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

Back in the Saddle

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I have just ended my longest time away from the grill or smoker in over five years. Unlike prior times, where it might have been caused by the bad weather or the season of the year, this drought’s cause was man made. Things got quite busy in work and I was putting in overtime at night and on the weekends to make sure we met our deadlines.

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The Weber Art of Grilling Recipe Card Deck

While I was away from the grill a couple related things happened. The first was I was able to secure a steady source of DuraFlame charcoal. A friend suggested making an arrangement with a local supermarket to get some in for me on a regular basis, and I was able to do just that. The extra money from my overtime also helped accessorize a new laptop. This laptop which runs the iWeb software used for this website, is much faster than it’s predecessor. So I wasn’t totally away from my hobby. I will say it wasn’t until I started going through the Saturday morning routine of a 7:00 AM run to the supermarket, then a stop for propane followed by starting the prep; that I realized how much I missed all of this.

Four simple ingredients for the fries and three for the ketchup make for a quick and easy prep

For my return to grilling and smoking, I wanted to start off simple. I had been given a recipe card deck called the Weber Art of Grilling, which had recipes on flashcard sized cardboard cards. The recipes are on one side and a picture is on the other. There were several recipes I was longing to try. The one I selected was HAND CUT FRENCH FRIES w/ SPICY KETCHUP. This recipe was done on the gas grill and took around 15 minutes to prep and about the same to cook. I really didn’t want to deal with trying out a new recipe while cooking other food on the same grill. I decided to make smoked hot dogs to accompany the fries. This was the perfect low maintenance smoke and allowed me to focus on the gas grill. You get the smoker up to 300 (150 C), toss on the hot dogs and cook for an hour. The only other thing I do is rotate the two rows of hot dogs 180 degrees, so the ones closest to

Having the hot dogs on a non stick perforated grate makes for easy on and off the grill. A 180 degree turn allows the hot dogs to cook evenly

The side firebox are replaced with the row that was farther away. This assures they are all cooked to the same degree of doneness. The nice thing about the smoked hot dogs is a little more or less time on the smoker doesn’t hurt them a bit. This was perfect where I didn’t know precisely how long the fries would take on my grill, particularly in light of the cool weather.

Once the hot dogs were on the smoker, I lit the gas grill. I wanted to give it a good 30 minutes to heat up in the cool temperatures we had. For the first run through of this recipe, I wanted to make sure the grill was fully heated before starting. It’s one thing to guess on the time for something you’ve done before, but it’s totally different when you don’t even have a benchmark to go from. While the grill was heating, I went in to start the prep for the fries. I made the so called “Spicy” Ketchup first. This was a doctored ketchup consisting of ketchup, balsamic vinegar and some chili sauce. I say so called spicy since it only had a little more of a kick than regular ketchup. With the ketchup out of the way it was time to make the hand cut fries.

The “Spicy” Ketchup is ready

The fries are ready to toss and go on the grill

I cut two Russet potatoes into 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick slices and then these slices were cut into 1/4 inch strips (0.66 cm). This recipe made no mention of a grill basket and instead discussed putting the fries perpendicular to the grate so they wouldn’t fall through. One of the first unwritten rules of grilling is: “If something can fall through the grill grate it will-no matter how careful you are”. When I saw all those sliced up fries, I realized it would take me longer to flip them than it took to actually cook them. And that was only if they didn’t stick at all to the grill. I just knew that as I was turning the last of them, I’d be burning the second side of the first ones I’d turned. Not to mention all the fries that would fall through the grill. So the solution seemed to be my grill baskets which traps small pieces between two grill grates tied together by a hinge. There is a long handle used to flip them over. Using the two baskets I could flip the fries in one, well two moves. There was only one problem: The baskets have one direction grates. Horizontal on the bottom, vertical on the top. The fries would drop right through no matter what I did. A few moments head scratching and I realized I could put them at a 45 degree angle. This worked but made things tight as I couldn’t fit as many fries when they were angled. A few fries still found their way out of the basket. I need to find a grill basket with a 2-way grate.

The wide single direction grates caused me to get creative and turn the fries 45 degrees. This worked but used up more space

The fries were placed in a medium bowl and I added EVOO, kosher salt, black pepper and minced garlic. I placed a plate over the bowl and tossed them to to blend the ingredients. It took a while to mix everything up completely. I decided next time I should add the ingredients first, then the fries. It might make them blend faster. It was off to the grill with them. At the grill I discovered the second problem with my grill basket: the handles. My grill has the grates recessed down an inch (2.5 cm) or so. This is good because it traps the food so you can’t accidentally push it off the grill when you are trying to flip it with a spatula. The bad news here was the handles served to hold the front of the basket off the grill an inch higher than the back. This meant the fries closer to the front of the grill were a little more cooked than those at the rear. I need to find a better solution for this.

The fries are ready to come off the grill

The fries were to be cooked for five minutes per side with the lid down under medium heat. The fries weren’t as far along as the recipe picture after the five minutes, so I gave them another two minutes. The grill baskets did indeed make for an easy flip. A few fries escaped, but I finished these directly on the grill and used them as my test samples. One of the advantages of a 6 burner grill is lots of surface area and the ability to have up to three different temperature zones. For this meal I had three burners on medium and on high. When it came time to finish the fries off for another minute per side on high, it was easy. They just moved over to the other side of the grill. This last phase was to be done with the lid up. This was the perfect time to toast the hot dog buns on the freed up medium zone fire.

What I was shooting for

What I got

Everything turned out very good. These fries are definitely worth doing again. I will need to get new baskets before I make this again. I may or may not make the “spicy” ketchup again. It had a bit more of a kick than regular ketchup, but I’d hardly call it spicy. I think next time I think I may try one of the ketchup recipes found in Steven Raichlen’s Sauces, Rubs & Marinades. This was definitely a good way to get back into grilling. I was able to test out my grilles before they are needed for an important meal. I got to try a new recipe out. By making it with the easy to do Smoked Hot Dogs, I was able to concentrate on learning the new item while the hot dogs took care of themselves.

A tasty return to grilling. The fries were nice and crispy and spicy

Now that I am back at it, I plan to smoke a turkey next Sunday for Easter. Having done this a number of times now, I am happy to say it is a no-stress cook for me. I remember how nervous I was the first time I grilled or smoked a turkey. Now I think no more of doing this than hamburgers or hot dogs. That is a nice feeling and I’ll just get to enjoy the time spent. Next week I will also start the brining process for a brisket which will be ready to smoke in two weeks. It sure is great to be back at it again.


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