It’s the burning question: Gas? Charcoal? Smoker? Wok? Finding the path to grilling nirvana



Last modified: Saturday, June 06, 2015

For years I have only used charcoal grills. I was a briquette snob.

I snubbed my nose at those who went the way of the propane tank.

But as the years rolled by and I kept burning through my big steel boxes, I grew increasingly put off by the process. I found I was grilling less often than I used to. Sure, I still got the charcoal burning for company a few times each summer. But rarely did it for just my wife and me.

There my grill sat, alone on my half of our 12-by-24-foot deck. My side was designated for setting the charcoal fires and making a mess. The nice metal furniture and potted plants sat on the other half. That’s where we entertained and watched the deer and bear and woodchuck mosey through the yard.

A month ago I noticed the covered grill was covered with blossoms from our horse chestnut tree. It was a sign.

So, I did what I had to do: I went to Home Depot and bought the $400 Weber Spirit, two-burner gas grill with special BBQ inserts. It came with a griddle that sits in the cooking grates. Very convenient.

Once I brought it home I started cooking all sorts of things on a nightly basis: Hadley asparagus, ramps, fiddleheads, shrimp, burgers, hot dogs, endive, flat-iron steaks, mushrooms, chicken, paellas ... you get the idea.

It’s so easy to use. It lights right up. Heats in 15 minutes. What’s not to like?

But there were still those charcoal thoughts flitting through my brain: Food tastes better over charcoal. It’s easier to keep the grates clean. You don’t have to worry about gas flare-ups. Paella is way better over charcoal. My charcoal grill is bigger.

Slowly, it dawned on me. The whole “gas vs. charcoal” argument is really beside the point.

The question is: What does a serious griller need?

Looking at my 12-by-12-foot outdoor man-cave, I realized I had the answer.

I saw a brand-new gas grill. I saw a large charcoal grill. I saw my Brinkman electric smoker, shaped like a bullet.

I set out to turn my side of the deck into the best grilling station I could make.

I got a 6-foot-long table with bench that sits along one side — the deck has 4-foot-high walls.

My electric smoker ($80) sits beyond that in the corner.

The gas grill ($400) and charcoal grill ($60) stand side by side against the far wall.

To the right of the door from the kitchen sits a storage bin for all my grilling accessories.

The gas grill has a cooking area of 23-by-20 inches, with a warming shelf.

The charcoal grill has a cooking area of 30-by-24 inches, with a warming shelf. And the charcoal grate can be lowered and raised (This is a “grilling” nirvana” moment when you crank that baby either way).

The round electric smoker has a cooking diameter of 18 inches with two shelves.

I have even turned a cast-iron pot into an outdoor wok station. It’s big enough to fit a large charcoal chimney starter’s worth of charcoal. I drilled large holes in its bottom. I now use it on my charcoal grill as I cook using my round-bottom carbon steel wok that snuggles nicely atop the pot. Blazingly hot. Which is what real wok cooking needs. When I’m done I just wait for the coals to cool before emptying the pot and removing it from the grill.

So, now I can’t wait to throw a party and do some burgers and hot dogs on the gas grill, some ribs on the charcoal grill, some smoked fish in the electric smoker. I’ll even stir-fry some littleneck clams with bean sauce at my wok station.

As a help to get you started on your own path to grilling nirvana, I offer up two-way recipes: whole chicken on gas or charcoal, pork ribs on gas or charcoal and salmon on gas or electric smoker. (See accompanying stories.)

See you at the man-cave deck.




 


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