Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mesquite and Weber and Christopher Kimball

These are my two old workhorse Weber Kettles. One was willed to me by a roommate when we parted ways and one was left by the previous tenants at the old office building.

The Weber Kettle is my favorite vehicle to impart flavor to ingredients that can be cooked quickly; chicken, fish, expensive cuts of meat (high on the hog), veggies, flat breads etc. My two favorites are marinated skirt steak and asparagus.

My favorite charcoal to use to impart that flavor is big chunks of mesquite. They burn unevenly, they crackle and snap and spark and they smell like something good is about to happen. Oh, and they're cheap.

My favorite method is to get the coals good and hot (using a hair dryer if I'm in a hurry and the coals aren't), toss on the cooking grate, scrape if necessary, toss on the items to be cooked, cover and approximate a good time to flip the ingredients.

At that time, remove the lid, flip the ingredients, replace the lid and finish cooking.

Over the years I have, frequently it seems, read/seen in the various Christopher Kimball concerns (Cooks Illustrated {which I love}, America's Test Kitchen and the Test Kitchen cookbooks) that mesquite does not impart a great flavor, that covering the kettle with the lid makes the flavor too strong? acrid?

What I do remember is that the solution is to cover just the food that is being cooked with an upturned foil baking pan so that the smoke can get out the sides.

I saw this method in action by Don Scheer at our company Iron Chef chicken competition. He did chicken with grilled peaches. It tasted great and indeed won but I honestly think it would have been just as good with the lid on and the smoky snap of mesquite. (Snappy smoke?)

The point I would like to make is this; there are lots of ways to make food taste good. If you have an inquisitive mind and the time, try a couple of methods and nail down the way that you feel tastes best. You're the cook.

If you want very serviceable and foolproof recipes for all kinds of foods, please by all means, start with Christopher Kimball. They have done a lot of the work for you. Their spaghetti carbonara is in my regular repetoir, their pad thai is fantastic and their product reviews and tips can save you time, money and heart break.

However, mesquite, good, lid on, good.



  1. I almost always smoke my meat with mesquite as it's all over the ground here. I think Christopher Kimball just doesn't have the pallet for it. You might also go down to Orchard Annies in Wilcox and fill up a grocery bag with apple wood sticks that have fallen to the ground. I just made some baby back ribs with that wood and it was very good.

  2. Hey Jim! Good tip on the apple branches!