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The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke


Getting to Know Your Grill

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Hello Grill, I’m...
If you don’t want your grills looking like the ones in the picture above-covered and unused half the year-it pays to get to know your grill. What you learn about your grills in good weather, will allow you to extend the grilling season almost year round. Now the people that do competition cooking learn every nuance of their grills. You don’t have to go to that extreme but a little knowledge goes a long way.
Start with learning how long it takes your grill to heat up. This is important to know at any time of the year. If you are trying to hit a certain schedule, you’ll need to factor in warm up time. My gas grill takes just under 15 minutes in good weather. In the extreme cold it takes 20-25 minutes, and the burners need to be set higher than for summer.  Knowing this allows me to light it  in a timely manner. My smoker takes about 45 minutes and about two dozen lit coals to come up to 225 degrees (110 C) in good weather. In single digit temps it takes an hour and about thirty lit coals. Small things but good to remember when you are planning a meal.
Next learn the idiosyncrasies of your grill. Every grill has hot spots and cool spots. You’ll notice this when you are cooking large amounts of the same type of food. Some items may take longer and others cook up faster. My latest gas grill has fairly even heat compared to others I have owned. But even it has a some areas near the outside or under the smoker box that run cool. You are going to have to deal with these areas, why not learn to take advantage of them? If you know where a cooler area is, you can use it to land a piece of meat that was cooking up to fast. If you have pieces of different sizes you can put the small fast cooking pieces in the cooler area. If you have a lot of pieces on at once you may need to rotate pieces on and off these hotspots/cool zones to even out their cooking. So as your dealing with these areas remember where they are and take advantage of them.
On my smoker there are hot and cold areas as well. There is a definite hotspot near the opening to the side firebox (SFB). The end away from the SFB is the coolest. The middle of the grill is where I put most items. Even in the middle with a large flat piece of meat I may rotate it  180 degrees to even out the temps. Sometimes I will put a remote temperature probe in each side to check this. If the temps are within several degrees of one another I will skip rotating the meat. Now on tall pieces of meat like a turkey, I flip it left to right AND top for bottom to even out the temps. This was recommended in several smoking books I own and you can see in this picture the difference in color when I brought the turkey inside to flip it.

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I’ve started making smoked baked potatoes with my meals and I use the temperature zones to slow down or speed up the process. I start with the potatoes behind the meat. If the meat is going faster than expected I can move the potatoes to the cool end of the main chamber. If I need to speed them up they go to the hot end near the SFB. I still need to experiment to see how things cook up on the back shelf.

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Another thing that is important to learn is how long the grill takes to recover when you open the lid. This is good to know in warm weather and is ESSENTIAL to know in the cold. In my cooking logs (See KEEPING A COOKING LOG blog entry) I note when I open the lid to mop or turn the meat. I also note how far the temps dropped and how long it took to recover. Cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving in the snow, I lost 100 degrees (55 C) lifting the lid for 30 seconds.. So as the weather gets colder start taking more and better notes. If you need to mop 6 times and it takes 15 minutes at the current air temperature to recover, that will add up to 90 minutes to your cooking time. So as you are experiencing these things, write them down in your log or on a piece of paper. Next time you’ll know what to expect.
A final important thing to note is your fuel consumption. This will help you make sure you have enough  on hand. Nothing worse than running out midway through a cook. Cooking a roast indirectly in the winter you can always finish it in the oven, but you don’t want to do that.
Two Winters ago I started learning what I could do with my gas grill. I kept cooking in colder and colder temperatures to learn when I had to stop doing direct and switch to indirect cooking for the winter. Then I kept pushing the envelope with cold temperatures and indirect cooking. With no wind, I now know I can cook in most any temperature, provided I have a good supply of propane. This winter I’ve been doing the same with the Smoker. The results are similar. As long as there is no wind and I don’t mind using more charcoal I’m good into at least the single digits.
Start learning and jotting down notes about your grills performance.  If you do, your grill won’t look the ones at the top of this page-covered and out of commission for the season. I noted in an earlier blog entry that the three best meals to come off my grill or smoker came when the temps were below freezing.
“Knowledge is Power”

Addendum 2009

I discovered in the winter of 2008/2009 that some of my prior ASSumptions about winter direct grilling were wrong. Turns out with my current grill I CAN direct grill in the cold weather. The information in this blog entry still applies for indirect or rotisserie grilling in the winter.. But you may also find your grill is up to the task of turning out direct grilled food year round. There is one good way to find out. Here are some links for some of my recent blogs which describe what became my on going winter grilling experiment. You might want to start with my Direct Grilling in the Winter??? blog where I describe why I think my current grill can still put out enough heat in the winter.

  HOT DOG Blog Entry


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