By Keith Sutton
Terrific for campsite or beach cookouts, tailgating and picnics, portable grills are easy to transport, store and clean.
More and more people are spending time cooking outdoors for family and friends. Eighty-six percent of American families have a grill, and an even larger share -- 91 percent -- of families of four or more people fire up regularly.
Grills aren't the only cooking tools of outdoor cooks, either. Millions of Americans also use fish and turkey fryers and a wide variety of specialty cookers to prepare meals outdoors. Most outdoor cooking is still done at home -- in the backyard or on the patio -- but one out of five participants does their cooking when camping and about one-tenth bring portable grills or cookers for cookouts at parks or tailgating at sporting events.
When buying a new grill, choosing the one that's right for you will depend on a number of factors; how often you plan to cook on it, how many people you feed, where you plan to do the cooking, what barbecue techniques you prefer, and how much money you're planning to spend.
Today, there are hundred of grills for every conceivable situation, from handy portables for camping and picnics to elaborate, multi-grid models with deluxe service units that are practically a kitchen in themselves. Choose carefully, and you'll soon find yourself developing the same fond attachment to your grill as to your favorite skillet!
There are five basic types of grills from which to choose:
Kettles and Covered Cookers -- These are among the most popular and versatile charcoal grills made today. Although they come in many different shapes (round, rectangular and square), they all have deep, rounded bottoms, adjustable grids and ample lids that lend them to a wide range of cooking methods. The round version is usually called a kettle, and the square or rectangular models are called covered cookers.
With the cover off, these grills can be used in the most basic way -- to grill foods directly over hot coals. However; because of their deep bottoms, they are also excellent for indirect cooking in which a drip pan is placed on the bottom of the grill, just underneath the food, and briquettes are banked to one side. (This allows fat to drip into the pan, not onto hot coals, preventing flare-ups and excessive smoke.)
With the lid on, a covered cooker or kettle acts like an oven, roasting and lightly smoking the food at the same time. Vents in the bottom are used to regulate heat. This method doesn't require a lot of attention; you just pop in the food and time it.
You can do an entire meal on the grill, from hors d'oeuvres, fish, and even roasts. You can bake potatoes, grill vegetables, toast bread and use the dying embers to warm up pies, other desserts and coffee. This is an easy, efficient way to cook and ideal for entertaining.
Today, there are hundred of grills for every conceivable situation, from handy portables for camping and picnics to elaborate, multi-grid models with deluxe service units.
-- A water smoker is a tall, cylindrical covered cooker with a fire pan for coals, a water pan, one or two grids and a dome-shaped cover. The food is placed on a grid high above the coals. A pan of water or other liquid is placed between the coals and the grid holding the food. In some smokers
, there's a second grid above the first for smoking several different foods at the same time. The food cooks very slowly in a dense cloud of smoke and steam.
Soaked aromatic wood chips can be periodically thrown on the coals to create smoke and add another dimension of flavor. For other interesting taste variations, beer, fruit juice or wine can be substituted for water.
Although, this is the slowest method of barbecuing, food cooked on low, even heat is always tender, moist and delicious. Foods particularly suited to this method of cooking include wild game, slabs of ribs, beef briskets, roasts and whole fish.
Portables or Tabletops -- These are light-weight, portable grills that are easy to transport, store and clean. They range from simple, hibachi type grills to miniature versions of covered cookers, either round or rectangular in shape. As the cooking surface is relatively small compared to standard-sized grills, these are not designed for large cuts of meat, long cooking times or feeding crowds. However, they're terrific for campsite or beach cookouts, tailgating and picnics. They're great for beginners, too, who don't want to invest in a full-size grill to start. And if your storage space is limited, these smaller grills may be the answer.
Braziers -- These are round, shallow, uncovered grills which, in their most basic form consist of a fire pan for the charcoal and an adjustable grid. Because the grid is only a few inches away from the coals, braziers are perfect for foods such as burgers, chops, steaks, and chicken that require quick grilling.
Braziers are also available hooded, with about half of the cooking surface enclosed to protect it from wind and retain heat. These often come with rotisserie attachments, either electric or battery-powered, that will cook a roast literally to a turn, practically unattended.
Gas Grills -- These come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges -- from portable tabletops to elaborate wagons, complete with cutting boards, condiment trays, and sometimes even a dry bar.
Gas grills are most commonly fueled by refillable liquid propane tanks, but some models may be fired by natural gas lines underneath the lawn or with disposable 16.4-ounce propane cylinders. The grate is lined with specially made briquettes or with "lava rocks," made from natural volcanic stone, which are heated by gas jets. The rocks or briquettes radiate heat, which cooks the food. Gas grills also can be used as open braziers for grilling or as covered kettles for roasting.
Specialty Grills -- Some grills are also made for special applications, such as marine grills that are made for mounting on pontoon boats and other water craft. Also available are combination grills that have features that may be unrelated to cooking. Examples include the combination woodburning fireplace/charcoal grill and smoker/grills.
Fish fries and fried fish are popular almost everywhere, so it's not surprising that manufacturers offer a variety of fryers for quickly cooking a mess of fish fillets, steaks or pan-dressed fish along with fixings such as hushpuppies and French fries. Most come complete with a single, heavy-duty burner that runs off a propane tank, a large fry pot (aluminum, stainless steel or cast iron) with basket, a gas regulator and hose, and a deep-fry thermometer. More expensive versions may include options such as multiple burners or accessories that allow you to steam or boil foods such as lobsters, crawfish, clams, and vegetables.
Deep-fried turkey, a longtime favorite in the South, has spread its flavorful wings and become popular throughout the country in recent years. Celebrity chefs rave about its crispy skin and tender, juicy meat, and millions of cooks have learned just how convenient it is to have their holiday bird done in about 45 minutes (3-1/2 minutes per pound) instead of counting down the hours.
The fryers made especially for cooking this delectable dish have a propane-fired burner and accessories similar to those used with fish cookers, but they come with a larger (typically 30-quart as compared to 10-quart) fry pot with lid, plus a special turkey rack and hook, and an injector so you can shoot up your bird with delicious marinades that enhance the flavor. Also available are pumps and funnels for removing and storing cooking oil and a variety of special cooking utensils.
Recent years have seen outdoor cooking technology advance to never-before-seen levels of excellence. Every season sees the introduction of some new specialty cooker sure to be welcomed by innovative outdoor chefs. Recent examples include:
Eastman Outdoors Complete Outdoor Wok: deluxe burner with a flip-flop rack lets you use up to a 22" wok (included) or up to a 36-qt. pot (not included) to cook foods Chinese style.
Coleman RoadTrip Heat-N-Serve Slow Cooker Heater: 6-quart capacity, stainless-steel slow cooker made specially for the camper.
Coleman InstaStart Propane Oven: bake your favorites at temperatures up to 450 degrees in this 5000 BTU oven.
- Brinkmann All-In-One Cooker: do it all with this handy cooker-grill, deep-fry or smoke with charcoal or gas.