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

Reinvigorating My Grill

My gas grill will be 7 years old come this fall and needs some work. My original plan was to replace it with a shiny new Weber model, but now I am going to fix my existing grill. While my final decision was driven as much by economic reality as any other reason, now that I have chosen I am actually quite happy with my choice. This blog will describe some of my decision making process.

My Kenmore Elite 6 burner gas grill has given me many hours of pleasure, not to mention some great food. I would gladly buy another one like it, but the Kenmore Elite models are a shadow of their former greatness.

My current grill is a Kenmore Elite 6 burner gas grill. At the time I bought it, I got a great year-end deal for a couple hundred dollars off. The features that appealed to me at the time were the 6 burners, the smoker drawer, the dedicated infra-red rotisserie burner, and the side burner. This was the first time I owned a 6 burner grill, but with the sale price I could get 6 burners for the price of 4. This grill was part of a modular system that had a series or drop in grill accessories. I put this grill into the upper middle of the pack in terms of build quality. It was far better built than any gas grill I’d owned prior, a fact that was reinforced when it was time to get it off my pickup truck and build it. The grill weighed in at 315 pounds (145 Kg) and as I assembled it the build quality was above average. The cooking system with the heavy cast iron burners and flame tamers was superior to anything I had used in the past. While I’ve often attributed Stephen Raichlen’s How to Grill to my sudden improvement in grilling, this grill deserves part of the credit. This grill raised the bar in several regards: I would never want to go back to using a 4 burner grill again. The extra real estate made cooking for larger groups easier and 3 zone fires were a piece of cake. The second standard was build quality, I would never want to buy a gas grill whose build quality was not at least this good. Being able to add smoke flavor via the smoker drawer was a great feature. Lastly the dedicated infra red rotisserie burner with one piece spit made for a better rotisserie cooking experience.

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There are 3 items I am replacing after 6 years with this refurb. Two of them: The burners & the flame tamers-might have lasted far longer on the Weber model I was considering to replace my KE, but at 8X the price I am paying to refurbish my current grill.

I liked this price point, it seemed to offer good value. I knew in many ways this grill was not as well built as a Weber, but I felt it would be good enough for my needs. Plus I could buy 3 grills from the Kenmore Elite series for the price of one Weber. If money wasn’t an object I might want the Weber, but money was an object. My plan was to stay with this series of grills but I was quite disappointed to see the Kenmore Elite line go way down hill in terms of build quality within about two years of my purchase. This corresponded to a jump in stainless steel prices, but that didn’t explain it all. I met someone who had the new model that replaced mine, and I was able to look the grill over from top to bottom. While I said nothing to my friend, there is no way I would have bought that grill. Other than the grill grates, the wheels and the burner knobs; everything else had been “value engineered”. There was less and thinner stainless steel, different cooking system, a cheaper more open base cabinet, the slide out propane drawer which was also a scale for the propane level meter was gone, there was far more plastic and less metal. I was quite sad because I would have been happy to keep using more modern versions of this grill moving forward. I have kept my eye on Sears offerings, but they are just not the same.

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The third item I am replacing, the grill grates, would last longer on the Weber. In this case I don’t mind-I prefer the cast iron grates on the KE to the stainless steel grates on the Weber. The cast iron grates on my KE are reversible. One side is broad and gives killer grill marks (left). The second side comes to more of a point to help minimize sticking (right).

So within two years of purchasing my grill, I’d decided the next grill would probably be a 6 burner Weber. I have always felt that the high end Weber gas grills were a bit over priced. But not having owned one of these, it was hard to know for sure. If the grill lasted a long time, then they were well worth the price. I don’t mind paying a high price if you receive value in return. Through the years I kept my eye on both the Weber & Sears line. The build quality of the Sears models ruled them out completely. But I was also surprised to see the Weber’s had some things that bordered on deal breakers for me, particularly at the price. Last Fall I noticed that a couple of my burners were starting to misbehave and no longer had the tight controlled flame they once did. Also the flame tamers were rusting to the point where they would need to be replaced too. Now here is a case where I will admit the Weber is better built: Their flame tamers, called flavorizer bars, were stainless steel so this would not have happened. Business prospects were looking good in the Fall so I figured if I salted away a little money every month I could get a Weber Summit S-670 in the Spring. I really do like my current grill and I was thinking I might try to keep it around. It could serve as a second grill for cooking side dishes using different cooking methods than being employed on the main grill. I have been trying to learn to grill or smoke all of the items of a meal. But, sadly with the economy the way it is, work has been very irregular and a new gas grill was not really a practical consideration.

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The smoker drawer was a feature that attracted me to the KE to begin with. To add more chips you simply slide out the drawer & add the chips, great for Winter. No need to lift the lid at all. To my great surprise the Weber requires you to open the lid to add chips to a smoker box - to me this borders on a deal breaker.

I just ordered the replacement parts for my grill and the more I think of it, I am actually quite happy about it. Here are a couple of the near deal breakers that the Weber had, that I felt my Sears grill handles better. First and foremost is the smoker drawer. The Kenmore Elite has a smoker drawer located above burner 1 and under the grill grate. To access the smoker drawer you pull it open from the front of the grill and the lid remains closed during the process. The Weber grill has a smoker box that is accessed from inside the grill and you must lift the lid to add chips. The Kenmore smoker drawer just makes so much more sense to me, particularly for cold climates. Weber owners suggested buying a second smoker box so you can simply pre-fill the second box and swap it out in less time. Better yes, but you still lose a lot of heat in the Winter. The only thing I can think of is that the design on my grill was patented and Weber simply couldn’t or wouldn’t license it. Also to give Weber credit, their smoker box is stainless steel and one one in my Kenmore was painted steel and is one of the parts I will be replacing as it has rusted. The second item I like on my grill is the grill grates. The Weber uses stainless steel grill grates which are half round bars. The Kenmore uses enameled cast iron bars which are reversible, depending on the effect you wish to use. One side has a broad, almost flat surface that gives wide killer grill marks. The second side comes to almost point, which minimizes the contact area for delicate foods like fish which might try to stick to the grill. The enameled cast iron grates are more difficult to clean in that you can’t scrape them with just any grill brush. The Weber bars being stainless steel will no doubt last longer than my enameled cast iron grates, but this is a case where I don’t mind dealing with replacing the grates more often. The Kenmore grates have more mass and width and give me impressive grill marks, better than the smaller less massive Weber grates.

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By holding on to my existing grill I get to continue to use the series of modular drop-in accessories that replace one or more grill grates. On the left is a griddle unit, on the right is a cast iron drop-in pan which comes with a lid or can receive a roast rack as shown here.

There are some other plusses to keeping my existing grill. Probably the biggest one is that I know this grill inside and out and have had great success using it. I will not have to learn a new grill. I know how to use it in all seasons and all types of weather. I can continue moving forward with my cooking without having to have a pause while I learn a new grill. The second plus is that I own all of the modular accessories for this grill and will be able to continue to use them. In fact I already own everything I need to use this grill, including the rotisserie kit which I’d have to buy for the Weber. In fact as part of ordering the replacement parts, I’ve ordered a second set of rotisserie forks so I can cook two pieces at once. It was short money. At first I was disappointed I would not get the built in lights that come with the Weber, but several reviews I’ve read pointed out they were more of a gimmick than useful. Plus this past Summer I picked up a grill light from Sur la Table that works quite well. What am I missing out on? Two things one big, one little. The big thing is the Weber has a separate dedicated sear burner to put a quick sear on foods. This sounds like a handy feature, but I get a good sear now so I can live without this. The other is the side burner has more BTUs than my existing one. I have noticed that my side burner takes longer to cook things than the range in the Kitchen.

Another plus for the KE is the infrared rotisserie burner which at 13,000 BTUs is more powerful than the 10,600BTU one in the Weber. As it is rotisserie cooking takes a bit longer than the books say, with 2,400BTUs less I can’t imagine that would improve.

So in conclusion I am surprisingly excited, despite the fact I am not getting a bright shiny new grill. The new grill, which had some shortcomings in my eyes, would have cost 8 times what I am paying. For fairly short money I am getting to use a grill that has been the best grill I have owned, and is like an old friend, for another 7 years. I would gladly buy a new version of this grill again, but it is no longer made. Refreshing this version is the next best thing. Honestly, where they stopped making this grill 6 years ago I was thrilled to find they still had the parts available for purchase. I will probably dedicate a future blog to the actually repair/replace project once the parts arrive in a couple weeks.


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