at the hardware store.  I found the traditional grate allows more air to flow up, and more ash to flow down, so my temperatures are more consistent and easy to control.

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