I have this recurring vision of a producer from the TV show Hoarders knocking on our door, saying they heard we have six grills around our patio and they think it's time for an intervention.
Actually, we have 10 ways to cook outdoors if you count the three in the garage for tailgating and camping and the Cajun cooker for boiling crawfish.
The fire bug in my house, my husband, hails from North Carolina, where barbecue isn't a verb but a noun meaning slow-cooked pork. He became a certified barbecue judge as a hobby and spends an inordinate amount of time and thought on how he can play with fire to make food taste incredible.
I recently put my foot down and said if one more new grill comes into the house, one has to go. That put a stop to his hoarding, because he just can't part with one. Like all tools, using the right one for the right task makes a difference.
For a weeknight, the gas grill can have food ready in under a half-hour but still imparts some smoky flavor. For the really high heat needed to sear steaks and hamburgers, charcoal is better. And for that long and slow 14-hour N.C.-style 'cue, we need a smoker, and there's more than one kind.
I'm not advocating this addiction, but maybe others can benefit from his more than 20 years of sending up smoke signals in our back yard. The biggest lesson learned has been to buy quality cookers. The extra money spent on one well-made grill will outlast three cheap grills that rust and don't do nearly as good a job.
Here is what each outdoor cooker brings to the party:
mWeber 22-inch Kettle Charcoal Grill
The most popular backyard grill in the world hasn't changed much in design in 60 years for good reason. It's sturdy with a porcelain enamel that lasts rust-free for years, if not decades. It can do most everything, including smoking, though limited. It takes 20 to 30 minutes to reach the ideal temperature and works well for 30 to 90 minutes of cooking chicken, pork roasts, steaks, hamburgers, sausage and grilled veggies. $99; weber.com.
mWeber Gas Grill
Our weekday workhorse, this is a versatile grill that can do pretty much anything, but we mostly use it for those nights when we want food ready in 30 minutes or less. It can also be called on for low and slow or smoking if you add a packet of wood chips. Prices start at $399; weber.com.
mBig Green Egg
A classic ceramic cooker with its own fan club and EggFest gatherings around the country, it's the most versatile of all the cookers. It can reach both super-high heat for searing steaks or go low for 16 hours for tender, smoky pulled pork. One year, our oven went on the fritz just a few days before Christmas. With no hope of repair before the holiday, we not only cooked Christmas dinner on the Big Green Egg, but I baked the Christmas morning egg casserole and monkey bread on it. A moment of silence for the beloved smoker the Egg replaced: the Weber Smokey Mountain ($200 and up), the classic bullet-shaped smoker found on porches across North America. Prices range from $399 to $1,149; biggreenegg.com.
mTraeger Texas Elite Wood Pellet Grill
Big enough to smoke eight chickens at once, this grill is a party starter, and certainly a conversation starter. Pellet grills have created a sensation at barbecue competitions in recent years. Because of their reliably consistent temperature, you can put a pork shoulder or brisket on, set the temperature to 180 to 225 degrees and go to bed. When you wake up in the morning, it won't be long before you can pile a plate high with fork-tender beef or pork. There are purists who scoff at the idea of plugging in an electric grill and feeding wood pellets into a side bin to create smoke. But the proof is in the pork chops, and you get incredibly accurate temperatures without constant attention. $899; traegergrills.com.
Green Mountain Daniel Boone Pellet Grill
As a new fan of pellet grills, when a local grill store was clearing these out at half price, my husband couldn't resist. It comes with a digital control, a meat probe, a peaked lid and hard rubber tires, and it can get a bit hotter than the Traeger at 500 degrees for searing. It's also a bit smaller, so it saves on wood pellets. Prices start at $500; greenmountaingrills.com.
mLa Caja China (Chinese box)
When a Cuban friend's housewarming party featured her brothers and father cooking an entire pig in a "Chinese box," we were entranced. Inside the box is a metal liner, a grate to hold a whole or half pig, and then a metal tray suspended over the pig for coals, plus a lid to place on top, sealing in the heat. The design reduces cooking time by almost half, yet still produces moist, tender meat with crackling skin. The downside? No smoky flavor. We didn't need one of the big pig roasters, so we got a smaller one that can cook three chickens or two large pork roasts at a time. $300; lacajachina.com.
Camping and tailgating
Grilling on the road usually requires something portable, like the tabletop Weber Smokey Joe mini kettle charcoal grill ($29), the Coleman Road Trip ($129) that uses gas and folds up flat, or the Weber Go Anywhere Gas Grill ($59) that is lightweight and heats up quickly. We have been known to bring the single propane burner, sometimes called a Cajun cooker, for tailgating for a shrimp boil or heating chili ($20-$50 at any camping store).
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] Follow @SharonKWn.