BBQ and Grilling: A stupid question for the ages

I recently got a small Weber grill, the type that takes charcoal. Here’s the catch, I’ve used gas for so many years I don’t remember a damn thing… okay I don’t know a damn thing about cooking over traditional fire vs gas fed where you can adjust on the fly. I’m at an absolute loss about what to do because I’ve been reading so much conflicting info online. Much like everyone and their mother owning a cupcake biz (throwback to 09!) everyone seems to have their own opinions on grilling and bbq. I bought the Aaron Franklin Masterclass video but I think his methods don’t really apply to me and my little Weber egg.

I don’t come onto this site much because I’m not a huge social media guy but I thought we had a food section or maybe I’m misremembering (happens with age ofc). I only bought the Weber because it was $30 off and made sense to me.

I mostly prefer to consume chicken, fish and vegetables. I was a steak 2-3x a week guy with a lot of pork (still active) but as I progress even more into later adulthood I’m finding it tough to digest those foods without the excess use of digestive enzymes from a health food store.

I also don’t mind baking potatoes and whatever in tight wrapped foil. I had a successful attempt at baking off about 10 sweet potatoes which tasted great with a mild smoky flavor and very little char. I ate few and turned the rest into a pie which was mind blowing good.

I’m more interested in stuff I can marinate, vacuum pack and freeze to pull out the night before and skewer up or grill vs. a slow bbq which I haven’t got the time for. Wood skewers vs metal ones? Like I said, very lost here.

I’m guessing Kingsford is crap?

I’m a die-hard Weber fanboi and will embrace pretty much any product Weber makes, although personally I only own Weber charcoal grills and smokers: an 18" WSM, a 22" kettle, and the Smokey Joe (the 14" table-top kettle). As long as you didn’t get the crappy Wal-Mart version of the classic kettle you’re already ahead.

My advice: start with Kingsford. Its not crap, but it isnt the best. What it is is uniform, cheap, and easy to get. This makes learning the eccentricities of your grill easier and cheaper than if you start with the expensive stuff. Once youve mastered fire and temp contol you can graduate to lump charcoal, which is not crap at all but takes much more monitoring and “messing with” to keep a consistent temp.

Get a chimney starter and some charcoal lighter cube–avoid newspaper and certainlyavoid charcoal fluid. Then get a good thermometer: one with two probes is best, at the very least a good pen thermometer is necessary.

With charcoal there’s a learning curve: getting the coals hot but not too hot, arranging them for even heat (not as easy as it seems), and most importantly of all maintaining temp. (I still struggle with this and sometimes my fire just ups and dies on me. At least once a year I have to finish something in the oven because my coals simply went out. I’ve been grilling with charcoal for decades and I still don’t know why it does that.) Charcoal can be fickle, which is why propane and now pellets are so popular.

But nothing beats the taste of charcoal-fired bbq and once you get the hang of it – and yes, you’ll have some failures before you get comfortable with it the way you’re comfortable now with a gas grill – you’ll never go back. Hopefully.

Note what they agree on and go from there. Really, once you get the heat control mastered (again, this will take a lot of trial and error) the sky’s the limit.

Oh. And I’m solidly in the minority in this but I strongly believe that you must keep your BBQ clean. This means more than just giving the grill grates a once-over with a with a wire brush: it means scrubing the grill itself with a soapy SOS pad until the black is gone. Follow that by another scrub with a regualr kitchen sponge and soapy water (to remove any leftover soap). Clean the inside of your kettle with a new SOS pad until it shines, then rinse well and scrub again with a sponge.

A lot of people refuse to clean their grill, saying it builds up a “seasoning” and that somehow enhances the operation of the grill and the flavor of foods cooked in it. Uh… not. A Weber Kettle BBQ is made of enamled steel, the same stuff that oven interiors are made of. It’s not made of porus ceramic or cast iron, it does not need “seasoning.” All that old grease, fat, and ash that is stuck to the interior of the bbq contributes nothing but nasty to subsequent cooks.

We don’t cook with dirty dishes, we don’t let our kitchen oven build up centimeters of goo and burnt food (hopefully), and there is no reason to let our grills become encrusted either.

But I realize few bbq aficionados agree with me.

I bought mine from Home Depot. I only go into Walmart for dry goods and sometimes stuff I can’t find elsewhere. I was thinking of buying the large chimney online or in store but didn’t think it was that important until I began using lump.

I did buy Kingsford, the one in the white and blue bag and one in a black bag that instantly lights up with a match or lighter. I’m going to assume this latter one isn’t good flavor wise? They have flavored briquets now that use dried ground up spices but I’m also guessing this is overpriced and I could do something similar buy going into an ethnic market and buying a bulk bag of their spices?

Growing up my family did wood and lump charcoal. With gas I’d sometimes make a foil smoking packet just for some extra kick while the food was still wet surface wise but it wasn’t the same.

I have one of those fancy Thermapops or whatever they’re called for measuring meat temp.

Oh that. Yeah, I’ve done that after every other time. I haven’t gotten carbon build up so far, but I’ve been using that Dawn Platinum stuff with a splash of vinegar and it seems to remove everything. The grates I clean by hand, dry and run it over with a propane torch to clean off anything that remains when I put it back in the grill.

I picked up some nice gloves so I can pick up the hot coals and move them around. I’ve done this a few times and it’s really incredible to hold something that would otherwise burn through to the bone. :stuck_out_tongue: . I use a dry stiff brush to clean stuff into the ash tray container and then dump that and use an electric blower to get rid of the rest of the ash and then do the soapy cleaner. I did buy those, I want to say they’re Kingsford brand, lump dried wood. A few varieties including chips. I used hickory a while on for an offset grilling of a spatchcocked chicken and while it was great, the hickory was serious overkill for the chicken.

I guess that’s why I’ve never seen hickory used for a smoked chicken. I still haven’t got the venting down 100% which is not something I can always work on. I suppose I could do a dry run fire but it would suck to not have anything to eat after all that effort.

The Smokey Joes look incredible and it’s something I may get down the line. I used to love hot smoked porkchops as a kid. I also resembled a porkchop in those days. It went hand in hand.

Marinating is a great way to prepare meat before grilling it. A marinade consists of an acid, an oil and seasoning. For chicken, a commercial Italian dressing makes an easy marinade. Or get creative. For beef, I like a flank steak marinated in red wine, olive oil, soy sauce, rosemary, black pepper, and garlic powder.

Dry rubs are good as an alternative to marinating. I like to start with maybe a base of a Cajun seasoning blend and add extra thyme, pepper (black and cayenne), brown sugar, etc. etc.

If you freeze your marinated meat to grill at a later date, make sure it’s completely thawed first. Or you can grill it from completely frozen if you don’t have time to thaw, just don’t start with half-thawed meat. Meat thermometers to make sure hit the necessary internal temps without overcooking are very helpful.

Metal skewers are reusable, wooden skewers are disposable. That’s about the only difference. If you use wooden skewers, soak them in water first so they don’t burn too quickly.

Kingsford is a decent brand of charcoal. I like it because I BBQ a lot, low and slow, and Kingsford briquettes burn long. I mix them with chunks of apple or hickory wood. But for grilling, lump charcoal may be preferable, as @Lancia mentions.

First, I hope my posts last night made sense. I stupidly got on the Dope post-Ambien, saw your thread, and thought “oh! something I know some stuff about! Yay! I’ll post a quick reply before the drugs kick in!” I really do know better.

Anyway. Onward.

Excellent. Wal-Mart carries a Weber grill that, on brief inspection, looks like any other 22" Weber grill but at a significantly lower price.

Good deal, right? Well, on closer inspection it’s clear the Wal-Mart specific grill is not the same a regular 22" inch kettle:

Note the Wal-Mart specific version is much shallower (making it unable to be used as a smoker) and, most significantly, has the same small air intake at the bottom that the Smokey Joe uses. Totally insufficient.

I have something akin to these, which are handier than I thought they would be: you can slide the handle forward to remove the food from the skewer, and then everything goes in the dishwasher. Easy-peasy.

Bingo. That “match-light” charcoal is really good for starting campfires and… not much else. Now, what it might be good for in your situation is learning temp control. Get a chimney starter, fill it with the Match-Light, get it burning, then spread it on the ash grate and start playing around with the air intake controls and the thermometer to really learn what does what. Generally I always leave the top vent wide open and use the bottom vent to control the airflow and thus the heat. I find opening or closing the vents ~1/4 inch will make about a 25°- 50 ° difference on the grate. But I live where it’s humid, rarely snows but rains 9 months of the year, so what’s normal for me likely isn’t for others.

One of these thermometers is great because you can use one probe in your food and the second probe can be used to measure the temp at the grate: attach it with a binder clip or a dedicated probe clip. The thermometer that’s on the lid – if it even came with one, which mine didn’t – isn’t accurate at all.

I’ve never even heard of these, and the concept seems weird: burning spices seems like it would just leave a burnt taste to your food. Marinate the meat or use a dry rub if you want different flavor profiles or, after you’ve mastered the heat control, try your hand at smoking. Strong woods like mesquite are good for rich cuts of red meat, fruit woods are better for milder meats like fish and poultry. Except salmon. Salmon and alder wood are BFF’s and that’s a good thing. You could do the foil method like you mentioned (or use one of these), but using lump wood and placing it on the coals right before you place your food on the grill is a good way to go – just make sure that there isn’t so much air that it’ll actually catch flame, and not so little that it’ll smolder so bad as to deposit soot on your food ::shudder::

Ultimately, this is like any hobby. You can go broke buying all the latest fancy things (there are a lot of neat accessories for the 22” kettle, which is one reason I chose that model specifically), and every Tom, Dick, and Harry will come out of the woodwork to tell you how you should do this or that (kinda like I’m doing…). But really, just play around with it and have fun. The Weber kettle is so versatile that, once you get the heat management down you can pretty much do whatever you want to.

Oh. One last thing: as you learn be aware of how long it takes to go from “I’m going to grab a beer, go outside, and light up the bbq” to “yup, she’s ready. Time to throw the steaks on.” I always give the whole thing a quick hose-down before filling and lighting the chimney. (I once found a wasp nest being built inside, and another time found a black widow chilling out inside. Not taking any chances again.) Getting the coals hot takes 20 minutes to half and hour, and then I spread the coals, set the air intake, and give the grill 5 or 10 minutes to come up to temp and stabilize before actually starting to cook. I always figure 45 minutes of prep and preheat. So factor that into your cooks as well.

I’m a fan of small artisanal brands, the kind of stuff that you might find at a farmer’s market or at roadside stand manned by hippies. Despite that, this stuff is absolutely to die for I highly recommend it.

Random thoughts:

Seconding Lancia’s rec on Slap Ya Mama. Very versatile stuff.

Get double skewers like these. The design helps you actually flip food that doesn’t flip easily, like slices of pepper.

There is a broad middle ground between “never clean the grill” and “dismantle and sterilize.”

Match-Light is crap. Use a chimney and lump.

I’ve owned a Weber for decades, but 99% of what I grill gets done on my Char-Broil gas grill.

My family used locally made Grills. Made from heavy steel. I think welding shops made them.

The thick steel held the heat and did great with steaks. I regret not keeping my dads grill. Moving it 150 miles would have been a challenge.

They’re still made. Call the welding shops that make custom iron fencing and shelving.

LOL, I know how to marinate meat. With a gas grill as you know the heat is much lower than charcoal, so there’s a lot of room to not mess up, even with a fine cut of steak. Though I don’t marinate my steaks, just salt, pepper, garlic powder.

One of my favorite marinades for something like flap meat has always been thin sliced white and red onion, some good red wine like a syrah, a ton of fresh ground black pepper and some garlic. It gives the meat such a nice flavor without being prominent. I dare say it makes the fat or what little there is on that cut very nice.

@Lancia I’ll read most of your post later this week when it’s warm. I’ve taken my pre bed scotch and then some because I think I deserved it after a lousy Monday. Yeah, I can’t say I’ve ever looked at grilling equipment at Walmart, but my Weber egg looks like the one on the Weber site. I wished I’d picked it up in another color other than black but given shortages I can’t really complain. It’s a Master Touch. I paid far less than the current list prices let alone the price back then. I feel like a winner, a drunk winner but a winner nontheless.

I was thinking of picking up a Go Anywhere charcoal model once the holiday sales get put on blast. I think even that small one may come in useful when I’m just doing a quick grill vs. a large one. I haven’t come across anything in the sub $100 price range similar to it that doesn’t give me the heebie jeebies about build quality or it melting through.

Gonna answer this too. IDK if I’ve seen Slap Ya in stores, maybe at Ralph’s or Von’s or Walmart or Target. I really don’t pay attention. I’m a big fan of the Kinder’s seasonings at the moment but I’m open to anything else. I’ve seen a seasoning brand around town that isn’t a big name called Tony Chachers but when examining the contents and the nutrition label I’m inclined to say it isn’t good or is very salty for a seasoning. I’m open to recommendations though.

I like the Kinder’s because it’s muted on the salt and I can add my own later on. Anyway, as I type this I realized those high end grilling gloves that let you move coals by your palm would be terrific oven mitts seeing as I’ve gone through a lot of oven mitts because most are absolute crap.

Just a quick note on the subject of wire brushes – they can be hazardous because the fine bristles can break off and get into the food and cause serious injury. I avoid them like the plague, but back before I realized the danger, I have on one or two occasions seen a glistening something on the dinner plate that turned out to be a steel bristle! People have been hospitalized with steel needle-like stuff from those brushes caught in their throat or esophagus.

Alternatives include wooden paddle-like scrapers that, with use, develop ridges that clean around the grill elements, or brushes that use stainless steel pads sort of like very coarse steel wool. The pads do start to disintegrate over time and should be replaced, but even then they’re much less likely to insinuate themselves into your dinner unnoticed.

On the other topic, you’re right that most would disagree with you about keeping the grill super clean. All I worry about is removing carbon and other residue from the grill elements, and making sure that on my gas Weber the “flavour bars” are clean enough to shed the drippings without extensive flaming, but still produce lots of smoky goodness.

I’ve always used these but I do it between cookings. And I’ll always go over the area with a greased up paper towel after, inspect the grates, then fire it up to “cook” the oil residue as it were.

I’ve been meaning to get one of those wooden paddles that “burn” tracks into them for the individual grill grate whatevers they’re called. I haven’t found one I liked but maybe I’m overestimated how thick and hefty it needs to be. Honestly, as an alternative after cooking you could just leave the heat on for a while to char up any grease or meat and then use one of those stainless steel or copper scrubbers to clean the bits off.

I do this myself simply because I can avoid that rank residue and taste burned grease has which really affects vegetables unless you let the fire run for 10-15 minutes to burn everything off.

Yeah, this is what I do-- once the coals get hot I put the grill right down against the coals and just burn off that grease and residue. On my Weber kettle grill I angle one side of the grill under the tabs that hold it up to get it right against the coals, then turn it around and do the other side. Only 5 minutes per side seems to do the trick for me.

Then I take a crumpled up piece of foil or better yet, the broken end of a stick and scrub off the ash left over. That’s clean enough for me!

I use a piece of 1 x 6 cedar trim board I had laying around to clean my hot grill grates. It works a treat, though might be even better if I bothered to cut in a handle. Easy to use even without that refinement.