Burning Stuff: My Love Affair with Charcoal

After a recent camping trip with some friends from work, Stratton posted the following Tweet:

Shot shotguns, drove ATV, ate steak, built a fire, drank beer, and slept on the ground. It's the beginning of the summer of manliness.

(I would offer a link, but Stratton protects his updates.)

The theme of the Summer of Manliness stuck with me. I'm a life-long nerd, so most of my interests are not exactly the traditional platform for the Red Blooded Dude. I'm into video games, music, theology, fiction (mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi) and science. There are few things I enjoy more than a book I don't understand about quantum physics.

Now, I'm a dad of two beautiful girls. Living in a house with three women has encouraged me to more actively seek out activities that offer a counterpoint to thefemininepursuits. As a result, I've found myself spending time in the woods for things other than nature observation. I've returned to my love of fishing. I've gone muddin' on more than one occasion.

And I love to grill. This last point is the focal point of this post.

I've been served well by a gas-grill my parents gave me as a wedding present. It was nothing fancy, but it lasted for many years. It was easy to start, easy to clean and held a consistent temperature. Last year, it became worn enough that I decided to replace it.

So I bought a infrared Char-broil. Typically for me it was the most technologically advanced grill I could find at Lowe's. Infrared grills don't actually cook the food with gas, instead the gas element heats another element which then cooks the food with IR radiation. It was even easier to use and easier to clean than my first grill. I used it 5 or 6 times and then we got two Weimaraner puppies--who ate the grill.

I mean, not completely, but they ate the starter, the knobs and all the gas tubing.  It's beyond my ability to repair.

We've been living a grill-less life, which is a shame.  Grilled cooking is a cornerstone of my patented weight loss system.

This weekend I was at Walmart and I saw a Weber charcoal grill.  It was a small fraction of the price of my previous grill.  I've been curious about charcoal for a while, mainly because my dad has a large charcoal grill that produces some of the best steak I've ever had.  So, I decided to get it.

I cooked steak and veggies on it the next day.  It took 40 minutes to prepare the grill before I could cook on it.  The instructions for the grill, charcoal and lighter fluid did not mention that charcoal burns without flame, so I managed to burn a lot of hair off my right hand in a massive fireball of redneck foolishness.

But the smell.  My, oh my, the smell.  Even before I lit the grill, the smell of the charcoal was wonderful.  Once the coals burned down, the grill settled into a state of pure perfection.  I cooked the steaks for 6 minutes a side, which was about double the time I'd use with a gas grill.  The veggies were put on 8 minutes before the steaks.

They were the best steaks I've ever made.  I'm now a believer: gas created an inferior steak.  The charcoal imparts a character to the meat that delightful.  Any part of the steak or veggies that was charred was wonderful--a complete contrast to the charring that happens on a gas grill.

In summary, charcoal grills are:

  1. Harder to start.
  2. Slower to cook.
  3. Harder to clean.
  4. The best way to cook a steak.

Weber, you had me at hello.