Labor Day Cook Out

So here we are, another Labor Day weekend. That uniquely American holiday in which we celebrate work by not doing it. Actually, no, that’s not quite correct, but I always liked that joke. We are actually celebrating the American worker, without whom we would be nowhere. So here’s a big “thank you” to every person in every factory, every janitor, trash collector, retail worker, construction worker, nurse, teacher, and everyone else who shows up day in day out, sometimes in less than ideal conditions, and puts in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay to keep this country going. And an extra special salute to those who had to go in today anyway.

Hopefully we have all spent this day/extra long weekend enjoying some fun, and more importantly getting a little rest. One thing that is pretty certain though, is that most of us have been pigging out on some cook out foods. That is the American way to celebrate pretty much everything, right? This is traditionally one of the biggest weekends for breaking out the grill and making some comfort food. Whether it’s for just our immediate household or a full on party (if COVID doesn’t put a stop to that) we Americans have been making some burgers, brats, and hot dogs this weekend, along with whatever else we choose.

I am no different. I have dutifully fired up my smoker too. Though, to be fair, I do that every few weeks anyway, weather permitting. As a result, this blog was going to be all about my pellet smoker grill, how much I love it, and maybe even a few examples of what I have cooked.

But instead, let’s talk about global climate change, its relationship to free market capitalism and the resulting effects on the psyche of the average citizen.

Nah, only kidding, we’ll do the grill thing.

For those who may still be unaware of just what in the world I am talking about here, a pellet grill, sometimes called a pellet smoker, is an outdoor cooker that combines elements of smokers, gas grills, and ovens. They are electric, instead of gas. It cooks using pellets made of wood, fed into a fire pot by an auger. A system of fans helps control airflow and temperature. Basically it’s an outdoor oven. The operator makes sure that there are plenty of pellets in the hopper, sets the controls, and lays the food on top of the grill grates. There is generally no open flame, although many grills have the option to open the grill over the flame and cook on direct heat, mostly for searing purposes.

I have had my pellet grill for two years now and I absolutely love it. This is mostly “set it and forget it” cooking. You have to keep an eye on the amount of pellets in the hopper since you don’t want to run out of fuel mid cook. Otherwise, make sure you check the internal temperature of the meat and you’re good to go. These grills can pretty much everything you’d need them to. You can smoke, grill, sear, bake, roast, braise, char-grill, and barbecue. I pretty much just use mine to smoke and grill, but I am trying more recipes and experimenting more all the time.

There are multiple types of pellets you can purchase, made of a variety of wood. The choices range from Apple, and Cherry wood to Mesquite, Hickory and more. I like to use hardwood/competition blends to get that serious smoky flavor but the fruitwoods make a nice light addition to the meat if that’s more your thing. You can’t really go wrong since the smoke infuses the flavor while it cooks.

Okay, I know there are still a lot of purists out there who decry the pellet smoker grill, and state that it’s not “real” grilling. The grills only go to about 500 degrees or so, which is quite a bit less than open flame in traditional grilling. There is also less of a need to stay at your post, since the pellet grill more or less stays a consistent temperature the 50/50 modified technique is pretty invalid, and flare ups are fairly rare. The art of the cook, they argue, is missing. While they do have a point (albeit a small one), I believe they are overlooking one important factor: the end result.

Everything tastes fantastic when cooked on the pellet grill. It doesn’t taste like charcoal-it tastes better! The richness of the wood comes through, as does the smoke. If you’re a barbecue sauce person, either put a little on during the last few minutes of the cook to tack up, or just have some handy for serving (or both!) and you won’t miss a thing about the way you used to cook. Trust me, you are in for a treat.

I chose a Pit Boss grill, a smaller “portable” version that was at the lower end of the price range but it cooks for my family quite well, and we have hosted a few get togethers as well. If you are looking at investing in one of these grills, there are lots of manufacturers out there and the technology is more or less the same with each one. Just do your homework and making sure you get a company that you trust and a grill that will fit your needs both in size and features.

There are a few downsides to these grills, however. First of all they are electric, so if it’s going to rain you may be out of luck, unless you want to cook in your garage but I don’t recommend doing that because the smoke really rolls off of these things and you may find yourself gasping for air in an enclosed space. Always have plenty of ventilation. And don’t trip on your extension chord.

Also, there is a bit more maintenance involved with these grills than a normal charcoal or gas. I have to clean the grates and the surfaces before pretty much every cook, and due to the burning of the pellets there’s a lot of wood dust that needs to be vacuumed out on the regular. I like to do a deep clean on it once a year too as there’s lots of grease that gets inside the guts of it, and you don’t want a grease fire. It may be electric, but there is an actual flame to be mindful of.

And just as a nit-pick for the model I purchased, the claim is that my grill is portable. Technically this may be correct, but it’s pretty impractical and a pain in the butt to break down, move, carry, and set up again. There are also wheels on the thing but not so you’d notice.

These are minor drawbacks, however, since the food is SO GOOD and the cooks are much easier than traditional grilling. I love my Pit Boss and cook on it as often as I am able. I have made everything from smoked brats, burgers, and dogs, to chicken, pork, and steaks. My smoked pork steaks seem to be the big winner, with smoky bbq chicken legs a very close second. There’s still a good month or two of grilling time left, and these bad boys should be on sale soon, so if you are in the market, or are curious, get out there and start looking. Then buy some rub (if you’re in Missouri, seek out a shop called Beer+Sauce, they have excellent products all around), grab your favorite sauce-but not too much, don’t drown the meat and kill the flavor- and let’s get to grilling!

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