In May the good folks at Char-Broil sent the Grillin Fools two grills from their new product line to review. The new CB940X and the Big Easy Smoker, Roaster and Grill which I will call the BESRG from here on out. Dad will be doing the review on the CB940X soon. Below you will find my review of the BESRG after running it through quite a few cookouts in order to give it a thorough testing…
For the sake of full disclosure we did not have to pay for these grills other than the taxes we will have to pay for them at the end of the year. That being said we were also told we could say anything we want to about them as long as we are honest. As you will see below, I will do exactly that.
Truth be told, when I used this grill the first two times I was not at all happy with it. I had planned on not writing a review as I just didn’t have anything positive to say. What’s the old adage? If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it. So I sent an email to my contact at Char-Broil explaining my reservations in very specific detail wondering if I had ruined the relationship with them. He listened to my concerns and offered a few suggestions. Of course I didn’t quit playing with the new toy after two cookouts so I took his tips and gave it a couple more tries. Since the first two cookouts I have been nothing but impressed and have come to find out that my first two horrible grill sessions were from user error and not the grill. I’ve never owned a gas grill or an infrared grill (this being both) and there is some adjustments that needed to be made on my part.
Once I got a handle on what it can and can’t do as well as make it through the learning curve of what it means to use an infrared grill I have been able to make some seriously great food on it.
A little about infrared grilling. Originally infrared grilling was achieved by having propane or natural gas heat up a stainless steel or ceramic surface with millions of microscopic holes to create infrared heat. What happens with this grill is that the flame is isolated from the food by stainless steel to stop air flow (convection) and thus produces only radiant heat which cooks the meat directly rather than heating the air to cook the meat. The resulting heat can reach incredible levels. Infrared temperatures can get as high as 900 degrees although this grill has a max of only 575. Only? Seems crazy to say just under 600 degrees is low, but in terms of infrared it is a bit more than us Grillin Fools will ever need.
So why is this so important?
1) Conventional cooking on grills, both gas and charcoal, use convection, or hot air, to do the cooking which wicks the moisture away from the meat that will eventually dry the meat out. Infrared cooks the meat directly without the drying hot air.
2) No need to preheat, unless you are smoking in which case you need to preheat to get the wood to start to smolder, thus you save time.
3) The temperatures range of the BESRG, and the way infrared heats the meat and not the air, allows for a similar effects to deep frying. In other words, you can deep fry a turkey or chicken without oil and thus not risk burning down the deck of having an oil explosion. And with no preheating you save the time it takes getting the oil up to temp.
That is how this grill came about. It was originally an oil-less turkey fryer that Char-Broil decided to make more versatile.
4) With any gas grill, temperature control is much easier than with charcoal. You set it and forget it.
Now, on to the review. Before I get into the things I have cooked on it which include two steaks (at two different times which is significant and I will explain later), two chickens, maple plank salmon, two different pizzas, crostinis, ribs twice, and a 9 pound turkey, let me get to the assembly.
You could say this thing has the same birthday as my second son. My son was born on the morning of May 28th, 2010. That night, while momma and baby were resting comfortably in the hospital, my 2 year old and I put the grill together. I was able to put the BESRG together in a little over an hour. I probably could’ve done it in 45 minutes had my first son not been so “helpful:”
I was a little leery putting together a gas grill as I’d never done that before but the instructions were very easy to follow and I had no issues whatsoever with the assembly process. Same can be said for the CB940X but that’s for another review.
After I assembled it I followed the instructions and coated the entire inside of the unit with spray oil as well as the basket and the stainless steel grill grate and cranked it up to high to season it. I recommend this with any new grill you buy, whether charcoal or gas. You want to burn off all the oils and lubricants used in the manufacturing process as well as seal the surfaces on the inside of the grill to prevent the inside from rusting.
I actually coated it twice with oil before I put on a bone in rib eye. I thought my favorite steak cut was perfect for the inaugural cook, but it wasn’t the thickest steak I’d ever cooked. I cranked it up to high and got 575 degrees on my little oven thermometer. I couldn’t wait. I figured I would get a nice sear in less than 30 seconds. The sear that you see on a perfectly done steak is very important to create a flavor crust. Some say that it’s to seal the juices in, but Alton Brown proved that to be a myth. Still, the sear is very important for flavor.
Here’s where I ran into my first problem. Normally when I do a steak over charcoal I get those sear marks after a couple minutes. Then I rotate 45 degrees and get my cross hatch grill marks and flip and repeat. Max time on each side is 3-4 minutes and my steak is really rare and only needs a couple minutes baking to be perfect for my taste. At 575 degrees It took almost double that to get the first set of grill marks. Good bye rare and hello medium before I’m even done searing the steak since it wasn’t so thick. This is another pic on the missing chip. The steak was tender, juicy, and delicious, but I prefer my steaks rare or medium rare at the most.
If you like a rare or medium rare steak you’re thinking that there is no way you would buy one of these. That would be faulty logic because I made a mistake. See, while I “seasoned” the grill and the grill grate I really only cooked off the bad chemicals and made the silver grill grate a little less silver. The clean grill grate didn’t transfer the heat to the meat well.
The problem was that I didn’t do enough seasoning, not the grill. After I cooked a few more things on the grill and really seasoned the grill grate was black rather than a little off-silver as it was when I did the first steak. Here is the well seasoned grill grate ready for my second steak:
In the second go round I got grill marks a lot faster on this sirloin:
I didn’t want to risk overcooking another expensive cut so I went with the much cheaper, yet still delicious, sirloin. This time it seared quickly and then I dropped the temp to low, baked for another couple of minutes and I was giddy with the results. Tender, juicy, delicious and red all the way through, just like I like it.
On to cookout #2. I decided to smoke a couple of chickens. I took two good size birds and marinaded each of them – one in the Walkerwood Jerk Marinade and one in Peach and Pepper sauce. After 12 hours in the marinade I put them in the big basket:
I filled the smoker box with wood chips and cranked the heat up to high to get the smoke going based on the documentation and then dropped the heat setting down to low once the smoke started rolling. Then I put the basket with the birds in the chamber:
Much to my dismay the low temp was only 375 with the lid closed:
Hard to take your time and smoke some chickens at that temp. It’s even harder when the tiny smoker box that I filled with chips, that was supposed to give off 45 minutes of smoke, according to the documentation, stopped making smoke after 15 minutes. In order to add more chips you have to empty the ash from the box which requires taking the basket with the two birds out, empty, refill (all while not burning yourself on the 400 degree metal), crank the heat back up to 575 to get them to smoke and then drop down to low and put the birds back in.
Rather than risk burning myself or dropping the birds I opted for no smoke. And it was good that I didn’t risk injury as two hours of smoke wouldn’t have saved these birds. The skin split on them in less than 30 minutes:
In less than an hour I had some really rubbery chicken.
Again, not a ringing endorsement of this grill, right? Didn’t I say that I really liked this grill? I did. And again I made a mistake, not the grill. Evidently two things to avoid when cooking in the chamber are liquids on the outside of the meat and sugary rubs. The liquid marinades that coated the outside of the chickens somehow messes up the cooking process resulting in rubbery, chewy chicken. I don’t know the science behind it but this is a no-no. And sugars blacken quickly because of the high temps. Although the latter isn’t always bad.
On the 4th of July I brined a 9 pound turkey in a combination of apple juice, sprite, water, salt and sugar. A lot of sugar. And while I rinsed the bird off thoroughly, patted it dry and only applied a rub of granulated garlic, it blackened pretty good. I put it in the chamber legs down and breast up:
I turned it on to high and closed the lid for the first 30 minutes as I read doing so really makes the skin brown and crispy.
Well, after 30 minutes I opened the lid and was wondering if White Castle was open on the 4th and how many I needed to feed eight because it was blackening quickly. I put foil over the top of the turkey to try to slow down the blackening which didn’t help as it’s not going to shield the infrared energy the way it would hot air from a charcoal grill.
After 30 minutes of the foil I pulled the foil off and drizzled olive oil in it every 10 minutes for the next 30 minutes. The rule of thumb is 10 minutes per pound. I pulled it exactly at 90 minutes when the temp in the thickest part of the thigh reached 167. I took it in to carve and had very low expectations.
After letting it rest for 15 minutes, and suffering from the disappointed looks from my friends and family, I carved it. While carving I sampled a little chef’s prerogative. It wasn’t dry. It wasn’t rubbery. It wasn’t horrible. In fact it was one of the best turkeys I have ever eaten. The skin was blackened but by no means burnt. It wasn’t visually appealing but it was incredibly moist and flavorful. Even the blackest of the black skin was delicious. I almost don’t want to post this picture because I’m going to have too many people thinking I’m fibbing on this one. Some of you won’t believe me that this turkey was delicious but I can produce seven other people that will testify that it was. But here’s the pic anyway:
I know. Looks horrendous but it was great. And here it is resting:
I tell you, I got nothing but raves about a bird that looked like that. I can’t wait to do another one without the sugars in the brine.
The lesson, if you brine, avoid any sugars. Go with water, salt, and flavorizers that are not sugary like garlic and onions.
So why do I tell you all of this? Why show the bad pictures and discuss the mistakes? I do this so you don’t repeat those mistakes. So you don’t overcook a big steak or make rubbery chicken. So your learning curve on an infrared grill is faster than mine. That’s what we have been doing on this site for more than two years. Our entire goal is to take the 90+ combined years of grilling experience the three Grillin Fools have and help those who come to this site avoid the thousands upon thousands of mistakes we have made over the years.
So let’s get to some fun stuff I did on the grill and much better pictures. Let’s talk about all the successes I had since my first two failures.
Maple plank salmon. I took a salmon steak, slathered it with dijon mustard, sprinkled with brown sugar and placed it on a maple plank I soaked in water for about 60 minutes. This is a very simple recipe and my go to salmon dish. I set the temp to low and placed the plank with the salmon on the grill. The other filet of fish on there is some bassa for my wife who likes lighter, white fishes:
The temp was perfect to smolder the wood without scorching or charring it which invariably happens when I plank cook over charcoal. It was almost as if the BESRG was designed plank grilling in mind. The salmon was perfectly cooked and really picked up the sweetness of the maple which perfectly complements the brown sugar in the recipe:
The grill does amazing things with bread. I did crostinis along with the maple plank salmon and they came out wonderfully, although you have to be careful in that crostinis are usually done with two zone cooking – toast the bread on each side on the side with the heat and then pull to the side with no heat, cover with cheese, and close the lid to melt the cheese. There is no cool zone here. So very lightly toast on the bottom:
Flip to toast the top, flip back over, cover with cheese (in this case Havarti):
Close the lid to melt the and finish toasting the bottom:
I have grilled two pizzas on the BESRG, both using a store bought Boboli crust. Some will scoff at that, but I’ve got a toddler and a new born, I need to save time. First I set the grill to high grilled the red onions and yellow peppers to get a little char:
I assembled my pizza with slices of fresh mozzarella and grated asiago:
I set it to low, place the prepped pizza on the grill grate and it cooked like it was on a baking or pizza stone without the stone in about 12 minutes:
Really incredible. The crust had a crunchiness that I can only get with a pizza stone, but there was no stone. And the second time I did it I got cross hatch grill marks on the bottom of the crust:
Only my fellow grillin nerds will appreciate that!!
For this second one, I added some smoke wood to the bottom in foil and gave it some great hickory smoke flavor.
And probably the coolest thing I did on the BESRG was Rendezvous Ribs which need to be cooked between 300-350 for 30 minutes on each side with frequent mop bastings. I know cooking ribs in an hour sounds nuts to a lot of you, but I highly recommend you try it. They were incredible:
As you know I’m not going to blow smoke up your butt (pun intended) and say this thing is the worlds greatest grill. I’ve done some things well on it, but it also has some issues I don’t like:
1) No thermometer. I have to use a portable oven thermometer. While one of the benefits of a gas grill is it’s easy to regulate temps, it would be nice to know what those temps are.
2) The smoker box is poorly designed. 15 minutes of smoke is not enough. But I have a solution that is very easy and cheap. Aluminum foil pans full of wood chips on the bottom produce well over an hour of smoke:
Hell, the pans are easier than dealing with the box. When I’m done with them I pitch the pans for easy clean up rather than shake out the ash of a little box into the trashcan:
3) I don’t like the low temp is not all that low at 375 with the lid closed to help keep the smoke in and around the meat. I would love it if this thing could go down to 225. Sure, I do most of my formerly low and slow recipes at 275-325 these days and make great stuff in less time but it doesn’t mean I don’t want the option to do low and slow, particularly with a grill that I can set and forget because it’s gas. It gets down to about 250 with the lid open but when I’m smoking I want to have it closed to allow the smoke to really penetrate.
I think I might have to rethink the above criticism. I did some pretty incredible pulled pork at 300 after writing this review. Here’s the write up of the full process on how I made pulled pork in this bad boy.
4) Size of the grill. I wish it were bigger. It only has a 15 inch grill surface, which I was wish was larger, but where it makes up for that is that it also has a 16 inch deep chamber. The size of this thing will be perfect for a lot of folks. It will fit on the smallest apartment balcony. I would prefer it be larger, but I know the size will actually appeal to a lot of people, particularly with the deep chamber that can accommodate up to three chickens or a 24 pound turkey. Think about that! Most turkeys done on Thanksgiving are less than 24 pounds. At 10 minutes a pound, you can have a deep fried turkey without the oil in four hours. Free up the oven for the yams and rolls and do the turkey outside. Do it one time and you will never go back. It’s also pretty portable. I fit the grill in the back of my Ford Escape with no problem. I had to lean it to the side, but it fit fine and is fairly light, which would make it a really nice traveling grill too.
So all in all, if you avoid the mistakes I made, this is a really nice grill. It makes a mean steak, awesome deep fried turkey without the oil, and is perfect for plank grilling. If you can avoid putting sugars or liquids on birds before putting them inside the chamber, like I did, you will be fine. Oh, and make sure that grill grate is good and seasoned before you hit it with a nice steak.
My concerns for this are pretty minor. Considering the low cost (reduced to $129 at Lowe’s), and its versatility, I’m finding myself using this thing more and more. I made some excellent pulled pork on it. Since I started writing this review, I did Rendezvous ribs on it again for Dad over the weekend as well as tried to do the Rendezvous method on my charcoal grill. The ribs from the BESRG were amazing. The ones from the charcoal grill weren’t so good. It’s VERY difficult to maintain a constant temp of 300-350 on a charcoal grill. I had temps from 200-400 throughout the process and tons of flareups causing the ribs to be tough.
As always, if you have any questions about the Big Easy, Smoker Roaster Grill, simply leave a comment below or shoot me an email.
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