Charcoal grill design
There are three designs for charcoal grills: kettle, hibachi, and the traditional barrel. Kettle grills are essentially metal balls on legs with a lid. The round shape helps contain all the heat and with the option of opening the lid, you can have both direct and indirect heat control. Hibachi grills are usually small, cast-iron tabletop grills that are very portable and create direct heat. They do not have lids, so your grilling is limited to foods that cook very quickly. The traditional barrel grill, which were originally steel oil barrels cut in half and transformed into a cooking surface, are great for smoking meat. You can grill at lower temperatures for hours at a time when you close the lid.
Before purchasing a grill, you should think about how many people you plan on cooking for and where you plan on grilling. Grills with 360-square inches or so are ideal for families of four, while larger grills (500-square inches and above) are better if you love to throw big gatherings. Be sure you are looking at measurements for the “cooking space,” and not just the overall grill size or measurements that include side tables or work stations. Be sure that your planned grill location is the right size; you don’t want the grill to be cramped or too close to where people hang out, because it will be easier for someone to get burned. Also, think about where you plan on storing your grill in the winter months (assuming you can’t grill all year-round) and if you need to get a smaller grill based on your garage/shed space.
The durability of cooking grates is very important since your food comes into direct contact with them. You also want grates that are not too difficult to clean. Grates made of materials like heavy-duty plated steel are good, because they resist warping and can handle very high heat. Porcelain enamels on steel is common, and provide a smooth surface that is easier to wipe clean. Cast-iron is also a great choice for grates, since cast-iron is the best material for retaining heat and adding flavor to cooking meats. When you get cast-iron, you should be sure to look at the maintenance requirements, since cast-iron without a non-stick surface needs to be seasoned. A versatile grate system will also be hinged and adjustable, so you can access the charcoal or adjust the height for temperature control without disturbing your food.
Being able to monitor the temperature of your grill is crucial. Certain foods can get ruined if you cook them on the wrong temperature, and you want every grilled meal to be the best it can be. Very high temperatures are ideal for fast searing, while lower temperatures roast and smoke for longer periods of time. Most charcoal grills have built-in heat gauges and thermometers so you can always know what’s going on underneath the hood. Grills without lids also typically include some kind of thermometer, but you do sometimes have to test the food temperature with a separate gauge.
Nearly all basic charcoal grills (with lids) include dampers. These vent-like systems allow you to control the grill’s heat without opening the lid. By adjusting the damper’s angle, you can lower the temperature for smoking and roasting, or increase the heat for faster cooking. Many grills have adjustable or sliding side dampers, which provide superior control.
Most charcoal grills (of all types) have heavy-duty cast iron doors where you can feed charcoal into the grill. You can also access the charcoal by lifting the cooking grates. Many grates are either hinged or slide back and forth for easier charcoal access. Accessing and adding your charcoal should be easy, so you have total control over your grilling experience.
Having space for accessories and prep makes grilling very convenient. You do not have to run back and forth between a table and the grill. Many charcoal grills include side tables or shelves that are foldable, so you choose to flip them down for more workspace, and then fold them back up for easier storage. Other accessories include utensil hooks, wire condiment baskets, and even bottle openers. You can get a lot more done right by your grill, and save time and energy.
Keeping a charcoal grill clean is very important since the build-up of ash can taint your food and make the grill less efficient by smothering the fire. Charcoal grills typically have some kind of adjustable or removable ash pan where the ash falls. To dispose of the ashes, you simply take out the pan and empty it out. If you grill a lot, you will want an ash pan (also called an ash catcher) that can hold a lot of ashes, so you are not constantly emptying it out. Totally enclosed ash catchers are ideal, so the ash does not blow around.
Hibachi grills are the most convenient grill in terms of mobility. They are small and have handles, so you can just carry it around and store it in a cupboard. The larger kettle and barrel grills typically have wheels or even tables where the grill rests. These tables fold down for more compact storage and transport when you are not grilling. Locking casters with sturdy tires are important, so the grill is not at risk for moving around when you are grilling, and you can use the grill on rougher surfaces without worrying about the tires giving out. Grills typically have two wheels, though larger ones may have as many as four.
Since charcoal grills get so hot, construction needs to be durable and reliable. Steel plates, rust-resistant metal, and cast-iron are all great materials. Many of these metals include porcelain enamel or powder-coats for extra strength and heat resistance. Durable grill construction means you can use the grill frequently and for a long period of time. It is better to spend a little extra money on quality materials, rather than cheaping out and having to replace a fragile grill much faster.