The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Rotisserie Grilling - Part 1

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With the coming of Winter I switch away from direct grilling. Instead I turn towards indirect grilling big roasts or rotisserie grilling. It is a shame many folks don’t try rotisserie grilling. this cooking method results in a moist, evenly cooked roast that is self-basting and low maintenance. While I enjoy rotisserie grilling year round, the self-basting and low maintenance part makes it ideal for winter grilling. At this point I choose not to use my smoker for rotisserie cooking and only burn the charcoal in the Side Firebox. So I will be describing using a rotisserie unit on a gas grill. Much of it will also apply to charcoal grills too. In Part 1 of this blog I will talk about what to look for in terms of equipment to get into rotisserie grilling.

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Rotisserie grilling can be done year round. See section below about using a GFCI outlet.


Which Unit Should I Buy?
Now there is a chance your grill came with a rotisserie unit, in which case you are all set. But if you are in the market for a rotisserie unit, you may have multiple units to choose from. Your grill’s manufacturer may make one specifically for your grill. Additionally one or more third party companies may make a universal type rotisserie that fits various models by various manufacturers. I have owned three different grills and had rotisserie units on all three. Two were the universal type and I bought the Sears model for my last Sears gas grill. Based on this experience I would vote for the model made specifically for your grill.

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The infra red rotisserie mounted on the back wall of my latest gas grill cooks the meat via radiant heat.


Spits:
The two universal units I owned had several issues. First they fit the grill but weren’t necessarily a perfect fit. They used universal mounting brackets with a dozen or more holes to house the pair of screws needed to mount the unit. The extra holes were for other grill models. Ideally you remove the spit rod and the motor when you are done and the brackets stay affixed to your grill. The 3rd party mounting brackets were big enough that leaving them on all of the time interfered with the vinyl grill cover. So I had to mount and unmount them every time I needed to use the rotisserie. If this wasn’t bad enough, the dozen possible screw locations would often be confusing. You could mount the brackets several different ways, but only one was right. With several weeks or months passing in between rotisserie grilling session, I’d have to allow some extra head scratching time.

The second problem was the spit rod for these universal units was not a single rod, but a three piece assembly that you screwed together. For a narrow grill you would use two pieces, a wider grill would use three. These multi-piece rods would sometimes unscrew themselves while the roast was turning. Additionally where the rod was made for various grills it isn’t necessarily the ideal length for your particular grill. On my grill 2 sections were just a bit too short and 3 were too long, and stuck out almost a foot more than it needed to. This effectively prevented the use of the side shelf. My custom unit has a one piece spit which doesn’t unscrew itself and is the exact length it needs to be to fit my grill.

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With the Sears Rotisserie unit custom made for my grill the installation was simple. The rod is exactly the right length for my grill and allows the use of the shelves on both ends of the grill. You can see the handle of the spit protruding a mere 5 inches on the right side.



Another thing to look for is a heavy duty spit. If the rotisserie lists a maximum weight, make sure it can accommodate the biggest roast you plan to make. Actually one large roast may not be the heaviest items you cook on your rotisserie, You may also want to make multiple items such as 2 or 3 whole chickens at 5 pounds (2.25 kg) a piece. Your rotisserie and it’s motor need to be able to handle 15 pound (6.75 kg) loads. By the way if you plan to make multiple items, make sure you buy extra forks to hold the items on your rotisserie. Also some spits have counterweights to help balance an uneven load. Many of the items you will cook on the rotisserie may be roasts tied into a cylindrical shape. These present a nice balanced load. Other pieces of meat may not be evenly shaped. The counterweight can help balance this load. I will talk about the implications of an uneven load further when I discuss motors.

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Rotisserie grilling is so good you’ll probably want to cook multiple birds. Make sure the spit can take the weight, buy a second set of spit forks & make sure the back burner (if present) is wide enough to do it..


Motors:
A heavy duty or high weight rated rotisserie is going most likely have a larger motor. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have more power than you need. A larger motor will not be straining as much and in theory should last longer. The motors extra horsepower and torque can help compensate for an unbalanced load. A weak motor may have difficulty turning an unbalanced load. When the motor is trying to turn the heavy part of the load uphill it may slow down. When the heavy part of the load is going downhill, it may make the motor turn faster. Several things can happen with this slow down/speed up. First the meat may not cook as evenly. Second this slow down speed up tends to be jerky, which can result in throwing off some of the melting fat on the surface of the roast. This fat helps baste the meat and loosing some of it may result in a less moist roast.

Lastly this jerky motion can accelerate the unscrewing of the multi-piece spit. To explain this further, the motors on the third party rotisserie units I’ve owned spin either clockwise or counterclockwise. Every time you throw the switch the motor spins in a different direction. To avoid the spit unscrewing you must make sure the motor is spinning clockwise so any twisting action will tighten, not loosen the connections. This means when you stop the motor to say take a temperature reading, you must start it up, stop it and then restart it . If you just restart the motor it is now spinning counterclockwise. You must start it up a second time to get it back to spinning in a clockwise direction. If you forget and the spit unscrews the meat can fall onto the grill grate stopping its rotation. Several times I forgot to get the motor spinning in the right direction and had the spit start unscrewing. While I caught it in time, it was close call.

I mentioned I don’t own a rotisserie unit for m smoker. The Char-Griller brand rotisserie unit for my Char-Griller smoker has a nice feature I will mention. It has the ability to use 120V AC power and batteries. This could prove handy if you are taking your grilling on the road or if a sudden thunderstorm leaves you without electricity. I haven’t seem any other unit with this particular feature, but if you are choosing between two units and one has this feature it could come in handy. So far I haven’t been faced with what to do if the lights went out - yet.

What Else Do I Need?
Not much really, and many of these other items are things you may already have.

Protected Power Source - First you will need a power source. You should have a circuit or an outlet protected with a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) to avoid any shock hazards. A GFCI detects when current in a circuit tries to flow through something other than the wires, oh say like a metal grill to your body. Under the right conditions even a small amount of electrical current flowing through you body can kill you. GFCI outlets or circuits are required in new construction for exterior outlets or outlets around a water source. If you don’t have one for your outside outlets, you should get one. These outlets can be recognized because they have a test and a reset button on the outlet. If there is a ground fault, the outlet switches off. When the problem is corrected you can use the rest button to reactivate the outlet.

Heavy Duty Extension Cord - The other electrical related must-have is a heavy duty extension cord. Thin wire looses more of the load as heat than a thicker wire. The longer the cord, the thicker the wire you should use. Given a choice go with the thicker wire: You will have less voltage loss and your motor will run cooler and at the proper speed. Just to be confusing: Wire size is measured in gauge. A heavier wire is a smaller gauge number. A 12GA wire is a thicker wire than 14GA.

If the rotisserie motor uses a 3-prong grounded cord you will need to have a 3-prong extension cord. This has been the case will all of my rotisserie units.
NEVER use one of those cheater plugs that converts from 3-prong to 2 prong plug with a short green ground wire. People never attach the green ground wire to a proper ground like they are supposed to. Plus there really isn’t going to be a proper ground out near your grill even if you did want to do the right thing. When you are going to be playing with electricity, particularly outdoors, DON’T mess around.

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You should always use a drip pan, but if your rotisserie roast calls for a mop, you will definitely want a drip pan.


Drip Pan -
You will need a drip pan. These can be disposable aluminum pans or a stainless steel or cast iron model. Where my gas grill has the rotisserie unit on the back wall, I can use a simple aluminum drip pan. It is just catching dripping fat and not also holding water. With my other gas grills you used the main burners to cook with. The setup was you removed the grill grates and installed a water filled drip pan over the burners and briquettes and under the roast. This turned it into more of a indirect cook and also kept the dripping fat from causing flare ups. You should check the directions for your grill for the proper setup to do rotisserie grilling.


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On my latest grill if I plan to keep the drippings I use my cast iron roast pan. I’ve had disposable aluminum pans leak.


I originally used to use aluminum drip pans but had several of these spring leaks and lose their water towards the end of a long session. I bought a metal roast pan that I used exclusively for this purpose. This way I didn’t care that it got scorched from the flames. Even on my infra-red model I sometimes use the heavier non-disposable variety drip pan. If I plan to use the pan drippings for gravy there is no sense risking a leak, not to mention making the grill grates messy.

Instant Read Thermometer -
Used to check the roast for doneness. You really should already have one of these for your other cooking tasks. If you don’t, now is the time to get one. With this type of thermometer you can quickly take readings in several places. Do not leave an instant read thermometer in the meat while cooking, they will be damaged.

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Meat thermometer tied onto to narrow roast. This rarely works well, have an instant read thermometer handy. Also note the shallow aluminum drip pan to catch drippings.


Meat Thermometer (Optional) - Now some recipes call to use a meat thermometer which you leave in the meat and tie off to the spit to keep it in place. I have tried this and have had problems with smaller roasts. With a big roast where you can get most of the probe in the meat you are usually OK. In fact you don’t even need to tie the thermometer off. For smaller roasts you often have to angle the thermometer in because the spit interferes with the dial. Plus you don’t have much of the probe in the meat, you must tie it off to keep it from shaking free. For me one of two things has always happened. The thermometer still twists very loose or it twists enough loose to affect the temperature reading. I bought a dedicated meat thermometer for the grill so if the exposed surfaces got somewhat tarnished with smoke, I didn’t sweat it. I’d thoroughly clean the probe and the glass, but the rest of the body I could be less fussy about. But the reality is I haven’t had good luck with using a meat thermometer on the rotisserie. For stationary roasts I use my remote read thermometers, so for me I wouldn’t need this item. If you do buy one still double check with the instant read unit.


Oven Thermometer (Optional) - For my current gas grill with the infra red rotisserie burner I don’t need this item, which is why listed it as optional. If you are using your regular burners and setting up an indirect cook this is a smart idea. The thermometer in the lid of your grill is not an accurate gauge of temperature for several reasons. To get a more accurate reading I used an oven thermometer the type intended to sit on or better yet hang off the your oven rack. I would place this inside the grill at about the height of the meat and could keep an accurate eye on the temperatures. These are not typically instant read, so give them time to adjust to temperature changes and don’t keep the lid open very long when you are checking them.

Wood Chips or Chunks (Optional) - My grill has a smoker drawer and I am able to use wood chips to add a touch of smoke to my rotisserie grilled items. With a charcoal grill or smoker you could mix in wood chunks with your coals. If your gas grill does not have a smoker drawer you can buy a smoker box that is typically a stainless steel perforated box that holds soaked wood chips. The stainless steel help protect the box from corrosion from the soaked wood chips. You put the box on top of the lava rocks or briquets. You can also make a small pouch out of aluminum foil. Double wrap some soaked wood chips in aluminum foil, folding over the edges to make a rolled seam. Puncture the foil with a phillips screw driver or ballpoint pen.

Lid Shim (Optional) - For my older grills without the dedicated rotisserie burner I had a non combustible wedge with notches in it I would use to prop up the grill lid a bit to keep the temperatures where I wanted them. Often on real hot days it was hard to keep the temps low enough. The sun beating down on the lid added to the internal temperature and I’d have to dial the burners down so low I was worried about them blowing out. With the lid shimmed a bit I could also use a flashlight to help me peer in at the oven thermometer.

What’s Next?
With the discussion of equipment wrapped up, I will discuss what I have learned so far in Part 2 of Rotisserie Grilling

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SOME RELATED LINKS:
Here are the links for the other two parts in this series:
  ROTISSERIE GRILLING - PART 2 Blog Entry
  ROTISSERIE GRILLING - PART 3 Blog Entry


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