Thursday, April 23, 2015

Product Review: Char-Broil Kettleman TRU-Infrared charcoal grill

I get that not everyone can or wants to drop a thousand bucks on a kamado grill or a high end gas grill like Saber.  But you still don't have to cook on a rusted out, beat up old grill.

There are grills that will deliver excellent performance for under 2 bills.  Char-Broil's new Kettleman™ TRU-Infrared™ charcoal grill does that and still leaves you enough cash leftover to buy your coal and some inaugural steaks too.

I wanted to have this grill after seeing it in action at the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas last Spring.  So I was super stoked to see that it was part of the grilling package that I received for being a part of the Char-Broil All Star team. 

But before I get into why I love the Kettleman™ let's talk about the elephant in the room - the Kettleman is not some Weber clone.  A comparison is unavoidable but the Kettleman™ has significant design differences in venting, coal tray placement, and cooking grate.  I'm not knocking Weber at all, I have had one for years and years.  Just saying that the Kettleman™ isn't another clone.

Char-Broil® Kettleman™ (right) pictured with my Weber kettle grill.  They are basically the same diameter but I feel like I have more room in the Kettleman because of the lid design.

The vents are different.  The top vent for the Kettleman™ has larger holes and you'll see the bottom vent differences later in this post.

The Kettleman (right) is designed with the charcoal tray very close to the cooking surface compared to the Weber (left), which plays into the design efficiencies and the overall way the Kettleman uses infrared heat for improving a classic design.
The Weber lid has a hook that you use to hang your lid while working in the grill.  The Kettleman has a hinged lid.

So let's take a look at this grill.  What is so special about it?  It is engineered to give you better control of temperature, flare ups, charcoal consumption, ash removal, and stability.

Overhead view of the Kettleman.  The wide base makes it more stable.

The Kettleman™ comes with a thermometer so you know exactly how hot your grill is cooking.

At first, I wasn't too keen on the back hinge plate, thinking it would be a problem with air control but after a month of cooking on it, there has been no issues for me.  The ash pan on the bottom allows for easy ash removal.

Instead of one vent at the bottom, the Kettleman™ uses a series of holes all around the base that deflect downwards away from the coal bed.  This provides even airflow across the entire bed of coals instead of only one source of airflow at the bottom middle.  It also makes for better grilling under windy conditions than a grill that has a vent blowing up under the live coals. 
As noted, the coal tray is only about 2 inches below the cooking surface, crazy, right?  But this design actually helps you grill with less coal.  Also notice from this shot that you can't see the openings for the bottom vents, they are protected and buffered by the charcoal grate ring.  The one circle you see is where the leg mounts in, not a hole.

The shallow coal tray with the unique Char-Broil® TRU-Infrared™ grate harnesses more cooking power with less charcoal.  It maximizes the use of radiant heat while at the same time minimizes the possibility of flare ups burning your food.  I have found that this does make a difference while grilling.

My Experience with the Kettleman™
I have used the Kettleman™ for a month or more now and whether I'm cooking low and slow or hot and fast, I haven't run into any issues.  It just does it's job without a fuss.

Hot and fast
Hot and fast is what most people are used to doing on the grill for burgers, steaks, and such.  Just dump about 50 hot coals onto the coal grate, spread them around evenly, place the porcelain enameled infrared grate on to preheat to 450°f for about 10 minutes.  The fat from burgers dripped down below onto the hot coals but there was never a flare up.

This is right after I dumped a partial chimney of hot coals into the grill but notice how narrow the gaps between the charcoal grate bars are.  This keeps the coal from falling through until they have lost all of the heat that they have to give.
When I was grilling the burgers, the air temperature inside of the grill was 450°F...

 the TRU-Infrared™ grate was powering along at 775-815°F, giving plenty of searing power for your burgers, steaks, and chops.

I made Carolina style "all the way" burgers with chili, slaw, onions, and mustard.

It's a good idea to keep an area with no coals so you have an area where you can shuttle your food to finish cooking by roasting. That's a combination of direct and indirect cooking and it works perfectly on the Kettleman™. 
Ideally the void spot would be bigger than the small gap I had pictured here, I just had more coals than I needed for just a few pork chops. 

The smoke comes up from below but not any flames.
You can grill directly with your lid opened or closed, but you definitely need it closed when using indirect heat.

Low and Slow
This is where I was really impressed with this grill.  With about 80 coals, I was able to hold 275°F for 5 hours by using a fuse or snake burn while I smoked a rack of baby back ribs that I had in the freezer. 

Did a mustard slather, a good dusting of seasoned pepper, and a healthy coating of Underwood's It's My Rub.
Here is the fuse burn set up with wood chips on top of the coal.  I put about a dozen live coals onto the unlit coal and then it just burns slowly along the pattern.  This is how grillers can do a long slow cook when normally a bed of coals would usually burn out of coals in 45 minutes.

As the "fuse" burns around, wood chips continuously release fresh, steady smoke to flavor the ribs.

This was so good that I was disappointed that I only had one rack to cook at the time.

I used my cherry chipotle BBQ sauce, but just a drizzle across the top. 

The real kicker?  These were as good as ones I cook on my kamado grills.  Tender, nice smoke, great flavor. 

So I think this Char-Broil Kettleman™ is just the ticket for backyards everywhere.  It is an easy and enjoyable grill to use whether you're a seasoned pro or a relative newbie.  But best of all, it won't break the bank at just $139 exclusively at your local Lowe's Home Improvement. Grab a Kettleman and live it up this year. Seriously, with this performance and that price, there's no excuse to cook on a sad, worn out, rust bucket of a grill this Summer.  

Char-Broil Grill Chat
Check out Char-Broil's Twitter chat tonight (provided you're reading this Thursday 4/23).  I'm not sure what all they'll be talking about but I know it will involve the Kettleman and prizes.

[Standard FTC Disclaimer] This is not a sponsored post, but I am proudly a member of the Char-Broil All Stars and received the Kettleman™ as part of my grilling package.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Chimichurri Beef Ribs On The Grill

Alexis bought two packs of beef back ribs this week because she knows that I love beef ribs, both short ribs [click link for how I smoke short ribs] and back ribs. 

Beef back ribs are the ribs from the prime rib roast.  Back ribs are what you get when the butcher cuts off the rib bones to make a boneless beef rib roast.  The best ribs are the ones from the "first cut" or bones 9-12.  You want ribs that have meat with a vibrant red color and pick the rack(s) that have the most meat on them.  Problem is that beef is a high priced commodity so butchers are going to try to leave as little on the bone as possible.  Beef back ribs can often be a little scrawny and you have to work for your meat, kind of like crab legs.  If you are looking for a meatier, beefy rib - get whole beef short ribs instead. 

Normally I would just season these with my NMT Beef Rub or even just salt, pepper, and garlic and cook them on the Big Green Egg.  But I was in the mood for something different and thought that marinating beef ribs in a chimichurri would impart a bold flavor.

Chimichurri Beef Ribs on the Grill
serves: 3-4

  • 4-5 pounds beef back ribs, membrane removed
  • black pepper
  • kosher salt
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • Chimichurri Marinade
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 cup finely diced onion
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flake
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil

  1. In a large bowl, add the parsley, garlic, onion, oregano, salt, red pepper flake, black pepper, and red wine vinegar (everything but the olive oil).  Slowly pour in the olive oil while you vigorously whisk the bowl.  Note:  If you like, substitute half of the parsley with cilantro.
  2. Reserve 1/2 cup of the marinade for use as a condiment after cooking.  Slather the ribs with the remaining chimichurri and refrigerate overnight or 8 hours. 
  3. Set up your grill for indirect heat (see below) and preheat it to a grate level temperature of 225°F.  
  4. Remove the ribs from the marinade and wipe off any excess marinade. Season liberally with black pepper.  I didn't measure but maybe a teaspoon per rack.
  5. Place the ribs on the cooker bone side down and slow roast until they reach an internal temperature of 200°F, about 3-4 hours depending on the thickness of your ribs.
  6. Once the ribs hit 200°F, season them lightly with salt and immediately spritz or baste the ribs with the beef stock.  Place back on the grill for 5 more minutes.

beef back ribs, smoking beef ribs, beef ribs on Big Green Egg, beef ribs on kamado grill
The butchers don't leave much on these racks but they still taste great.

Today I was using GFS lump and small chunks of cherry wood.

adjustable rig big green egg, indirect set up big green egg, how to smoke beef ribs on big green egg
My indirect set up for today was an Adjustable Rig which uses a spider rig, 13" pizza stone, and drip pan to create the indirect barrier. 

craycort cast iron grill grate, section cast iron grate, indirect Big Green Egg set up
Of course, a plate setter "legs up" and a drip pan works just as well.

kettle grill indirect set up, fuse burn, Char-Broil Kettleman grill
If you are using a kettle grill like the Char-Broil Kettleman pictured here, I recommend using a fuse burn like this so you don't have to refuel.

gas grill indirect set up, how to smoke on gas grill, Char-Broil grill
If you are cooking this on a gas grill like my Char-Broil Commercial, use this set up.  Turn on only one burner (here the left one) with a packet of wood chips on top of it.  The food will be on the other side.

indirect set up for gas grill, smoke on gas grill, smoking on gas grill
Same set up, different view.

marinated beef rib, beef rib grill recipe, how to grill beef back ribs
I just sprinkled the black pepper on until it had good coverage like this.   Like I said, I didn't measure, but I'd guess it was about 1 teaspoon on each rib.

Flame Boss 100 Big Green Egg controller
I used the Flame Boss 100 for this cook. I cooked on an Egg for 6 years using manual controls but I have dabbled with using controllers.  They are basically a device that asks "Is it hotter than X° in that cooker? If yes, then don't do anything.  If no, then blow air into the grill."  

This is the blower that the controller....errr...controls.  I got this to review when I ran into the manufacturer at the Hearth Patio and Barbecue Association in Nashville.  I'm putting it through the paces.

I mentioned these ribs were scrawny.  They might not look like it raw, but as they cook, the bones will actually burst through.

beef ribs on big green egg, BGE beef ribs, Grill Dome beef ribs
Steak on a stick, it's hard to go wrong with that.  Notice how much fat rendered out onto the drip pan.

It looks like a lot of food but they are either an appetizer portion or you'll need to count on 2 to 3 ribs per person for an entree portion.  Compare that to a full beef short rib which 1 is plenty for me.

There is already a lot of flavor cooked onto the ribs so don't over do it with the fresh chimichurri as a condiment.  A little goes a long way.

I know that this marinade also works great with flank steak and NY Strip steaks.  It would probably be good on anything beef, after all, it is an Argentinian condiment and they are famous beef lovers.  

Friday, April 17, 2015

Family Reunion Barbecue

Barbecue has come a long way in the past twenty years or so. Barbecue is featured on prime time television, haute BBQ is found in swanky restaurants, and competition barbecue is as popular as ever. Barbecue is a growth industry of equipment, rubs, and sauces. There is nothing wrong with any of that, I love to see the celebration of barbecue. But I recently got to do a cook that stripped all of that away and reminded me of something. The real magic of barbecue happens in the VFW halls, community centers, and back yard covered dish suppers across the country every weekend. The smoke of family and community barbecues brings families together, connects generations, and refreshes aged bonds of friendship.

smoked pork, chopped pork, BBQ sandwich, cleaver, pulled pork, pork BBQ,
Who knew that the BBQ pork sandwich had so much power?

When my sister visited us in January, she had the wonderful idea that she and I should cook BBQ for our big family reunion in North Carolina. I thought it was a great idea because we hadn't been to one of these since Trevor was a baby. We used to meet every year or so at a farm house around Thanksgiving and share a meal with our extended family. Then my grandmother passed away, life got in the way, and we just didn't make it back.

My grandmother holding Trevor (yes, that same Trevor who is now a big high school football player).  She passed away before the reunion the following year.  Take advantage of your family while you have them.

This is in a very rural part of North Carolina where my brother, sister, and I often spent Summer vacations running barefoot and wild on our grandparents' farm. It's where I learned to shoot a rifle, split firewood by reading the grooves, and fish. It's also where had my first real taste of barbecue from the local volunteer fire department's community fund raiser. I fell in love with the piquant, vinegary taste of that chopped smoked pork and I was hooked for life. 

I have to admit that I was more apprehensive about cooking BBQ for our North Carolina family than I have been about cooking for any competition judge. Cooking for a judge is just about a number or result. This was about family - family that knows good BBQ and has specific ideas of what that should be.

People with a true love of BBQ have two kinds of family - family by blood and family by smoke. I didn't want to haul my kamados 6 1/2 hours across the Smoky Mountains and my sister didn't want to drag hers up 500+ miles from Florida. When barbecue people hear about other barbecue people in a stitch, they step up and provide.  My sister went to work on Facebook and through a cousin found a couple of strangers in Whiteville (20 miles from where we were staying) who had a Big Green Egg.  Randy and Bonita didn't know us from Adam's house cat but they opened up their home to us like family - family by smoke.

A common question in the BBQ forums is "I'm cooking BBQ for X event, how should I do that and get it there?"

So our game plan was this:

We had 60 people confirmed with several pending so we estimated for 80 people, we would need about 27 lbs of pork so we would need about 55 lbs of raw pork shoulders to begin with.  (Estimated 1/3rd pound per person, if we were doing two meats, I'd drop that estimate to a quarter pound per person for the pork.  80/3 = 26.6 lbs of cooked pork. Assuming you'll have about 50% shrinkage during cooking and processing, double that to 53.2 lbs).  Not ever wanting to run short, we planned to make more than needed to have a reserve batch.  If we didn't use it, it was already sealed and refrigerated so we could freeze it and eat at home later.
Wed night - Cook 40 lbs of pork butts in Knoxville overnight from 6pm to 6am.  Break it down, vacuum seal it, and refrigerate it and haul it to NC in coolers.  This would be our reserve batch.  If needed, we would heat the sealed bags in hot water and then freshen it up with a little rub serve.
Fri night - Cook 40 lbs of pork butts in Whiteville overnight from 8pm to 8am.  Pull at 8am Saturday morning, hold in a Cambro, transport to the community center in Lisbon and chop it onsite to serve as the first batches.
That gave us about 3 extra hours in case the Friday night butts ran longer.  If they weren't close at 6am, we planned to bump the Egg cooking temperature up to 300°F to speed it along.  
It worked out pretty close to how we planned.  Please excuse a lot of the pictures.  Once on the trip, we were only shooting with our mobile phone cameras and often in low light situations.

First round of four 10 pound pork butts.  I came home at lunch and prepped them.  Prep consisted of trimming, injecting with Chris Lilly's injection plus 1 cup of water, and then seasoned with....

We used my signature BBQ rub .  Note that we have updated that recipe increasing some of the sugars and adding a few new things.  

Flame Boss, Big Green Egg, Big Green Egg controller
Even though I had plenty of kamado grills available, I cooked all 4 butts in one Large BGE with an adjustable rig because I wanted to make sure I wouldn't run into any problems using the same set up in Whiteville on Friday.  In theory, cooking 4 butts shouldn't take any longer than 1 butt as long as they aren't pushed up against each other.  But 4 butts in one cooker seemed crowded so I wanted to make sure. The Adjustable Rig set up worked perfect and the butts were done right at 12 hours, slightly more than 1 hour per pound.

big batch of pulled pork, smoking pork for party, pulled pork how much
The pork finished at 6am on Thursday so I was able to shred it and vacuum seal it before leaving for work that morning.
I serve my pork "naked" or without sauce, because I don't like covering it up with sauce.  But we like to give our guests options so we made a BBQ sauce bar.  Since this was North Carolina we had an Eastern NC vinegar sauce and a Western NC piedmont style sauce.  We also made our regular sweet, a sweet and spicy, and my sister made her acclaimed mustard BBQ sauce.  I highly recommend doing this when serving large crowds because everyone has their preferences about BBQ.

I came up with a great display idea for this.  I'll be doing a "DIY" post for that coming up shortly.

We drove over to Whiteville and Randy and Bonita couldn't have been nicer.  When I found that their Egg was surrounded by literally TONS of hardwood I took that as a harbinger of great things to come.  What better environment for a smoker?

The logs are actually for a wood furnace but still, it has to make the Egg feel happy.  
The only trouble we ran into was that the wire lead for the Auber controller/blower that I brought died an untimely death and my spare was 425 miles back at home.  No problem, we just went with the manual vents.  

We got the Egg loaded and then hung around to make sure it was stable.  We left around 9 and then came back around midnight.  The Egg was still humming along at 250F, just like we left it.  We switched the top rack out with the lower rack just to be on the safe side.

As you can see, I put a temp probe in one of the lower level butts and one on the top rack, just in case they finished at different times.  

Early in the morning and the butts were looking and smelling great.  They were mahogany and starting to form a nice bark.

Despite the horrible mobile phone's crappy camera and the blurriness, this is one of my favorite BBQ pictures I have ever taken.  It is my sister about 6am watching over the Egg and it looks like an old smoke house with the light beaming down through the smoke filled air.

This was another of my favorite shots - the sun peeking through the woods as night turns into morning and the Egg just doing its thing.

The internal temps bounced around a little at first.  One butt would be 10 degrees more cooked, then the other would catch up.  But towards the end, all 4 butts ended up finishing right about the same time.

Chopping the pork with my sister at the community center.  Photo Credit:  Ruth Grove

It was a lot of work but it felt so great to see our family enjoying the fruits of our labor.  This cook meant more to me than any I can remember in the last 5 years.  It was special because of family but also because of getting to have my sister as my co-pitmaster.  It was like we were kids again, staying up all night having fun while all of the "adults" were asleep.  I will remember this cook forever.

Photo credit:  Ruth Grove

Cousin Mike told me a few stories about my granddad that I never knew.  For example, he gave Mike several acres to farm as his own.  He also shared some special memories of my grandfather from when his health was declining.  I never would have heard those precious memories if it wasn't for this reunion.  Photo Credit: Ruth Grove

We ended up with 80 of our family members attending and it couldn't have gone better.  Special times with family and friends treasuring old memories and making new ones - that is what BBQ is about.  Photo Credit:  Ruth Grove

No family reunion is complete without a trip to remember those family members who are no longer with us, so we stopped by the cemetery.  I'm sad that Trevor never got to know his namesake, but it was good for him to hear the stories about his great grandfather.  Photo Credit:  Ruth Grove
While in Elizabethtown, my parents, sister, and my family stayed at "The Rivah Getaway".  It's a private home for rent through Tripadvisor. Located on the banks of the Cape Fear River, this home is beautiful.  It's outfitted with a tremendous amount of deck space, fishing dock, grilling gazebo, canoe/boat dock, hot tub, and more.  It's a great place if you ever want to book a getaway vacation.  Just be sure to have a four wheel drive as the road in can get in really bad shape during the Spring rains.

View from the grilling area.  Photo Credit:  Ruth Grove

View from the fishing dock.  Photo Credit:  Ruth Grove

My dad and sister taking out the canoe for a trip on the river.  Photo Credit:  Ruth Grove

View from the canoe.  Photo Credit:  Ruth Grove

View from one of the deck levels.

Trevor and me playing foosball.  This picture cracked me up because with my arms like that, hunched over, and the hoodie, I look like a T-Rex with short arms, don't I?  Raawwr!
I discovered two of my favorite foods of all time in the Cape Fear area as a kid.  The first is my first bite of real BBQ.  The second is an ATW ("all the way") burger from Melvin's (aka "the pool hall") in Elizabethtown. ATW means that it comes with slaw, chili, onions, and mustard. The flavors combine in a unique way to make the best burger I have ever had.  Back in the day, my grandmother told me that they had their meat ground specially by the meat department at the Red and White grocery store in town.  The grind included some bread and possibly some sausage. 

So while we were there, we got some Melvin's burgers.

Yes, that is one mess of a burger but that's one of the things that makes it so insanely good.

What a fun cooking adventure that I got to share with my sister. I know it won't be another 15 years before I get back here. Does your family do a big reunion every few years?  Do you usually attend?