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Going from gas to charcoal BBQ !

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I have always been a gas man but have now entered the charcoal world and picked up a Weber 22.5 Gold One Touch Blue kettle.

I'm looking for all you grill masters out there to provide some advise that you believe is fundamental to proper grilling. Also, what should I make as the first meal?
I am totally ready and have the following items ready to go:
1) The grill
2) The chimney starter
3) All Natural Lump Hardwood Charcoal (Maple Leaf Charcoal Brand)

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  1. Congrats! There is not substitute for charcoal grilling. The items you have are fine. My only concern is that, if you're new to charcoal, lump charcoal is not very forgiving. It burns fast, hot and not always consistently. For starters, just get a bag of Kingsford until you get the hang of it.

    The key to making a great steak, whether on the grill or in a pan, is to sear the outside of the meat (cook it to a depth of no more than 2mm) on very high heat and then cook the rest in an "oven" with less heat.

    Once you have your chimney going, spread out the coals so the majority are on one side (hot) and a few to none are on the other (cool). Open all the vents and let the grill get searing hot. Then place the steaks (liberally seasoned with salt and pepper) on the hot side with the grill cover off. They will release from the grill when they're ready to be turned. Once you have both sides seared on all steaks, move them to the cooler side and close the lid, effectively making an oven. Cook them to preferred doneness. That's the basics of it.

    10 Replies
    1. re: hardline_42

      That's some good info hardline. Okay how hot are we talking about here when I sear the steaks? I've seen some videos of ribeyes grilling on top of major flames until they are moved to the indirect heat side. I'm worried of charing the steaks to much. I would imagine that even after you move the steaks over, they still brown or burn from the indirect heat. Should a good steak be chared on the outside and still rare in the center?

      1. re: DomR

        Hot. The rule of thumb is, if you put your hand six inches above the grates and you have to remove it immediately, it's hot enough. Pain thresholds vary, of course.
        You shouldn't be seeing flames while you're cooking, as these will burn your food. They're often caused by poorly cleaned grills and untrimmed cuts of fatty meat.
        Don't worry too much about burning the meat after you sear it. It will only dry out or char if it's too close to the source of heat. Keeping it away from the hot side and closing the vents partway will reduce the temp inside the grill. The idea is to get a nice crust on the outside and keep it moist on the inside. Personally, I prefer mine rare. If you prefer it well done, your grilling license will be revoked on the spot.

        1. re: hardline_42

          Alright I got it now. I like my steak rare too and I agree that grilling licences should be revoked for cooking a piece of meat to well done.

      2. re: hardline_42

        The lump I use, is forgiving. It can burn fast, if I let it (by controlling air flow), always is consistent (or that might be my choice of grill) and burns much cleaner than blue-bag Kingsford.

        BTW, lump, normally, burns much hotter than briquettes, therefor is a staple for cooking steaks.

        1. re: jdmfish

          I agree that lump charcoal is great for high heat grilling, but for a beginner it might not be the best choice, which is why I made the recommendation for briquettes.

          In my experience, lump charcoal lights easier and doesn't leave a sandy mess after it burns, but you have to know what you're doing as far as managing airflow for temp control and burn time. Plus, it's more expensive than briquettes.

          Lump charcoal is the manual transmission of the grilling world and briquettes are your standard slushbox. You can learn to drive with a stick shift same as you can learn to grill with charcoal, but briquettes will give you a chance to master the basics and more easily appreciate the switch to lump later on.

          1. re: hardline_42

            Fair enough - and nice analogy. I tried briquettes and just didn't like the aroma, ash produced, often lack of heat required for some dishes.

            So I just learned how to cook with lump, and absolutely love using it. Sure, there is a slight learning curve, just like any grilling technique, and there will be a few mess ups here and there.

            1. re: jdmfish

              I like hardwood lump for high temps and searing, like a steak. Nice crust and still keep rare inside...Bricquets for something like chicken or fish that needs a little more time.

              Btw, I used a laser thermometer and thelump gets to about 900f depending on air flow but burns quickly. The briquets were about 800f

        2. re: hardline_42

          Excellent advice, indeed, hardline. I've been using charcoal for years and I never thought to do it that way. I've alway spread the coals evenly mainly because I fix more steaks than would fit on just half the grill area. How do you handle that problem?

          1. re: mucho gordo

            You could probably sear them in batches, so long as the coals stay hot, and then remove some charcoal and spread the remains out for the "oven" part. But, honestly, I think you just need a bigger grill.

            1. re: hardline_42

              Approximately how many steaks could one grill using the direct and indirect method on a 22.5 grill? For example how many 8oz strips?

        3. Hardline_42 is right that hardwood charcoal burns very, very hot. You have to be careful with it. I've used it successfully for steaks by making sure they are room temp when they go on the grill, and moving them to the cool side to finish after searing. I've found chicken a little harder, but starting small chicken thighs, etc, wrapped in foil on the cool side till almost cooked then giving them a quick char on the hot side seems to work for me if I'm careful. Fish is very good grilled on hardwood since in most cases the time taken to get a slight char on the outside is the time a steak or filet needs to cook to the proper undoneness inside. Portabello mushrooms with a liberal brushing of olive oil are also terrific, as is corn (I cook it in the husk). Enoy your new primality.

          5 Replies
          1. re: FoodDabbler

            Okay now I'm getting worried. I guess I better buy some cheaper cuts of beef to start off and definitely not host a party until I figure this out. I think I'll stick to leaner cuts because I see some massive flare ups in the future from the dripping fat of ribeyes.

            1. re: DomR

              No need to be worried. Just pay attention to the grill and meat and you'll be good. Routinely check the temp of the steaks your cooking, and always cook my temp, not time.

              I'm part of the "camp" that routinely flips meat, often, instead of flipping once or twice during a cook. I feel the meat comes out moister, and more evenly cooked (if your timing the flips) and flareups are more controlled. I don't often get flareups either.

              By flipping often, your redistributing the juices throughout the meat, instead of letting it come to the top - then when you flip, all the juices hit the coals, and you get flareups. If you flip often, there's minimal "juices" at the top of the meat, thus, when you turn it over, or flip, there isn't much of that fat to leak off and cause flare ups. At least thats the idea behind flipping often.

              When I cook steaks, I cook them right on top of the coals, literally, and have a process similar to something like this -

              25 seconds > flip > 25 seconds > flip > 20 seconds > flip > 20 seconds > 15 seconds > flip > 15 seconds etc. until desired doneness. But keep in mind, grilling on top of 900*-1000* coals, food cooks very quick, thus quick and often flips.

              1. re: jdmfish

                I've always been the type that doesn't like to "fuss" with the meat when it's on the grill, but your logic with regards to flipping it often is interesting. I might give it a try this season and see if I like the results.

                1. re: hardline_42

                  I was the same - until I read about "flipping often" type of cooking. While it does require you to "babysit" the grill, or be near it, to flip it often, the results to us, is worth the "trouble" it may require.

                  And once you perfect it, you can really turn out some killer food.

                2. re: jdmfish

                  Your 900-1000f guesstimate is right on. I used 1 of these

                  http://www.northerntool.com/shop/tool...

                  and got a 900f reading but it was at the grill, on inch or 2 above the coals. Actually local laws don't allow for wood or gas, but didn't enforce it. til last summer. So I bought a MECO electric and a dd wood chunks to get that 900F heat and flame. Took a little practice but I got it down. To further complicate things, In the summer, I cook in the cockpit of a boat..so I have to keep an eye for sparks, hose and fire extinguisher are right there. LOt of work but very much worth it...:)

            2. I agree with everything everyone has said so far. I've been a Weber Kettle guy for many years. I find during "grilling season" in NYC (April-October), I think about meals slightly differently. If I'm going to go to the trouble to light the grill, I want to use it for a while.

              So I try to think about cooking *everything* on the grill. I got a bunch of metal skewers, which are great for grilling veggies, or kebabs, or whatever. It's frustrating to spend 30 minutes getting the grill lit/heated, only to grill a couple of steaks for 7 minutes (or whatever).

              Good things to grill:
              Tomatoes
              Zucchini
              Asparagus
              Eggplant
              Onions
              New Potatoes
              Peppers
              Flat breads
              Peaches
              Mangoes
              etc.

              2 Replies
              1. re: egit

                I'm with you on grilling everything during the months you can (live in Ontario). One of benefits of grilling is not making a mess inside the house. No pots or pans to clean is a good night in my books.

                1. re: egit

                  Tucson has year 'round grilling season :) but +1 on grilling everything once you've got it going. I'll grill stuff that I might use for lunches and such throughout the week.

                2. i live in Ontario too and used a weber kettle for years (year round). I now have a big green egg. There have been some good tips provided. Maple Leaf charcoal is among the best brands of lump there is. After you light the coals and spread them out you should wait for the "bad" smoke to clear. In the kettle this may take about 10 minutes or so. Otherwise your food will take on a nasty smokey flavvor. Someone has already pointed out that lump burns fast and very hot. I suggest that you use more charcoal than you think you need. The great thing about lump charcoal is that you can reuse any unburnt or partialy burt pieces. Temperature control with the kettle is acutually pretty good. I used to adjust the vents at the bottom and always leave the vents on top wide open. Always cook with the lid on. This will prevent flare ups. Eventually you will want to use wood chips for flavor. Applewood is one of my favorites and is widely available. Hope this helps. Happy grilling!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: LJS2

                    Actually you can reuse both briquets and hardwod charcoal. I just spread them out a little & close everything up tight. Especially when you are grilling a steak which doesn't take very long--there is a lot of life left in that charcoal. I usually use a combo or both briquets & lump. And I second the wood chips idea--use them for everything. How about throwing some onions on that grill to go w/ your steak? Don't be intimidated---steaks are pretty easy. If you don't want to mess with your rib-eyes, maybe start with a flank steak (cheaper and less fat). Unless my steaks are really thick I don't move them to the cool side. I just flip them once & time them carefully.

                    1. re: LJS2

                      (hanks for your Great Canadian tips LJS2! I wish I could get my wife to agree on a LGE. One question, do you do the initial sear with the lid off? I read your note about always cook with lid on.

                      1. re: DomR

                        No i always seared with the lid on. The only time the lid comes off is to turn the food or to take it off. Just remeber to have the bottom vents wide open.

                        1. re: DomR

                          I disagree about always leaving the lid on. I don't use a kettle (it's a modified, barrel-style) and cook with different blends of hardwood charcoal, briquettes, and hardwood. I will often sear thick steaks (2 inches or so) with the lid up before moving to the indirect spot and finishing by closing the lid and roasting. I will even completely cook thinner cuts of beef, veal, or pork, as well as fish, with the lid up. Simply put, I find I can maintain greater direct heat when I want it.

                          The bottom line is to find the approach that works best for you for the different flesh you grill. Practice is fun since you always get to eat the results.

                      2. Some other tips based on my experience: (1) Have all prep done and absolutely everything you need at hand, including serving platters, etc. Hardwood grilling is not the time to be rushing back into the house for a plate, or an ingredient, or a tool. (2) Use one of those upper shelf racks (a small rack that sits on the main rack) for better heat control for things that need longer, lower heat. (3) The high heat of hardwood makes it possible to stir fry fast in a small frying pan on the grill. I've found you can do small cubes of vegetables this way. They pick up a nice, low smoky flavor. Just use a pan and a spatula with long handles.