Chefs and Pit-masters use drip pans and water pans for a number of reasons.
First, placing meat over a drip pan helps prevent flare-up and scorching caused by juices dripping down onto the coals as the meat cooks.
While that action adds flavor, it can be hard to control over the long haul (and get get plenty of it, when you searing the exterior of the meat in advance of the low and slow cook time.
While many outdoor cooks will place the water pan on one side of the coal grate, with the coals on the other side (meat over the pan), I’ve found that I get much more even cooking and browning, by placing the pan in the center, and the coals all the way around it (see: Kettle Grilling: #1 ~ Advanced Charcoal Techniques)
I also recommend just using hot water in the pan (always start with hot water, or you’ll drop you temps too much, while it heats. Some folks will add wine, beer, herbs, fruit juices, and other flavoring in the water pan, but I haven’ found that this has much effect on the flavor of the food.
It can smell great, but it’s really just water vapor escaping while everything else reduces in the pan.
If I’m cooking something that I know is going to produce a LOT of drippings, I’ll add a small amount of complimenting stock (beef, chicken, or pork) in the pan, to keep the juices from burning off, so I save the flavorful dripping for stocks, sauces, or gravies.
More reasons to use drip/water pans:
Water pans create a space for indirect cooking, and will protect meat from excess heat.
Water pans create a moisture, which helps cooking food retain IT’S moisture.
This moisture traps smoke particles from the air and holds them to the surface of the food, inscreasing its “smokiness.”
Water pans help control the temperature and maintain consistent heat between 225F and 250F (ideal for BBQ). The water absorbs heat and the steam stabilizes temperatures.
When using a water pan, be careful not to over fill it, and remember to check the liquid levels often, adding more (hot) water as needed.
Water pans work best for low and slow BBQ, so use it with meats such as pork shoulders, ribs, roasts, and briskets.
For poultry, I don’t typically add water to the pan, and only a little stock, as excess steam will keep skin from getting crispy, leaving the best part of the bird flaccid and rubbery.
(And when is “flaccid” EVER a good thing?) 😉
In our next lesson, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of an advanced technique known as “reverse grilling.”
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I grew up a grub-scout, and we cooked a LOT of foil-pouch dinners over campfires. We called them “Hobo Packs” back then (way before anyone had heard of “political correctness” lol)
Nowadays, I make some up and freeze them before leaving for camping trips, to get a delicious dinner, with no clean up!
I have an exhaustive list of foil-pouch recipes and idea in the “MY KITCHEN Cookbook“, but here’s a couple of tips we teach the kid’s before we let them loose on the ingredients table:
One thing I see done a lot, when people are assembling foil-pouch meals, is that they want to place the meat on the bottom, and pile their veggies over that. While they probably think that this will ensure that the meat cooks faster, and thoroughly, it’s actually the opposite of how you want to build your pouch, and will only dry out and/or burn the meat.
The juiciest ingredients need to be placed closest to the foil (tomatoes are best), as they will be the least damaged if burnt, then ingredients with less moisture content on top of those, then your seasoning, and LASTLY the meat (pre-seasoned with salt and pepper.) Top with a little butter or olive oil, and close it up.
The reason for this layering: Fats/oils from the meat drips down to flavor the veggies, while the tomatoes, potatoes, onions, etc., contain water, which mixes with all those natural juices, and steams the meat into tenderness. That excess moisture also helps to keep your veggies from drying out.
I also like to wrap the pouch, seam side down, in a second piece of foil, to help prevent leaking and scorching.
Personally, I like to brush a thin layer of bacon-fat, or schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) on the foil before I add my veggies.
It adds a little more flavor, and also helps prevent your veggies from sticking to the foil.
Then start cooking with the outer seam down. Try it and see what you think!
Home Chef Note: Don’t use boneless, skinless chicken breasts for foil-pouch cooking…just don’t do it.
They dry out too easily in this form of cooking, and they don’t bring any fat or flavor to the party.
Bone-in skin-on chicken thighs and hindquarter work great, though. Slice along both sides of the bones (but don’t remove them) before seasoning and cooking.
This not only gets more flavor into the meat, but it helps the meat cook faster, and more evenly!
Have any foil-pouch cooking questions? Let me know!
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 sayHome 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
Fish fillets & shellfish
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:
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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Waterproof Fast Instant Read Foldable Backlit for Night Grilling Easy Calibration Magnetic backing
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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.
I used this method for many, many years, with great success, until I discovered the A-Maze-N Smoker products, which are even simpler to use that this method. (I’m all about the “idiot-proof!” LOL) Here’s a quick video on how I use them in my roasting boxes, and it’s the same method I use with my Webers.
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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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