Which batch of potatoes looks easier to flip to you? This is where a grill basket shines.
So why use a grill basket? This past week I grilled both potato wedges and sweet potato wedges. The potato wedges were barely doable. Turning 36 wedges in a reasonable amount of time is a stretch. I had to turn them twice, plus put them on and take them off the grill. The sweet potato wedges were the last straw. They needed to be placed on the grill, turned after 5 minutes, turned and glazed after 10 minutes and turned 30 seconds after the glaze was applied and glazed and removed after another 30 seconds. There were around 30 wedges and I tried using a spatula as well as tongs. Neither was up to the task of flipping all of the wedges in under 30 seconds. My compromise: I glazed the second side immediately after pulling them from the grill. The sweet potatoes were still hot but they wouldn’t burn because I couldn’t turn them fast enough. Believe me a sweet honey glaze will burn over high heat too. The only way I knew to pull this off was using a grill basket where you do them all at once.
The Sur la Table flexible wire grill basket had a much bigger usable area than the other grill baskets I own. Plus this one allows you to cook foods of varying thickness.
While a grill basket was the obvious solution none of the grill baskets I had were up to the task. The first problem was they were too small, I own two each of three different types of grill baskets and the biggest was about 11” (6 cm) square. With this sized basket one was too small and two were too big and would not allow me to grill the main courses while the potatoes were baking. I checked Willian-Sonoma’s website first, since they were my source for several well made grill pans I recently purchased ( see Things Really Panned Out blog entry). Not being successful there, I did a Google search for grill pans. The Sur La Table grill pans were one of the top results. Sur La Table has a retail outlet about 45 minutes away and this grill basket looked promising, but I had to see it in person to answer several questions.
The flexible grids allow you to put loose items of various thickness in the same grill basket.
So what attracted me to this grill basket? First the size of the basket: 16” x 11” (8.8 cm x 6 cm) of useable area compared to 10”x10” (25 cm x 25 cm) for the other baskets I already owned. The amount of potatoes I typically grill is always too big for one basket and two are only 2/3 filled. This basket was roomy enough to hold everything at once. The only problem here was the website didn’t give this information but only gave the overall size including the handle. I needed to see it in person to judge the usable area relative to what I needed. The second potential attraction was the flexible nature of the mesh that holds the food. The other grill baskets I own use a regularly spaced series of rigid wire grid about 1/16” (1.5 mm) thick. This basket uses a series of interconnected bent metal grids made of thin flexible metal which allow foods of differing thickness to be secured simultaneously. I needed to see this grid design in person to judge whether the spacing would work for me with the items I needed to secure. So it was off to Sur La Table to investigate these grill baskets. Cutting to the chase: I will just say that when I saw them in the store I grabbed two. But like other things in life nothing is perfect.
Like most things in life this basket is not perfect. Why oh why do we have a wood handle? The metal which wraps around the outside of the wood handle may get hot so take care. The little rings that tie the flexible grids together look like a potential failure point..
So what were my dislikes? The first I could see right from the pictures on the web site: The “fine” rosewood handles. The rest of the piece is stainless steel and in theory this makes it dishwasher safe. But the wood sort of rules out putting it in the dishwasher. Why do people make fancy looking wooden grill accessories? Sur la Table is certainly not alone in this, but I find it maddening. I use my grill tools to grill with, not to hang up in some sort of display intended to impress people that I have fancy looking grill tools. I don’t need or want wood, it is hard to maintain and means the tool can’t be washed. I realize wood is an insulator, but so are other materials that are easier to clean and then the tool may end up dishwasher safe. My second dislike I didn’t realize until cleanup time. It is a pain to clean. The direction simply say” Clean as you would any other stainless steel utensil”. My other stainless steel utensils go in the dishwasher, but I won’t go there again. I sprayed the grids with PAM and still had a lot of food stuck on them. I soaked them in warm water and soap in a big bin and there was still cleaning left to do. What they don’t mention is the flexible nature of the grid makes it tough to clean. The grids are thin and flexible and this also made them difficult to scrub. I ended up flipping a 1/2 sheet pan upside down so the grid would lie flat on the metal. I used one hand to help hold down the flexible grid and the other to rub with a sponge. The grids still tried to wiggle around and I was a little worried some little stainless steel rings that tie the flexible grids together may be suspect. Time will tell. So I guess a third concern might be the build quality. To make it flexible the grids had to be skinny. The grids are connected to one another with little stainless steel wire rings which may pull apart over time. Since Sur La Table doesn’t carry cheap product lines I bet with my wallet they wouldn’t put their name on something that wouldn’t hold up. In fact I placed that bet twice. I picked up two of these in case I was making something like steak tips and fries where I needed a grill basket for both my main course and side dish and one of these roomy baskets couldn’t hold everything.
The grill basket made this cook easy. The time I would have wasted flipping thirty potato wedges could be spent turning these Cuban cheeseburgers, then topping them with a slice of ham & then cheese towards the end. Both the burgers & the potatoes turned out great!
So how did they work? In a word great. They held all of the potato spears easily and while a few shifted positions when I flipped the basket, but none fell out. I had some concerns because the handle had a metal bar on the sides which wrapped around 3 sides of the wood. I was wondering if this was going to add insult to the injury of the wood handle by getting hot enough you still needed to wear gloves. Despite grilling it on high heat, the metal did not get hot enough to burn my hands. If you get one of these do keep an eye on it, one test is certainly not conclusive. The other thing I need to do was shim up the back of the basket. This is more due to the nature of my grill than these baskets. My grill has a raised front edge which is about 1 1/2” (3.75 cm) higher than the grill grates. It helps keep food from sliding or rolling off the grill, but something like this with a handle ends up not lying flat. The back edge of the basket lies flat, but the front edge is 1 1/2” (3.75 cm) up in the air of the grill grate. This can cause uneven cooking. I can turn them sideways, but it might burn the wood handle or worse yet light it on fire. Plus in this specific case I grilled burgers while the potatoes were cooking and the handle would have been in the way. I used my wide metal skewers to shim the back end and hold it up in the air. Some of the pieces nearest the skewers burned where they were closet to the skewers. I think the metal skewers radiated their heat onto these nearby pieces. So I am currently in search of a better shim, one that won’t burn and won’t pass the heat of the grill off to the adjacent food.
This will be the test. Thirty plus sweet potato wedges need to be coated with a honey lime glaze, grilled for 30 seconds & while this is happening you need to glaze the second side. Then you need to turn & grill this side for 30 seconds. Not doable by hand, but should be in a grill basket.
I am looking forward to this weekend where I am making HONEY-LIME SWEET POTATOES which have 4 flips, with the last two to occur within 30 seconds. These two fast flips are where you apply a sugary glaze that will quickly burn. So you apply it to each side and grill for a final 30 seconds. Now I don’t care if you are the fastest tongs in the West, you can’t flip 32 sweet potatoes and glaze them in 30 seconds. Having the sweet potatoes in a grid should allow me to paint them quickly with the honey-lime glaze. I will do an update in the future to comment on the longevity of this tool and add any other tips and tricks I may have picked up along the way. Below is the link to the web page on the Sur La Table web site for this Flexible Grill basket. Since this may change over time I will also put the link to their web site’s home page. They are only in about 12 states but if they have a brick and mortar store in your area you should go check them out. Don’t dismiss them as just like Williams-Sonoma, they are similar but different. Sur La Table seems to have more product and is deeper in some of the product categories. Plus the product spans a wider price range. They each carry products the other doesn’t, which is how I ended up with these flexible grill baskets to begin with.