Sunday, October 3, 2010

Healthy Grilling?

I guess when you reach a certain age you start to concern yourself with things that you never considered before. A few years back we began recycling, I am not a save the planet kind of person but I am amazed at how much we put into the recycle bin. It seems to me in this modern world we live in we have been doing things all wrong. Weekly I read reports like plastic bottles are bad for you, turns out the old way (glass) is the safer way to store your beverages. So this morning I started thinking about healthy grilling, not in the traditional sense but what exactly is our food absorbing while sitting in the fumes of our burning fuels? Think about this. If your house filled up with propane, wood smoke or natural gas it would kill you. Right? Yet we deem these things safe to cook our food with. So what’s wrong with this picture?

So after hours of research I actually came up with nothing on this subject. There is some basic information (like the chemicals in smoke) out there but not one thing about the impact it would have on your food sitting in it for hours. Frankly I have never seen such a lack of information on any subject it is like nobody has ever thought of this before or something is being hidden from us.

Where are we at as a society when we are more concerned about what the impact of what we cook with has on trees then it has on the food that we put into our mouths? What I can tell you is that all of the sources that we use for cooking put off Carbon Monoxide when burned. The food that we cook sits in a chamber full of this deadly gas so I think we can safely assume that the food absorbs some of this when cooked. I am sure the amount absorbed varies by the food and the heat source but it would be nice to know how we can minimize this. Obviously it is not enough to kill us or even make us sick, but it still makes me wonder.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Rib-O-Lator

The Rib-O-Lator is one of the most unique gadgets that we offer; it is four rotating trays that attach to your rotisserie.  With its flat surfaces this tool allows you to cook just about anything with your rotisserie.  It consists of 6 parts two X shaped pieces that attach to the spit rod and the four stainless steel rotating trays. The supports have a small pin coming off of each end that the trays attach to; they hang off of them loosely.

The shorter (charcoal version) of the Rib-O-Lator will fit into a standard 22” kettle grill, the charcoal side of the Char Griller Duo as well as the larger version Weber Smokey Mountain along with most gas grills. The only difference between the two versions is the length of the trays.

After washing the trays we prepare the grill: this consists of removing the grates and setting up the rotisserie.  Slide one of the supports onto the spit rod set screw towards the handle end and place the spit rod into place.  Then slide the support into the preferred position and tighten the screw with the allen wrench that is provided with the kit.  Remove the spit rod and place onto a flat surface.  Hang the two bottom trays onto the support then slide the other support onto the rod.  If you have a smaller diameter rod you will want the mounting screws opposite each other to keep it in balance.  Slide the support into the holes of the tray, you want the trays to hang loose or they will bind and turn sideways when it rotates.  I push one side against the support and back the other side off until the tray is just barley hanging on to the ball end.  This will put both trays into the center of the pins on both sides.  Tighten the final support and snap the other two trays into place.

If you are working on a gas grill you can place the entire mechanism into your grill now.  If you are using a charcoal grill odds are you will have get your fire started before you can put the Rib-O-Lator into place.  Think of the trays as the grills grates and wait until everything is pre-heated before placing your food onto them.

Mounting it on my Dou was fairly easy. I was initially concerned with the clearance of the coals at the bottom.  I could have had one thin layer of coals across the coal grates but I decided to leave the center of the grates empty and pile the coals along the front and back.  My first cook with it was Moik Balls (bacon wrapped meatballs) and I got considerable flare ups from the bacon.  In hind site I probably should have only used one smaller pile of coals in the back of the grill.  That would have minimized the bottom of the trays exposure to the direct heat.

Learning to cook with this gadget could take some time.  Due to the size of it you really cannot feasibly use a drip pan with this unless you have a very large grill.  Considering you would mainly use it for items that require indirect heat getting the temperature just right to minimize flare-ups will take some figuring out.  I can see using this for things like steaks, burgers or chicken parts. I would remove one of the trays for access with another tray stopped at it lowest point.  Sear each item on the bottom tray then move it up to another tray, after each item is seared replace the tray that I removed and start the rotisserie motor for them to finish cooking.

Is the Rib-O-Lator a must have grill gadget? I am really on the fence about this one; it is very impressive piece when it is running.  It will also allow you to get more use out of your rotisserie then you currently do. I really like the fact that the trays are dishwasher safe as well. In the end I think that this is one of those gadgets if you are willing to invest the time to learn how to use it you will love it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Moink Balls

What is a Moink ball you ask? You will be glad you did, you see a Moink Ball is a bacon wrapped meatball seasoned with a barbecue rub, smoked and then covered in barbecue sauce. Smiling yet? The name Moink Ball is derived from the moo of the cow and the pigs oink I would have just named it balls of joy or something like that. Created as an appetizer the original Moink was made from frozen meatballs, the idea was most likely derived from last years web sensation: the Bacon Explosion. These can be made on any grill using indirect heat and a drip pan the wood smoke can be optional.

I had grand plans to make my own meat balls and stuff the centers with cheese (to be named the chamoink ball possibly moinkeys) but that idea was thwarted when I discovered my butchers home-made meatballs in my refrigerator.

We start by soaking wood chips and some toothpicks in water while you prep the food. Take some of your favorite barbecue rub and pour it onto a plate, roll the meatballs until they are coated to your liking.

Cut strips of bacon in half, lay two halves out in an X shape place a meatball in the center then lay the ends on the top.  Skewer the bacon to the meatball using the afore mentioned toothpick and repeat.  You could also use a kabob skewer and place multiple balls on it.

Set up your grill for indirect heat and preheat, be sure to have a drip pan underneath, bacon grease gets messy.  Once the grill is up to temperature place your moink balls on the grill.  If using smoke you want to go low and slow otherwise set your grill on medium heat. Cook until the bacon is done, depending on the method used this could be 10 minutes or 1.5 hours so keep an eye on them.  I like to put the bacon directly over the flame for a few minutes after it has begun cooking.  This creates flare-ups and a mess but it adds a nice flavor to the bacon.  In the last few minutes of cooking cover the balls with barbecue sauce.  The sauce can be left off at this stage and served on the side for dipping, however they look better when the sauce is cooked in a little.

 They can be served as is as an appetizer but we placed them on a bun to make a moink ball sub.  All I can really say about these is OMG soooo gooood and it’s not just me. I was practically mauled by our dogs when I pulled them off of the grill; they normally just follow me into the house with the food but this made them crazy. The neighbor inhaled the couple I gave him to try in about a minute. If you haven’t noticed I rarely blog about food anymore I try to leave that to the real chefs but when I something like this comes along I have to make the exception.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Char Griller Duo Rotisserie:

I have had my Duo for about a year and a half and with its offset firebox it would do just about any type of cooking that I needed it to do when testing products.  Except for rotisserie cooking that is, we are going to change that today.  I have looked at Char Grillers Rotisserie the price is right but I did not care much for the idea of a 5/16 wide spit rod spanning the entire 48-inch width of the grill.  It may be fine for a single chicken or two but I think it would probably bow pretty badly with minimal weight on it, maybe even drag in the center of the grill.  I really wanted to avoid disassembling and drilling out the grill to add a support bracket in the center as well. Enter our friends over at One Grill, they recently released a 53” long ½” wide spit-rod with Dou in mind and yesterday we received the One Grill version of rotisserie mounting brackets for Char Griller grills.

Step One:  Removing the punch outs in the grill hoods to allow the spit rod to pass through.  This is the part that I dreaded, if it is anything like the firebox punch out it will be a royal pain. First I attempted to punch them out with a screwdriver and hammer, nothing.  Then I grabbed the bottom with pliers and attempted to pull it up like the old style pop can tabs, nothing again.  Finally I had to grind them off with a Dremel tool then pry them off with pliers.  That took about a half an hour from start to finish.

Step Two: Mounting the bushing bracket on the gas side. Open the hood and remove the grate on the left side, remove the top two screws that hold the side-burner shelf on. To get the proper height I used the top holes in the bracket as high as it would go. At this point I discovered the hardware supplied with the brackets are too large to slide into the grills mounting holes, so I ended up reaming them out with my dremel tool. 

Step Three:  Mounting the motor mounting brackets on the charcoal side. Open the hood and remove the right grill grate, if you have the firebox you will need to remove the top screw that attaches it to the grill. Slide the small motor mounting bracket between the firebox or loosely attach the brackets screws and set the rod in place. Place the rod bushing on the handle side of the rod in approximately the correct place.  With the rod resting in both sets of brackets check the hoods clearance, in this case you would like the rod as high as possible without rubbing the hood.  Remember that with the motor in place the rod will be in the center of the hole in the bracket.  For me the best bracket position was the middle set of holes as low as possible. Now attach the large motor mounting bracket to the smaller one, with the firebox I found the best position was the motor pointing to the rear of the grill as shown.  One Grill’s unique 2-piece design has several advantages: First is minimal heat transfer to the motor reducing wear and allowing it to run smoother. Second is that the rotisserie motor can be mounted at different angles.  The drawback to this is that if you have the firebox the brackets will interfere with the lid opening.   Just a small trim of the bracket will allow you to open the firebox most of the way.

Step Four: Tighten it all up, screw the self back into place, and tighten the brackets.  Once everything is back together put the motor in place, insert the rod and make sure the bushing is in the correct place.  Turn the motor on, check for rubbing, open and close the hood and check for clearance.  If all is well we do a quick wash of the rod and forks and prepare to cook.

Time to cook:  I asked the wife to purchase an inexpensive roast of some kind for this, so we are using a 2-3 pound rib roast.  I have never cooked anything but chickens on my other rotisseries and once I discovered Beer Can Chicken I stopped using my rotisserie entirely.  Hesitant to destroy a $30+ piece of meat I hoped my recently found cooking skills would take over to save the day.  I added some Lawreys and pepper to the outside of the roast and decided the best way to skewer it was top to bottom.  I let the beef sit out until it reaches room temperature (an hour or so).  The top had a hard solid piece of fat so I stuck a knife in the approximate center twice making an X, this would be where the spit rod would slide in.  A quick internet search told me that I wanted to keep the grill at about 300 to 350 and cook the roast for around 20 minutes per pound.  Rotisserie cooking is typically indirect; I did not have the correct size drip-pan so I fastened one out of tin-foil, just slightly larger then the roast.

The charcoal chimney is filled (about 3 pounds of coals) and started, now out to the grill take the spit-rod hold and approximate where the first set of forks should mount and put them in place and tighten.  If you were going to uses a nonstick spray on the rod now would be the time. With this long rod there will not be a place to put the meat once it is skewered so it will need to be put into place as son as the meat is skewered.  The charcoal is poured ½ on each side of the charcoal grates and the drip pan is placed in the center.  Both of the grills hoods are opened for easy access. The meat is brought out; with the spit-rod stood on end I skewer the meat, slow and carefully sliding it all the way down to the fork that is in place.  Slide the other fork into place compressing the meat as much as possible and tighten. Lift the entire rod and put it in place on the grill, since this roast is so small the load will not need to be checked for balance. Check the meats position in relationship to the drip pan and adjust the spit fork position accordingly. 

I raised my charcoal tray for the first 5 minutes to get the outside seared (in hindsight I should not have but I have an addiction to searing meats) and then lowered it all the way down. The grill was approaching 400 degrees so I had to prop the hood to keep the temperature down.  I had a few small flare-ups, that is why the temp. was running so high, so I added liquid to the drip pan (Note to self: Do not use the ice cubes from your drink to keep flare-ups down it only makes matters worse).  With the hood propped you could watch the meat turning and the juices running around the outside, it is mesmerizing, and the smell is wonderful.  After the fire was under control I was able to lower the hood and the grill held a 325.  I checked the internal meat temperature after 45 minutes and it was over cooked, with a roast this small it probably should have been checked after 25 minutes.  Ready to remove I turn off the motor, open both hoods put on my insulated food gloves (these are a must for rotisserie cooking) and loosen the end spit fork and pull it away from the meat. Grab the spit rod from the cool side and remove from the motor, drop the loose spit forks onto the grill somewhere where they can cool off.  I place the meat on a plate hold the meat with one hand and pull the rod out.  I set the rod back onto the grill to be cleaned later.

Learn from me and check your temps early and often also the larger the piece of meat the more margin you have for error, bigger is better.  That being said the meat was not dry at all just tough far from inedible. 

Rotisserie cooking is a new skill set to learn if you have already mastered your regular grilling skills it is worth doing.  Once you learn how to use it, it should become a hands off cooking experience for you. 

Notes: A counter balance can be used with this setup, but it only has one setting do to the clearance of the side shelf.  I used a DC rotisserie motor for this, I am convinced that these motors that we sell are better then the cheap AC motors that are available.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo New York

This blog entry is not about grilling it is about our recent trip to the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo New York. I have wanted to take this journey for the last three years and came close to going last year before something came up. 2010 was finally the year it would happen; we live in Ohio about a 4-hour drive from Buffalo so it was not a long trip at all. We left a day early and decided to stay outside of the city about 20 minutes away, I prefer staying out in the suburbs rather then in a city if possible but I digress. Wingfest opened on Saturday at noon, Saturday morning I felt like a kid on Christmas filled with anticipation and wondering what the day would bring (I may love food in an unhealthy way). I had a big dinner the night before to stretch the stomach and didn’t eat that morning.

We left a little after Wingfest had already opened and got there around 1:00 it was a windy 62 degrees but I was comfortable in my shorts. It is held in a minor league baseball stadium right off a main highway so it is easy to find. We get off the highway the stadium is on the left and we pick a parking lot to the right. I thought we were in great shape a parking spot 100 yards from the building and for only $5. Then we walk to the first gate we see and it is closed, they are all closed except for the entrance on the complete opposite side of the stadium, yep, what a great parking spot I got. After dodging the people trying to save our souls (apparently eating chicken wings is now a sin that I must repent for) we finally walked in the building.

Let the chaos begin, instead of using the fields ticket booths they thought it best to just set up folding tables on the side of hallway to sell the tickets to get in, admission $5. Nobody walking in had a clue what was going on causing a major traffic jam, got our tickets and walked 20 feet to the entrance. Security made me toss my bottle of Coke that the local news said to bring (they actually said bring water) while other people carried in folding chairs. The next tables were to purchase your food tickets, $1 per ticket, 2 tickets for 3 wings in a cardboard tray, not to out of line for something like this. Why both the tickets were not sold in the same place is beyond me. There were a few other things in the hallway one of which was a place to sign in if you were from out of town and they gave you a program (the same program posted on the website a week ahead of time). Now to get down to the field where the food is, following the heard through a tunnel and down the stands to a few rickety steps to get to the turf. You need to keep moving or be trampled. We headed toward the center of the field to organize our plan of attack. The booths are set up in a circle with no organized lines and from here all the tents look the same. Apparently none of the vendors have figured out that a sign above the front of the booth is more visible then hanging one inside the tent on the back. You cannot see over the sea of people into the tents from here and people are everywhere it is mayhem.

OK I have set my sights on a tent and I am going in, I break the outer ring of people that are just standing around and there is actually a visible line for food. The people standing around are just eating or plain planning their attack. We get into the line and a young lady welcomes us lets us know what type of wings they have and says that they are from Ohio. That figures drive 4 hours to eat wings I could have gotten at home. Oh well I decided on the Stout flavored wings and they were delicious, cold but tasty. We parked ourselves in a corner to eat our first batch of wings and I heard someone ask “One of each” referring to each flavor of wing. Perfect most vendors were selling 3 different sauces so 1 of each would be my battle cry for the rest of the day.

This is as close to the back of the tents as I would get and I noticed none of these places had cooking equipment. I do not know what was going on, was it the wind? Were all of these wings being cooked in the building and brought out to the vendors? I have no answers but I can tell you every wing I ate was cold, cooked but cold, a few were like they just came out of the fridge.

Back into the crowd for another round, break the circle get the wings and retreat to the center to eat, and repeat. The 3rd booth we visited had an awesome Kansas City sauce and out of the three-dozen or so wings I had that was the only sauce worth mentioning here. The rest were decent but would not stand out from wings that you would get from your local pub. I stumbled upon a blue cheese and celery booth in the center and purchased some to quell the heat of the more fiery wings. Beer and other beverages were also sold in the center for $5 a beer.

Now for the weird stuff: On the local news the morning of the festival I heard of a few things that I just had to try. Chicken wing meatballs, nachos and beef chicken wings so for a change of pace I decided to try a few. First up meatballs, a ground chicken meatball flavored with a wing sauce. What I didn’t know that these were a prepackaged frozen food but I tried them anyway. I ate two of the six meatballs and threw the rest away they were just horrible. Next up Nachos. What I didn’t know was: They were just selling Thurmon Thomas wing sauce flavored nacho cheese. I dipped a couple of chips and it tasted similar to regular nacho cheese with some Franks Red Hot mixed in. The chips were a nice change of pace from all the wings so I finished those. Someone in our group got a piece of pizza from the “Buffalos Best Pizza” tent. I had a bite and it was OK but we have at least 4 better pizza joints that will deliver to our house in Akron. I never did find the beef wings but after our outside the box adventures I am sure that I am better off for it.

After a few hours you begin looking for a place to sit and the only place around appeared to be up in the stands. You would have to fight the flow of people coming down to get up to them. I never did see those people with folding chairs there was no place for them to set them up. I settled for leaning on a garbage can. They have a stage with different things going on: Mrs. Wing, Bobbing for wings, and the wing-eating contest to name a few.

The Conclusion: After reading this entire article you may be surprised at my summary here. As a business trip this was a bust, no one was selling their sauces or even cooking for that matter. As a pleasure trip it was great, even with all the complaints listed in this blog entry you would think it was miserable but I had a blast. I am normally against paying admission to eat or shop but I will make an exception for this one. Wingfest is a great festival concept that is was very poorly executed. I would think that after 8 years they could their act together. This is no place to bring small children who could easily get lost in a crowd; I only saw a few there. For me it was a great fun adventure for a few hours, the massive crowd and lack of seating drives you out fairly quickly. I would love to see more cities do this type of thing with the foods that they are famous for, just imagine a Chicago pizza fair.

Would I go again? Hell yes we are already planning next years trip!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The One Grill Charcoal Chimney

Our friends at One Grill have sent us a couple of their prototype 304 stainless steel charcoal chimneys to test out (it is due do ship in the next month). The first thing you notice about this chimney is its unique inverted V shaped design (patent pending), this is supposed to speed the lighting of your coals by as much as 60%. At the bottom where the paper goes is about as open as you can get, this is to allow as much air in as possible while the coals are lighting. These prototypes are not fitted with the ergonomic non-spin handle that the final production units will be equipped with. One Grill claims that its chimney can light your coals in 1/3 the time as a standard charcoal chimney. If you have followed us at all you know that I am mainly a gas grill man, my reasoning is speed and convenience. If the manufactures claims hold true this could this be the product that changes that.

Just by looking at this chimney my first thought was “won’t this thing clog up when you try to pour charcoal out of it?” So the first thing I did was fill it with Kingsford pack it down and added even more coals. To pack the coals you just bang it down on the bottom a few times and the coals will settle, generally you can get about 10% more charcoal in your chimney this way. Then we pour: all of the coals came tumbling out without a problem so I repeated this test 2 more times pouring a little faster each time and each time it worked perfectly. In fact the narrow opening seems to allow you more control of where your coals go when you pour then an ordinary chimney.

Now for the real test we are testing the One Grill Chimney against my trusty old friend the Steven Raichlen Ultimate Chimney Starter. I think it is only fair to test it against one of the best chimneys on the market. First we counted out 40 Kingsford coals for each chimney, the crumpled 2 full sheets of newspaper for each (I even went as far as to make sure none of the pieces had color printing on them). I stuffed them both, then pulled out 3 small pieces of paper to light on each. Since I could not light them both at the same time I alternated the lighting between the two. When all 6 edges were burning I began the timer. It is important to note here that the large open area on the bottom of the chimney are supposed to help the paper stay lit so it will light every time.

Within 2 minutes the One Grill Chimney looked like a factory smoke stack from the 70's with the smoke was churning out of that thing, while it was just wafting lazily out of the other chimney. As you can see from the image to the left the newspaper is completely burned through already.

At the four-minute mark you could see some of the coals already ashing over on the top layer. From the looks of it the One Grill coals could probably be poured out at about the 6 to 8 minute mark and we could have been cooking within 10 minutes.

I let them go until 12 minutes then dumped them for the photo seen here. The Raichlen chimney seemed to catch up at the end but you can see the sheer amount of un-started coals in both piles.

I figured I would test my theory about cooking in 10 minutes when I grilled my dinner last night. I added a few less coals then in the test to the One Grill chimney and lit it with the side-burner of my Char Griller Dou. The smoke eased up at the 6-minute mark, so I poured it into the grill. The white smoke started up again but it was clear by the 10-minute mark so I was grilling our burgers within 10 minutes. Considering I heat the gas side of my grill for around 7 minutes before using it I am very impressed.

The One Grill chimney was intended for use by competition barbecuer but with the way it is designed I think every serious charcoal guy will throw away his old chimney in favor of this one. The stainless steel shell will not rust out as fast as a normal chimney so at an estimated retail of $39.99 this unit is well worth the few extra bucks. I think the only thing that this item is missing is a catchy name like rocket starter or something.

So now the question is am I ready to get rid of my gas grill yet? Not quite, but as of right now we will be cooking with charcoal at our house a lot more often thanks to this device, it has just made lighting charcoal just to cook a couple of burgers worth while. I sure hope Joe over at One Grill does not expect to get it back anytime soon.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Turboque by Charcoal Companion

The Turboque by Charcoal Companion claims to allow your grill to cook like a convection oven, while using less heat and shortening cooking time. Basically it is a little fan that mounts onto your grills rotisserie mount and blows the hot air and smoke at your food. Before we get into the use of this let me start by saying that the first one of these we opened was defective out of the package. I e-mailed the manufacturer about it and as I write this they have not responded.

The Turboque has it’s own special mounting bracket so we mounted it opposite our rotisserie mount, it fit our Brinkmann without a problem but they provide excessively long screws. Slide 2 C cells into the back and slide the fan onto the mount, an on/off switch is located on the top of the unit. This is designed to be used for indirect cooking mainly for larger items, so we decided cook a beer can chicken. I read the instructions (I really did) and that was my first mistake. We set the grill up with the 2 burners closest to the Turboque on with the grill maintaining 250 degrees and set the chicken up on the far side. A beer can chicken of this size normally cooks for us in 1 hour and 30 minutes so we rotated it after 45 minutes, as per the instructions. After our normal cooking time had passed the chicken was barely cooked. So we turned up the grill to about 325-350 degrees and after about 20 minutes we noticed some progress. The chicken was at a slight angle to the fan and a corner of it was browning well. So after another hour and several rotations our chicken was finally cooked. Because of the slow beginning to the process the skin was rubber, but the meat was tender and juicy.

I guess this kind of works, but I highly recommend you skip this gadget.

If you simply must have it the first thing you need to do is throw out the instructions. The way I see it is if they can’t figure out how to cook with this thing how are you expected to? Start by cooking at maybe a slightly lesser temperature then you normally would and make adjustments from there. My biggest concern would be the manufacturers lack of reaction to our defective one. Really, if they do not answer my e-mail about a problem what are the chances they would answer yours?