I work about 300 hours a week (give or take 100) running an apparel company in Southeastern North Carolina. It doesn't leave a whole lot of time for other things, so outdoor cooking has started to take over my dad brain as it covers a number of bases:
-it's something I can teach my kids and we can spend time doing - however, I should note that the whimsy of smoked meats prepared in an exterior setting has yet to captivate the heart and soul of a 9 year old girl, or a 12 year old boy.
-it also helps me teach my kids about the local foods in our region (lots of barbecue and seafood fill our bellies - whether dad grills it or not)
-I am a frequent sufferer (or my wife is) of "disengaged husband\paternal unit syndrome", and a pair of outdoor tongs and a bushel of Stump Sound oysters are a great way to get dad back in the game
-it honors that dad-geek gadget lust that was once occupied by power tools, musical instruments, dirt bikes, and center console boats: all VERY expensive hobbies that still have a place in my world - but they are also time\money hogs
-it connects me to the way my family celebrates the big moments in life. Some of the best memories I have on this planet involve cracking open a freshly steamed shellfish and laughing with sisters, parents, brother in laws, etc.
-we are going to eat anyway - so why not make the experience as fun as possible? "Cooking For Entertainment" is a reality around here.
-most importantly, my wife and I just like good barbecue and seafood. We aren't necessarily foodies (we think "foodie" is just another word for REALLY picky) but if me creating a large, somewhat well managed fire in the backyard and putting a slab of mahi-mahi tuna across a hot metal grate before stuffing it in a warm corn tortilla in some small way helps even out the disproportionate amount of effort she puts into running this asylum, I am glad to oblige.
SO WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE?
So it’s the whole dad geek gadget lust thing that has prompted a competition of sorts between 4 fire producing\containing apparatus’s and this blog series documenting it. Over the years I’ve accumulated a charcoal grill, a gas grill, a turkey fryer\seafood steamer, and a gas grill. I live in a small house and like any family of four, it just seems like no matter how hard we try to bring as little new stuff into this house, it just - keeps - multiplying. 2 or 3 of these four cookers have to go.
Here’s a quick rundown of the contenders vying for a permanent spot in the lineup, their strengths, and weaknesses, etc.:
BRINKMAN GAS GRILL: I don’t know the name, the model, the specs, or anything like that. I do know that I bought it at Wal-Mart about 12 years ago and immediately regretted not saving up to buy a better one. The biggest complaint is the abundance of hotspots and coldspots - which is just to say that I bought this particular model because of the large grilling area - but it doesn’t matter because the heat is so unevenly distributed that you can only make use of about 50% of it. I also liked the idea that it had a side burner for pots, beans, steaming, etc. I have used that side burner exactly 0 times in 12 years.
A by-product of the large cooking area is also the large overall size of the unit itself. It’s about 20” deep, and over 3’ wide. That size wouldn’t be a big deal if this thing got weekly, or even monthly regular use. Yes, it is more convenient than using charcoal, but I’ve just found that it’s not THAT much more convenient - and there is just a ritualistic thing about using coals that I’ve been drawn to the last couple of years - not to mention that charcoal\wood taste better - I’m not sure I know anyone that would argue that…but then again, this is on the internet - so I KNOW someone will argue that.🏄🐓
KINGSFORD BULLET SMOKER: Speaking of charcoal and wood, next up is the Kingsford Bullet Smoker. This thing has a lot of strikes against it. My brother in law gave it to me when he moved out of our neighborhood - which should have been my first sign that it was “less than useful”. Another strike is the fact that the unit is really a one trick pony. It’s modeled after a Weber Smoky Mountain, and I’m sure that with some modifications I could get this thing to do a better job. The real bummer is that it's designed to do one thing, and it doesn’t even do that one thing very well. It’s designed to be a meat smoker….however temperature control is impossible and since the key to smoking great meat is maintaining a temperature of about 225 degrees for upwards of 8-10 hours, that kind of makes this a great candidate to be used as a utility table in my workshop.
TRADITIONAL 22" WEBER KETTLE GRILL: This has been the workhorse of the family grilling arsenal since my wife gave it to me as an engagement present in 1999. I know young couples have big, blowout engagement parties these days, but we were broke (and she had a coupon) so Weber 22” Grill it was. That grill has survived 4 moves, COUNTLESS backyard parties, kids knocking it over, and other atrocities. It has a leaky lid, legs that pop out of the base holder, the wood lid\grill handles rotted off years ago, the paint is fading, and it's a poor low and slow smoker - HOWEVER - the sentimental attachment to this unit means that it is very likely that will undergo some upgrades before it is relegated to the Craigslist Curb Alert section.
BAYOU CLASSIC STEAMER: Full disclosure, this is really a turkey fryer that has been slightly modified to be a high volume\capacity seafood steamer. By modified, I mean that I use a pot that has an internal steaming basket that can hold up to about a peck of oysters, which is roughly 1/4 of a bushel (that's a lot of shellfish). It was the FIRST thing I bought when my wife and I bought our first house in Coastal North Carolina, and while it’s not as versatile as the Weber Kettle Grill, it has seen just as much action - particularly in the winter months when the shellfish is abundant and the pigskin is snapped. The burner base for this unit is short, so it won’t tip over, and makes it really easy to transport - so this guy has a lot of miles on it. It's basically a metal stand with a propane blower attached to it that heats a 34 quart pot - and it does that exceptionally well.
So there’s a quick list of what we’re working with. In the next post I’ll focus on the upgrades that the Weber Kettle Grill is going to undergo in an effort to make it a stronger contender and out of the guillotine. 🏄🐓