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5 tips for becoming a Weber Kettle grill master

The classic Weber Kettle grill can handle rib stretches well.

Brian Bennett / CNET

The Weber Kettle may look like a simple charcoal grill without many moving parts, but it’s a classic for a reason. If you know how to use it properly, it is extremely capable. It can cook low and slow like a barbecue smoker ̵

1; and when set up properly, it also roasts poultry like a champ. The same goes for searing burgers, steaks and vegetables, as well as grilling seafood.

And don’t forget that the affordable backyard stove has been around for decades, which means you can find plenty of useful aftermarket accessories for it. Such upgrades also make it a lot easier to get over the Weber Kettle’s impressive capabilities.

A digital probe thermometer like this one provides accurate grilling temperatures.

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

1. Get a good thermometer

One of the easiest ways to improve your Weber game is through a quality thermometerMost grills come with analog hood thermometers, if they already have one. Such built-in thermometers are often slow to respond and often inaccurate because they are located in the grill lid and measure the heat levels at the top of the grill cavity.

Place the probe clip directly on the grill at food level, on the opposite side of the fire.

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

What’s more important to know is how hot things are at the grill rack level. That’s why I recommend using a metal grill clip to mount your thermometer directly to the grates. This allows you to monitor cooking temperatures where it counts – where the food is.

The charcoal hose method is a very effective way to cook low and slow on your Weber Kettle.

Brian Bennett / CNET

2. Smoke low and slow

Barbecue smokers work by cooking with indirect heat. They are also able to keep the temperature in their cooking chambers low for hours. The ideal heat level is 225 Fahrenheit or as close to it as possible. These are the precise conditions that, over time, turn tough cuts of meat into deliciously soft treats like smoked brisket and baby back ribs.

It’s harder to do that with a Weber Kettle, at least without a lot of practice. Traditionally, you place hot coals directly under the Weber’s cooking grates, which means cooking with direct heat. That’s the opposite of what you want to do.

However, you have options. You can create an indirect heat zone by placing briquettes, or clumping charcoal if you prefer, just on one side of the charcoal grate. You leave the other side empty and then cook food over the cool spot. The problem is that it is difficult to control the heat level of the grill in this way.

Of course you can light your kettle with a small amount of coal. That will keep the wick from getting too hot, but unfortunately that also means you have to constantly add fuel to keep the cook going.

The minion method calls for the refilling of ignited coals with unlit briquettes.

Brian Bennett / CNET

Another trick for low and slow cooking is the Minion method. It calls for dropping a few lit coals over the many unlit coals in the grill. The idea is that the fire will slowly spread out from the center of the coal bed. I personally never got it right. Without fail, there will come a point when all my coals burn at once. That gives off an enormous amount of heat.

However, there is one technique I swear by that makes it easy to use your Weber as a smoker. This trick is called the fuse method or ‘the charcoal hose’ and involves stacking briquettes in the grill in a specific way. Do it correctly and the charcoal hose will burn at barbecue temperatures and with minimal supervision.

Stack your charcoal briquettes in two rows of two bricks each along the inside wall of the grill.

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

Start by stacking a layer of briquettes in pairs along the edge of the charcoal grate. The line of coal should curve in a semicircle along the inner wall of the boiler. Then place another layer of paired briquettes on top of the first layer. If you have smoked wood chips or chips, drop them on top of the coal chain. Choose several spots close to the start of the hose where you will ignite it. I also like to nest a water pan in the center of the charcoal grate. It will serve as a heat reservoir and help smooth out temperature swings.

Now just light the hose. A wax fire starter works well for this, but you can also use a few lit briquettes. Open the Weber Kettle’s vents to 25 percent.

Add pieces of smoking wood for an extra smoky flavor.

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

Once the hose catches fire, the grill should heat up and then stabilize at about 225 F in 20 to 30 minutes. From there, it slowly burns anywhere from 5 to 8 hours, depending on the ambient temperature.

3. Roasting

The Weber Kettle is also an excellent outdoor oven. If you’re planning on frying some poultry – maybe a chicken or a small turkey – this cooker can certainly get the job done. In fact, the Weber produced our taste testers’ favorite roast turkey in ours cook outside

A water pan helps smooth out temperature fluctuations, while apple-smoked wood provides extra flavor.

Chris Monroe / CNET

Here’s the technique I used. First, I filled a charcoal chimney 75 percent with briquettes and lit them. Once the coals lit, I added them to one side of the grill. I placed a water pan on the other side of the charcoal grate. Then I put the grill grate back and dropped my spatchcooked bird on the cooler side (above the water pan).

You are looking for an internal grill temperature of 350 to 400 (F). Since all your coals are burning at the same time, keep a close eye on the pit. When the heat starts to drop, be ready to add a handful of coals (5 to 10 briquettes).

Depending on the size of your bird, the total cooking time should be between an hour and 90 minutes. The best approach is to use an instant read thermometer to confirm that the thickest part of each breast is 160 to 165 F. I personally pull it out at 160F as it’s easy to overcook poultry. Remember, the heat level will rise for a few minutes while the bird is resting off the grill.

One product that promises to make toasting a breeze is the VortexThe Vortex is highly rated by consumers and also has a following among barbecue experts. Especially the indirect / direct combination of roasting looks tempting.

4. Searing

Grilling is one of the strengths of the Weber Kettle. Fill a chimney starter with briquettes or lumps of charcoal and light it. When they are completely caught after about 15 to 20 minutes, toss the coals into the grill. Then spread them in a layer of coals, one layer deep. You are now ready to sear everything at very high temperatures.

If you’re anything like me, you may also prefer reverse searing, especially if you’re cooking thick cuts of steak or pork chops. Instead of spreading out your lit coals, collect them on one side of the grill. They should take up half of the charcoal grate. Now put your steaks on the other side of the cooking grate, where they will be seared by indirect heat.

Let these steaks or chops cook there until their internal temperature reaches 110 F. Once that happens, transfer them to the hot side. Turn them over at 1 minute intervals until they develop a nice crust. Don’t overdo it. Put them back on the cool side to prevent them from burning. You know they are on a nice medium rare when they reach an internal temperature of 135 degrees F.

It’s not a difficult technique to master, but if you want something simpler, you’ll find other products that promise to make the process effortless. One with a large fan base is the Slow and sear. The crescent-shaped device contains coals for both high heat searing and low and slow cooking. It also has a removable water tank.

Digital barbecue controllers like the SmartFire make it a lot easier to deal with pit temperatures.

Brian Bennett / CNET

5. Make it smarter

It is certainly true that the Weber Kettle fire can be tricky to control, especially when compared to pellet grills and kamado smokers. It’s just not as economical and heat-insulated as these types of grill styles. Still, you can buy plenty of aftermarket products designed to make life easier.

For example, the SmartFire uses a motorized fan to control the airflow through the kettle. You can also monitor the wick temperature and set a target temperature for your cook. Plus, it comes with two food probes to keep an eye on what you’re cooking. You do this via an app on your phone that you can use wherever you have WiFi. Another product in the same vein is BBQ Guru’s Digiq.

These systems are especially useful if you want to reduce the headache of slow and slow barbecue babysitting. The basics of fuel, air and fire still apply, of course. Even with fancy hardware, if you add too much lit fuel at once, your pit temperature will take off.

Go out and grill

Hopefully, this guide has given you the confidence to light your Weber for any occasion. When used properly, it has the chops to do all the things more expensive stoves serve. I hear the call from the grill, do you?

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