In search of the perfect steak - Northwest Colorado climate demands durable grill surfaces

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Kevin Ellis is convinced that Kenmore has come up with a new way to cook the perfect beefsteak -- the kind that's seared on the outside to seal the juices inside.

It's called the "Sear and Grill."

The grill, which costs about $250, funnels 15,000 BTU's of its total output into a single burner, allowing backyard chefs to put a nice char on a thick stick without overcooking the middle.

"Give a steak about 2 minutes on each side, then move it over to the other side of the grill to finish it," Ellis urged. "You're going to get that nice crust on it."

Ellis should know -- he assembles grills for the Sears store in Steamboat Springs.

The basics of barbecue grilling aren't complicated.

Cook pork on your upper grill rack at medium temperature. Cook steaks close to the flame at high temperature. Give cut-up chicken parts five minutes in the microwave on medium-high power before placing them on a medium hot grill. Avoid marinades with high sugar content unless you like burned meats.

If you didn't know anything else about cooking on the barbecue, you could probably muddle thorough a dinner party just fine armed with that information.

But selecting the right grill is another matter.

Did you know that you need at least 35,000 BTUs to get your liquid propane grill up to 550 degrees? For that matter, do you know what a BTU is?

BTUs, or British thermal units, are a measurement of energy. They're handy to have around if you plan to cook your grilled chicken all the way through. Technically speaking, one BTU is the amount of heat required to raise 1 pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Next to BTU power, durability and the ability to withstand the Yampa Valley's high level of solar radiation are important qualities when shopping for a grill. People tend to grill outdoors year-round in Steamboat, and a durable finish, particularly on the lid of the grill, is a key factor in the longevity of the appliance.

Polly Thornton at Ace at the Curve said durability is precisely the reason her store sells only Weber grills. Thornton takes a car key and drags it across the hood of a shiny new Weber. The finish is undamaged.

"I had a gentleman come in one night and told me he was tired of buying a grill every five years," Thornton said.

Thornton points to a Weber "Genesis Silver B," priced at $510 (that's actually less than last year). "It has a steel lid with baked on enamel," she said, and should last more than a decade.

Customers who intend to grill turkeys outdoors in a Rocky Mountain winter are well advised to invest a little more in a grill with a durable finish that won't dull or chip, Thornton said.

People who really want to step up in quality can invest in a grill with a stainless steel hood. The Weber Summit Gold is a beast of an outdoor barbecue at $1,010.

Another option is to go small and get one of the sleek portable grills that offer Weber quality at three price points -- $140, $189 and $230.

Sears is offering a broader range of grills this year.

"We start at $159 for 30,000 BTU's and no side burner," Ellis said.

Step up in price to $180 and a side burner. The "sear and grill" is priced at $250.

People who invest in quality can turn to the Kenmore 16322 which offers stainless steel and 40,000 BTU's for abut $350, but Sears has frequent sales and patient consumers can do even better on the same grill.

"I think if you're going to invest in a long-term grill, stainless steel makes a difference," Ellis said.

Sears has a new top-of-the-line model grill with a built-in rotisserie and a slide-out propane tank holder, all for $1,300.

Sears offers the Char Broil grill light. It's simply a flashlight made to clamp onto the side of a grill so the chef can see what he or she is basting in the twilight.

Thornton has a group of grill accessories that sell at a remarkable pace, she said. They are a collection of racks meant to make it easier to cook chunks of vegetables or shrimp on a grill without losing food that falls through the cracks.

Outdoor chefs can choose from a traditional-looking round wok, a square basket wok or a flat-cooking grill meant to fit over the regular burner on the grill. All have small round holes that protect food and allow grilling. They are porcelain coated, a factor that reduces the likelihood the food will stick to the grill. There also is a basket meant to hold water-soaked hardwood chips that will partially smoke the meats on the grill. They are manufactured by the Grill Care Company.

ACE also stocks Weber accessories. If your grill cover has begun to disintegrate, invest another $24 to $65 and make it last.

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