We were out in the woods this weekend last, playing hobo and such, and just enjoying the pleasures of a lovely spring day afield. The sun was warm, but the lakes and ponds still frozen, and patches of snow tarried in the shadows. We hiked along the wooded trails, kicking up leaves from last autumn, and smelling the earth unwrap itself after a long winter’s hiatus. A vintage spring day in Minnesota. The kind we wait for, and pine for. The sort we hold out hope for, that once winter has had its way with us, that it might bequeath us such climatic spoils. And it did. And what better thing to do in all the world on such a day, than to make a camp in the woods, and cook some good food there.
Enter the InstaGrill
Now I’m a tinkerer. My father is a tinkerer. My brothers are tinkerers. Tinkering, you might say, is in my blood. And so when I get to test out another man’s brain thrust, I feel honored. I can appreciate the engineering, the thought, and the time that went in to it. Such was the case this last trip afield, as we tested out the InstaGrill. A cool, little, highly portable BBQ grill sent to us by a fellow tinkerer, named Jonathan, down in Texas.
InstaGrill. That’s what he’s calling it as of now. It’s an idea he had for easy, spontaneous, low-key grilling. He sent us a prototype so we could get a better idea how it works, and maybe share it with you guys. Here is his website also, if you want more details. www.myinstagrill.com. It’s a pretty nifty little rig, and if you don’t mind, we’ll give you the nickel tour ourselves.
It’s pretty clever at first blush. As you can see, it’s a charcoal grill at its core. That’s what it runs on. You fill it half way up or so like you would a charcoal chimney, and light it from below with crumpled up newspaper or like we did in this case, with a fire starter cube. She lit right up in tremendous fashion, thanks to the built-in chimney effect. In all my years of using portable grills, I can honestly say, this is the best lighting grill we’ve ever used. No lighter fluid needed. It lights like a charcoal chimney, because, well, it is! This is probably our favorite feature of the grill. But anyways, onto the fun part!
When the coals reach maturity, or grayed over, (about 10 minutes) you simply unlatch the side and open it up. Sort of like them Murphy Beds that fold up into the wall, if you’re familiar with those. Yet another clever idea! Then you rake the coals about a bit to suit your fancy, and install the grate as seen in the photo.
As seen above, you can set the grate to three different levels. We liked that feature too!
We found the grill to be just big enough to meet the needs of about two people, least wise for breakfast out in the hinter regions. The grate size is roughly 10 inches by 10 inches. Large enough for four burgers or two steaks. The other dimensions of the grill are 5″D x 10″W x 12″ H. It weighs about 5 pounds. We found it very portable, and simple to set up and easy to use. No complaints!
Granted it was designed for more traditional grilling fare than corned beef hash and eggs over-easy, but alas when your bush, you work with what you’ve got. Regardless, it was a lot of fun cooking with it. The husky handle at the back made it effortless to transport or move it, even when it was lit, should you ever want to do such things. And to extinguish the coals, you simply close it back up and pour some water on the fire. Disperse in the trash at your nearest convenience.
Overall, it was really a joy to cook on. A well thought-out, and articulate little grilling rig. We liked it’s compactness, and portability, and absolutely loved how it started up a batch of charcoal. We can see it being useful for things like: camping, or tailgating, or even just out on your deck. It’s low key enough, it won’t draw much attention, and finally, you’ll get a proper meal cooked over a beautiful bed of coals. Such as grilling was always meant to be.
So here’s the other part of the story. If you want to buy one, you’re going to have to get in line and wait a while. This is a prototype, you see. The ultimate fit & finished product does not exist yet. That’s why the prototype was sent to us, to help Jonathan garner a little exposure. He has also set up a KICKSTARTER Campaign, here, and when and if it reaches it’s goal, he will then go into production with these grills. So if you think it’s a worthy endeavor, and want to help him get his business going, not to mention secure yourself one of his grills later on down the road, head over to his kickstarter page and help a tinkerer out!
I have a superpower. I’m probably not supposed to disclose this, but it’s true. Kind of like you see in the superhero movies that are popular these days, though milder I suppose, but yeah, I’ve got one of those sorts of powers. Some dudes can levitate metal objects. Others can read and manipulate minds. While still others can run faster than a speeding bullet. Well, I can’t do any of those things, but what I can do, and astoundingly well I might add, is break stuff. I can take your perfectly functioning automobile, for example, drive it once around the block, and return hither with the muffler dragging, wipers that won’t shut off, one head light out, and furthermore, get out of the car and hand you the blinker lever too. And most days, I can do this without even trying. My elder brother sometimes refers to me as “Lo-Tech”, which sadly, and off-hand, would be my super hero name. Iron Man wouldn’t stand a chance against me, as all I would have to do is lay hands on his suit of many gizmos, and, well…That’s my superpower. I break stuff.
Thus it was with a raised eyebrow, when, Cam, from http://www.mojoegriddle.com, hooked me up with one of his steel griddles specifically designed for a variety of heat sources, and stated that henceforth, this thing could not be broken no how. Clearly he doesn’t know my powers, or he wouldn’t have bellowed such folly. For many things have come and gone out of my life, claiming to be unbreakable. And most of those things reside now at the bottom of a dump heap somewhere, a sad shadow of their gloried past. But this here griddle looks to have a different fate. And I knew this as soon as I heaved it from the box.
THE LOW DOWN
Nearly 24 inches in diameter. 1/4 inch thick hot rolled steel. Weighing in at 35 pounds of pure cooking satisfaction, I tell you this griddle meant business the very moment I muckled onto it. We have never seen another griddle on the market so well endowed. It’s quality and it’s craftsmanship are top-notch. It’s cooking area, in a word, sprawling. They are also made in California, I learned, which in our opinion, makes it all the more better. But enough talk, let’s get to testing this beast out, shall we!
The Mojoe comes with a very nice set of steel handles that grapple onto the griddle with ape-like ease. They seem well made, not that you will be moving the griddle very much once in place over your heat source, but when you do, the Mojoe is one hot & heavy entity, and bless it’s maker for including a couple of good handles with it. Now lets take a gander at the underside.
It’s simple looking under here too, however, there is more going on than meets the eye. Note the obvious – the three steel bars welded on edge. This is what holds the griddle off the top rim of your kettle grill, by about an inch, and furthermore promotes air flow for the fire below. And it works, people. It works exceedingly well. These bars also enable you to place the Mojoe on a variety of heat sources, like propane burners. These same bars also help re-enforce the griddle from warping due from extreme heat traumas patron to the pit. And the 5/8th inch nuts you see welded under here, well they’re for the galvanized steel legs to screw into, for say, if you wanted to cook over a campfire and such. Love it! Simplicity is always the best design, and this whole Mojoe experience is an example why.
With a deft fire catered in coals, we placed the griddle over the fiery bosom of the old kettle grill. The two merged together like old friends. Like they’ve been doing it all along. And it didn’t take long for the Mojoe airflow system to kick in, cranking up that fire good and hot. *Splash a little water onto the griddle, and if it dances about in a sizzle, it’s hot and ready to rock.
Of the first order, they say, is to season this puppy. And it’s real easy to do too. On a hot griddle, sprinkle it over with some table salt, and splash it with a little cooking oil. Lastly smear the works about the entirety of the griddle surface. The salt acts as a food grade abrasive, and make sure you wad up a good bee hive worth of paper towels in your hand before engaging in this activity. We were done with this process in about 30 seconds. They say to do it again after your meal is done. Kind of like book ends to your cooking. My pleasure. It kind of engendered the same, satisfied, feeling you get when you wipe down your favorite sports car after a Sunday drive. Leastwise I think that’s what that feeling was. I dunno. I don’t have a sports car. Anyways, how about some breakfast!
Have you ever been on those sorts of kicks where you just want breakfast food all the time? Well that’s been the case for things around the pit lately. And the Mojoe Griddle certainly supports such gastronomic whimsy in the human spirit. I didn’t fight it either. So we diced up two large potatoes to uniform size, and tossed them on the freshly oiled griddle. They sizzled henceforth to life, as we in turn, dusted them over with some all-purpose seasoning. With a lovely beverage in hand, we escorted the spuds about with our steel spatula as per the promptings of our pit master instincts. Very pleasant. Reminiscent of cooking on one of them fancy griddle tops you see in restaurants and cafes. Very much like the one you see at the Mongolian stir fry places. After a time, we added in some chopped onions and bacon to the ensemble. Man, the aromas bellowing about the patio could have tipped the nose of any black bear within a twenty and one mile radius. And I suppose it would have, iffin there were any black bears in the suburbs of Minneapolis. But there weren’t. And I still don’t have a sports car.
Now I was told that the surface of the griddle was nearly non stick, and I’d say that by and far, this was an accurate statement. The more you use it, and season it, the better it gets. The first cook here hardly anything stuck, and if it did, it wasn’t bad. The onions, in point of fact, slid about a little too happy-go-lucky, like you were engaged in a game of competitive air hockey or something. I even lost a few morsels over the edge, and if it weren’t for the griddle lip accessory, I probably would have lost a few more to the tall grass residing below.
The griddle lip, or metal strap, arcing around the back of the griddle, proved to be quite useful for us sloppy backyard chef types. You can take it on or off, by popping it into the same holes used for the handles. The lip was a real potato saver for this patron of the pit, and in general, a very good idea we thought. When the spuds were done, we banked them accordingly against it, to keep them warm there, and to open up room for the rest of our breakfast feast. Man! I love breakfast! Can you smell it yet!
Here is one of the other simple pleasures of the Mojoe Griddle – no edge lip or grease trough. Thus allowing one to sweep his spoils directly onto his dinner plate with aplomb. No edge around the griddle also makes clean up poignantly swift! As Cam from Mojoe Outfiitters coined, “Clean up is a snap!”. I like his thinking!
There is something therapeutically right which impresses upon the emulsion of your soul, when you cook out-of-doors. Sure we could do this sort of thing inside, whilst the TV flickers in the background, under artificial lights, and processed air, but why. For what blue skies yonder do we miss then, and the bird song too, and the sweet summer breeze which flutters the green leaves just past our outdoor kitchen. And the sun, how it sweeps in a golden trail across a beautiful blue sky, and the cloud shadows which drift silent over the land and the sea. This is why we cook outside. The food is only half the reason.
A beautiful product. We really enjoyed our maiden cook on it. It’s almost, but not quite, non stick. It sports vast acreage of cooking space. At 35 pounds, it is a bit heavy for ye types of scant muscle mass, but we reckon you’ll be able to manage. If you can lift a chubby toddler you can lift this griddle just as well. The craftsmanship is excellent. The handles are very nice. The legs were simple, but effective. We also liked that you can cook a lot of food at once on it, which makes it worthy for back yard parties, group camping, or even tailgating. Or maybe you just like to eat! The griddle lip accessory is wonderful too. If you get one of these griddles, you’ll probably want to pick up a griddle lip. We liked the option of being able to pop it on and off at our discretion. The only hit against this griddle we could find really was the price point. $264 is enough to make most wallets groan a little, but at least you only have to buy one of these. Ever. It’s not like we are going to out live the thing. Shoot, these griddles will probably still be around after the third world war has re-arranged the posture of the planet. High grade steel is like that. Over all, though, a rock-solid, versatile, large, nearly stick free, enjoyable cooking surface built to last the ages. Your grandchildren’s grandchildren will inherent this griddle. And in this disposable society in which we tarry, say what you will, but that’s money well spent. And yes, try as I may, my superpower was all but ineffective against the Mojoe. Indeed, I couldn’t break this thing, no how. And I like that. I like that very much.
WHERE TO LEARN MORE
When you get a chance, go check out http://www.mojoeoutfitters.com. Cam Stone, the man in charge over there, we found to be a kindly, salt-of-the-earth, engaging chap, with a sense of humor as durable as his griddle. A griddle 8 years in the making he said. Much tinkering in overland campsites, cooking for his trail mates. He said he got disgruntled with his little frying pan trying to cook for 4 to 5 people, that eventually he found himself a surplus steel disc, propped it up over the camp fire, and was “blown away” by the performance. He was able to cook for 5 people in about 20 minutes. Thus the Mojoe Griddle was conceived. And the world is just a little better place now, because of it. Go check it out if you please!
I wasn’t really planning on grilling. It’s not like I have to do it every day or anything. But if your wife brings home some meat and asks you to grill it, well, isn’t it then our manly privilege to make it so. To ignite fire and lay the meat to it with a caveman-like ease born of the ebbing seasons, hunkered over a smoldering pit. No, it is no hardship to grill if called upon by the fairer species. To ply our craft upon unruly meats with the sweeping efficiency of a chess grand master. No meat is out range for an accomplished keeper of the flame. No cut too challenging. “Bring it on!”, I yammered. And she did. My bride henceforth pulled from the grocery bag a lowly pack of ball park franks. Beef franks, as it were. Well, leastwise that’s what it said on the package. Not what I was expecting really, but fair enough. I was not above roasting the humble wiener if need be, to secure supper upon my plate. In some ways I was rather looking forward to it. I was feeling nostalgic you could say.
Once upon a time, you see, in every grill junkie’s past, he had to start somewhere. That first step unto a brighter future, and a meatier ideal. And for many of us, that point of embarkation into the BBQ sciences started with the lowly hot dog. And make no mistake, it was an event. It gave us reason to cater to a particular need, seeded deeply within our man psyche. The need to occasionally put meat to flame, and declare that is good. The poetry here has less to do with the meat, if you can call a tube steak – meat, but more to do with the soul engaging still, over a beautiful bed of coals, and the freshened air out there, and the gentle sunbeams which wax upon thy face. Hot dogs are OK, but the real joy is in the journey. If after all, our only goal was to eat them, then we might as well nuke them in the microwave, and be done in 30 seconds. But we’re partial to the scenic path around here. The slower ways. Come with us now, won’t you, and let’s go back to BBQ kindergarten and roast some weenies on the grill!
Residing pit side whilst supper cooks is one of my most favorite things to do. I love to tip back in my BBQ chair, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, and simply watch the day turn by. To enjoy how the clouds slowly idle overhead, and the tweety birds make their acrobatic sorties to the feeders brimming with seed. If there is a fairer way to roast a wiener, I’ve not heard of it. To up the ante a tad, I dialed in the Twins game on the little radio I keep by the pit. Figured if I was going to do some dogs, I might as well do it right, and partake in a little tailgating too. The conditions begged for it. Remote tailgating, I call it. That lofty, yet abiding gesture to the sporting gods, when you’d like to be there supporting your team with your grill all fired up, but you lack the honest desire to drive down to the stadium, and pay for parking there. A little remote tailgating is thus you’re next best option, and couldn’t be more pleasant, out on your own private patio, the serenade of song birds, and a homey bathroom harboring a few back issues of your favorite periodicals. Some thing not privy to a cold stadium parking lot.
Glory be to the remote tailgater, for you are a curious lot indeed. Nary leaving the house, feet kicked up by a smoking pit, listening to the play-by-play banter on the radio. Hark, you can almost hear the crack of the bat, and the leathery thwack of a fastball to the catcher’s mitt. The murmur of the crowds morphing into a boiling frenzy, at a crack deep to the warning track. Indeed, it’s almost like being there. Almost. The aromas of ball park franks drifting past your nose don’t hurt the illusion none either. And the same golden sunlight that is cast upon the field of dreams yonder, falls with great poetry upon your fair patio too, miles removed, where the chickadees cavort in the fragrant spruce, and the wood smoke lingers in the shafts of a pastel sun. Man.
So next time you can’t make it to the big game, why not whip up some dogs on the grill, whilst partaking in a little remote tailgating. There are other ways to support your team I guess, but none quite so pleasant, nor privileged, than these the glories, patron to the pit. Amen.