Our take on the Top Tools to Own for Charcoal Grilling – some may surprise you!
TOP TOOLS TO OWN FOR CHARCOAL GRILLING
When I get the chance to visit a brick-and-mortar barbecue specialty store, I am always amazed at the number of accessory items currently offered for grilling and smoking. The options are staggering! I certainly can see why an individual might end up purchasing too many items, thinking that it’s a necessity when it comes to the grill or smoker.
My intent is to guide you on the bare basics tools that are needed when you own a charcoal grill. Of course, I may slip in there a couple of “next in line” purchases that may not be necessities but sure come in handy. Let’s get started!
Chimney Starter: Honestly, I don’t know a safer, easier method of lighting the fuel for your grill than with a chimney starter. Are they pretty much the same? Pretty much but here’s my recommendations on what to look for: one that is made of plain steel meaning no paint; one that has a heat-safe handle that is placed far enough away from the chimney body to prevent you from receiving burns and includes a heat shield; large enough to hold enough charcoal for the size of your grill; well vented at the base to get things hot within 15 minutes.
We just talked about the chimney starter which emits very high-heat so this next item is going to keep you fire safe. High-temperature resistant gloves. Personally, I use welding gloves as I appreciate that I can purchase a longer length glove, plus, these gloves tend to have great flexibility to them since most are made from cow leather. Best of all, they last forever!
Long-handled tongs. Your standard tong length for the traditional kitchen just won’t work at the grill, as you need to keep some arm distance from those hot coals. I like the 20-inch length with silicone grips as well as silicone tips as silicone can tolerate extremely high heat.
Like the tongs, a must have is long-handled spatula for those food items that need to be flipped. I prefer one that is made of solid steel and has a bit of a beveling to the edge. Again, the longer the handle to better for keeping away from intense heat. Of course, you’ll be wearing your high-temperature resistant gloves as well!
Even if you don’t grill every day you’re still going to need a good brush to clean up the residual food bits and grease. There’s been a lot of controversy over the use of metal bristles but most of these brushes are made well. You simply forget that like your toothbrush, they need to be replaced periodically before the bristles start to come loose and have the potential to be transported to your foods. I prefer a brush with metal bristles, with a long handle to keep my arm away from the heat, as often you want to clean the grill when it’s still hot. Remember, most of these brushes are under $10 so think about purchasing one a couple times per season to ensure the bristles stay put.
An easy to read, digital thermometer. It is a must when you grill or smoke. Look for one that has a longer probe for when your grilling larger roasts and thicker cuts of meats and poultry. Be sure the readout is easy to see and if you grill a lot at night, get one that has a backlight to see more clearly. If you cook a lot of different animal proteins at the same time, try to have a thermometer dedicated to each food so you don’t cross-contaminate while bacteria may still be an issue. Most of the digital thermometers on the market today are under $18 with even more under $10.
Other Recommended Tools:
These are additional items I love to have on hand to use with my charcoal grilling and smoking.
The Disposable Foil Pan: Perfect to use as a water pan, cooking pan with a roasting rack insert, grease collection pan, and warming pan.
Fine Wire Mesh: Cut to size to fit my charcoal area, I prefer to use fine wire mesh when I want to ensure I can retain every small hot coal for my cooking. This works particularly well when you plan to ember cook foods like peppers, onions, eggplant, and garlic.
Fire Brick: I use one or two fire bricks to set up my two-zone cooking area. The bricks also work great for positioning a pan on to allow for elevation in the cooking area.
There you have it! My top choices for the tools that will bring ease to your charcoal grilling and smoking. Just remember to include some clean, bark-free hardwood on the charcoal for an even better flavor to your foods.
There you have it our take on the Top Tools to own for Charcoal Grilling!
Your Temperature control is all in the air flow for smoking and grilling with equipment!
TEMPERATURE CONTROL IS ALL IN THE AIR FLOW
How do you keep a charcoal grill at 200°F? How do you cool down a charcoal grill? Do you keep the vents open all the time?
These are some of the common questions posed when it comes to learning how to control the temperature of a grill or smoker. This can be a challenge specifically for charcoal/wood units as they rely on the human hand to determine when to add fuel as opposed to a gas/LP unit that has continual, regulated flow.
You might assume that the only combustible material used in these units is charcoal or wood but there is another one. Oxygen.
I’m going to provide my top tips on gaining control of temperature by instructing you on airflow or oxygen regulation in specific styles of charcoal/wood burning equipment.
Intake and Outtake
For many of the charcoal/wood using units, they are built with an intake and an outtake vent. Let’s make sure you understand what these vents are and what the purpose of each is.
Intake Vent: It has one job – bring in oxygen to control the heat of the fire. If you need to raise the temperature of your unit, open the intake vent. Too much heat, close the intake vent which starves the fire for oxygen. Note: if you close the intake vent entirely while keeping the outtake open, you will still starve the fire and put it out.
Here’s the trick – each unit will have a “sweet spot” for the perfect balance of oxygen flow. Find that spot, and you can maintain a temperature easily in your equipment. But, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let’s discuss the opposing vent.
Outtake Vent: This goes by different names (chimney, flue, outtake, vent) but has the same purpose regardless of what you call it; vent out the gases from the combustible material and pull in oxygen from the intake vent which is commonly know as draft. Remember a charcoal/wood fire produces gases which need to be vented. If they aren’t properly vented, they will smother the fire.
When learning how to regulate your equipment for the desired temperature setting, always start with the outtake vent fully open. This allows you to manipulate only the intake vent until you reach the desired temperature. That will help you learn where the sweet spot is on your equipment.
There are times when no matter how you play with the intake vent, you never seem to get the temperature to hold. What now?
Time to look for leaks in your equipment. If an access door or lid are bleeding smoke, then you know where the extra oxygen is coming from. That will affect the draft between the intake and outtake vent and result in fluctuating temperature that cannot be controlled. Best course of action is to try to seal the leaks with food grade silicone or other materials suitable for high heat appliances.
The Shape of the Equipment
In my opinion, the vertical-style equipment models tend to be much easier to get airflow/temperature control. Horizontal units also referred to as off-set smokers and grills, specifically the inexpensive models, tend to have poor design in the vent placements as well as poor insulation that results in heavy leakage.
If you insist on purchasing a horizontal unit, read reviews and ask questions about how the unit is insulated. Get specific with the materials used, quality of the metal parts, etc.
Always try to light your initial fuel product, whether briquets, lump hardwood charcoal, or charcoal in a chimney starter so you can control the quantity with every cook. Use the chimney to add hot coals to the unit when you need to increase temperature. Although you can have unlit charcoal in your charcoal area so it will ignite as the lit produce makes contact, this isn’t always a guarantee that you won’t produce some temperature variance. The best chance of getting the temperature regulated is by adding hot coals as needed, even if this may be every hour or so.
To summarize, learn to control temperature by using the same quantity and type of material for the fuel, lit it with a chimney starter, only add hot coals to increase the temperature, and always have the exhaust vent open at least ½ way when cooking. Remember the number one thing is Temperature control is all in the air flow and you will have tasty grilling results!
Fresh Fava Beans with Butter ready to become Grilled Fava Bean with a smoky flare!
ODE TO THE GRILLED FAVA BEAN
I love when the ideal weather comes around when at the same time there are so many options for fresh produce either at the Farmer’s Market or local grocery store. I tend to lean toward my grill and smoker for most of my cooking when the weather turns hot and steamy.
Beans are one of those vegetables that are spectacular on the grill but they get even better when you add a few wood chunks. I’ll show you how to prepare Fava Beans for the grill and give you my easy, fool-proof technique for incorporating wood chunks for flavor.
Before preparing the Fava beans, get the gas grill heated by turning on only half the grills’ burners which will be the side that radiates out the heat and holds the smoker box. For the smoker box, I’m using a stainless-steel model that has a hinged lid. I place 3 double filet wood chunks from SmokinLicious® in the box in a combination of woods. I’m using hickory, white oak and sugar maple to give me a great smoke balance to the beans. This will ensure I don’t overpower with the smoke vapor. By placing the smoker box with chunks on the grill grate as it preheats, it will be smoking by the time you have the beans ready.
Simple Bean Prep
There is little to do with the Fava beans before they go on the grill. Wash them to start to make sure all the dirt and debris is removed. Pat dry with a paper towel and then move them to the cutting board. Remove any leaves and cut just the stem end to remove the stem. Place in a disposable foil pan, spread out evenly, and add roughly 6 tablespoons of butter to the beans, as well as salt and fresh ground pepper. That’s it. Leave the bean pods intact as they are going to act like a miniature steamer to cook the beans and ensure they don’t become over smoked.
With the grill heated and the wood chunks smoking in the smoker box, place the pan of beans on the unlit side of the grill and close the cover. Check that your grill temperature steadies out at about 375°F. If lower, simply increase the heat setting on the active burners. Too high, decrease the heat setting. Leave the beans untouched for about 30 minutes. Return to the grill, stir the beans and check the wood chunks. If the chunks are still emitting smoke, close the grill lid and leave for an additional 10 minutes or so, or until fork tender. Remove the pan from the grill and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
Buttery, Smoky Finish
After the beans have cooled enough to be handled, take each pod and push the beans out one end into a bowl. You may keep the empty pods to use for making broth or for puree in a sauce or smoothie. These Fava beans are now ready for you to enjoy as is or use in your favorite recipe. Now, I’m taking my Fava beans and making a dip with goat cheese, lemon and tarragon.
I’m going to make a confession. I rarely select steak to grill anymore. The reason – there are just too many other options that I simply prefer. Like beef riblets, short ribs, and shank. Oh, the bone-in shank! That is my favorite.
I’m going to give you a wet rub recipe and a grilling technique you can do on the grill of your choice, though I’ll be picking the easy gas grill. Get to the butcher and select some premium bone-in beef shanks then visit SmokinLicious® online for some wood chunks. Then get ready for the best grilled & smoked beef shanks you’ve ever had!
I tend to lean toward some Asian-inspired ingredients for my rubs, especially those that are a wet rub. While working on the rub, be sure you’ve started your grill so it will be ready to go when the meat is rubbed. Remember, we are using a two-zone set up for the grill so burners lit only on one side of the gas grill with the wood chunks placed on the heat shield or in a smoker box placed over the lit burners like I’ve done. Or, for the charcoal/wood grill, hot coals banked to one side of the grill.
For this wet rub, you’ll need equal parts of the following ingredients:
Whole allspice – about 30
Start by combining the dry ingredients, followed by the wet and combine with mortar and pestle until a paste is made. Then coat the beef shanks on both sides and the edges with the wet rub. I line a disposable foil pan with a roasting rack, then place the shanks on the rack.
Tasting Notes: don’t be afraid to use a store-bought rub and simply add oil and/or garlic/spice pastes. There is nothing off limits when it comes to producing a rub.
Time to open the pre-heated grill and start the cooking of the shanks. The wood chunks should be smoking well at this point so add the shank pan to the unlit side of the grill. Leave untouched for at least 40 minutes. Return to check the internal temperature. Flip the shanks and rotate the foil pan. Leave until the meat registers 140-145° F.
Tasting Notes: select the hardwood you like or use a combination of hardwoods like I did with my shanks – maple, hickory and white oak.
Serve It Up
When done, I simply slice against the grain for beautiful, flavorful beef that has a controlled infusion of smoke. Here’s a tip: be sure you enjoy the marrow in the bones! It is very rich so if you elect not to eat it when the meat is done, use it with onions and shallots to make a confit, or use it with a rich pasta dish to make the flavor of the richness even more stunning. Or, combine the marrow with an acidic dish like an arugula salad with lemon and capers. And don’t forget to save the bones to make our smoked beef broth. Two zone cooking makes it so easy to control the smoke infusion and produce perfection in any item grilled.
What’s your favorite beef cut to grill and smoke? Bringing innovation to wood-fired cooking with recipes, techniques and the science behind the fire, smoke, and flavor. That’s SmokinLicious®.
If you’ve purchased a smoker, you’re likely familiar with the term “water pan”. If, however, you’re more of an LP/Gas Grill person, than this term is likely one that escapes your knowledge.
Water pans are a means of introducing valuable moisture into the cooking environment which has immense value when grilling and smoking. Let me explain each of the pros of learning and using a water pan for your outdoor cooking, no matter the type of equipment you’re cooking on.
Temperature control. This is the ultimate need when you grill or smoker, especially when you smoke. Maintaining a stable temperature that you’ve predetermined. When the day is scorching hot and the equipment is made of metal, you will experience a challenge with temperature control. Introduce a water pan, and your battle can be won.
A water pan goes above the heat source. If using a charcoal grill or charcoal/wood smoker, this pan would be placed above the coal area. Have an electric unit and you’ll find the pan over the electric heating element. If you want to introduce a water pan on an LP/Gas Grill, this would be placed over the lit burners. Many vertical smokers come with a water pan.
Water Pan Pro #2
Water cannot go above the boiling point which is 212°F. Additionally, evaporative cooling also takes place as the water is exposed to heat.
Water Pan Pro #3
A water pan can become the number one tool when doing direct heat cooking over an open flame. Why? It acts as a repellent for the flame giving your foods a chance to survive without becoming a blackened, dried out, former piece of food.
Water Pan Pro #4
Are you having trouble with hot spots in your equipment? Well, a water pan will even them out. Now, the temperature you desire can essentially be locked in just by using a water pan.
Water Pan Pro #5
Humidity that develops from the use of a water pan keeps the surface of the meat moist, which in turn, attracts smoke vapor, which in turn, produces great flavor. The water vapor mixes with the combustible gases which are emitted from the burning material and add to the overall flavor. Yes, water is a passageway to all things flavorful!
What Goes in the Water Pan
It’s called a water pan for a reason. It is designed to hold water, specifically hot water to keep the cooker from wasting energy on heating cold water put in the pan. Here’s a tip when you fill the water pan: use a teapot to fill the pan while it’s in place so you don’t take the chance of spilling hot water on surfaces or you. Remember, water evaporates while other liquids don’t evaporate.
Don’t Make the Water Pan a Drip Pan
Here’s the thing with a drip pan. Due to its location directly over the heat source, when used on vertical units it often serves double duty as a drip pan. Don’t do that! Here’s why. The rendered fat drippings can produce an oil slick on the surface of the water which will prevent water evaporation.
Make Cleaning a Snap
Here’s a couple of tips when using a water pan. If your unit comes with a water pan, line it in aluminum foil which will allow you to simply pull the foil off and preserve the condition of the original pan.
If you’re using a unit that has no water pan but want to introduce one, simply purchase a disposable foil pan. You will want to purchase one that is compatible in size to the unit your using, that will fit comfortably over the heat source, and that can hold enough water to prevent you from having to make refill trips every 15 minutes.