Top positive review
59 of 66 people found this helpful
Latest version of grill solves air leaks
on September 10, 2012
I got my new grill last week, and spent the weekend learning to use it.
First I should mention the previously mentioned air leak issue. In the current version of the grill, there is no air leak issue. The new cast iron top vent is designed to stop all air, except what you have dialed in to pass through the vent. If you turn it off, it will stop the air flow, and extinguish the fire. It has a high-temperature o-ring made of a silicone rubber, and has a nice tight feel to it. The lower vent seems to be fit good enough to do what it needs to do. But with two dampers (top and bottom) the airflow is controlled by the most closed of the two. Since the top one closes enough to kill the fire, any small leaks in the bottom one don't really matter. So I think the air-leak problem is in the past, the manufacturer really stepped up and addressed the issue. They are listening!
The grill I got should have been black, but instead it has a nice hammered two-tone finish. It is black on grey for the main shell, and black for the legs. It looks like a nice finish that should hold up well.
My goal is to learn to properly regulate the temperature, for low-slow cooking. One thing I learned is that even at a low temperature, the radiant heat from the fire will tend to overcook anything that gets direct heat if you are doing a long cook, so the first accessory that is a must have is some kind of heat deflector, such as a pizza stone. I used a sheet of foil with a drip pan on top, that worked too.
As for temperature regulation, learning that will require some patience and understanding. In a test cook, I was trying to get a temp in the 225 range. It turns out the vent setting for that temp is around .5 to .75 on the upper vent. Not knowing that in advance, I started on a setting of 2... The fire quickly started getting really hot, so I turned the vent down to 1, and waited a half hour. The temp was still high. So I turned it down to .5, and waited another half hour... it dropped to 350. So I set the vent lower, barely cracked... Half an hour later, it was at 300. The vent was almost closed so I decided to wait a bit longer to see if it cooled more... half an hour later it was at 275, so I decided to go ahead and put the meat on (a pork rump). I figured it would keep slowly dropping. What I didn't know was that the fire was out, it was the insulation that was holding the heat in. So my first lesson on what not to do... Head the warnings about starting low, once the temperature is too high, it is difficult to get it back down without extinguishing the fire and starting over.
One of the tricks is not to have too much fire to begin with. Make a pyramid of cold charcoal lumps, and only light a small section of the coals. For a low-slow cook, you will want the fire to slowly burn across your fuel load, so lighting one edge of the stack is better than dumping a load of pre-lit coals in. If you start with a full fire, you will never get the low temperature right. A good stack lit from one edge will give the fire an order with which to burn in, so that you don't go cold with unused fuel. Since most of the fuel is cold to start with, making sure it is all in a tight pile will insure the fire eventually is able to consume all of the coals.
The idea of using a propane torch to light the stack in one spot is a good way to go, thanks to the reviewer who suggested that. A propane torch on a hose is best for that, so you don't hold the bottle upside down.
Since your fire will be burning from one edge of your pile to the other, having a heat deflector will prevent the uneven heat from causing a problem. The fire will gradually move across the pile, and a deflector will keep the heat even regardless of where the fire is.
I found that I was able to hold a low-slow temp quite well, but it would change temperature slightly so I was tweaking the top vent every hour or so. I think my next project is to make a thermostat, and figure out a way to motorize the damper.
But so much for my learning to control the fire. I still have more to learn obviously.
I also tried some ribs, both pork and beef. The pork ribs were good, the beef ribs were excellent.
As soon as I get my pizza stone, I will do a brisket.
After a couple of meals featuring too much meat, I did a cook with a load of veggies, potatoes, corn on the cob, mushrooms, assorted peppers, and cherry tomatoes... It all came out very good, but veggies are easy and don't take long to get right.
The grill is well made, and the parts all fit as they should. The only problem I had during assembly was trying to use a wrench on the hex bolts. The bolts are chamfered, and so are my wrenches. well before the bolts are starting to get tight, the wrench looses the ability to turn them because of the chamfer causing them to just slip past each other. They are slotted for a Phillips screw driver, and as it turns out my big #3 driver could put more than enough torque on them, so I was happy once I put the wrench away. The chamfered bolt heads are actually nice in that they make a smoother surface... Just don't use a wrench.
My old stainless grill had bad rust problems. Turns out that there were places for water to collect inside of non-stainless parts. In particular the legs. I was happy to see that on this grill, two of the legs are not closed at the bottom, so no place for water to collect. The back leg with the caster-wheel looks closed at the bottom, so at some point I'll pull the caster off, and drill a small hole for water to drain out from. Older cars had this problem, rusting out from the inside... Car makers learned that lesson a few years back, and started putting drain holes in places water can collect, and as a result cars stopped rusting out from the inside (as long as some idiot didn't cover the drain holes with undercoating. The only other potential water collection point is the ash pan. I don't think I want a drain hole, so instead I may store the bottom inside the grill upside down... I'll be thinking about that for a while.
I did buy a cover from Walmart that fits really good, for under $6. It should last at least 6 months while I find a better one...
In summary, I really like this grill. The price is right compared to something like a Green Egg, I just need to keep on-top of the potential for rust, and if I can do that it will last a long time.
EDIT-- The ash pan is a big water collector. Because it is insulated, there are two steel walls in the ash pan, and both collect water. A very small hole through both should fix it, at the cost of a small air leak (should be ok if the hole is small enough).
Also I have added a fan from Auber instruments (6.5cfm I think) that can be connected to any common PID. The fan fits perfectly without any adapters, and does an excellent job controlling the temperature. I can get 30+ hours of cook time from a single load of lump charcoal when I cook at a low temperature (like around 220f). Once I can control the temperature accurately, I get flawless fall-apart brisket every time!