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.