Home Chef Techniques for the Weber Grill: Part One
Advanced Charcoal Techniques
(Excerpt from Grilling: A Home Chef’s Guide)
I started out with a good old fashioned Weber Kettle (you’ve already read that story), the most popular charcoal grill in American since…well, ever. 😉
Sadly, these marvels of simplicity rarely get used to their full potential. Sure, you can grill up endless burgers, dogs, and brats…and they’ll be awesome, but let’s look at some advanced (dare I say Home Chef?) techniques to take this old classic to the next level!
I have used the Weber to make everything from jerky, to smoked salmon, to traditional Southern Pulled Pork, to authentic Texas-Style Briskets and Pork Bellies, and I’m going to show you how to, as well.
Over the next few posts, we’ll take a look at:
- Advanced Charcoal Techniques
- Using Water Pans
- Real “Pit-Smoking” with a Weber Grill
- Turning your Weber Grill into the Ultimate Pizza Oven
- The Perfect Steak: Reverse Grilling
- Amazing Mods YOU can make to your Weber Grill
So, let’s start with:
4 Advanced Charcoal Techniques
Direct vs. Indirect
There are two basic styles of grilling, direct & indirect.
Direct Grilling cooks your food “directly” above the hot coals. Best for searing and charring foods that you want to grill quickly.
Of course, with this higher heat, you have to be more watchful to ensure that foods, especially those with sugary marinades or glazes,, don’t burn before they’re cooked through. A double layer, direct fire on a standard kettle-style BBQ can get as high as 500F.
Rule of thumb: Thin foods, with low sugar and water content, and that cook quickly, cook best over direct heat:
- Fruits & Veggies
- Chicken breasts
- Fish fillets & shellfish
- Pork tenderloin
Indirect Grilling uses an area of the grill that doesn’t have coals directly beneath it. By placing your food over this “cool” zone, and covering it with the lid, your kettle becomes an oven, allowing you to bake, roast, or BBQ, foods that take longer to finish, without burning the exterior. Temperatures typically run in the 225f-250F range, making this method ideal for BBQ and smoking.
Rule of thumb: Thicker and sugary foods, and tougher cuts (especially of beef) that requires longer cook times at lower temperatures:
- Whole chickens
- Large whole fish
- Pork shoulders, and loins
Single Zone Grilling
Single Zone grilling is your basic, direct heat method. Coals are layered evenly across the coal grate, the number of layers dependent on the amount of heat you need.
2 Zone Grilling
As we saw above, 2 Zone grilling is best for “low & slow” techniques.
Prepared coals are spread over one side of the coal grate, while the opposite half (or more) is left clear. This let’s you “roast” thick cuts of meat with burning, though you’ll typically need to rotate large cuts at some point, so they cook evenly on both sides.
Another common technique for 2 Zone Grilling is to caramelize (char) the exterior of the meat over direct heat (all sides), then move it to the indirect area to complete cooking.
Tri-tip roasts, steaks thicker than 2″, and bone-in chicken peices grill best by this method. Caramelization (the technical term is the “Maillard reaction*” adds tons of flavors to foods, and some believe that it can help deal in the juices of meats, to help prevent any unnecessary moisture loss. It’s a fantastic method for roasting whole (brined) chickens, as well.
You can even serve grilled “baked” potatoes that will drive your guests crazy!
*Maillard Reaction: A chemical reaction between the amino acids and the reducing sugars that gives browned and grilled food its distinctive flavor.
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3 Zone Split Grilling
This is the method I use most often, as it finds it provides the most consistent results (and is most forgiving of my ADHD forgetfulness!) 😉
Prepared coals are split evenly along the opposite sides of the coal grate, leaving a place (cool zone) between, large enough to move the meat to once the outsides are browned. This allows medium to thick cuts to finish cooking, while providing even heat from both sides, and save you the trouble of having to rotate the meat, halfway through cooking.
There are also times when you might prefer a three-zone “split” fire, where the coals are separated into two equal piles on opposite sides of the charcoal grate.
This gives you two zones for direct heat (high, medium, or low) and one zone between them for indirect heat. This also works nicely for cooking a roast over indirect heat, such as pork loin or beef tenderloin, because you have the same level of heat on either side of the roast.
You can also use this method to create “High, Medium, and Low” zones in your kettle. By stacking two (or more) levels layers of coals on one side (high), and single layer on the opposite side (medium), the middle section, with or without a water pan*, becomes the “Low” zone.
*We’ll talk more about water pans in a future post.
Ring o’ Fire (low & slow/smoking)
The ring of fire is…awesome! By layering your coals in a semi-circle around the outside of the coal-grate, and then lighting one end of the “ring”, you create a domino effect, as each coal lights the next, working it’s way around the ring for hours, and provided low, even heat.
To turn your Weber Kettle into the perfect smoker, just pre-soak a few chunks of your favorite hardwood, and space them evenly atop the first half to three-quarters of the ring.
Meat will only accept smoke for the first three hours or so, so there’s no point in wasting the extra wood.
Plus, over smoking can leave meat with a bitter, acrid flavor, and a nasty tar-like coating.
In our next lesson, we’ll take a look at how (and why) to use water pans and drip pans in your Weber Kettle.
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See you then!