This grill basket retails for $49.99 which is somewhat pricey. But like the other Williams-Sonoma brand grill baskets I own, it is extremely well made. In these days of cheaply made grill accessories, you can tell the difference when you get one that is actually well built. I expect with good care this accessory will last nearly forever. The basket is essentially two metal plates with 12 perforated half sphere cups set into the plate. The spheres are the size of 1/2 a meatball. Attached to end of the plate is a hinge that joins the two halves together. The end of the plate opposite the hinges consists of a handle. The hinges keep the two plates in alignment so when the plates are closed the 12 half-meatball compartments line up with one another. Also when the two plates are closed there is a sliding clamp that secures the two handles together so the unit stays together while you are cooking with it.
Using a zero tare kitchen scale was the fastest and most accurate way I have found to quickly get properly sized meatballs.
Using the Meatball Grill Pan couldn’t be easier. First I spray it with some PAM for Grilling to keep the meatballs from sticking. For those of you who have never used it, PAM for Grilling has a higher smoke point that stands up better to the high heat of grilling. After the pan is sprayed you form the meatballs. I have used both a tablespoon and a kitchen scale to measure it. The meatballs are about 3 tablespoons (44 mL). An easier way to do it is to make the first meatball using the plus or minus 3 tablespoons (44 mL) and then use the Kitchen scale to weigh that meatball. For this task I set the scale from Imperial to Metric units. This way the scale will measure in grams and you get finer and easier to use measurements. I place a small glass bowl on the scale and zero out the scale. In grams the meatballs weigh about 60 grams. But no matter how you do it, by weight or volume, the trick is to find out the amount of meat for one meatball that fits in the grill pan and then make up to 11 more like it. Once you have the pan filled with as many meatballs as you plan to cook, close the top half and latch it securely. The first meatball recipe I used was made for this grill pan and used a time of 14 minutes using a medium-hot fire (375 degrees F or 190 C). I have used this as my time and temperature when making other recipes in this pan. Midway through the cook you flip the grill pan.
The meatballs have a wonderful grilled flavor you simply don’t get from searing them in a pan.
When you are finished you remove the pan from the heat using thick BBQ gloves. I say thick because the metal handles get quite hot. If you have cooked them for the right time and temperature and used non-stick spray, the meatballs should just fall out of the pan. If some are a bit stuck you can use bamboo skewers to help release the meatballs. When you look at the small perforations and the ratio of area exposed to the heat (hole area) vs the area covered by metal, you would think these meatballs wouldn’t taste much different than meatballs seared in a pan. Surprisingly, they have quite a bit of smoky grilled flavor. Perhaps this is due to the nature of ground beef which absorbs smoke well, even through relatively tiny holes. As you are cooking some fat drips out of the meatballs through the holes. This fat lands on the flame tamers of my grill and vaporizes and rises back up as smoke, which in turn flavors the meatballs. This is my theory and I’m sticking to it, but somehow the meatballs do have a great grilled flavor to them.
The fixed handle causes some problems on my grill which has a raised front lip. When the handle rests on the lip (left), the pan doesn’t rest flat on the grill grate & the lid doesn’t close tightly. You can turn the pan 90 degrees (right), but the handle gets very hot & can interfere with other food you are cooking.
OK we’ve talked about the good, now for a bit of the bad. These pans are not the easiest to clean even on a good day. Even if you don’t get much in the way of flareups, you will get some pieces of meat clinging to the perforations in the meatball cups. If you have used a fatty meat like lamb whose fat created more than smoke but actual flame from their flareups, you may have some charred areas of food residue stuck onto both on the inside or the outside of the pan. Too high of a grill temperature can do this too when too much fat comes out of the meatballs all at once. I soak the pan in a bucket of hot water and detergent which helps, but you still have some scrubbing ahead of you. One other thing I will mention is the handle on my first generation pan doesn’t remove. On my grill the grates are set down a good 1 1/2” (3.75 cm) below the front of the grill frame. If you point the handle so it is sticking out of the grill, the handle ends up resting on this piece of the grill frame and the unit doesn’t sit flat on the grill grates. This means you need to turn the grill pan sideways (90 degrees to the front of the grill) so the handle isn’t being held in the air. This is fine if you have a big grill like mine and aren’t cooking anything else at the same time. Otherwise it can be a problem. Turning the grill pan 90 degrees also means the handle will be as hot as a branding iron. Depending on the thickness of your gloves, you may want to double glove it when handling this pan.
I should mention that the pan Williams-Sonoma is now selling has two changes from the pan I bought. Whenever Williams-Sonoma comes out with a new grill pan it seems I am first in line to buy it. Usually after the pan is out for a year or so, they introduce a Version 2 model with improvements over the first model. One thing I always do, is read the user comments for the item on the Williams-Sonoma website. That is how I knew the handles on their grill pans got so hot and to use double gloves. I actually didn’t buy one model of their grill pans, that actually sounded intriguing at first glance. The had a fine mesh grill pan for really small delicate items, but it used a double layer of mesh that actually trapped the food between the two layers of mesh. I looked at the pan in the store and could immediately see what the commenters problem was. In the case of this Meatball Grill Pan, Williams-Sonoma has made two improvements over the model I bought. The first is they increased the hole size in the meatball cups. This should let more “grill flavor” in and help the meatballs release better after cooking. This should help with the cleanup issues too since the meatballs will stick less. The second improvement is the handle is now detachable. You set the grill pan on the grates and then detach the handle. When you are done you reattach it. Even though I own the Version 1 unit which will probably last me a lifetime, it is good to see that the folks at Williams-Sonoma respond to feedback.
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