Now, don't get me wrong. The Weber grill is a beautiful thing, the platonic form where simplicity equals beauty, the champion of utilitarianism.
However, there does come a time, in every grill enthusiast's life, when the Weber no longer "cuts the mustard". It may be too small. It may cook too unevenly. Maybe, it's just done been rode long and hard and won't do what you need it to do. At this point, the enthusiast may buy a new grill, a big "oil drum" monster, or a (God forbid) patio gas grill. Until that time comes, though, you have your Weber.
As has been mentioned, the Weber does what it does, and does it well, However, if one wants to make real, honest to goodness barbecue, be it beef brisket, pork loin, chicken, the Weber might fall a bit short.
All this said, there is a method you can use to get a little more life out of your Weber, before you graduate to something else. I adopted this method for smoking meat, after stepping down from my Char-Griller one day to the Weber at my mom's place. It ain't perfect, but it works.
Your Weber: A Poor-Man's Smoker
Now, many people use their Weber to grill chicken, burgers, steaks, and the like. There is nothing wrong with this. Flame-broiled meats can be amongst the tastiest things on earth. Or perhaps one wants to grill a roast. No problem. Put the meat above a nice set of hot coals, close the lid, and wait a while. Both of these variations are good, however they do not compare with barbecue
As a quick refresher, barbecue depends on two things: seasoning and smoke. Now, to have smoke, heat is obviously a precursor, but that's the thing about barbecue. It does not sit directly over an open flame. Rather, it cooks, ever so slowly, via the less-intense heat (approximately 220 degrees F) from a nice, hardwood-flavoured smoke.
Now, before going any further, the limits of this process must be recognised
- Using this method, you will have probably less than half your available grill space for cooking. You certainly won't be able to cook huge sides of beef. You will, however, be able to cook small racks of ribs, or pork loins, maybe even a smaller brisket
- The nice thing about a good smoker is that you can add charcoal easily, to maintain the fire, without losing much of the existing heat in the process. You simply cannot do this with a Weber. Thus, you are better off sticking to smaller cooking times (2 hours or so). If you have fellow enthusiasts with you, you may be able to quickly open the lid, lift the grates, add a bunch more charcoal and replace everything, but that will come at the cost of much heat, and probably even more time.
How to do it
.' o '.
.' o o <---------'.---------- vent
| +++++++ <-----------|---------- tasty flesh
| "' " " |
| oO.Oo." |
`. \~~~~/ ooOoOOO. ,'<--- wood/waterpan and charcoal
// - \\
// - \\
// - \\
\___________/ <------ ash tray
// - \\
Using the diagram above as an example, take the following steps when using your Weber in this manner.
- Ahead of time, prepare your meat, and soak your wood (mesquite works well) in a tin of water and beer. A bread tin works well for this.
- Prepare and light the charcoal; use only enough charcoal to cover one half of the lower grate, and when spread out, only use that one side to hold it.
- As the coals approach readiness, place the water pan down next to the coals, on the empty portion of the charcoal grate. Level out the charcoal so that it's somewhat flat. Make sure the coals are quite close to the water pan.
- Replace the grate, and place the meat on the grill, above the water pan. Do not put the meat directly above the coals. We're slow-cooking, remember?
- In a similar manner, replace the grill lid, putting the side with the vent above the meat and the water pan, opposite the side with the charcoal. This is done so that when air is drawn up through the vents in the bottom of the grill (not shown), it is drawn through the charcoal, across the waterpan, up through the meat and out. Putting the vent directly above the fire would do little to help you smoke the meat!
- Grab a beer. Let your meat cook, but resist the opportunity to open the lid more than about twice, and even then, do not do so for long. You have limited heat capacity in this grill, do not waste it.
- Cooking times take a little bit of effort and experience; Generally speaking, a 3-4 lb. beef roast might take about one and a half hours, a pork roast of the same size may take two. Consider adding another 10-15 minutes of cooking time for every time you open the grill.
From this point on, just experiment a bit. You'll know you're doing well, when, upon cutting into a piece of meat, you see the nice, surface pinking, or "smoke ring" that extends about one-eighth of an inch into the meat, from the edges. Note that this does not mean the meat is rare! Rather, it is a natural reaction of the nitrites that exist within the meat, as they make contact with the heat and smoke. It is especially noticeable in pork, but can be seen in beef, too.
After all is said and done, enjoy your dinner! It may take some time before one gets the timing and heat down, but it shouldn't be too hard.
The Weber has its limitations, but there's no reason you shouldn't use it to its maximum capacity. Eventually, if you make your way to a newer grill, you can probably use similar techniques there... and by then, you'll have at least picked up all the basics that any barbecue enthusiast knows.