In a great huff, I sent my two barbecue grills to the dump last winter since they were literally on their last legs. One was my beloved barrel style charcoal grill that had a missing wheel, stabilized by putting a large brick under one of its hind legs. And after five years of service it was getting rusty and worn out.
And the other, though still standing straight, was an infra-red gas grill, which I did not like at all. It’s supposed to give the highest heat possible for great char, but I found it only performed on calm days without wind.
I loved my barrel-style grill for several reasons. It was both a smoker and grill horse where I could cook foods fast at high heat or take it slow and use it as a smoker for long, slow, low-heat cooking.
The one I had was made by Masterbuilt, which is available from $129 to $199, the lower price being at sellouts or sales. It’s a very sturdy, heavy cast-iron grill with a large, wide grilling area that can handle a lot of food, easily holding 3 or more racks of ribs. It has a hand-crank to adjust the height of the coal bed, giving great flexibility in the smoking and grilling temperature.
The other advantage is that it was big enough to set up different heat zones for direct and indirect grilling, the latter necessary for smoking. I would use wood chips or chunks and sometimes whole wood logs put into the bottom chamber under the coal bed.
Essential for these grills is to use smoking woods, the best local source being Maine Grilling Woods, available online. They have all the different woods from cherry, maple, ash, oak, hickory and more. They come in chips, large chunks and small camp-log sizes. I prefer the large chunks over the chips, producing the most wood-flavored smoke.
In choosing my grill this year I had to consider my space limitations. I have a large high- floor apartment terrace but most of it is taken up with planters and outdoor furniture so my space is relatively limited.
Still I wanted gas and charcoal. There is a combo grill that features both in a structure where they’re literally joined at the hip, one side gas, the other charcoal.
For my streamlined needs, I discovered that Weber has a compact two-grate wide gas grill that’s attractive and sturdy. After several uses I’m very impressed with it. One of its features is the “flavorizer” bars set over the gas flame. The fat from the meat drips down onto these, producing smoke without flame flare ups. I’ve tried it and it really works. The heat easily reached 500 degrees and the grill is very well made. It also has a contraption that weighs what’s left in the gas tank. This works well but attaching it takes some doing, wedging the gas-heavy full tank onto the holding latch.
For a charcoal grill I chose the Weber Performance series, the Platinum model that features an electronic-ignited gas starter that gets the coals going in about 5 minutes. You then turn off the gas and let the coals burn until they’re white hot.
I will miss my barrel style but this is so much easier than having to use chimney starters. Finding this grill locally, however, was not easy. It’s largely available at the online sites of our local big box stores. Buying it is an ordeal, though. It first has to be delivered to the store for pickup, assembled and delivery is$65 extra.
Instead I went to my local Maine Hardware store. They only had the Gold model, without the starter, but ordered the Platinum model that arrived in two days. Assembly and delivery was free. It goes to show, even in grill shopping it pays to go local.