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Amazing Grills


Seasoning your grill and calibrating grill or smoker with dry runsThe first thing to do is to season it and calibrate your grill or smoker by doing a few dry runs without food. On a new cooker, this will burn off any manufacturer's grease, and give you a sense for how to set it up to hit the two important target temps that almost all my recipes use: 225°F and 325°F. Like a musician, you must master your instrument to make great art.

Of course, in order to do this, you absolutely positively must have a good digital oven thermometer. I don't care how much you spent on your shiny new toy, the bi-metal dial thermometer that came with it is probably cheap and unreliable and likely to be off by as much as 50°F. Worse still, it is mounted in the dome, and the temp down on the grate where the meat sits is much different.

Controlling temp and mastering 2-zone cooking

Here are some of the many possible settings you might use on a three burner grill to hit the target temps.

On
Off
Off

On
On
Off

Off
Low
High

Off
Low
Low

Off
Off
High

Off
Medium
Medium

Controlling temperature on a gas grills and smokers is simple. Turn the knobs. Well, actually, it's not always that simple. Alas, knobs on gas grills don't tell you the temperature, so you need to figure that out when you calibrate. Surprisingly, depending on the outside air temp, wind, and how well the hood is insulated, turning the dial might not change temp that much. On some grills, with all burners pegged, on a 70°F day, the difference between high and low might only be 50°F! From the food's standpoint, the difference between 550 and 500°F is not huge.2-zone gas grill The temp in the middle of the main cooking grate can be a lot different than on the sides, perhaps 50°F hotter in the center than the edges.

Unlike your indoor oven, where low is around 200°F, on a gas grill, low is probably closer to 300 or 400°F!

Fortunately, you have another tool with which to control temperature. On better grills you have more than one burner, the more the merrier. I recommend you buy at least three burners, although four is ideal. Then you can turn, for example, the left burner on high, and the one next to it on low. That might get you to the temp you want on the indirect side. The trick is figgering out the best settings to get you to the target temps. My recipes usually call for 225°F, 325°F, and Warp 10, as hot as you can get. Achieving these marks is tricky, because weather can significantly impact the temp within the grill. More on that in my article on calibrating.

Gas grill setupThe key to success in any grilling project is control over time and temp. For cooking most foods, you do not want roaring heat, you want indirect heat. This is an important core concept in mastering outdoor cooking and you should read my articles on 2-zone or indirect cooking, my article on Meat Science, my article on the Thermodynamics of Cooking, and my article on cooking temperatures. While you're at it, read my article on grill maintenance.

Here's how to set up a gas grill for 2-zone or indirect heat cooking to get great restaurant quality flavor, the best you've ever made, and the best on the block. And, trust me on this, the flavor is as good as anything you can get on any fancy schmancy smoker. Really!

Most gas grills come with more than one burner nowadays because the concept of indirect cooking is becoming better known. If your grill has only one burner, you can still cook indirect with a water pan, described below.

On a three burner grill such as the Weber Genesis, you can set up indirect heating several different ways. The one you chose will depend on how cold or rainy it is, how much meat you have, and how hot you want the oven. You need to find what works best. Just get the heat be all on one side, doesn't matter which. Don't forget to take notes!

Gas grill setup method 1As you can see, there are many many possibilities. What's the best setup? It varies for every grill, the weather, how much cold meat is on the grill, and the desired cooking temp. But some sort of indirect setup is usually the best.

Every grill is different, so your exact setup will be different than mine, but if you follow the concepts, killer smoked meats are in the near future. This method can also be used for indirect cooking without smoke. If you have a grill with only one burner, or if you have more meat than will fit in the indirect zone, try this technique.

Put a pan of water between the burner and the food. Put the wood as close to the flame as possible. Voila, indirect heat.

The water absorbs heat, and helps minimize fluctuations in temp. The moisture also mixes with the smoke and propane combustion gases and creates flavors you cannot get with smoke alone. But this is important to note: You are not steaming the meat! Steam can make the meat mushy and destroy meat flavors. If you keep the oven temp at 225°F, the water should not boil because the surface area will allow evaporation that will cool the water keeping it below 212°F. Hard to believe, but true. If the water is boiling, you are running hot. Turn it down.

There are two ways to use water pans, depending on the type of grill you have. Here is how I do it on my old Weber Genesis with three burners, front center, and rear. Some gas grills have more or fewer burners, so you may need to adapt this method to fit your rig. But the concepts are the same. Read my article the Science of Wood for some tips on how to handle the wood.

Method 1: Water pans under the grates

Get a disposable aluminum roasting pan or two that are, ideally, just about the same size as the interior walls of your gas grill. They should have 2-3" high sides. The pans will get smoke stains on them, so do not use your best roasting pans! If you can, remove your grill's grates and put the pan on top of the burner covers. Do not put the pan right on top of the burner tubes. Fill the pans to within 1/2" of their rims with hot water. Don't waste your money using apple juice or something else. It doesn't flavor the food.

gas grill water in waterpan wood chunks on gas grill foil packet containing wood chips for smoking gas grill regulator

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