The snow has mostly melted and a lot of you are getting out the grill. We're taking a look at a few products aimed to improving your barbecue. For the ambitious home smoker, we take a look a Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, a new book from acclaimed Austin, TX chef Aaron Franklin. For home cooks looking to simulate the full smoke experience or at least make things a bit easier, we check out the GrillGrate, the BBQ Dragon, the A-Maze-N Smoker Tube and the Ribalizer.
Franklin Barbecue is one of America's most outstanding restaurants and Aaron Franklin has managed to keep up his incredibly high standards through five years of intense media attention and daily two-hour-plus lines. His book displays the same love of the craft and attention to detail that you experience when eating in his restaurant.
Most celebrity chef books feature some pretty photos and a lot of vague descriptions of technique. Franklin digs into a lot of detail: he wants to teach everyone else the entire process, from building a smoker to selecting the wood to procuring your ingredients. It's all about the preparation: the actual cooking is the least involved part of his technique. If you're serious about your own backyard cooking, this book will prove invaluable. You should also convince your family that Austin is a perfect vacation spot so you can go sample his brisket yourself.
The GrillGrate works with whatever grill you prefer: gas, charcoal or smoker. The big selling points to the interlocking metal grates is that they amplify the heat and distribute it evenly. The system is designed to prevent flare-ups and the grates capture any drippings which allows them to flavor your your food instead of dropping into the coals.
The grates also make a nice sear pattern on your food and they're especially effective at grilling delicate vegetables and fish. Priced starting at $39.99 and up to around $130, the device comes in different custom sizes for whatever grill you're using. They're definitely worth a look.
The BBQ Dragon wants to help save time when you fire up the grill and list for $59.95. The battery-powered fan clamps onto your grill and promises to get your charcoal to full cook temperature in 10 minutes instead of the 45 minutes you're used to.
BBQ Dragon claims to make a charcoal chimney obsolete. It's a gadget that will make you far more likely to fire up your Weber on a weeknight.
The A-Maze-N Tube smoker is designed to supplement the smoke in a pellet grill or smoker but it can also be used to bring some smoke flavor to your gas grill. It comes in 6", 12" and 18" sizes for $19.99, $29.99 and $34.99. They units ship with the company's Pitmaster's Choice Pellets and they sell a wide variety of woods, flavors and sizes on their site.
You can use the tube to cold smoke a variety of foods for extended periods at temperatures below 100 degrees F or add it to the grill for hot smoking.
A-Maze-N also sells flat "maze" smokers (hence the company name) that take either pellets or sawdust.
The folks who make the Ribalizer know that some people are never, ever going to build their own wood smokers or even tend a Big Green Egg all night. For folks who own a gas grill who want to serve smoky, fall-off-the-bone ribs, they've created a system that gives you a pretty good simulation of the real experience with a lot less effort and not much mess to clean up afterwards.
For $29.95, you get a rack system, four aluminum pans and a packet of spices. To get 2 racks of ribs in only two hours on your gas grill, you rub the spices, set it uncovered on the rack in a pan for 45 minutes with the gas grill lid close, then add a second aluminum pan on top of the setup and tenderize for one hour and 15 minutes. After you're done, you can throw out the bottom pan and wash off the top one to use next time. You'll get 3 sets of 2 racks before you'll need to buy more pans. Ribalizer sells pans (30 for $27) at their site but you might be able to use ones from the Dollar Store as well.
The site claims these are the "best ribs you'll ever cook." That's a statement sure to rile up any aspiring Aaron Franklins, but maybe it should read the "best ribs you'll ever cook." If you've already decided to do your backyard cooking with a gas grill, you've made a choice that will never satisfy the barbecue nerds. But, face it, nerds: gas is what most people use and gas makes it more likely that they'll be cooking for friends and family. The Ribalizer is for all those folks.