Thursday, December 28, 2006


I woke up today with the undeniable need to barbecue something. The standard fare: Boston butts, would take too long (I stayed up late last night), and chickens just don't cut it. So, I settled on ribs.

There's something undeniably wonderful about barbecued ribs. Everyone---good ol' boy, southern belle, yankee, and Canadian alike---can enjoy the smokey, sweet, tangy taste of a juicy rib, with a slight resistance to the teeth as the meat pulls from a clean bone.

So, I headed out to BJ's and picked up five racks of baby back ribs. Now, it is a fact that spare ribs are better than baby back ribs, but not everyone is of the appropriate taste and palate to realize that. Further, the side ribs are harder to cook. Not necessarily something to dissuade me from cooking on most days, but I was starting late, and I have house guests. So, baby backs it is.

Now, having bought the ribs, the question of cooking them arises. Should I cook them on the new grill, or on the offset cooker? We decided to go for broke and try the new grill out for a slow cook. So, with trusty remote thermometer in hand, I headed outside to fire up the grill.

If you want good barbecue (whether that's good Boston butts, chickens, ribs, or whatever), you need to use a good fuel. Personally, I use natural lump charcoal. I've played with a few different brands, and the best I've found is Wicked Good Charcoal's Weekend Warrior Blend. The only problem with the Weekend Warrior Blend is price and availability (or is that two problems?). It's a mail-order thing, and once you figure in shipping and handling, it's pricey (for lump charcoal). Today I'm using the store brand lump charcoals from Harris Teeter and Lowe's Foods. I suspect they're the same stuff, packaged with different labels, but they're good charcoal at a decent price. Just for the record, I tried the lump from Barbecues Galore recently, and found it roughly the same.

So, the ribs were cooking nicely between 200F and 250F. And the smell was wonderful.

Ribs, like all other barbecueing adventures. are primarily an effort in temperature control. I always use my wireless remote thermometer to monitor the temperatures, which need to hover ideally somewhere between 200F and 225F. Of course, baby back ribs are a forgiving cut of meat, and you can let the temperature wander up into the 250F range, if you need to. Now when it comes to monitoring temperature, you need to find one of these:This remote thermometer is worth its weight in gold for low, slow cooking.

So, with the temperature firmly set at 200F (or thereabouts), it's time to let the meat meet the grill.

When I do ribs, my method is fairly simple. Firt, make sure the ribs hang around 200F. Second, take lots of time, third, don't use too much sugar. One mistake with ribs is to make them too sweet. I tend to cook them more like I live in North Carolina (which, oddly enough, I do), and finish them like I live in Kansas City (which I don't).

So to start, I coat them in yellow mustard, then coat them in salt, black pepper, garlic (typically powder, but fresh garlic works too, it's just more annoying to work with), and paprika. Once that's done, I throw them on the grill. While the meat cooks, I baste it with an Eastern North Carolina-style sauce. I typically use my own sauce made from water, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic. I also sometimes use some Carolina Treet. Today I did one coat of Carolia Treet, along with several (I lost count) of my own.

Once the meat is cooked (juices run clear, bones protrude, and all that), I coat them in a sweet sauce (I make my own with tomato paste, brown sugar, molasses, and the Eastern North Carolina style sauce I mentioned above). That can be my own creation, or something sufficiently good from a store.

Personally, the best sauce from a store I know of is, "Mojo Mild" from Red, Hot and Blue. There are plenty of decent sauces available, so that's not a problem. As long as the ribs are cooked low and slow, the end result will be good.

The combination of smoke, meat, sour, sweet, and hot makes an incredible taste.

Once the ribs were more or less done, we brought them inside and cut them into three-rib lengths. Each section was immersed into a sweet sauce, and they were put back on the grill. Twenty or thirty minutes to caramelize the sauce, and they were be ready to eat.

What a great way to spend a day off!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Bob! Bob! The girls are in a jam!"

"What's the beef?"

I'm not usually a "They're playing our song!" kind of guy. Music and movies are not really seasonal in my mind, at least in the sense that holidays are for family, not for artificial stimulation.

Nevertheless, there are indisputably some movies that define the holiday season. Here is my short list:

Notice a couple things: (1) I've named Polar Express as a "modern classic". This movie is worthy of joining the "Christmas Movie Pantheon". (2) I've included A Child's Christmas in Wales, although no one in the USA has ever heard of it, and (3) I've excluded White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, and It's a Wonderful Life. Deal with it.

I got my first gift of Christmas already:

I had declared last night to be a night for watching holiday classics, and was determined to buy a copy of Scrooge/A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim. People had a hurried consultation and had me open a gift: apparently they had already bought it for me. Wow! I've wanted those two DVDs time out of mind, and hadn't been able to find them.

What a great start to Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006


This is the week for dining out! Last night we went with my team from work to McIntosh's, a locally-owned tier-1 restaurant. Tonight we have reservations for the family (us, Mum and Dad, some close family friends) at Capital Grille.

So far, the Capital Grille is my favourite restaurant. We'll see how they do tonight: there is an impish delight on the part of some restaurateurs to make my recommendations and glowing praise look foolish when I take someone to a new place. So we're hoping the wait staff and cooks at the Grille are up to their usual standard: I've talked them up, and they need to not make me look bad.

McIntosh's was not quite up to what I expected. I was honestly a little disappointed. Not that anything there was bad but the minute details that separate the best from the second-best were missing. Had it been a lower-end steakhouse (say Outback), I would have given them an "excellent" for last night's performance. Unfortunately, I was paying significantly more than I would have at the Outback, and so I was expecting significantly more.

The menu for my dinner last night was: "French" Onion Soup, 48 oz. Ribeye (bone-in) cooked medium, Scalloped Potatoes, Asparagus, Creme Brulee, San Pellegrino, Port (Dow's 2000), Coffee, and Cognac. My wife had a smaller Ribeye (16 oz), and a Caesar Salad in addition to the sides I ordered (sides are family-style and there was more than enough potatoes and asparagus for two). She was content with ice water to drink. A co-worker picked up the cognac, but the rest of our bill came to me.

The food was good. The onion soup was slightly too sweet, but some salt fixed it. My wife's steak was slightly overdone, and the salad was a little bland; but the potatoes were fantastic, and the asparagus was good. My steak was a little under-seasoned, but nothing a little salt couldn't fix.

So all in all, the food was a good, but perhaps not worth the price we paid. Still, it was better than we could get at an Outback or something.

The service, however, was a little disappointing. Nothing bad, mind you: just less than perfect. As an example, I was drinking San Pellegrino. I had to refill my glass myself several times from the bottle. At the Outback, I wouldn't have minded. But this wasn't the Outback, and at the price I was paying, I ought not to have touched my glass. Another example: the waitress consistently served the man across the table from me before my wife, who was next to me. Now call me old-fashioned, but that's the first time I've ever gone to a "tier-one" steakhouse where they didn't consistently serve the women first. In fact, the waitress tried to take my order before my wife's. I suppose she might have taken my co-worker's order before my wife's because we were on separate tabs, but there's no excuse for taking mine before my wife's.

So the night was not lost: it was a nice dinner, but it looks like I'll be sticking to Capital Grille for now. Again, nothing at McIntosh's was bad, but anytime I pay $75 or more per person, I have some expectations that are much higher than just "good". At that price point, it better be "excellent".

The other friends going with us tonight tried out Ruth's Chris a few montsh back. We'll see what they think tonight. So far as I've heard, Capital Grille is better than Ruth's Chris. I've never tried Ruth's Chris myself, so I'm looking forward to seeing their opinion between the two.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


So my el cheapo home theater system died a couple months ago. Well, actually the DVD player in it died. so we've been without a DVD player for a few months, although we can always pop a DVD into the Mac and watch it.

I finally rigged the Mac audio output through the home theater system (the AUX IN and the amp still work: it's only the physical DVD player that is broken), and I'm using iTunes as my stereo.

I've been going back and forth on whether to replace the DVD player. I finally decided against it. We got rid of the TV this week, and we'll just use the Mac for our entertainment system.

Thoreau would be proud.

Monday, December 11, 2006

ESV Review

The English Standard Version (ESV) is published by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good New Publishers in Wheaton, Il. The ESV is essentially an updated RSV. It's been very well marketed, and generally well received. I purchased a copy in June of 2006, because I was interested to see whether this new translation would be appropriate as my main Bible.

My ESV is the Classic Reference TruTone Edition. It's bound nicely in a faux leather, which is supple right out of the box. The font size is decent, the Bible is actually nicely laid out. In fact, this is really what "thinline" Bibles should be: soft and compact without looking and feeling cheap. I paid around $20 for my ESV.

The ESV is essentially an updated RSV, with words like "virgin" re-inserted. It might be closer to KJV than the RSV is, but it is based on RSV.

I like the ESV. At times, I've been very happy with it, at other times I've found it disappointing. I've read the Epistles, and Genesis through Jeremiah so far (I'm in the last three chapters of Jeremiah in my reading right now); so I have an idea how it reads, and I've noticed some quirks that will prevent me from adopting it as my main Bible.

The ESV is billed as an "essentially literal" translation, and the Preface and Foreword take some shots at so-called "Dynamic Equivalence" that translations like NIV use. Personally, I have no use for an NIV, but I found the "essentially literal" translation philosophy of the ESV to be not literal enough.

I really like what the ESV tries to do: be a literal translation like NASB, but use language that looks and reads like real English. They do a decent job in places, but I found too many exceptions. Rather than produce a learned and scholarly analysis (which I'm not qualified to do anyway), I'll provide a few examples with some commentary.

Let me offer this caveat at the outset: the biggest problem in my ESV is, they don't mark inserted words with italics (as the KJV and NASB do), nor with brackets (as the Darby does). So there is nothing on the page to indicate a deviation from the text, unless there is a footnote. This is a major problem, and makes my ESV completely unsuitable for a study Bible. It may be that a "study" edition would correct this, but I can only speak for the ESV I've been reading.

The most annoying feature is the apparently gratuitous changes in the text, which appear unnecessary. Other translations offer a literal rendition of these, why won't an "essentially literal" translation?

Example: Hebrews 10: 12
"But when Christ* had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God," (ESV)
"But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;" (KJV)
"but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD," (NASB)
The ESV rendition of this verse replaces the "he" in the Greek text with "Christ". This is indicated by a footnote in the ESV. Now, we can all agree that this in no way changes the meaning of the text, but it's hardly "essentially literal" to insert a proper noun in the place of a pronoun! This is a pattern in the ESV, other sightings include Exodus 13:19; 1 Chronicles 21:26; Luke 22:8;

Example: 2 Samuel 6:22
"I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your* eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor." (ESV)
"And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour." (KJV)
"I will be more lightly esteemed than this and will be humble in my own eyes, but with the maids of whom you have spoken, with them I will be distinguished." (NASB)
The ESV indicates by a footnote that they substituted "your" for "my". Why? Both KJV and NASB render it literally as "my". Why does ESV change it? How is this "essentially literal"?

Romans 6 is interesting in the ESV: the literal "old man" of the KJV and NASB is replaced by the paraphrase "old self". Very metaphysical, but hardly literal, and not any clearer to an English speaker. (See Romans 6:6 and following). A footnote in the ESV indicates that "man" is the literal translation, rather than "self".

1 Corinthians 11:1--16 is almost comical. They insist on rendering "gyne" as "wife", except in vv. 8, 9, 11, 12, 15. This is not necessarily wrong: "gyne" can properly be translated "woman" or "wife". But the fact that five verses clearly mean "woman" and not "wife" would indicate that the proper translation of "gyne" in this passage is "woman". That's what both the KJV and the NASB translators did. Instead, ESV uses two distinct English words to translate a single Greek word throughout the entire argument. I understand "wife" is a more politically correct translation, but in this case, it's hard (or impossible) to justify.

There are other obvious flaws I found when reading through the ESV, but these are the ones that have stayed in my mind. In the end, my ESV would be a much better Bible just for having italics or brackets to mark inserted words.

As it is, I have to refer to footnotes too frequently to check whether a word has changed. It makes my Bible reading less enjoyable.

On the other hand, the English in this Bible really is good, and its text is very readable. In fact, this is a great Bible for just reading. And I think too often we try and "study" our Bibles, rather than just reading them, but I digress.

My recommendation? If you like Bibles, like I do, it's worth picking one up and reading it through. This is becoming a widely accepted translation, and it would be wise to at least have access to one. But for serious study, this Bible would end up with a lot of ink in the margins, correcting gratuitous word changes. It's not as bad as NIV, but I think NASB or even a venerable KJV is a much better choice.

New Grill: After the first week

The new grill is a week old, and I thought I'd jot down some impressions after a week.

Since we had this grill, we've cooked:
- Burgers. About 25 of those cheap mass-produced hamburgers you buy frozen at Sam's Club or Costco
- Steaks. 9 or 12 thick ribeyes. I cooked them with a dry rub and really high temps.
- Kebobs. A few chicken and vegetable kebobs.
- Pork loin. One pork loin cut in half, supposedly at 325F
- Chooks. Two chickens, supposedly at 250F or so.

That's a decent sample set of what I'd normally grill, so I think it's a fair test of the grill.

The burgers are burgers. There's not much to say about burgers, except that they help grease your cooking grates. They tasted fine, but what's not to taste fine? It's not like there's a lot you can do to affect the outcome of burgers, short of cooking them to smoking bits of char a la Roger Fox.

The steaks worked great. I cooked them like I cook most steaks: really hot. And this grill gets hot. The steaks were seared in less than a minute per side.

Let's discuss steak for a minute, shall we? A lot of people are realizing the best way to cook tender meat (like steak) is fast and hot. I'm not sure people really understand everything involved, though. Here's my technique, and I really like the results. First, I make a mixture of equal parts salt, black pepper, and white sugar. Say 1/2 cup of each. Then I throw in some garlic powder and paprika. Not much, maybe 1/4 cup or less of each. I rub that into the steaks very generously, less than one hour before cooking. If you leave them more than 45 minutes or an hour with rub on them, the salt will dry them out.

Second, I get the grill hot. For an idea just how hot, you might want to consider this: on my last two grills, I had charcoal actually touching the cooking grates. So the food grates are about the same temperature as the charcoal I'm cooking over. In fact, one of the best features of my new grill is, the crank to raise/lower the charcoal will actually lift the charcoal to where it lifts the cooking grates off the grill!

Third, I cook the steaks hot and fast. Don't let people tell you to only turn a steak once. Turn it as much as it needs: it's better to turn it too many times and get a good steak than to turn it only once and have it unevenly cooked. If they sear quickly, I pull them to a cooler part of the grill, or even lower the charcoal to cool the whole grill. I let the steaks cook to the desired done-ness in the moderate heat. If you do it right, you don't need to let the steaks cook at lower temperature very long.

The sugar burns off, leaving good caramelization and awesome grill marks. The salt and pepper enhance the meat flavour, but don't change it, as marinades and bastes tend to do.

Ok, back to the topic at hand. The grill.

This grill definitely cooks hot. That's not bad: it makes it more fuel-efficient. But it's hard for me to manage the temperature right now. That's just a matter of learning the grill, but it's always annoying to have a couple inferior projects until you figure it out. Just off the cuff, it looks like using 1/3 of the charcoal I expect is about right.

The built-in thermometer did not pass the test this weekend. Both my grill-surface thermometer and my pit thermometer measured it significantly hotter than the bult-in. "Significantly" means in the neighbourhood of 100F. I need to complain about that, I think.

We'll have to see how this works going forward. I think this grill is a real winner, but it may take some time to learn to control its temperature.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday Dinner: Post-mortem

Well, the Sunday Dinner plans were all upset by my getting sick. Not kneeling-on-the-floor-while-I-heave-up-my-intestines-sick, just "did anyone catch the license plate on that truck?" sick.

At any rate, we stayed home and ate the pork and chooks ourselves. Not really: there's a lot left over, but we ate a lot of it.

The sauce turned out to be pretty easy: I took the stock we made from the chicken giblets and necks and the juices from deglazing the pan where I roasted the pork and reduced them. To that I added a shalot cooked in butter, some cream, some brandy, and some more butter. All this was whipped up until it reduced and got all gooey. Then we threw a little more brandy in at the last minute, and ate.

The sauce actually tasted like the sauce they put on Rahm Schnitzel at the Rathskeller in Victoria, but it was dark grey---almost black---because of all the balsamic vinegar I poured over the pork when it was cooking.

The meat itself was more herb-encrusted than pepper-crusted, but that's fine.

Everyone seemed to think it was a winner. I liked it, but that doesn't mean much. I'm not into cream sauces, and could well have mistaken something really good for something awful.

I'm off to make some rum-an-eggnog now. We bought some "blackstrap rum", which I thought came in a black bottle. Imagine my surprise when we poured some and realized the bottle was clear! It makes great eggnog, though.

I've been meaning to write a review of my ESV for quite some time now. I'll get to it someday.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Sunday Dinner (Part II)

OK, Dad and I fired up two grills today, and cooked a pork loin and two chickens. We weren't planning on using both grills, but I had to move the old one out of the way, so they both ended up in the driveway. I started a fire in the old grill to clean it out a little (I'm hoping to give it away soon), and all the accumulated fat in there smelled so good.. we ended up using it for the chooks.

The pork looks fine so far, and we got a decent amount of juice when we deglazed the pan. So far, the plan works.

The pork didn't work put exactly as I had envisioned so far, but pretty close. I cut it in half, then coated it in salt and garlic powder. Then I poured balsamic vinegar over it, and coated it in coarse-ground pepper and some thyme. Then we grilled it, pouring balsamic vinegar over it occasionally.

Tomorrow we'll thicken the juices with butter and cream, then spike it with brandy.

On a side note, what's with the balsamic vinegar? What is that stuff, anyway? I appear to be the only person on earth wo doesn't like it, which means I have to cook with it. The good of the many and all that.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Plans for Sunday Dinner

Well, it's Thursday. The second Thursday of the month, in fact, which means I'm plotting Sunday dinner.

The second Sunday of every month, we have this potluck thing for supper at the church. A year ago or so, I realized that no one was bringing food, people brought salads and desserts. But for the carnivores in the crowd, picking were slim.

So I started bringing something from the grill every month.

The challenge of "fellowship Sunday" is this: we have a 1 1/2 hour meeting first, and then eat. So certain standbys are unrealistic. I make decent marinara sauce, for example, but doubt I can bring pasta that won't dry out or be otherwise inedible once it's been sitting out for 90 minutes. I tried ribs once---and they were decent ribs---but the wait dried them out.

Last month I took a ham. I bought some cured---but not cooked---ham, baked it at 200F overnight with some salt, pepper and brown sugar, and took it to church. I put it in a little countertop roasting oven we have, and left it plugged in at 200F for the 90 minutes. It worked.

Typically I bring a ham, or some barbecue (very easy to leave sitting at a resonable temperature for hours on end), or chickens. This weekend, it'll be pork roast. I think.

Here's the plan: I have a new grill, and I'll buy a pork loin. I'll rub salt, black pepper, garlic, and paprika into the pork---I might have to cut it in half first---and maybe coat it with crushed peppercorns. Then I'll drop it on the hot grill for a few minutes to sear it. Then I'll lower the charcoal tray, lowering the grill temperature to about 300F and put the meat in a roasting pan (maybe a little water under the meat to keep the juices from burning). I'll dump some balsamic vinegar on the roast now and then to keep it moist. Last time I tried something like this, it cooked in an hour or two.

Then, I'll modify a recipe for steak au poivre sauce I found in my wife's Cooks Best Recipes book, and try and create a brandy cream sauce with the juices from the roasting pan.

The plan right now is to slice the pork very thin after it rests 15 minutes or so, then lay the slices sort of diagonally in my countertop roasting oven, pour the sauce over it, and take it. 90 minutes at 180F shouldn't dry it out, and it'll be pleasantly warm.

It might even work.

Of course, I could just chicken out and throw three or four chooks on the grill, dump beer on them, and leave them four hours or so at low temp. That's a proven technique.

Mum thinks I should rub kosher salt into the pork, but I think it would be evil to rub kosher salt into pork, especially if I cover it in a cream sauce.

I'll have to cook it on Saturday, then make the sauce on Sunday afternoon. Or at least, make the sauce except for the brandy, which I'll pour in just before we actually leave.

Lots to think about.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Barbecuein', not roasting!

The other week, a friend took us out to Capital Grille for dinner. It was great! There were a few of us at the table, and my buddy introduced me as "Clumsy Ox knows three things: Unix, beer, and meat!" I was flattered!

Well, I'm no meat expert, but I've done some research, mainly because I love cooking, and I love eating (which is why I look like I do). But best of all, I like cooking on my grills. Right now I have three of them, but I'm hoping to get rid of one this week.

At any rate, my research eventually led me to the great Guru of the Grill, C. Clark "Smokey" Hale. You can read his column online, but I sincerely recommend his book. You can get it at the Barbecue Store too.

Now, one thing I've noticed consistently is, people who get into grilling like to buy books and try the recipes, but they almost always get the wrong books! Take, for example, this guy I found on a barbecue forum yesterday. This guy was talking about "North Carolina Pulled Pork", which he cooked at 325F for 4 hours!

As someone who's spent several years in North Carolina, let me assure you, pulled pig ain't cooked at 325F! You're about 100F too high there, buddyroe. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that these people think "barbecue" means pig with some abomination of catsup and brown sugar dumped on it.

If you're barbecueing, you're sitting with your grill for a minimum of 12 hours. If a pork butt takes less than 12 hours, you better check and be sure it's cooked. 325 is roasting!

Don't get me wrong, I like roasted meat. But roasted meat ain't barbecue!

Don't even get me started on people who think you can cook barbecue in a crockpot. Adding liquid smoke to your crockpot to make barbecue is like adding cheap booze to a chuck roast to make prime rib. It doesn't work that way, period.

Actually, the most important ingredient in barbecue is the temperature. It needs to be cooked between 200F and 225F. Yeah, I know how it is: the temperature spikes sometimes, and you end up at 260F or even 325F. but the point is, you get that back down as soon as you can, back to the 200F.

Sauces, rubs, interesting smoke woods: all these are secondary to the temperature. A roast left alone in the oven overnight at 200F is surprisingly close to barbecue. Closer, in fact, than one rubbed, sauced, and carefully grilled over coals at 325F for a few hours. Don't believe me? Try it out.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Big new grill

I've been looking to replace the gas grill I melted last spring (turns out 18 chicken leg quarters provide critical mass for a devastating grease fire). I had been feeling inadequate for using a gas grill, so I replaced it with an inexpensive charcoal grill. The thought was "if i like charcoal, I'll buy a better one, if not I'll go back to gas and only be out $100."

Charcoal is the only way to go, so I bought this bad boy last weekend.

I should mention that I already own the "offset smoker" by the same manufacturer, which helped my decision: I've never had a moment of trouble with the offset cooker.

This is probably the easiest grill assembly I've done. Admittedly, the hardest part is the cart, and I got the display model from the store, so I didn't have to actually assemble it. Still, we had it assembled and lit in under an hour.

There are basically three pieces: the cart, the grill, and the hood. The grill body is more or less complete out of the box: you need to put on the charcoal tray handle and the crank to raise/lower the charcoal bed under the meat.

The hood needs to be attached to the hinges, which need to be put on the body. You also need to put the handle and the thermometer on the hood: this requires actually removing the inner part of the hood, then refastening it after you've put the handle and thermometer on. I think the powder-coated model has more direct access, but I don't remember for sure.

The cooking surfaces are cast iron, which is the absolute best grilling surface. It takes a little maintenance, but it works so much better than anything else. If you don't want to buy this grill, that's fine, but whatever grill you buy, seriously consider one with cast-iron cooking grates. Porcelain is fine, but cast iron's the cat's meow for grilling surfaces.

The cast iron grates actually lift out with a little struggle: they get caught on the edge of the grill if you're not careful. There are four grates, so you can move them around, lift some out, etc. I invested in the $7.50 grate lifting tool, which was a good choice. Hey, if you're gonna drop more than $800 on a grill, spend the extra $7.50 and get the tool.

The charcoal bed is divided into three sections with removable dividers. This allows you to control the coal placement. This is what I've been missing all this time! This way, you can build a huge fire at one end, and the charcoal doesn't sort of spill over to ruin your heat control. There's nothing worse than dumping a load of charcoal into your grill and having it spread all over
the place. Especially if you use lump charcoal, that's a real annoyance. The dividers really solve that problem: you can pack all your charcoal into one of the areas to form a well-defined bed.

The charcoal bed does a good job of letting air at the charcoal. On my previous grill, I ended up putting a grate on two bricks on top of the charcoal tray, which let me get the fire closer to the food (for hot cooking like steaks), and it let more air get at the charcoal. I found the tray itself really prevented the fire from burning. On this grill, lack of air isn't a problem.

Best of all, the charcoal bed can be raised until it actually lifts the cooking grates off the grill! This allows you to put a serious sear on those steaks. The crank handle to control the charcoal height is great, and it allows some pretty fine-grained heat control. My cheaper grill had one of those trays you lift with a series of hooks to the level you need.. but they never have one at the right place! With a crank, you can put it almost anywhere.

The bottom of the grill comes out as a tray (slides out with a big handle) for easy cleaning. That's an awesome feature. I mean, the whole bottom comes out. Wow!

One of the nice features of this grill is the front-loading door: the front of the grill opens with a little knob so you can stoke the fire without moving the meat. A lot of grills are doing that now, but this grill has a really wide door. My inexpensive "test" grill had a front-load door, but it was so small, I had to perform some acrobatics to move the charcoal around the fire. This
one lets you really work, without burning your wrists and hands.

Let's spend a minute talking about thermometers. If you don't have a decent thermometer, you're basically grilling by guess. Not a good plan. For common fare: steaks, fish, hot dogs, burgers, this isn't so bad. You can pretty much work with "hot", "sorta hot" and "Wow!". But for more delicate work, like roasts or ribs, you need to know how hot the grill is.

On most grills, the thermometer is basically useless: it is either so cheap it doesn't work, or it has helpful units like "Hot" and "Warm", or it's just in the wrong place. The thermometer on this grill seems to be better than useless, although I haven't really put it to a difficult test yet. To start, it's got both C and F graduated in decent units from around 170F through
540F. That's an immediate improvement on average. Second, it's not all the way up the lid. In other words, it's placed low enough for the measurement to have some relevance to the meat. Face it, the meat doesn't care how hot the top of the lid is, it cares how hot the cooking grates and the air immediately above them are.

Like all serious grillers, I have a plethora of thermometers, including a wireless pit thermometer that seems to be very accurate, and one of those grill-surface thermometers. I haven't tried to do a serious calibration of the built-in yet, so I'm not quite willing to trust it with meat. But my initial, casual observations seem positive.

The cart is nice: two stainless shelves that drop down with a little lift. There are towel racks on them, and one has a bunch of little hooks to hang your grilling tools. Nice touch. A lot of grills have these, but the ones on this grill are a little smaller than most, which actually seems to work better.

The modesty cover on the front of the cart is useless. I may end up taking mine off. It more or less nullifies the value of the shelf under the grill, making it inaccessible. Had I thought of it soon enough, I would have mounted the grill backwards on the cart, and used the modesty cover as a back wall for the shelf. But this thing is heavy, and I'm not up for moving it now, so I may just take the cover off and put it in storage.

The only real problem with this grill (besides the steep price) is the lack of airflow control in the bottom. You can't choke down the fire for slow cooks... I haven't had a chance to barbecue some ribs or butts yet, so I haven't been able to really test how adjustable it is. Of course, I have an offset cooker for that, but the flavor's better when the meat's directly over the fire. That way, the fat that renders out of the meat falls into the fire and generates flavourful smoke.

The size and weight of this grill would suggest that it takes a lot of fuel to warm it up. On the other hand, the weight suggests that it'll be less affected by ambient conditions than most grills. I cooked some burgers on a single chimney full of lump charcoal (so less than 5 pounds), and the grill was still at 200F three hours later. This is a positive sign for longer cooks.

Bible Quest

So several years ago (say spring of 1992), I switched from using a KJV to using a Darby Translation. There's a long story to that, which is really irrelevant right now. Suffice it to say that my little Darby became my most used Bible within a few months.

Well, around the end of 1999, it was wearing out a little. Perhaps that indicates it was poor quality, perhaps it indicates I read it too much... one way or another, it's got pages falling out, and there's a lot of wood glue in there. So my wife buys me a KJV/Darby Parallel Bible from Bible Truth Publishers around the end of 1999. It's nice and all, but I've tried twice to adopt it as my primary Bible, and both times, the cheap binding and brittle paper have forced me back to my worn-out little Darby.

So this spring, I decided to try and see what else is out there. I started with buying a small ESV (one of those cool TruTone editions). It ran me about $23 at Books-A-Million, and I've been reading it through. I'm only in Jeremiah, but I've read most of the Epistles as well.

Then, out of the blue, a guy gave me an unopened, untouched Darby from Stow Hill! This is a big deal, because they went out of business 30 years ago or so. This has been on his bookshelf--- still wrapped in the shipping paper---for 30 years! It's gorgeous, although it's taken some work to break it in. But it's significantly better quality than the Darbys they're selling now.

And then, just this last weekend, a guy gave me a single-column NASB. One of those Kay Arthur inductive bibles.

So suddenly I have some reading to do. I've never read the NASB through, and I don't want to start until I finish my ESV. So I'm trying to pick up the pace a litte on the ESV.

So much to read, so little time to read it...