Improving Your Barbecue
Arizona homeowners love to cook outside and often do it year-round. So, equipping outdoor kitchens is important to us. But maybe the way you barbecue has gotten a little boring.
Here are five possibilities for interesting changes:
1. | Go vertical with a smoker or how about a ceramic egg?
Those vertical-style outdoor cookers that look like barrels or small refrigerators are smokers that burn wood, pellets or charcoal. Propane and electric smokers are also available. Meat can be put on racks or hung from hooks and cooked slowly -- but without getting dried out. You can also grill the regular way on smokers. Depending on size and features, smokers can range in price up to $500 or more, but many sell for less.
Vertical smokers have a small footprint and work well if you have limited space for outdoor cooking. But using them can be complicated with lots of steps to take. Many home chefs that buy them also want to have regular style barbecue grills so that they can still throw steaks or hot dogs on the grill at the last minute.
Have you heard of the Big Green Egg, an egg-shaped ceramic charcoal cooker that can be an oven, a grill or a smoker? Its airtight cooking chamber promotes heat and moisture retention and that can help keep food moist and tender. The Egg set a trend a few years ago but now there are dozens of komodo-style cookers at prices that may make you want to give them a try.
Speaking of prices, in our opinion, a $5,000 stainless steel barbecue option is probably not necessary in most backyards. Lots of high quality grills and smokers are available for $500 or less. Check out the many reviews online to find one with the features that you want, including Weber, Char-Broil, Bradley and Master-Built.
2. | Redesign your outdoor kitchen layout:
Maybe designing some new "walls" can help you improve your outdoor room. Setting things up so the barbecue is a floating island smack dab in the middle of your sunny yard may not work. Build a little wall near your house and put your barbecue and countertops up against it. You might want to use a column of a covered patio as the anchor for the area. Make sure that what you build blends in properly with your house and hardscape. Keep your cooking area nearby your inside-the-house kitchen for sake of convenience.
3. | Barbecues to use for tailgating or picnics:
If you love cooking out and want to do more, there are dozens - maybe hundreds - of portable grills on the market in a wide range of prices. Some are powered by small gas canisters, some by charcoal. Some have legs; some can be packed up in metal boxes. Some have very low prices – like under $50 – and some for a lot more - $500. If you've never tried it before, going cheap might be a good call until you decide if you like it or not.
At sports stadiums like where the Cardinals play, propane and gas grills are permitted, but charcoal and oil fryers are not. In any case, bring a portable fire extinguisher along. Never light a gas grill with the hood closed. Keep the grill at least 6 feet away from your car and never leave the grill unattended.
4. | Try more cooking techniques like salt blocks and cedar planks:
What is a Himalayan salt block? It's a very hard, pink-colored block of salt dug up in a mine in Pakistan, located some distance from the Himalayas. Somewhere, somehow it got used on grills and had great results. You heat a block on the BBQ and then cook fish, meats or poultry on top. You clean them with a damp sponge. Eventually, they lose that pink color. It adds salt to what you cook, but reportedly not that much. A good-sized block can cost $30, but prices seem to be dropping. Another possibility is grilling on cedar planks pre-soaked in wine, cider or even water. Reuse the planks until they are charred or impossible to clean. You can buy them at specialty food markets or hardware stores.
5. | Buy some clean-up tools:
One of the most discouraging parts of grilling out is the clean-up. Maybe you don't do it that often. But maybe you would if you had tools to make it easier, like a Grillbot (about $100), a battery-operated grill scrubber that works by itself - something like robot vacuum cleaners. Many homeowners love them; they also have an app now so that you can turn them on and off via your phone. You can also buy battery-powered, motorized, steam-cleaning grill brushes ($30-$40) – like Grill Daddy - that you push around the grate manually but that add extra oomph and cleaning power to the job.
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