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

Grill Refurb - Pt 3 - I am a Genius

The biggest event happening around here this year is my decision to refurbish, rather than replace my current gas grill. While the main driving force behind repair vs. replace was economic realities, it turns out that without really knowing it I made an even smarter decision than I thought. I’ve already written two blogs on the actual refurbishing operation. This blog will focus on some realizations I have come to since making the repairs. It turns out I may have been a lot smarter than I knew at the time.

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These pictures from a breakfast session on the grill show it’s versatility. The center grill grate has been removed for the modular drop-in cast iron griddle and I have a 3 zone fire going with medium high on the left grate, medium at the griddle & medium low on the right grate.

Let’s face it: With work being relatively dead this year there was zero money around for a new gas grill. Sure the thought of getting some more use out of my old friend was appealing. However it wasn’t until I started using a couple of the accessories for this grill and started seriously looking at what was out there, that I realized just how good a decision this was. Recently my brother asked for some help replacing his old gas grill. His old gas grill was actually the same model I had before I bought my current Kenmore Elite. My parents had bought a grill just like mine old one and then hadn’t really used it too much. They gave it to my brother in practically new condition about 5 years ago. Even when new it suffered from uneven cooking and didn’t work too well once the weather started turning colder. He asked me what I thought of a Char-Broil Red as a replacement model. It used a relatively new infra red cooking technology where the burners were under a metal screen which got heated to glowing red and that is what cooked the food. The bonuses were said to be no flare ups and high temps for great searing. This new technology piqued my interest so I started doing some research.

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The extra real estate on a 6 burner grill allows you to cook lots of food without crowding.

To be honest as soon as I heard the Char Broil brand I didn’t think it could be a very good grill. To me they were the Yugo of grills. But it was always possible they were trying to make a move into the area of mid-priced grills. That is one of the sad realities I seem to be facing: There really are no good quality mid-priced grills anymore. My vintage Kenmore Elite ca 2003 was the last time such a product still existed. When stainless steel prices went through the roof, grill manufactures either cheapened the grills or raised their prices like Weber did to cover the extra cost of materials. Most of them cheapened the grills by using inferior grade stainless or painted metal in place of better grade stainless. To help with the cost many manufacturers started using plastic in place of painted metal. Poking around the internet and reading reviews of the Char Broil Red soon confirmed my earlier opinions about Char Broil. Both professional and owner reviews questioned the build quality. Some mentioned the exterior stainless pieces looked on the verge of rusting straight out of the box. The folks that had owned it for more than a month or so were posting reviews saying the “stainless steel” shield over the burners was rusting out in less than a season of grilling. Worse yet this wasn’t covered by warrantee. Another telling sign was that even though the grill was about 2 years old the most frequently ordered “accessory” on Amazon was actually not an accessory, but a replacement part - the stainless steel grill screen at around $80 a pop. By comparison my grill is 7 years old and there is not a sign of exterior rust anywhere to be found. The interior parts I replaced lasted 7 years. My advice to my brother was don’t buy it no matter how good a sale price you can get. His research had brought him to the same conclusion.

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These pictures taken yesterday (left) & about a month ago (right) show that 7 years later the exterior of my grill is rust free - I doubt many of the “stainless steel” beauties sold today will look this good in 7 years. BTW what looks like rust on the underside of the grill lid is actually smoke stains from using the smoker drawer.

It was a recent visit to Lowes that really opened my eyes as to just how bad things had gotten. I’d already been to Sears earlier this year and found the Kenmore Elite line was a shadow of it’s former self. I was stuck waiting around for someone in Lowes, so I visited the grill department to check out the Char Broil Red in the flesh, plus the other grills. The first thing that struck me was how thin and flimsy the stainless had gotten. Lifting the lid of the grills offered little to no resistance due to the flimsy and light metal used. The only grills with any heft left to the covers was the Weber’s. The other thing you notice when you put the lid down is the sound they make. My current grill makes a thud with a tiny bit of metallic sounding echo. These grills, the Weber excepted, make a very hollow tinny sound with lots of reverberation from the thin metal. The Weber had some sort of pad that prevented the lid from making a sound when you closed it. Rapping my knuckles on the metal of the lid showed it was more substantial than the other grills on display. Many of the manufacturers also seemed more concerned with providing useless bells and whistles that looked good on the sales floor, but were of little to no use out in the real world. Built in lights that were so dim as to be useless. Glow in the dark knobs. If the lights on the same grill worked why do you need the knobs to glow?

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The triangular shaped bars of the grill grate allow you to flip the grates to suit the meal. For a steak you orient the grates so one of the sides of the triangular shaped bars is facing up. This gives you a broad surface for a great sear Non of the grills I saw this summer (other than some Char Griller models) offer these massive grates. Now everything is a hollow section.

The next big disappointment was the grill grates. My KE has very heavy porcelain enamel coated cast iron grill grates. They are triangular shaped with 3/8” faces to the triangles. The faces are actually slightly curved and the corners are radiussed so they don’t come to a sharp point. They are also reversible. For items that you want a good sear on, you place the grid in so the flat face of one of the triangular sides faces up. For items you are worried about sticking, such as fish, you flip the grates over so the tip of the triangle is all that is in contact with the food. You certainly can’t do that with any of the grills now because most of them have gone to hollow sections. Even the Webers are a hollow c - shaped cross section. The real cheap grills are simply thin wires. The medium and higher priced grills, with the exception of the Char Grillers, were hollow sections. Most of the Char Grillers still used a cast iron grate, but even they have switched to cheaper hollow sections on a few models. These hollow sections aren’t going to hold the heat as well and give you a nice sear. Plus none of these hollow sections are as wide as the solid bars on my current grill grates. One way you can tell is to pick up these grill grates with one hand. The ones with the hollow cross sections (everything but the Char Griller’s) can easily be picked up with one hand. My current grates can be picked up with one hand, but not easily. If you are not careful about where exactly you grab it you can easily strain your wrist.

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For items like fish you flip the grates over so the points of the triangular shaped bars are in contact with the food. Less area in contact with the food means less chance of sticking. While the grill marks aren’t as good as the steak in the picture above, they still aren’t bad.

The last thing I noticed is “less is more” is prevalent. You get less of the actual useful features for more money. Grill grates are getting thinner bars that are spread farther apart. Or if the bars are the same width, they use one or two less of them per grate section. Another thing I noticed was there were no 6 burner grills on display at this Lowes. The grills that were wide enough to have been 6 burner grills were now 5 burners. To me that is just silly. With 3 or 6 burners it is easy to do a 3-zone fire, 5 burners just makes no sense at all to me at all from the users side. From the manufacturers sided one less burner in the same sized grill saves a few bucks, but at cost I can’t imagine it being a whole lot. This seems like it was driven by a bean counter who has never actually used a 6 burner grill before. Now I am not 100 percent sure on this last one, but it looks like even Weber might be guilty of giving you less too. It sure seems like they eliminated some of the bars over the burners that they call Flavorizer bars. There seemed to be more space visible between the bars. I’d have to look at an older Weber gas grill to verify this. After spending 30 minutes in the grill department at Lowes I was feeling much better about my decision to keep my current grill going. At the same time, I was feeling even worse about the prospects of getting a decent quality mid priced grill in the future.

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By keeping my current grill I still get to use the modular accessories for it. Both the lidded cast iron pan & the griddle attachment replace one of the regular grill grates.

The last thing that has strongly reinforced my good feeling about my current grill was some of the uses I have put it to recently. I have had several different meals where I was able to make use of the extra real estate to have 3-zone fires going to cook many different items simultaneously at 3 different temperatures. I’ve also started making use of the drop-in cast iron griddle attachment that I’d only used twice before in the 7 years I’ve owned this grill. I guess I never saw the big picture before this. I always looked at using the griddle as being no different than using a frying pan on the stove and therefor why bother? I didn’t see any particular advantage to doing this outdoors. What changed my mind was when I made breakfast on the grill. About half of the items were grilled on the open grill grate, but the bacon, eggs and pancakes were done on the griddle attachment. This allowed me to do everything out at the grill at the same time and the griddle afforded much more surface area than frying pans. Even with my biggest frying pan I can only do one pancake at a time at the size I like. With the griddle I was able to get 4 pancakes at a time and I could have squeezed on some eggs or bacon too. Since then I have used the griddle another 6 times for more breakfast type meals and also browning a grilled Salisbury Steak that had flour applied to it midway through the cook. A trip to a friend's house, also reinforced how nice it is to have a dedicated rotisserie made specifically for my grill. My friend’s grill didn’t have a rotisserie made for his grill. Instead he had a third party one size fits all model. As a result, he had to assemble his rotisserie spit, which was in three pieces. He also had to mount the mounting brackets onto the grill each time he uses it. The third party mounting brackets interfere with the cover if you leave them on. The next weekend I did rotisserie pineapple and my spit was one piece and other than the forks was good to go. I also didn’t have to worry about the 3 piece spit unscrewing itself while it spun. All I had to do was place the motor on the mounting bracket and add the spit and I was good to go. I also have a drop in cast iron roasting pan & roast rack I use all the time. All of these accessories are modular and were made for this grill and they just work.

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The two-sided cast iron griddle, which I’ve only just now started to use, offers several advantages. It allows you to grill an entire meal, such as a breakfast, out at the grill, plus the area is bigger than two large frying pans and allows you to do more at once.

The last advantage occurred to me the other day when I was making some breakfast sandwiches on a day which was colder than it has been for a while. I needed the griddle attachment and I needed a three zone fire to cook everything and have it finish together. The recipe had given me 3 different temperature ranges I was shooting for and the 6 burners were perfect for that. Without really thinking about it I lit the grill and set the 6 knobs in the positions that would get me in the ballpark for each of these temperatures. After 15 minutes I came back out with my infra red thermometer and shot the grate temperature for the 3 zones. I was 25 degrees (14 C) low at the griddle and right on for the other two zones. I realized then that this didn’t happen by accident. I had deliberately set the knobs differently this day because the temps were only in the 70’s (21 C). The lower temps affect the pressure of the propane which affects the temperatures you get out of your burners. A few days before when the temps were in the 90’s (32 C) I’d done a similar thing. It suddenly dawned on me that I really knew this grill after 7 years and knew it well. I know how to compensate for air temperature variations and what knob settings to use to reach a particular grate temperature. I know what combinations of burners and burner setting to use to get various temperatures for indirect cooks. This is one less thing to worry about and just makes my life that much easier. As I am doing more complex meals on the grill this is not something to sneeze at.

Bottom Line: After using my refurbished grill for a while now, together with getting some more use out of some of the modular accessories for it, I am very very happy I decided to keep it going. My trip to Lowes just made me feel even smarter. Perhaps the best news yet is I think there may still be an easy way to remove the one piece, the rear burner rail, I was unable to replace. Then all of the parts showing wear will be new as of this summer. As soon as I am done paying for these parts, I plan to order one more round of parts that I will put on a shelf to see if I can extend my relationship with this grill even longer.

Here is the link for the Blog Entry on the first part of my grill refurb.



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