No, silly, I don’t have one of these in my kitchen.
But it is only inches from my kitchen, since my little porch is adjacent to my kitchen. There’s only a wall and few inches from the fridge. It’s a 22.5″ Weber “Silver” kettle grill.
This icon of American culture is almost 58 years old, having been invented 2 years after the midway point of the 20th century. It became a symbol of American prosperity, being ubiquitous in suburban backyards in the 50s and 60s. Later, gas grills became fashionable and many families installed permanent gas grills in their backyards (as my own family did). The Weber became a bit “old-fashioned’ but remained an industrial example of form fitting function and simplicity itself. Its shape and color (for many years, you could get it in any color as long as it was black) is almost perfection itself.
Despite selling more than any other grill in America by a long shot, most people don’t realize that it began life as the halves of bouys used in Lake Michigan. George Stephen, a co-owner of the Weber Brothers Metal Works and metal worker himself, had an epiphany while trying to work out the perfect grill for his own backyard. By cutting in half spheres that he had been constructing for buoy manufacturers, he realized that the dome shape was perfect for containing heat and protecting from wind and if you put a grill in the center, there would be plenty of room for coals in the bottom. If he fabricated movable vents on the top and the bottom, airflow could be controlled and heat and coals could be managed for even temperatures and smoke would have an exit point. And it was a breeze to weld on some leg sleeves and add legs and wheels for easy transport. He could even fabricate a dish between the legs to allow for easy disposal of ashes (later to be refined into a closed box).
And, voila! the Weber grill was born.
Picture courtesy of www.foodbeast.com
This became a visual that was very familiar to those growing up in the 50s and 60s. Dad with his apron, tongs and long forks tending the grill while wifey and kiddies lounged around waiting for the burgers, hot dogs and steaks to cook. A bag of briquettes was leaning in a corner somewhere and the family dog was running around chasing birds and little children.
The Weber seemed to get a re-birth in the 90s after being out of favor for a while. Part of it was nostalgia, part of it was a realization that it was an inexpensive but well-built grill with a purpose. Despite competition from more sophisticated grill/smokers with sideboxes for wood and built in thermometers, huge gas grills that would rival some commercial kitchens’ equipment (Weber also making some of these), the Weber is more more popular than ever.
They make sizes ranging from table-top models perfect for small scale tailgating, to the huge (and expensive) 37 3/4 inch “Ranch” version. There are models that have been integrated into rolling tables, and now, there are all sorts of designer colors that you can choose from, although I think that black is perfection itself.
The Ranch in action
While Weber offers a both a 18.5″ and a 22.5″ version of the kettle grill, I recommend that you stick with the 22.5 model. It’s only about $20 more than the smaller model and doesn’t really take up any more space. You’ll really want the extra grilling surface. They actually make a model between the $700 Ranch and the 22.5″, the 26.75 inch grill, but it will set you back about $150 more than the 22.5″. Unless you do really large volume grilling and you have the money to burn (pardon the pun), I suggest that you’ll be happy with the 22.5″ model. I use the less expensive model pictured above, the ‘Silver”, It has a simple dish-shaped pan for ash collection. You can certainly spend another $40 and get the “Gold” model, which has an enclosed ash collection system. It’s a little neater solution to ash disposal.
While most people use it for simple open-top grilling of things like hot dogs, steaks and burgers, the kettle is great for smoking using indirect heat (you don’t really want to cook steaks and burgers under the closed lid because it’s not necessary and you want to control flare-ups). This is a technique where you pile the coals on one side of the grill and put the meat to be smoked on the opposite side and keep the lid closed except when you add coals and spritz your meat. Some people even put a drip pan under the meat to help facilitate cleanup and to add moisture and steam.
There are two things that you should get if you are doing a lot of smoking. One is a hinged grill (some models come with them):
This allows you to add coals for indirect heating without disturbing the meat that you’re cooking.
The other thing that you might consider is this handy little thing (it will set you back around $50):
This little charcoal basket is specially designed to get the most out of your coals. It extends the life of the coals by enclosing them. There’s a handy little container for adding liquids like beer, wine or fruit juices that can help infuse the meat with additional flavor. When you use one of these, you don’t have to add coals nearly as often and you’re able to leave the lid on longer, thereby preventing heat from escaping.
The kettle is also useful for adding smoke flavor to barbeque beans, seafood and veggies.
Even if you already have a gas grill, spending $90 – $150 for a Weber kettle is a great investment as, with proper care, it can last you for years.
Don’t settle for cheap imitators. The Weber is made from thick stainless steel and is coated with a baked-on porcelain enamel, not simple paint. They aren’t that much more expensive than the cheap imitators and they are much better built and long-lived.
You should also invest in one of these:
All hail the venerable Weber!