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Where/How Did You Learn To Grill?


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Howdy Gurus!

I've always been meaning to ask how you good people got so good at the craft of Kamado Kooking! There are some truly inspired Kooks here who produce some world class cuisine. I honestly think that the Gurus here could rival any Culinary Institute of America grads.

Nobody is born knowing how to cook. Tell us your story, the twists, the turns, the successes, the failures.

I think it would make for some compelling reading and would really help new new kamado owners who are going through the frustrations of temperature control, first cooks, etc. see that the light at the end of the tunnel isn't a freight train headed at them!

This ought to be good!

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Good thread! I'll bite...

 

I learned my first cooking basics from my mother growing up. I was never interested enough to be by her side each cook or anything, but I learned her recipes later in life (read: college) and dabbled in cooking then.

 

Flash forward to moving into our first (and current) house in 2005. My wife's grandparents told us to pick out a grill on them. Not wanting to soak them, I opted for a cheap Charbroil 4 burner gasser. I would burn chicken and toss on frozen bubba burgers for a couple years with that kit, but I still didn't really enjoy grilling or cooking in general.

 

Then somewhere around 6 years ago I started taking an interest in the food network and I attempted to step up my game a bit. But my equipment was going in the opposite direction. There was a year and change in there where I just didn't grill at all due to my rusting bucket of a grill.

 

A little over 3 years ago, after the birth of my daughter, I started getting into cooking in earnest to save money and eat healthier. My parents offered to go halvsies on a good grill for our 10th anniversary. That's when the deep research really began. I chose a 2011 Weber Genesis EP-330 and used the ever-loving crap out of it for 2 years with great results (I still have it, but it is mainly a quick searer and coffee roaster these days). I became an America's Test Kitchen member and started using all their recipes and techniques. I also joined and participated heavily at the BBQ Source forums and got into the habit of photographing and posting my food... mostly as a journal to myself, but why not share? Wasn't long before my cooks were all over my Facebook and /r/food, etc. and now it's kinda become "my thing".

 

Then springtime of last year I got interested in trying charcoal. I was close to springing on a Performer several times when someone at the Source forums recommended I check out the Akorn. That led me to this site and kamados and the rest is written in over 1000 posts on this lovely forum!

 

Looking forward to others' stories...

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Great topic idea CC!!  Personally, I didn't have a "cooking" clue until after I moved out of my parents home.  My mom was a great cook, and that gave me great excuse to not have to learn a thing ;-)

 

Then I met and married my wife. 1 big problem though... she came from a family where 95% of meals were from boxes and cans :-(

 

As our marriage started off, we took turns doing the cooking.  Me not having a clue, and her being very familiar with boxes and cans... we were sustained for the 1st couple of years with some pretty nasty/unhealthy/bland food.

 

Although I am not certain... I recall things starting to take a turn about 18 years ago, when my wife and I decided to buy our 1st BBQ.  Didn't have a clue as to what I was doing, but I do remember the food tasting MUCH better then what we were used to.  It was this experience that planted the seed.

 

Fast forward a year or so... we bought our 1st computer. This wasn't long after the young Al Gore had invented the internet ;-)...

 

Yes, I have to give credit to Al Gore and Google.  90% of what I have learned, has come from hours and hours of reading and watching via the World Wide Web.

 

Today, if a person enjoys cooking, or simply wants to begin the learning adventure, the amount of information/tutorials is quite mind-blowing!!

 

What sparked my love for cooking years ago, was the rare meal that I got right.  When I nailed a good meal, to see the enjoyment that it brought to those that I was blessed to serve was priceless.

 

I have learned that good food has the ability to bring people together and love on them like nobodies business. Knowing this is what fuels my passion to get better!

 

And you guys/gals have hands down been the best group of cooking buddies that I have ever stumbled across.  When I think of all that I have learned over the past year... all I can say is THANK YOU for sharing!!!

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Okay, here's the short version of this fat rat in the back yard.

My Dad loved cooking burgers, steaks, dogs , brats on his cooker in the back yard. One of his employees made it for him. Oil field line pipe, heavy as hell. It was nothing too fancy, just good basic food. Dad didn't have much time for fancy, not with 5 kids, his home in OKC and his office in NYC! I first learned how to build a fire watching him and learning how to cook steaks by feel. I started at nine and by 12 I was cooking on that grill wile he was out of town.

Flash forward a few years and I'm out of college. A degreed chemical engineer. Whoop. I bought a basic gasser and started buring meat. I got tired of the basics so I bought a couple of backyard cookbooks. After all, I'm a degreed Chem Engr, I know how to read and follow directions, and cooking is nothing more than chemistry. Some good, some bad, but enough good to keep me cooking.

Then came a Weber bullet. First brisket was an unmitigated disaster of the first and finest magnitude! It was my first brisket, the first cook on the bullet. Had friends over for a small get together. Can you say DISASTER!? Talk about a piece of shoe leather! And embarrassed!? Called Dad and all he could do was laugh. Said brisket was very hard ... We never had brisket at home because Dad wouldn't cook it and it took too long!

Determined, I bought a stick burner and set out to figure this thing out. I made it an engineering problem ... thermodynamic and heat transfer were my areas. I read everything I could lay my hands on, followed directions, and got a ton of experience. Even won some small BBQ challenges in Colorado but nothing worth talking about.

On to grad school. My next door neighbor was head of the meat science department. We'd compete over the weekends to see who could make the best Q. He always led me around by the nose, kicked my ###, and made me like it. I worked by butt to the one trying to outdo this guy and never could! I'm dying here! Finally asked hi how he did it and was introduced to my first ceramic cooker ... The Big Green Egg. Had to have one. Drove to Houston in the wife's mom-mobile and bought one. Came home set it up and started taking lesson from my neighbor! Three weeks later I kicked my gasser and my stick burner to the curb.

At this time, there was no real Internet, no forums to speak of and I was hellbent on finishing my doctorate. Finished said degree and went to University of Florida. Was introduced to a whole new world of flavors, cuisines, etc. never ate so much fish in my life. Grilled every single night. Adapted recipes from Julia Childs books, other famous cook books, and learned how to cook everything from soup to nuts on my BGE. Move to NOLA to teach at Tulane and the Egg got Humptied in the process! Got a medium Egg since I am now single and it fit my needs. Tried to learn how to make every Cajun dish in the world. I collected cookbooks like a madman and wined and dined a lot of ladies. Got terribly tired of academia and move back to Houston where I threw a ton of parties. You can't party very much off a medium BGE! Yes, Sportsfans, size does matter! As I say, better to have it and not need it than to need it and can't get it! Buy the biggest kamado you can afford!

About this time along comes the Primo and I just had to have one. That big Kooker change me. It allowed me to do things I couldn't really do with my Egg without jumping through hoops. The biggest difference was a divided firebox, true two zone cooking, and the amount you could load on that big boy. It made me really adventuresome in what I'd attempt to cook. The first few cooks using a new technique were always interesting ... some good, some average, the first one generally a learning experience! LOL!

I honestly now believe that I can cook anything in a kamado. Anything! Heck, all I need is a couple of ceramic pots, some charcoal, and a grill and dinner is served! Kookers make things easier to one degree or another, but everyone can cook very good food on any kamado with very little effort once a few basic techniques are mastered! Airflow is temperature control. That is the single most critical skill in komado kooking. Air flow is king. That is why I say every new kamado kooker has to spend time to get to know their cooker. I had to sit down and learn about my second Primo because my first Primo was destroyed in a stupid incident while I was out of town. The second Primo, while a Primo, was different from the first and it's response curve was difference. Subtlety difference, but different enough that food was different. A weekend with a bag of lump, a case of beer, and the new Primo and I was back in business.

Ok, enough of this. That's my story. Mom made us cook as boys growing up. "I'm not going to inflict another helpless man on some poor, unsuspecting woman!" She taught me the basics. Dad taught me about grilling basics. My mistakes embarrassed me and cook books and experience taught me more. The came the ceramics and geez, what GREAT food you can produce!

Go make some memories with family and friends!

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I learned how to cook from my mother. To grill I learned a little for my dad when we went camping. Most of what I’ve learned is from trial and error. When I brought my first gas grill I learned that I could burn rocks. (Literally :-o) It was a cheap gas grill that had lava rocks in the bottom. The lava would soak up the grease and then decide to go up in a raging inferno. :-o (Usually at the exact wrong time) I ended up getting a Weber kettle and a much nicer gas grill. These served me well for years but I had heard (and read) about a thing called a Kamado. Years later I saw a Grill Dome for sale at Costco. I wanted to buy one but I went home and started researching and when I went back, typical of Costco, they didn’t have them anymore. The next year they had the Vision Classic for sale and I didn’t wait another minute. The rest as they say is history. 

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For years, I was your typical meat-burner on a gasser...first a cheap one I bought, then a much better hand-me-down upgraded gasser.  Move forward to my 50th birthday, and a good buddy bought me and the Mrs a BBQ Ribs cooking course!  Of all the unique things to get a friend for his 50th!  It was out here on the west coast of Canada, and the BBQ expert giving the course, was DivaQ.  For those of you who don't know the name, she's a Canadian out of Toronto area, that is a professional BBQer, competing in all the big BBQ competitions across the States, and in fact has a little TV show called "BBQ Crawl", which is showing right now in the US, for it's second season.  She often places very well in the competitions she competes in. 

 

The course was my first exposure to 'real' BBQ.  One of the first things out of her mouth that night at the course, was a question - "How many of you cook on gas BBQ's?".  To which 24 of 25 attendees put up their hands.  Her response: "That's too bad, you're adding no flavour to your meat".   Got me interested...happened that the guy next to me was a local firefighter, who said he had 3 kamado grills in his back yard.  I had quite the side conversation with him all night.  The course was great, and I left very intrigued about cooking with charcoal.

 

End of that season, Canadian Tire up here was clearing out their Vision Grills, so I took the plunge.  Have never looked back, and totally enjoy cooking on it, and being immersed in the whole "kamado experience".  None of our dinner guests ever leave without raving about the food that comes off my charcoal grill.  I've convinced at least one good friend to cross over to the 'charcoal side' too. 

 

I love reading this forum, and snooping around the internet for recipes and cooking ideas.  BBQing used to be a means to cooking food for the table...now putting great food on the table, is an excuse to experiment with my kamado grill!

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Ok this sounds fun....

I grew up in a family of four. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood were family time and dinner. My dad cooked a bit at the cottage with briquettes but most of my memory was with a propane grill. Loved BBQ and preferred meat on the grill as opposed to being cooked in oven or stove.

At the age of 14...... I became..... Vegetarian. I stopped eating red meat and pork, eggs and dairy for 19 years. I only ate chicken and the odd piece of fish.

My parents purchased my first BBQ as a house warming/Christmas present in 2001 for my wife and I. I loved that it was a stainless BBQ propane. I kept it in the garage and used it all the time.

It 2011 we moved down the street and put it my dream backyard. I grew up with a pool and always wanted that family tradition for my kids.

Well the kids were not eating meat and they were watching what I ate. I was tested for low iron and figured now is the time to go back to meat.

I began cooking on my grill but wanted that big BBQ for the yard. So I gave my dad the old BBQ and purchased a gorgeous top of the line Napoleon prestige pro. I cooked constantly thinking that I knew what was going on with BBQ. I would throw meat on the grill and let it go until it looked right.

Last summer while at work, my boss made dinner for the squad. He had smoked some ribs for us and brought them in. I could taste smoke and the meat was fall off the bone. I loved it!!!!!

I thought I need this for the yard. I joined the brethren and began reading up on smokers. While researching a family trip to Florida found me at a friends house for dinner. He used a green egg and it was the best meat I ever tried.

I looked into green eggs and realized that was pricey. My wife said to start out smaller so I went with the advice on the brethren and purchased a WSM 22.5. I cooked ribs, a brisket and then a salmon. My wife did not love the smoke flavour and I realized that this huge unit was one dimensional.

So I sold it 3 weeks later and went on another trip with the family to Florida. This time I found a OTG 22.5 on sale at the Home Depot and squeezed it into my car and brought it back to canada. I started reading and learning from various sites and tv shows.

I began perfecting my craft. All the while I really wanted a BGE. So I began saving and saving. I found man cave meals and learned how to cook Q from the YouTube videos.

It was at that point I was introduced to kamado joe. I began reading and reading. So many positive things about kamado joe. I changed my want from a BGE to a kamado joe.

Wife finally gave me the green light so I worked overtime for a few weeks to save up some extra cash. Went to the store and picked it up.

My dad loves my BBQ and it make me so happy watching my kids love Q and all my extended friends and family appreciating this skill set. I hope that these moments create wonderful memories for my two boys!!

I work in law enforcement and really find BBQ to relax me. It teaches me patience and control but most importantly my thoughts melt away when I tinker on my Q.

I cook as my wife can't and find eating at home more often to be a contributing factor to my 35 lb. weight loss this year.

So that's my story and in sticking to it. Can't wait to read more of these posts.

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Fun....

 

I'll start by saying that I have never been able to follow the directions in a recipe without some tinkering.  I don't know why but I can't.  I am also an inventor, I love to create and build.  

 

As a child all meals were cooked at home and from scratch.  I saw a bunch of cooking going on around me.  Jumping forward a few years and my mom was in college and we had no money.  Many times we had beans and rice of some variation.  It was this time period where I started to play around trying to make something new and interesting....

I think that sets the foundation so on to the BBQ....

 

It feels like America to me, a BBQ grill in the backyard, burgers/hotdogs a cool breeze and the family dog chasing a ball all in the shade of a giant oak tree - a tall glass of iced tea in hand!

 

As a younger man it might have been the crowd I was in or maybe something else but it became an almost nightly event, grill chicken and have a cold one for dinner after work.  This kind of pattern lived for some years, it wasn't always bbq chicken but more often than not it was.  I learned that chicken thighs are very forgiving and cooked around 300 the food would take long enough to get several cold ones down while you waited.

 

Jumping forward I was now a married man, I had kids and I wanted that America....  We bought a Brinkmann bullet style smoker.  Being the creative tinkering person that I am I started to modify it, I began trying to cook one way, then another and this hobby grew until I became the designated family cook for the holidays etc.

 

About the time we bought our first house I stumbled across an odd looking cooker in Walmart...  I'm thinking, it's an egg style cooker...  I brought it home!  Now I NEVER did a low and slow on it, by this point I had a offset and still my little brinkmann but I did master the steak and did tons of Q on it.  (Yes, I am Grill Master).  I drove that little Kamado in to the dirt!

 

At this point I am pretty much obsessed with cooking over fire, I had purchased many different grills in my quest for the perfect cooker, I also had this idea boiling in the back of my mind....  I knew what the perfect cooker was and I was going to build it.  It would be LARGE, it would have huge thermal mass, air tight, wood fired and I spent the next 6 months focused on that project.  This turned out to be a big turning point for me, by now I was keeping a journal, I was helping friends and family, I was the guy at work that created a scene when I would bring my creations to work for lunch filling the halls with the fantastic odor!  I also started to collect books, devices, began to read online.

 

I'll never forget telling the guy at the BGE store when he asked what I needed BGE felt for and I told him, "I'm building the best cooker in the world".  I don't think he believed me...

 

Even further forward and I find the AKORN, kew what it was, almost bought a bubba grill several years earlier, I look online and I find Kamadoguru.com (only a few days old and something like 10 members and hardly a post :) )  I joined, bought the AKORN.

You all know the rest of the story - except that somewhere along my journey I was exposed to the Primo.  Way back - and there was something about it that stood out to me, it stood for quality, it was made in the U.S.A.  That was all it took to make it special in my mind, we all know in general what a kamado is right?  From that day I wanted a Primo "Egg" and of course now I have one.

For me it is about that little piece of America I spoke about above.  I also enjoy the creative process and it satisfies my need to experiment.  Being here has driven me further, the creative juices flowing around here are a great source of inspiration...  Keep it up Gurus  

 

I have always known what a BGE was....  how? I have no clue.  Oddly is was something magic and unattainable and scary expensive..  I must some how give BGE credit for my interest in the kamado, I knew the one I saw at Walmart was special because of this knowledge I had....  I knew the Primo was amazing because of it's relationship to BGE...  

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my father gave me my first exposure.  the rest is self taught, or though reading posts by gurus like you!

My oldest son started calling me a few years ago for tips and advice - always to cook a special meal for his special friend.  I think as you stated, it is catchy.  A fine meal cooked over fire screams "Special" I recall in years past taking the boys out back with me and walking them through starting a fire and grilling.  Oh the joy! 

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my dad used to bbq on a open square bbq.  the grate would go up and down w/ a lever.  hot dogs, hamburgers, tri's and chicken is all he use to cook on it.  when i graduated high school my dad asked me what i wanted for a graduation present?  i said a weber kettle.  got a 18" kettle.  that was in '74.  been using webers every since.  love my 26" kettle and my 22" wsm.  made some fantastic bbq w/ my webers.  got a LBGE about a month ago and it has changed my bbq world as i know it.  since i have gotten it i haven't used any of my weber's or my mak pellet grill.  my green machine does is all.  i am already looking and trying to get a little kamado and a larger kamado already.  don't tell my wife.  

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I guess I'm realistically the first in my family to be outdoor grilling. My brother in law used to be the master of the grill in his house. For the most part, he defers to me now. Wisely, I defer steaks back to my dad.

 

As a bit of a background, I'm first generation American, Chinese parents. I'm third out of four kids. I was cooking before the rest of my siblings courtesy of knowing how to use an electric griddle. Didn't know how to clean it, but I made scrambled eggs at the age of five. The reason I learned on the griddle was the stove top was off limits. So like a good boy, I bent the rules without breaking them.

 

My dad was a cook / chef before retiring. Worked in a Chinese restaurant most of his life. In regards to recipes and flavor profiling, I learned that from my dad. He's worked a fair number of different cuisines and food styles.

 

One of our family friend's has just retired from the restaurant business. My dad helped out quite a bit. It was a Chinese restaurant that served steaks. They've probably cooked a few million steaks. The restaurant is well known for their steaks. For the most part the steaks are better than any of the steakhouses here in town. And its a Chinese restaurant. But you had to go on the right night to get it done right. Pure skill.

 

Realistically, my dad has been my guide in building up my Chinese recipes. While I am hit and miss on my Chinese bbq pork, it is consistent about ingredients. My Chinese roast pork belly has finally hit the bulls eye. I know my dad is super proud cause he got to brag to our family friend that I can execute it.

 

My first grill was a Weber kettle in college. I didn't know what I was doing crisping and burning meat. 

My second was a hand me down gas grill. It had a single burner that was badly rusted so that I had dual zones from it... and not in a good way. But I learned how to make Chinese bbq pork on it, even with unpredictable heat.

My third grill was a hand me down Weber kettle. But this time I would learn to cheat with it. Charcoal baskets and a chimney. No more lighter fluid for me.

 

With all the cooking shows, internet, research, practice practice practice, my roasting and grilling techniques improved. My confidence was solid enough that I was fine roasting prime ribs in the middle of Anchorage winters. Dark? Not an issue. Snow? ha ha ha... Cold? Why yes it is! 

 

One of my scarier concerns was high wind came through in the fall and slammed my kettle into the lilac tree along the house. If the tree hadn't been there, it would have hit the house. Not generally a big deal. Except when I bought the place, the previous owner had just replaced the sliding door. So I became super worried about winds and sending the grill into the somewhat expensive glass door. If I put the grill along the house it didn't move. But then it was too close for grilling. I would put really heavy weights in the grill to keep it from blowing around, but even that was tricky.

 

I was about to settle on a Traeger when I came across this forum. The Traeger would have been tricky. I have no outlets in the back where the grill goes, and I have had enough stuff stolen from the front that leaving a grill outside was not appealing.

 

A kamado made great sense, charcoal, thermal mass, and just plain ole mass. If the winds moved that sucker, a sliding door was not going to be a primary concern. 

 

As soon as I found the Vision at Costco, I bought one and had it unloaded and set up in my back yard ready to go that day. Took a few days, but I had my first thermal test by the weekend, and was cooking on it with a few weeks without knowing how it would behave. 

 

But experience is the best teacher. 

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It seems like we had a similar thread to this awhile back, but always good to get in the newer member stories too.  My cooking background is from growing up in Wyoming with a dad and 5 brothers who cooked over open fire on hunts and trail rides or camping trips.  Nothing ever tasted as good, but it was only burgers, hot dogs, an occasional steak.  I never got interested in a gas grill, always trying to make it work with charcoal or wood and hated giving up grilling in the winter time.  I especially liked the kamado idea but didn't want to pay the high price so came up with a couple ideas of my own (see pictures).  However, I was always fussing, getting smoked out, having trouble with temp. control, and finally my husband got me the Primo XL, so I was thrilled to have something that worked so well.  After awhile though, for just the 2 of us, it seemed too much, and I quit using it.  But then I found the small Vision Pro M, and now my favorite, the Akorn Jr. that I got for traveling because by now I'm so hooked by kamado cooking I can't leave it behind.  The problem with the Akorn Jr. is that it's so fun, I seem to use it most of the time!  I love to cook rustic meals in rustic dishes like clay pots or stoneware, and the kamado is my perfect cup of, well it's my smoke therapy now.  All of my cooking is self-taught, food network, experimentation, and this forum.  LOVE THIS FORUM!  Thank you all for contributing so much to my kamado life, and allowing me to share some of my passion as well.  Acceptance is a wonderful thing.

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