There’s a first time for everything: ceramic grill experiments

What I learned the first time I grilled meat using a ceramic grill, and what you should know, too

If you’re a fan of slow cooked meats and hot flaming grills, then your palate is trained to recognize that smokey taste. There’s a subtle difference that you can feel when no gas or chemicals come between you and fine cuts of steak, pork, poultry, veggies... And if you’re a fan of the craft behind those savory dishes, then it’s time for you to try a ceramic grill. These are a few of things I learned, slowly, while the fire burned.

You gotta plan

We felt like we a meaty situation, a reason to call everybody in. What’s the best cut of meat for a crowd, though? We bought 4 lbs. of picanha, after going over the options of what to grill, what to pair it with, who to cook it with. We’d need a good chunk of a late afternoon to gather everyone around the fire, while the picanha steak is smoothly roasted.

Then, you prep

You will need a couple of friends to hang with, if you want to have a beer while you grill and learn the mechanics of a sturdy ceramic grill. Set up camp by a table, over by the grill, get your knives out. You have to prep your meat before you grill it, and get the fire. Once the meat has thawed or has been taken out of the fridge, someone’s gotta clean it, while someone else lights the fire. Who’s it gonna be?

I was in charge of lighting the charcoal. I got my lumps together, in a sort of pyramid; got the air to flow through the hardwood charcoal pile, and hoped for the best. This was just the beginning.

Control the heat

Why compare, if there is not another mechanism like this one? The thick ceramic locks in the heat, and the smoke. And when you get the fire going, open the vents, open all the vents. Airflow is key. It might be easier than other grills, but a little more delicate in the process. You can watch and try to control the heat, opening and closing the vents. Once your fire is going, you have to put in the indirect heat deflector, add wood chunks if you want to get specific smoke flavors, watch the thick smoke flow out of the top vent and go to your happy place.

Sit back and relax

We wanted the temperature to reach 275℉, and keep it there. We placed the lightly seasoned meat (good cuts like picanha, the queen of meats, they don’t need much) and closed the egg-shaped grill. Closing the vents would ensure the moderate to slow cooking pace, keeping the smoke and flavor inside, flowing around the meat and infusing it with flavor. It needed at least an hour of alone time before we opened the ceramic grill and introduced our sides: Under the hood, we had 4 lbs. of meat surrounded by bell peppers sliced in half, topped with cheese and provincial herbs. They looked good already, and would turn out even better.

For good measure, use your thermometer

The bigger the piece of meat, the trickier it is to cook it evenly. But with this type of insulated grill, you’re covered: it cooks the meat in an even way. All you have to do is double-check the temperature, how do you want it cooked? How do your guests want it cooked? For medium rare, take off the meat once it hits 115 degrees before searing it.

Raise the stakes

Open the vents more, and get the grill searing hot for the last couple of minutes. The finishing touch: the fire will make the grill reach highest temperatures for a perfect crust on your meat. Get a good char, without burning the meat.

Lay your perfect meat slow cooked picanha on a wooden board. Since the meat continues cooking once you take it off the grill, you have to let it rest for at least 10 to 15 min. A big meat cut, like this picanha, needs to sit for a bit, so the juices can redistribute and carry-over cooking to finish. Then it’s time to pull your knives out and cut: against the grain and thin, so that each bite is tender and easy to eat.

It’s almost time for everyone to dig in

The prize for your patience, the look on your friends' faces. There’s value in the delicate process, and it’s all I want to do now. I wait for the weekends, when everyone’s free, before I cook up another plan. There are always new things to try with this method that brings together a grill and a smoker, best of both worlds combined. This is a recipe for a great weekend, and the first ingredient that goes into this perfect Friday is damn good charcoal to get the taste buds going.


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