Q: My new grill came with charcoal baskets. How do I use them?
Charcoal baskets are a common accessory in charcoal grills – all the high-end Weber kettles that I buy come with them, or you can buy them as a separate accessory. They are very useful, and I use them often…but not all the time.
When do I use charcoal baskets?
1. For indirect heat. When I’m cooking with my rotisserie, or cooking with indirect heat, the baskets are very useful. They keep the coals in neat piles on the sides of the grill, leaving plenty of room for a drip pan in the middle of the grill.
2. When I need a small zone of direct high heat. The baskets hold a deep pile of coals close to the grill grate, giving me a smaller, hotter zone for a quick blast of direct heat. If I’m only cooking a couple of chops, I use the baskets. Baskets are great for a direct-indirect fire with a small high heat zone – like cooking with the reverse sear or sear and move methods. Most of the time the steaks are cooking over indirect heat, away from the coals. But, when I want to sear them quickly, I have a lot of searing power directly over the basket. 1
When do I put the charcoal baskets away, and put the coals directly on the grill grate?
1. When I need a large zone of direct heat. The baskets give me direct heat on a quarter of the grill surface. When I need to use direct heat on more of the grill grate – say, cooking pork chops for a crowd – I skip the baskets. If I need high heat, I add more coals, stacking them up on the charcoal grate two to three coals deep. I can turn the whole surface of the grill into a raging inferno if I’m willing to use enough coals. Or, I can spread the coals out, and…
2. When I need direct medium heat, or lower. The baskets concentrate the coals too much for lower heat. When I need to grill something gently – vegetables, pizza, fish, burgers – I put the coals directly on the grate, where I can spread them out and dissipate some of the heat.
3. When the basket shape doesn’t help. Sometimes, the baskets themselves are inconvenient. When I grill a whole turkey, I want a “U” of fire facing the drumsticks, and baskets just get in the way; I’m better off arranging the coals directly on the charcoal grate. Or, when I want indirect heat on something wide that would hang over the edge of the baskets. I was cooking a butterflied duck the other day, and wanted to cook it with indirect heat. No matter how I moved the duck, the wings stuck out directly over the baskets of coals, and would burn horribly before the duck finished. I dumped all the coals on one side of the charcoal grate and put the drip pan on the other side, leaving plenty of room.
What do you think?
When do you use your charcoal baskets, or put them aside? Any questions? Leave them in the comments section below.
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