Thursday, July 16, 2015

Barbecuen' in Ceramic

One thing that's always appealed to me about a Kamado grill is that they're pretty much airtight. Ultimately, controlling airflow is the single best way to control temperature in a grill. You don't need to control airflow to control temperature... you can play the sorts of games I've played, like propping open the lid with a chunk of a 2X4

But that isn't really best. For one thing, it's not really addressing the burn rate of the grill: so what I was effectively doing was burning a fire far too hot, then throwing away the heat from the fire in order to keep the temperature where I wanted it.

The Kamado, on the other hand, allows me actually to slow down the burn rate. So it's not merely that I'm keeping the grill down to 200°F, but I'm reducing the size of the fire. Very cool stuff!

I've tried a couple times to do barbecue to on my new Kamado. The first time, I followed the conventional wisdom the Kamado community follows and set up my grill with the ceramic heat deflectors just above the fire, then set up the cooking grates over that and put a pig shoulder on the grates.

The pig shoulder was done in about 20 hours, and I was very happy with it. The pork was smoky and tender.

Best of all, I didn't have to do much with it. The Kamado pretty much held the temperature for the whole time.

But... I missed the flavor of barbecue cooked directly over the coals. The question I was asking was, "Can I cook directly over the charcoal, but keep the temperature low?" The answer is, yes you can!

So on July 3, I fired up the Kamado and set it up for 215°F.  I got the Kamado going around 7:00 AM on July 3, and it ran until about 6:00 PM the next day. 35 hours of a 215°F cook without reloading the charcoal. Oh yeah!

In that time, I cooked chicken thighs, pork butts, and whole chickens:

Sunday, July 12, 2015


It's been a little over a month since we bought the Big Joe. We've done quite a bit of cooking on it since then:

  1. smoked salmon
  2. barbecue pork
  3. pizza
  4. bread
  5. Baptist Chicken
  6. steak
  7. burgers
to name a few. One thing we haven't cooked is ribs... we should rectify that soon.

The Big Joe is a great grill: easily the best I've owned. It's not been perfect, but the folks at Kamado Joe have been quick to respond when I reached out to them. They really stand behind their product. I would definitely recommend one to anyone who wants to buy a ceramic grill.

The Big Joe is the only grill I've ever worked with that could properly smoke fish. The difficulty with smoking fish is to keep the temperature low enough that the fish doesn't overcook while keeping the fish exposed to the smoke long enough to cure it.

I had some salmon a neighbor caught that lay forgotten in my freezer for a few years. That fish was pretty much inedible after a couple years in the freezer; only smoking it seemed like a feasible rescue strategy.  After curing the salmon with salt and brown sugar overnight, we put it on the grill between 175° and 180°F for about nine hours over a fire of mesquite and alder.

Even a ceramic grill has trouble below 180°F: the fire did go out once, but we managed to keep it going more-or-less steadily from about 3:00 PM until midnight.

The finished product was really, really good. It was chewy and smoky, like salmon jerky. I'm not a huge fish-eater, but I definitely love some smoked salmon!

It's ironic that smoking salmon is primarily a method of preserving it. But once you smoke it, it becomes really, really difficult not to eat it up entirely within a few hours. I did manage to squirrel some away in the freezer, but most of it was eaten within a week.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Father's Day

Last year for Father's Day, Ames asked me what I wanted to do. She offered the usual suggestions, and then added, "You could just do nothing."  What an incredibly great suggestion!

So last year for Father's Day, I was given a day of absolutely nothing to do. I sat on the couch, ordered a pizza, washed it down with some beer, and watched kung fu movies. The family was welcome to watch the movies with me, but not to make comments.  I got to watch Tony Jaa and Jet Li thrash bozos without anyone pointing out how unrealistic it was. It was the best Father's Day ever.

And no joke: every man who has been told about my Father's Day celebrations has gotten a look of longing in his eyes and a sort of catch in his voice when he then told me that people took him out for brunch. They have seen what the perfect Father's Day could be, and they'll never want to waste another on brunch.

I've found myself compiling a list of mindless action films to watch on Father's Day this year. Father's Day might just have displaced Thanksgiving as my favourite day of the year.

I'm so thankful I'm married to a woman who gets it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Big new Grill

In December of 2006 I bought an exciting grill. It is a beautiful grill, but its innards are all cast iron, and cast iron does better in North Carolina than it does in Washington State. We brought that lovely grill out here in 2008, and it's been rusting ever since. It's gone from looking like this:
to looking more like this:
For the past few years, I've been wondering whether the solution to the Great Northwest Grill Dilemna is to buy a ceramic grill. When I was researching our current grill, I spent quite a bit of time studying on the Big Green Egg, although I found myself more drawn to some of the more esoteric kamado offerings (Komodo Kamado anyone?). I've been really fascinated by the whole kamado concept, and I think Ames was almost as curious as I.

So a couple weeks ago, when Ames and I realized it was time to get a replacement grill, there was a reasonably clear path forward.

Of course we did our research: we looked at the various kamado offerings, I pored over websites and blogs and product reviews. And in the end, we settled on the Kamado Joe. Of course I was going to just drop everything and head out to shop that night, but Ames did some research of her own, and found out when the Kamado Road Show would be coming to the local Costco.  In the end, we met the Kamado Joe guy at the Costco shortly after he opened shop, and he was already starting to run low on stock. It took me all of a minute to decide that what I really needed was the Big Joe, and next thing I knew, I was pushing one through the Costco.

But you don't care about my story. What you want to know is how the Joe works, whether it's pretty, and whether I've joined a cult.

We set up the Joe Friday night, with the help of a good friend who was willing to come wrestle a 250 lb grill out of the truck at a moment's notice.

The next morning I decided to put it through its paces.

To start, I took the thermometer out of the Joe and put it in boiling water. Yep, it read 210°F. That wasn't good enough for me: I spent several minutes adjusting it (and burning my fingers) before getting it back to 210°F. This time I was smart enough to leave it alone.

Next it was time to put some charcoal in it and see what it would do. The Joe has a grate in the bottom of the "firebox" that appears to be cast iron:
I took a charcoal chimney full of briquettes, put about a third of them into the grill, and lit the other two thirds. Once they got more or less lit, I dumped them into the grill, shut the lid, threw open the top and bottom vents, and started the stop watch.

The thermometer I had so carefully calibrated in boiling water was reading 500°F in ten minutes. Then I closed both the bottom and top vents and gave it a while. The fire went out, the charcoal got cold, and I had about half the charcoal left, ready for the next burn. You heard that right, this is a charcoal grill you can turn off! How awesome is that?

The first real cook was pizza; it was not successful. I made three errors:

  1. the dough was too wet
  2. I put in the pizza stone too early 
  3. I used briquettes.

The next night we tried again,  and it turned out well.  This time I lit the grill and let it get up around 500°F before putting in the pizza stone, then I let it continue to heat until it hit 700°F.

Although I didn't get a photo, the temperature was actually at 800° when I put in the first pizza.

The thicker pizza dough did the trick: the pies were sliding right off the peel and onto the stone.

Pizza cooks pretty quickly at 700° to 800°F. I didn't actually time them, but they were definitely cooking in less than ten minutes.

I used the Weber pizza stone my wife bought me many years ago: Apparently there is a Kamado Joe Pizza stone for this grill, but I haven't actually got one. The Weber is working well enough for now.

One problem I've had in the past with grilling pizza has been getting the top and bottom of the pies to done at the same time.  It's really easy to get a raw top and a burnt bottom. The ceramic grill works wonders: the pizza is done evenly top and bottom.

The thicker dough definitely rose into a nice crust. It was a little thicker than I like, but it was definitely a nice looking slice of pie!

It's true that pizza isn't the main reason I bought a new grill, but I've been excited to see how it works. I have to say, it was everything I hoped it could be.