It was a pretty good evening at the pit, I don’t mind saying. One of those patented, gorgeous, Minnesota evenings that when they happen are the finest evenings anywhere in the world. You see, when you wait around for 6 months swaddled in Bill Cosby sweaters and long underwear waiting for the perfect weather in which to grill supper, then, when it actually does happen, you are positively the most grateful person on the planet. You just are.
Thus it was at the Pond Side Pit, under softly ebbing salmon skies, that we reveled in weather most extraordinary, and favored a continuing burger kick partial to a beautiful bed of coals. I do not know why, nor do I seek to analyze it much, but burgers, in particular, big burgers with lots of bacon, cheese, and onions have been my most favorite thing to eat lately. And man did these meat monoliths do the trick. There was no messing around at the pit tonight. We aimed to fill our bellies, and we meant to do it right.
Whilst the beautiful hand-formed patties sizzled over the hot cast iron grate, I got to work on the onions. Also, I found this gem of a black iron pan out in the garage, a smaller 6 inch skillet that was perfect for the job. I suppose we could have used one of our cast iron griddle inserts like we did a couple of weeks back, but we like to spread the love to our other cast iron entities as well. We’re big fans of cast iron around here, if you haven’t noticed, and will bandy with that world often if we can. There is nothing better for cooking over the fire, and maybe even cooking period, than cast iron. Love it. So if you have grandma’s old black iron pan just sitting in your basement holding down a stack of old photos, we highly recommend sticking one of these pans in your grilling kit. Great for the sort of stuff that always slips through the grate, like these here onions. Yum!
And then there was bacon. Yes, I started a paragraph with the word “and” , and all the grammar police now surely hath cringed. Eyeballs rolling. But hark, it’s bacon people, and bacon should be allowed to bend the grammatical rules. Bacon is special. Countries may topple and rise with bacon. Our very destiny with alien life forms may hinge on whether or not we offered them bacon at that first meeting. Boy, I think I’ve digressed. The point is bacon is good, and nobody can deny it. Anyways, we set the bacon indirect for a while to absorb some of the hickory smoke that which wafted by. Man. The smell of sizzling bacon and fried onions over a bed of hickory coals. Buckle up people!
Hickory. We were running a trifle low on charcoal this cook and augmented the briquettes with a nice pile of hickory chunks. A lovely means in which to cook outdoors. A poetry closer to the open fire cooking of the cowboys in days past. Speaking of, we will be delving more into wood fired cooking arts this summer, sans charcoal altogether. Just straight up wood, such as man was perhaps always intended to cook his spoils all along. Be looking for more posts on that.
And so the sun ebbed over the house tops and budding cottonwood trees, it’s long salmon rays spilling across the freshly hewn grasses where long shadows were cast. The sounds of the neighborhood unwinding accompanied thee as I placed slices of smoked Gouda over the savory flanks of charred beef. I smiled as any pit jockey would, as I lowered a big tong full of fried onions atop the cheese. Then of course, the bacon. How are you not drooling on your screens right now! Mercy. Then, like a flag on the summit of Mount Everest it’s self, we topped each burger with a gently toasted bun. Burgers just don’t get no better, folks.
I don’t know if you believe in love at first sight, but I say it so, leastwise with these hickory tinted bacon cheeseburgers it is. Spoils of the flame. And patron to the pit. Amen.
Well it happened. We have grilled so much meat that our humble steel cooking grate has finally burned through. Except those portions of the grate which have narrowed significantly, but still hang on, courtesy of the many fiery sorties and the great thermal traumas inflicted there. It was a good grate, by and by, but not a great grate. It had a couple of short comings – but at the end of the day, I guess we all do. For one, it didn’t last more than a few years. A larger gauge steel would have helped there. However, secondly, it was a steel grate, and meat tends to stick to steel unless they are oiled down before hand. And lastly, tho not that important I suppose, steel grates are challenged when it comes to making those aesthetically pleasing grill marks on your meat. It doesn’t really rank all that important I guess, but every pit keeper in the back of their mind is quietly hoping for a killer diamond hatch pattern on his steak. It just makes him feel good. At any rate, it was time for a new grate. And thanks to a fellow named Rolf Buerkle and a good idea he had once, I got one.
Enter Craycort Grills Cast-Iron Grates. These are some of the very best grates you will find on the market today. We absolutely love them! The modular grate we went with was designed by the aforementioned Rolf Buerkle of Craycort Grills, and is specially constructed for the 18 1/2 inch weber kettle grill. They come in any size Weber you have tho, so fear not. They also are excellent, they say, for big green eggs, and kamados joes. At any rate, it has been a grand experience thus far. Let me tell you about it.
The Craycort customer service was pretty awesome right from the get go. Rolf himself contacted us, making sure we got everything we needed. And we did. Rolf seemed a pleasant, meat-eating fellow, in good humor, who at once appreciated not only our premeditated love for cast iron, but also our proclivity for winter grilling. He took care of us, for sure! He sent us one of his 18.5 inch cast iron grates as seen below.
The grate that came in the mail was heavy. Like almost 12 pounds kind of heavy. A manly grate weight if ever there was one. It was well packaged too, not that it needed much protection, as the thing is built rather like a Sherman tank, but it was good to see it was pampered right from the factory. What we also appreciated is that it came already seasoned in soy oil. So it’s ready to start cooking with right out of the box. Even so, we let it cook a while on the pit, just in case, to burn off any residue that might have accidentally conspired there. The grate is also modular in design. Three pie pieces, if you will, which slip into the main cast iron ring. They are thick and heavy, and mean business right out of the box. You will be impressed.
Of course the slick part, and the reason for going modular in the first place, is you can easily pluck out any section of the grate. This is a key feature for we patrons of the pit, who are forever and always tinkering with the coals; dumping more in along with varied chunks of smoke wood. There is a cast iron handle also sold separately for manipulating the hot grates, which we found quite handy. Or you could conceive your own tool, perhaps, to do the same job. Regardless, we instantly fell in love with the modular design of these grates. It’s the same sort of setup for the 22.5 inch kettle grills, except those grates come with four sections, instead of three. First impressions of the grate appealed to every manly fiber of our being. And if that were it, we probably would have been satisfied right there. But that wasn’t it. It got even better. One word – accessories!
Rolf was also kind enough to send us a cast iron hot plate/griddle insert. Buddy, now you’re speaking my love language! Simply pull out one of the grate sections and plunk this griddle in its place, and you’re off to the culinary races with such comestibles as: eggs, bacon, sausage, sandwiches, vegetables, and well, just about anything you would do on a griddle over the stove top. It gets even better still. These griddle inserts, we discovered, are also reversible. On the other side we found a series of raised, parallel edges, or ribs, suitable for steaks or a panini or where ever your pit master instincts bring you. Very cool! Craycort sells other accessories too, we found out, such as a vegetable wok, which is also modular and will slip right into place. There is a pizza stone too, which we might have to try some day. Some good stuff – all of it made of durable cast iron. And we like that a lot. Back to these grates.
The pros keep chugging right along. And this next one falls into the aesthetic category – of what is pleasing to the eye. If the grates are good and hot, cleaned and oiled down, you can amaze your friends and astound your family with the timeless pit keeper stamp of excellence – the sear mark. And cast iron grates excel at it. To assure the perfect sear mark, butter or oil your meat before you plunk it on the grate.
Remember those old black iron frying pans your grandma used to use? There is a reason grand mothers are always the best cooks in the family. They knew what to cook with! Cast iron well-cared for is not only something you can pass down to your children’s children, it is also supremely adept at evenly spreading heat and then retaining it there. Better yet, cast iron is one of the few things in the human condition that seems to get better with use. These grates will become more and more non-stick with each grilling session, just like grandma’s old cast iron frying pan. It’s not just something you cook with, it’s something, that with time, you are proud of. Something to last the ages. Say what you will, but that is no small thing.
For as great as these grates are, they are not without a downside. The dreaded beast of compromise surfaces once again. We found them to be a little pricey at around 70 to 80 bucks for a grate. But the bright side is it should be the last grate you’ll ever need to buy, so, in the long run, you’re probably saving money. You will be hard pressed to burn through one of these grates. The other down side, and the only thing we can really knock on these grates is, being made of cast iron, they do and will have a tendency to rust if not cared for. But it is controllable with a wee bit of maintenance. If your cast iron grate is rusty, rest assured you have no one to blame but the pit master in the mirror. Craycort recommends you wipe the grate down in cooking oil before and after each cooking session. A good coating of oil is key to protecting cast iron, and especially these grates, which spend most of their lives out-of-doors. Thus, let it be your habit, if you get one of these grates, to keep a bottle of peanut oil or the like handy, and simply make it part of your grilling process to keep the grate clean and wiped down in oil. It will take all of a minute out of your day and go a very long ways towards keeping this cast iron grate beautiful for a life time come.
We found the Craycort Grills 18.5 cast iron grate to be supremely rugged and well built. We cannot divine ever wearing this thing out, and we grill a lot! The hot plate/griddle accessory looks to be equally as well- built, and we liked how it fit right in with the modular design of this grate. At first blush, the price point of the grate seemed a bit steep, but after considering how long it will last, which is basically for ever, well, the price seemed a trivial non-factor. We also loved its non-stick surface and heat retaining qualities of the cast iron, the latter which promotes better char marks. The only downside we found was its tendency to rust. They will require a little maintenance each cook. And that is no big deal really, for supreme grilling satisfaction. And the Craycourt customer service was amiable, friendly and prompt. Looks to be a good company sharing with the world an excellent product. That’s our review of it anyways.
So if you’re looking to upgrade your kettle grill, or searching for a worthy birthday gift for your man, or resident pit keeper, he will be all smiles with one of these beautiful cast iron grates. You may even eat well that night too! Man!
Check them out along with other cast iron grilling products at: Craycort Grills
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