An Ode To Summer, My Favorite Grill and Popsicles
Helllloooo summer! While some of you might go out this weekend and celebrate the last handful of days to be outdoors comfortably until sometime in mid-October, I'm going to do my best to enjoy what is traditionally the best season for leisure. And while some people (the smart ones) view grilling as a year round activity, summer is definitely the height of coal-fired cookery.
I miss you, grill.
I have cooked on a lot of grills: stainless steel slip-in models built into custom stone enclosures; flimsy Char-Broil brand gas numbers with hot spots like solar flares; Big Green Eggs that can achieve eight million degrees with a teaspoon of natural wood charcoal. But the best grill I have ever cooked on is a Weber kettle.
Stainless steel built-ins look lovely but cost a shit-ton. And while the even heat of gas is nice, it kind of takes all the fun out of things. We're cooking with fire here right? So go on and build one. Cheap gas grills are even worse. Those little ceramic briquets collect a blistered sheen of black grease that inevitably leads to flare ups, which turn your burgers into hockey pucks.
The Big Green Egg? I get it. It's efficient. It's versatile. You can dial in the temperature right at 220 and smoke a pork shoulder to perfection without taking your eyes off the NASCAR race one day, and then crank the thing up to 900 to perfectly sear a massive porterhouse to eat with Chianti the next. But it weighs more than a football player, and unless you spend a grand it's impossibly small. It's also sensitive. The difference between 200 and 900 degrees is not much more than a quarter-inch turn on one of the two air vents.
A Weber Performer kettle grill? Perfection. Don't get the one with the electronic ignition system, it's the stupidest grill feature I have ever seen (use a chimney), but everything else on this baby is meant for performance grilling.
See that ash-catcher underneath? It's not an ash catcher (though it does collect spent briquets). It's a precision temperature-control mechanism. With a bed of red-hot coals you can use the vent that's built into the ash catcher, in tandem with the vent on top of the lid, to dial in temperatures low enough to smoke meat, and high enough to sear your eyebrows from four feet. I've had the thermometer pinned well past the maximum displayed 600 degrees many times. And thermometers come in handy.
The grill bin? Eh. It's a nice place to keep a bag of charcoal, but the work surface above it is a life saver. There's nothing worse than having to set your steak plate on the ground while you fool around with the lid, and the big sturdy surface puts those little wings you see on other kettles to shame. Trust me. You'll use it. You're going to be grilling a lot more than burgers on a grill like this.
If you mind that thermometer and cook indirectly (the coals pushed to the side, instead of underneath the food) you can roast a chicken the same as you would in the oven, shred it to bits, and serve it with some tortillas and guacamole. People will like you if you do this. Add some wet wood chips for a slightly smoky flavor. People will like you more.
Use the same indirect method with hickory chips to smoke a pork shoulder. Look, I know a barrel smoker or pit will do it better, but you're not planning on taking on the barbecue kings anyway. One grill is plenty and versatility is key.
And every now and then cook up some burgers. Go to Rudolph's or your other favorite butcher and ask him for his best quality ground beef. Season it generously with salt and pepper and don't over-work it, as you form big loose patties. Get your grill good and hot and listen to that meat sing.
That's the smell of summer. Popsicles, pool parties, bike rides and bathing suits -- this is why the hottest season is undoubtedly the most fun. The next time someone bitches about triple-digit heat, fire up your grill, grab a cold one and say, "Fuck it, man." There's nothing you can do about the heat anyway. You might as well stare it in the face over a raging fire while a big hunk of meat sizzles away.