Monday, February 27, 2012

Pizza on the Kettle

About a month ago, I found someone on Craigslist selling an insert for a charcoal grill called the KettlePizza. I had been a bit skeptical of these, but after all the reviews I had read touting 800-degree oven temperatures, I could not resist, and took the plunge.

The KettlePizza in action
The KettlePizza is a stainless steel insert that is designed to fit in a standard 22.5" Weber kettle grill. It has an opening in the front large enough to move a pie into and out of the oven.

I had been trying to perfect pizza on the kettle, and got close, but never far enough. I purchased the kettle-fit pizza stone (seen in picture) from Red Sky Grilling, and it did a decent job on its own. The only problem I had was I had difficulty cooking the top of the pizza before the bottom burned, and I also had difficulty achieving high temperatures. Adding this insert would help with both these issues, I believed. Open area means more oxygen to the fuel, and leads to higher operating temperatures, right?

My first attempt was a step in the right direction. I got temperatures upward of 700-800f, and cooking the top of the pie was certainly not a problem. But I did have a few issues:
  1. The bottoms of the pies cooked very slowly. I was close to burning the toppings and cheese before the bottoms were cooked, and even then I thought they were underdone.
  2. While the open door enabled better oxygen flow, it also enabled heat to escape. This was pretty well mitigated by burning wood in the kettle in addition to charcoal, but the fuel would burn quickly and the oven would cool quickly as well.
This post highlights attempt #2. I went back to the drawing board a little bit, and here are some tweaks I came up with.
  1. The instructions for the insert prescribe that you pour a mound of lit charcoal on the back area of the charcoal grate, allowing some to spill forward a bit. I was very paranoid about burning the crust, so I followed the instructions to a T. This time, I decided to preheat the stone with a half-chimney of charcoal. While that was happening, I lit another half-chimney of charcoal to put in the back.
  2. I felt that the whole setup could use some thermal mass to stabilize temperatures on the top portion of the insert. So I put another cooking grate on the top of the insert, and laid out some fire bricks on top of that. Much like in a wood- or coal-fired oven, heat would be retained in the bricks, which I believed would mitigate heat loss a bit. (not sure if this was the case, but positive results from this run means I will set it up that way again).
Here is a shot of a pie in the oven. It is pretty imperative to use some wood chunks for fuel in addition to the charcoal. After your cooker has been pre-heated, just throw a couple of chunks on top of the charcoals in the back. Wait a couple of minutes, and they'll be burning quite nicely, which will really ramp up your cooking temperatures. This past run the thermometer was pegged past 700f.

My method was similar to what you see done with a wood-fired oven. Leave the pie on as-is for a few minutes, then flip around to expose the side closest to the door to the more intense heat from the back. In total, it was about 5-8 minutes per pie.

And here's a shot of a finished product:

Sorry there are no shots of the bottom, but it was cooked perfectly. A bit of browning, and nice and crisp. As you can see, the top of the pie turned out quite well, too.

With some tweaking, this insert has proven to be quite effective, and the Red Sky stone is quite a good complement to it. I was finally able to get good pizza out of my kettle grill. Up next is trying to determine a safe way to remove the insert from the grill, so I can close it down and save on charcoal. This thing is a fuel hog!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Divisional Championship Ribs

I have only recently started grilling and doing barbecue, maybe about 6-8 months ago.  Probably my favorite thing to cook are spare ribs.  For whatever reason, I'm pretty dialed in on everything in the process.  Plus, it only takes about 4-6 hours to get them on the table, even at a low temperature.

The Sunday before last, in preparing to watch the Steelers take on the hated Ravens, I decided to make some ribs for dinner.  So I picked up a rack of spare ribs, and trimmed them up to a pseudo-St. Louis style:

I rubbed them with a homemade concoction -- heavy on the brown sugar, with a small amount of salt, some cracked black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, chili powder, and oregano mixed in -- and put the ribs on my Weber Smoky Mountain.

After about 4.5 hours at 250F (+/- about 15-20 degrees), I took them off the smoker and let them rest.

And here they are, plated, sprinkled with some more of my dry rub, and ready to eat.

In the short period I've been cooking, these were probably some of the better ribs I have made.  They were at the perfect level of tenderness, and had a good exterior texture and smoke ring.  While these can be a bit more labor intensive than, say, a pulled pork, I tend to like the resulting meal much better.