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Daily Archives: August 8, 2009

Kitchen tool of the day – Weber grill

No, silly, I don’t have one of these in my kitchen.

Weber 22

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

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):

Weber hinged grillThis 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:

Weber cover

All hail the venerable Weber!

Reminder about couple of things about charge transactions

I’ve covered some of this before, but thought that it would be useful to hit some points again.

In this era of branded gift cards (American Express and Visa gift cards, for example), you have to keep in mind that most cards will hold back 20% to account for the tip, just like they do when you use them at gas stations (some cards require a $75 balance to account for someone who might be filling up a large, empty Escalade tank, so if you’re filling up your tank, you’ll probably be prompted to see the attendant if you have less than a $75 balance left on the card). You might find that the card isn’t accepted if the amount is over 80% of the balance. If it doesn’t work at first, and you don’t know how much is on  the card, don’t panic – just try lower amounts until it goes through. Keep in mind that the guest is still on the hook for the balance plus whatever tip they’re going to give you. The first time it fails, you might want to go to the guest and explain the situation (and sometimes, they don’t understand, so you might have to be patient and clear in your explanation). This gives them the chance to put it on a conventional credit card if they don’t want to split the payment, plus it gives them a heads-up that the gift card isn’t going to cover the full amount plus tip. Hopefully, it isn’t their only method of payment because, if it is, they’ll have to have a talk with the manager.

What happens if you run a conventional (i.e. a non-debit card) card on the wrong table? Normally, it won’t be much of an issue if that wrong table also pays with a credit card because most POS systems allow you to rerun a different card. When you do this, the other credit card will drop off when you close out the check. It’s only a temporary authorization. However, every bank treats this a little differently. One bank might actually hold the transaction a little bit longer than another. That’s not a problem unless the person is close to their credit limit and the “extra charge” keeps them from making a transaction right after they leave your restaurant, or they immediately go back to their home and check their balance on-line. They might be surprised to find an “extra charge” from your restaurant in the form of a “pending authorization” if it hasn’t cleared. They don’t know that it’s going to drop off shortly. They also will be pissed if they can’t put gas in their car to get home and they call the credit card company to find the extra charge being held back as a pending authorization.

So, obviously, you want to avoid this situation. But what you don’t want to do is get the manager to void out the transaction unless it’s the house policy to do so. This is because the phantom charge will actually stay on longer. A void doesn’t really even get triggered until the manager “batches out” (closes out each credit card terminal at the end of the night, or closes out the daily business on the POS system in the case of integrated credit card processing). Not only that, it has to be processed as a “credit” against a charge. The guest might not see that credit for a couple of days if the bank is slow in issuing it. Even if the guest doesn’t notice it at first or it doesn’t impact the guest at the time, when he or she gets the statement, it can be confusing and your restaurant might get a call – managers everywhere have dealt with many of those calls.

Debit cards can really screw you in the case of accidentally pulling up the wrong table and run the card on it instead of the actual table or screwing up the charge in another way such as running it for the full amount instead of the amount left over after a gift card or putting it on the wrong split check on a big table. The problem is that the debit card is basically a check. Most banks hold the authorization much longer than they do a credit card because the cash must be immediately available on demand. So, even if you run another card over the top of it, it won’t necessarily drop off immediately as it would if it were a “normal” credit card. Different banks have different policies, but debit cards can really cause some problems. They can be held for several days, especially over the weekend. So, if you see the tiny word debit above the Visa or MasterCard logo, make damn sure that you’re processing it correctly, especially in the case of separate checks.

Remember – you’re handling people’s money. In the case of an American Express Black Card (the “Titanium Card”), it’s a credit line more than you will make in the next 10 years. You can literally buy a house with that card (you have to spend at least $250,000 a year to keep the card). So, treat the simple swiping of the credit card, something you might do dozens of times a day, with the respect that it requires.

BTW, my special nickname for the Black Card is “The Plutonium Card”.


As a Final reminder, house policies always supercede any advice that I give here.